Marvel comics took off in a big way in the 1960s, first with the Fantastic Four, and then with Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, The Avengers, and the X-Men. Within a few years The Marvel Heroes show appeared with very limited animation, basically the grandfather of what would be motion comics. This show featured Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor, The Sub-Mariner, and The Avengers, all in separate segments, but we wouldn’t see the group that started it all until a year later. A television agent saw his son reading an issue of The Fantastic Four and asked him if he thought it would make a great show. He contacted Hanna-Barbera, they found out the rights were available, contacted ABC and as simple as that, we got the first animated version of the Fantastic Four!
The show premiered on ABC on September 9th, 1967. Right after that on the same network, Spider-Man made his animated debut as well. The FF managed 20 episodes in that first season and was rerun until March 15th, 1970. This show is hailed by many as their favorite animated version of the group as it stuck most closely to the source material. Famous comic book artist and animation designer Alex Toth worked up the designs as he would also later do for Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends from Marvel’s distinguished competition. If you are not familiar with the Fantastic Four, they were Marvel’s first super hero group created to compete with DC’s newly successful Justice League series. The group was comprised of, wait for it, four individuals with super powers they received from cosmic rays during a trip into outer space while trying to beat the Russians to the moon. Reed Richards, the leader of the group has always been considered one of the smartest, if not THE smartest scientist in the Marvel universe. From the cosmic rays he acquired the ability to stretch himself like rubber and took on the immodest name of Mr. Fantastic. His lady love, Sue Storm, later to be Sue Richards, gained the power of invisibility along with the ability to create invisible force fields. She became known first as the Invisible Girl and then later, the Invisible Woman. Her younger brother, Johnny Storm, gained the power to turn his body into fire, becoming lighter than air so that he could fly and was able to throw fireballs and streams of fire at will. Their pilot, Reed’s college roommate, Ben Grimm, turned into a creature with an orange rock like hide with immense strength. He became known as The Thing. The show didn’t have to look too far for its stories as they were pretty much just taken from the comics themselves. Not only were the stories so close to the source material but the first episode aired featured The Mole Man, who was the adversary the group faced in the first issue of their comic book series.
After the Mole Man you’ll find a lot of familiar villains from the comics popping up on the show. They meet up with of course their main foe, Dr. Doom, in a story where they also recount their origin. Along the way they fought the Super Skrull, Klaw, The Red Ghost, Diablo, Rama-Tut, Blastaar, Attuma, The Molecule Man, and yes, even Galactus. Many of the villains, most especially Dr. Doom, would make more than one appearance on the show just as they had done in the comics in those early years. While the stories were very close to the comics, and the costumes were fairly close, in many cases the colors were not. I’m not sure why they chose to change the colors of so many of the villains. Most notable is a green Galactus instead of his traditional purple. They also had to get creative in a few episodes where they couldn’t use certain characters that were licensed to other companies, most notably Namor the Sub-Mariner, who was on the Marvel Heroes Show. He was replaced in his story by Prince Triton.
Veteran voice actor Paul Frees supplied the voice for The Thing. Frees is one of the greats of voice acting and will definitely get his own entry as his productivity rivaled that of Daws Butler, Don Messick, and Mel Blanc. I guarantee you’ve heard him in many shows as he worked for several different companies including Jay Ward Productions where he did the voice of Boris Badenov, and Rankin-Bass, where he provided the voices for John Lennon, George Harrison, Santa Claus, and Burgermeister Meisterburger. Besides The Thing for Hanna-Barbera he was also Fluid Man from The Impossibles. Veteran of first radio and then TV, Gerald Mohr played Mr. Fantastic. Gerald was in a lot of westerns including “Maverick”, “Johnny Ringo”, “Cheyenne”, “Bonanza”, “Death Valley Days”, “Rawhide”, and he even narrated many of the first season episodes of “The Lone Ranger”. Jo Ann Pflug voiced the Invisible Girl. Jo Ann had a weekly radio show in LA and went on to star in many made-for-TV movies, and appeared on shows like “McCloud”, “The Love Boat”, CHiPs”, “The Dukes of Hazzard”, “Quincy”, and “Charlie’s Angels”. You may remember her as Allen Funt’s co-host on “Candid Camera” or as a panelist for “Match Game”. The Human Torch was played by Jac Flounders. You might need a private eye to find out what else Mr. Flounders was known for as I could find precious little information about him online.
Many prolific and versatile actors filled out the cast playing the villains notably Jospeh Sirola as Doctor Doom; Hal Smith (Mayberry PD’s favorite guest) as Klaw, Don Messick (perhaps the most prolific of Hanna-Barbera voice artists) as Kirgo/Skrull Emperor; Ted Cassidy (The ever loyal butler for TV’s Addams family) as Galactus; Henry Corden (Allen Reed’s replacement as Fred Flintsone) as Attuma/Molecule Man; Frank Gerstle (prolific TV lawman) as Blastaar; Janet Waldo (perhaps the queen of Hanna Barbera’s voice talent) as Lady Dorma/Princess Perla; Regis Cordic (Transformers) as Diablo; Mike Road (Hanna-Barbera hero and future Reed Richards) as Prince Triton/Rama Tut; Marvin Miller (Robby the Robot) as Super-Skrull; and Vic Perrin (The Outer Limits control voice) as Red Ghost. You’d think the Outer Limits guy would have made a more appropriate Watcher.
Unfortunately this was the year that drove the parents’ groups over the edge because of all the violence in children’s’ television. They put their foot down and Saturday morning cartoons took a very different direction thereafter. This is why the Super Friends and later super hero shows were so toned down by comparison. Alas, the Fantastic Four, and many other of Hanna-Barbera’s action shows were no more. If you are a fan of the original Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four run but have never seen this series, you’ll definitely want to check it out. The animation was a little limited, even for its time, but there’s still plenty of that magic in there that made the FF so popular in the first place. Best of all, there’s no H.E.R.B.I.E. (apologies to all the H.E.R.B.I.E. fans)!