The Great Saturday Morning Experience

Show Spotlight: The New Fantastic Four (1978)

“The New Fantastic Four” was the second animated version of the Fantastic Four. Instead of Hanna-Barbera, it was produced by DePatie–Freleng Enterprises and Marvel Comics Animation. It first aired on September 9th, 1978 until December 16th, 1978. Several episodes were put out on VHS. There was a DVD set released for the UK. There were also a few episodes released in Canada as part of the 1980s Marvel Comics Video Library.

The first thing to do is to clear up that Human Torch rumor. The idea we all heard so often that they were afraid kids would catch themselves on fire is false. the simple truth was that Universal Studios had the rights to use the character of The Human Torch for a TV pilot movie that was never made. Because of this the show had to replace Johnny Storm.

Thanks to Star Wars, science fiction and robots were very popular so instead of replacing him with another established character, they had Reed invent a robot member of the crew. His name would be H.E.R.B.I.E., an acronym for Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics. H.E.R.B.I.E. may have been one of the least liked characters of his generation although younger kids who never read the comics or saw the original Hanna-Barbera show didn’t seem to mind. While that one was considered the best by many, it’s because of H.E.R.B.I.E. that this version is considered by many their least favorite. Despite this, H.E.R.B.I.E. made his way into the actual comics, however briefly, the next year.

This version was also fairly true to the Lee and Kirby original source material only not as much as the Hanna-Barbera version which is ironic considering Stan Lee wrote most of the series and Kirby provided storyboards. Of course these were the 70s and the style of Saturday morning shows had changed a lot since the previous iteration. The stories in this version went a little more toward camp and had a bit of a silliness to them. One particular example of such silliness is when Magneto, arch foe of the X-Men, is defeated by Mr. Fantastic. Reed makes him think he has lost his powers by using a wooden gun against him, which is fine, but then he explains this to a bewildered Magneto who then could have easily used his powers to get away, but instead submits himself to the authorities.

Blastaar/Dr. Doom/The Mole Man/Magneto

As far as the voice talent, they got Dick Tufeld to narrate. Tufeld was a very experienced announcer/narrator having worked on shows such as “Space Patrol”, “The Magical World of Disney”. “Surfside 6”, and the Irwin Allen produced shows; “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”, “The Time Tunnel, and “Lost in Space”, but it was the additional job on that last show he will always be known for which is the voice of one of our favorite TV robots, B9.

Ted Cassidy as The Thing/Mike Road as Mr. Fantastic/Ginny Tyler as The Invisible Woman/Frank Welker as H.E.R.B.I.E.

Ted Cassidy was called on to bring his deep tones to the voice of The Thing. Ted of course is likely best known as Lurch from “The Addams Family” but has done his share of voice over work as well, with more than enough Saturday morning show characters to earn his own entry. A couple of highlights from that list would be Frankenstein Jr. and Godzilla.

Mike Road played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic. Mike was no stranger to the world of the Fantastic Four, having portrayed both Prince Triton and Rama Tut on the original Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four series a decade earlier.

Ginny Tyler, an official Disney Legend, performed the voice of Sue Richards, The Invisible Woman. Ginny had an extensive catalog of voice over work that included a squirrel in “The Sword in the Stone”, both the sister and mother of Davey, on “Davey and Goliath”; Wendy on “The New Casper Cartoon Show”, Jan from “Space Ghost”; Flirtacia from “The Adventures of Gulliver”; and both Aunt Martha and Polly on “Devlin”.

Frank Welker, one of the most prolific voice artists of all time, provided the voice for H.E.R.B.I.E. as well as the Impossible Man. Frank’s career spans decades and includes so many different companies and characters his individual entry is sure to be a long one. You may recognize him most as the voice of Fred Jones from the original Scooby-Doo shows. He is so versatile he even took over the voice of Scooby after the death of Don Messick. Other characters you might know of his would be Jabberjaw, Dynomutt, Fangface, Shmoo, and Marvin from the original “Super Friends”.

There were only thirteen episodes made which was becoming more common rather than having twenty as the previous series had. The episode titles were as follows:

“A Monster Among Us”
“The Menace of Magneto”
“The Phantom of Film City” – featuring the Skrulls
“Medusa and the Inhumans”
“The Diamond of Doom”
“The Mole Man”
“The Olympics of Space”
“The Fantastic Four Meet Doctor Doom”
“The Frightful Four”
“Calamity on the Campus” – featuring Dragon Man
“The Impossible Man”
“The Final Victory of Doctor Doom”
“Blastaar, the Living Bomb Burst”

One of the complaints about the show from those making it, was that it didn’t have enough action. You’ll see a lot of scenes of people just standing around and having conversations, which is really odd when it comes to the aliens and powerful villains. In the end, the Marvel side of things just weren’t that happy with the show and soon gave the rights to the Thing back to Hanna-Barbera. Considering what they did with him, I’m not sure how well thought out that was, but that’s a post for another day. Until then we’ll remember the 1978 version of the Fantastic Four as a great example of what Marvel was doing in those days, taking more control over their own characters. DePatie-Freleng soon gave way to Marvel Animation which produced many more of the famous Marvel Universe characters over the next several years. These will never be remembered as the best Marvel cartoons, but if you grew up in the late 70s you likely remember them fondly.

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