Welp, the coronavirus has had some unexpected results, including some major changes behind the scenes of this website. But, I want to say I appreciate everyone that is still checking in with ScienceFiction.com! I am softly resuming my Super Saturday columns, dedicated to the history of the now-extinct institution of Saturday morning cartoons. I hope you enjoy and feel free to comment, like, and share on social media! Thank you and happy reading!
The Marvel Super Heroes first hit television in 1966 on the limited-animation syndicated series ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’ from Grantray-Lawrence Animation and distributed by Krantz Films, which I reviewed back in February. 1966 was also the first year that all three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, delivered solid blocks of original cartoons on Saturday morning, and among the offerings were Filmation’s ‘The New Adventures of Superman’ and Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Space Ghost and Dino-Boy’ and ‘Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles’. These superhero shows were so popular that in the second “official” year of Saturday morning cartoons, all three networks let loose a torrent of super shows.
While most were original creations, like Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Mightor’, ‘Birdman and the Galaxy Trio’, and ‘The Herculoids’, Filmation drew more characters from DC’s library for ‘The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure’ on CBS.
Meanwhile, on ABC, Grantray-Lawrence struck again with ‘Spider-Man’, best remembered for the catchy theme song (“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can…”), and ‘Fantastic Four’ featuring the first family of Marvel Comics, produced by powerhouse Hanna-Barbera.
These two shows aired back-to-back on ABC. Unlike most of the original superhero shows that HB was producing, ‘Fantastic Four’ featured full half-hour tales (well, 22-minutes minus commercials), most of which were based on actual comic book stories.
The Human Torch/Johnny Storm was voiced by Jac (or Jack) Flounders, while Paul Frees voiced The Thing/Benjamin J. Grimm, as well as Uatu the Watcher in one episode. Team leader Mister Fantastic/Reed Richards was voiced by Gerald Mohr, while Jo Ann Pflug voiced the Invisible Girl/Susan Storm Richards.
(NOTE: It’s possible that Jac/Jack Flounders (Johnny) and Jack DeLeon (the Mole Man) are the same person. I haven’t been able to ascertain that, and while DeLeon has an extensive resumé, there is almost no information out there on Flounders.)
Mohr and Frees were also heard during the 1967-68 season of ‘The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure’. Mohr voiced Green Lantern, while Frees voiced the GL villain Evil Star and Hawkman’s opponent Kobarah. Flounders/DeLeon and Frees also provided voices for the animated movie ‘The Hobbit’. Frees went on to lend his voice to the sequel ‘The Return of the King’ and the unrelated but still fondly remembered fantasy films ‘The Flight of Dragons’ and ‘The Last Unicorn’.
Frees had an extensive career as a voice actor, and he went on to voice Ludwig Von Drake on the ‘The Magical World of Disney ‘. We’ve all grown up hearing his voice on many Christmas (and other holiday) specials like ‘Frosty the Snowman’, ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town’, ‘Frosty’s Winter Wonderland’, ‘Rudolph’s Shiny New Year’, ‘Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July’, ‘Jack Frost’, ‘The First Easter Rabbit’, and ‘Here Comes Peter Cottontail’. Some may also remember him as the voice of K.A.R.R., the evil doppelganger of K.I.T.T. on an episode of ‘Knight Rider’.
There were 20 episodes of ‘Fantastic Four’, and among the villains showcased were Galactus (voiced by Ted Cassidy), Attuma and the Molecule Man (both voiced by Henry Corden), Diablo (Regis Cordic), the Mole Man (Jack DeLeon), Blastaar (Frank Gerstle), Super-Skrull (Marvin Miller), Red Ghost (Vic Perrin), Doctor Doom (Joseph Sirola), and Klaw (Hal Smith). Perrin also provided the voice of the Silver Surfer. It should be pointed out that Blastaar had just debuted in the ‘FF’ comic book in issue #62, with a cover date of May 1967, so he was essentially a brand new character.
That brings up an interesting point– the ‘Fantastic Four’ comic book had only begun in 1960, so these were relatively new stories. Though they seem like ancient Marvel history nowadays, these were not yet the classics we consider them to be today.
