Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rein-Toon-Ation: The Fantastic Four (1978)

Marvel Comics' "First Family of Superheroes" returned to television in The New Fantastic Four in 1978. This time, DePatie-Freleng, which would later be acquired by Marvel as its television arm, produced the series. The emphasis was on "new", even though it doesn't show up in the title.

A popular, unsubstantiated rumor claims that Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, was written off the series before it began out of fear that young viewers might consider emulating his exploits. Storm, though, was replaced by H.E.R.B.I.E. (Frank Welker), who would later make the transition into the FF's comic book. The lineup change may have actually doomed the series before it really took off, and it didn't help that the original series, produced by Hanna-Barbera 11 years earlier, had returned as part of the syndicated Hanna-Barbera's World of Super Adventure block.

The casting of the remaining FF members reads like an all-star team. Mike Road (ex-The Herculoids) was cast as Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic. At the time, Road was also doing commercials on-screen for Fireman's Fund, an insurance company. Ginny Tyler (ex-Space Ghost) was Reed's wife, Sue (The Invisible Girl), and Ted Cassidy was cast as Ben Grimm, the orange-skinned Thing. Cassidy was also working for H-B at the same time, on another NBC series, The Godzilla Power Hour. He had the lead as Godzilla, and also voiced Montaro, the shaman-mentor to Jana of the Jungle. Co-creator Stan Lee was the series' principal writer, and as announcer Dick Tufeld's narration suggests, Lee may have written some of the original scripts with plans to use them in the comics. In fact, some scripts were either adapted from the comics or the original 1967 H-B series. As we all know, Lee would go on to serve as narrator for NBC's Marvel-produced adaptation of The Incredible Hulk in 1982, along with season 2 of Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends.

SuperheroToons uploaded part 1 of the series opener, "A Monster Among Us", which has that distinctive Lee style of writing:

Amazingly, the NBC affiliate in my home area refused to air the series. Fortunately, at that time, the cable system had a secondary NBC affiliate, WKTV of Utica, on the roster, which was the only way I was able to watch the show. I'd not be surprised to find that a number of other stations opted against this version of the FF, leading to its quick cancellation after just 1 season.

The Thing would return the next year, and return to H-B as well, but with a very uncool twist, having been de-aged into a shape-shifting teenager. I previously covered that sad story a year ago, if you want to go back and refer to it......

Rating: B.

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