Sunday, August 02, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Fantastic Four's First Cartoon!

With Fox's rebooted Fantastic Four flick hitting theaters this coming week, I thought I'd start a week of Fantastic-themed content by looking back at the very first animated incarnation for Marvel Comics' first family. Following their comic book debut in 1962, the Fantastic Four very quickly reset the superhero paradigm thanks to the combination of writer Stan Lee's quirky characterizations and artist Jack Kirby's imaginative designs. The super-team quickly became one of the industry's top-sellers, with the Marvel Universe as we know it following in their wake, and it wasn't long before Saturday morning came a-calling.

While other Marvel heroes had showed up in animation the previous year via a syndicated weekday skein using the actual panels from the comics for some extremely limited animation, the FF, owing to their position of preeminence in the publisher's pecking order, had something better reserved for them. Back then animation house Hanna-Barbera was the undisputed king of the kidvid castle (and who can blame them?), so their licensing of the cosmic quartet was pretty much the biggest indicator yet that Marvel had "made it." Here's what it looked like when The Fantastic Four premiered on ABC in September of '67:

Featuring character designs by noted artist Alex Toth, The Fantastic Four TV show pretty closely followed the template laid out by the first sixty-or-so issues of the Marvel Comics run, with abridged, kiddie-fied adaptations of the early adventures of Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing. Given the relative newness of the Marvel line back then, you have to figure this show was pretty much the first exposure of many kiddies to that whole universe, and it was a solid intro at that, with appearances by Doctor Doom, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and more.

Twenty episodes of the series were produced, with the show ending its network run in '68. But while the initial run may have been short-lived, The Fantastic Four retained a pretty healthy afterlife in rerun heaven. Speaking for myself, I used to watch it all the time while I was growing up in Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, while the characters are owned by Marvel (now Disney), the show was owned by Hanna-Barbara (which is now owned by Time-Warner, which also owns rival DC Comics). As such, there's no telling when, or if, the show will ever hit home vid. I hope it eventually does, though. That would be, y'know, fantastic.

Next week: The FF's next animated show!

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: The Invaders Are Here!

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: A Mash Note to Trapper John, MD

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Masters of the Universe: The Motion Picture Turns 25

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