Most of the villains look at least similarly to how they were drawn in the comics, but a few were tweaked. Galactus was green. Molecule Man had chalky white skin. One character had to be completely substituted. Prince Namor, the Submariner had his own segment on ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’, so he could not be used on ‘FF’. Instead, the group encountered the blue-skinned Prince Triton (Mike Road). However, Namor’s supporting cast including Lady Dorma (Janet Waldo) and enemy Attuma were allowed to appear on both shows. Something that is sort of the opposite occurred in 1978, when Batman and Robin appeared on both ABC’s HB-produced ‘Challenge of the Superfriends’ and CBS’ Filmation-made ‘The New Adventures of Batman’, but their villains were only allowed to appear on one or the other.
While ‘Fantastic Four’ only lasted for one season, ABC continued to air it in reruns. During the ’70s, it was mixed into various Hanna-Barbera anthology shows in syndication. It was also aired on Cartoon Network and Boomerang. Unfortunately, due to rights– the Fantastic Four hail from Marvel, now owned by Disney, but this cartoon was made by Hanna-Barbera, part of the WarnerMedia empire, along with DC Comics– it is not currently aired anywhere. It has also never been released on home video in the US.
The Fantastic Four (mostly) returned in a cartoon called ‘The New Fantastic Four’, produced by DePatie-Freleng in 1978. However, that show did not include the Human Torch. He was replaced by a know-it-all robot called H.E.R.B.I.E. (Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics), whose snooty attitude irritated Ben Grimm just as badly as Johnny’s cut-up nature had. This switch has been the subject of a rampant urban myth, as it has widely been reported that the Human Torch was omitted due to fears that kids would light themselves on fire to emulate him. It appears the truth of the matter is that Universal Studios had licensed Johnny separately for a potential live-action TV pilot that never materialized.
H.E.R.B.I.E. has since been integrated into the comics and even toys. Working in his favor was the fact that ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ had opened in 1977 and taken the world by
Johnny storm, so robots were all the rage. But among purists, H.E.R.B.I.E. is just another of the long line of annoying sidekicks that dragged down otherwise exciting cartoons.
Similar rights issue plague ‘The New Fantastic Four’, so it is currently unavailable, but the company Clear Vision released the entire series on DVD in the UK in 2010. Scattered episodes were released on VHS in the 80s, and a few have also been released on DVD outside of the US.
In 1979, a VERY different version of The Thing appeared on NBC’s ‘Fred and Barney Meet the Thing’, courtesy of Hanna-Barbera. This version of the hero was “Benji” Grimm, a teenager who was not blasted by Cosmic Rays and there was no Fantastic Four. Instead, when in trouble, Benji would click two rings together (one on each hand) and call out “Thing Rings do your things!” and transform into his familiar rock monster form. There were only 13 episodes, and fans seem to hate this version more than they do H.E.R.B.I.E.
‘Fred and Barney Meet the Thing’ is a misnomer, as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble never interacted with Ben (er, Benji) Grimm. Rather this was just a compilation show, with separate episodes dedicated to Fred and Barney as ‘Bedrock Cops’, plus completely unrelated ‘Thing’ shorts.
But one interesting fact is that Hanna-Barbera produced this show at the same time as it was still making ‘Super Friends’ for ABC, so for one season, HB released cartoons featuring heroes from both Marvel and DC Comics.
Following the success of the ‘X-Men’ cartoon in the early ’90s on FOX, a new ‘Fantastic Four’ cartoon– with Johnny back– aired in syndication for two seasons from 1994-96. This version hailed from Genesis Entertainment and New World Entertainment, and was coupled with an ‘Iron Man’ cartoon as ‘The Marvel Action Hour’. There were 26 episodes of this version.
A few episodes were released on VHS just as that format was dying. The entire series was released after 20th Century Fox released its first live-action ‘Fantastic Four’ film, however, there were alterations, so they aren’t exactly the same as when they originally aired.
Finally, an anime-inspired take on the quartet was released on the Cartoon Network in 2006, ‘Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes’. This series also consisted of 26 episodes. This was another tie-in to the live-action movie and aired in 2006. ‘World’s Greatest Heroes’ has been released on multiple DVDs, including a complete series boxed set.
I may explore the later ‘Fantastic Four’ cartoon series in the future, if anyone is interested and provided I can get ahold of episodes to watch.
Now Marvel’s parent company Disney has reclaimed the rights to their First Family. New movies and cartoons will surely be in our future.
What was your favorite non-comic version of the Fantastic Four?