We all know that Marvel’s First Family has had a hard time finding success on the big and small screens.
At best, their media presence has been corny, at worst, it's been absolutely god-awful. But there's a glimmer of hope if we go back even further in Fantastic Four media history — all the way to Hanna-Barbera’s Fantastic Four from 1967. I vaguely remembered reruns of this older Fantastic Four cartoon playing on Cartoon Network’s Toonami when I was a kid, but I couldn’t recall if it was actually any good. This called for some investigation in the form of uploaded episodes on DailyMotion.
I must admit, I was very apprehensive about this cartoon. This was Hanna-Barbera, after all. The last Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four-related production I watched was the mind-numbing, rage-inducing, universally-loathed, piece-of-crap Thing cartoon. I’ve watched some pretty heinous material for Rewind, but that cartoon is the one that my boyfriend forbade me from playing in the house ever again. So, yes, I was nervous about what the 1967 Fantastic Four had in store. I was able to watch a few of the first episodes in the series on DailyMotion, and I have to say... it’s actually pretty good.
Are you surprised? I know I was. I hardly ever have anything good to say about Fantastic Four-related media, but this cartoon was quite well done given the time. It’s far better than any of the more modern-day Fantastic Four movies (and TV shows) I’ve watched. And again, this is from 1967, which is really impressive. I’m not saying it’s a perfect show, but for what it is — a short, amusing superhero adventure show — it’s not a bad watch.
So, what did the show get right? The animation is solid. It’s classic, recognizable old-school Hanna-Barbera, and, for the time period, it looks pretty good. But the number one thing Hanna-Barbera did well was the voice casting. The voices absolutely fit the characters, and the actors performed well with the material they had. Renowned voice actor Paul Frees was the ideal choice for Ben Grimm, perfectly nailing the thick, gravelly tone of the wise-cracking Thing.
And here’s where the show really won me over — their use of Sue Storm.
Again, it’s not perfect — this is still 1967 — but this cartoon treated Sue so much better than any of the more recent films. Sue is always the character who gets shafted in most Fantastic Four media. The Fantastic Four were first introduced in comics in 1961, and back then, writers only knew how to portray Sue as “girl.” It also didn’t help that she was assigned the most passive power of the team: invisibility. In her early years, Sue was there to look pretty, sew costumes, and get kidnapped. Fans saw her as a mostly useless character.
But in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Sue actually has a more active role. In the first episode, Sue is honing her forcefield powers, making her a more formidable opponent.
Does she still get kidnapped often? Yeah, she does, but at least a couple of times, she was able to free herself using her combative forcefield abilities rather than just her passive invisibility.
And better still, in the origin episode, Sue has a real role in the space mission. Rather than just being the tag-a-long fiancée, it’s mentioned that Sue is pausing her studies to be the data recorder, which I interpret to mean that Sue has at least some scientific education! Whether any one of the four has any astronaut training is debatable, but hey, I won’t quibble too much.
The show definitely has its goofier moments, too. Naturally, we see the Fantastic Four' lead villain, Dr. Doom, who looks fine until you realize that the mask’s lips actually move. It seriously looks like a puppet mouth, and it’s hard for me not to start giggling whenever Doom is talking.
We also get to see the science-genius Reed have a not-so-bright moment in the first episode, “The Menace of the Mole Man.” The team is looking for a place to perform experiments where they won’t disturb their neighbors or destroy their building when Reed has a solution. By absolute sheer coincidence, Reed just happened to receive a brochure advertising a small, deserted island for sale! And it’s so cheap, too!
Oh, dear. I’m pretty sure the “cheap deserted island for sale” was just an early version of the Nigerian Prince email. Which I guess makes Reed your senile great-uncle who’s had too much unsupervised internet time. The fact that hot-headed Johnny is the one to say, “It almost sounds too good to be true!” speaks volumes.
Of course, this was all a not-terribly-clever trap set by the Mole Man, who must have really been banking on Reed falling for a blatant ruse.
This doesn’t seem like an overly complicated plan with much thought involved. I just don’t know how the Mole Man accessed whatever mailing list Reed was on to discover that he was in the market for a deserted island.
As I said, this cartoon is by no means flawless. However, it’s a solid representation of the Fantastic Four that manages not to be irritating or insulting (and thank God we were spared an appearance from H.E.R.B.I.E the goddamn robot).
Yes, it can be a little repetitive, it reuses animation, the dialogue is a bit stilted at times, and you’re not going to see much in-depth character development. But the intent is simply a fun Marvel superhero show. It’s not a deep or complex show, but its simplicity still makes for an enjoyable watch. And the episodes are only about 20 minutes long.
Unfortunately, Hanna-Barbera’s Fantastic Four only lasted for one season with 20 episodes. The real crime here is that the 1979 failure that was Fred and Barney Meet The Thing (yes, seriously) lasted a good six episodes longer than this far superior 1967 show.
Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten performances we love.