When I was a kid in the fourth grade, one fine afternoon a routine bout of channel surfing gave me a completely new channel with a wonderful concept – they broadcast Cartoons right through the day. The channel was then calledCartoon Network, and they used to broadcast mostly Hanna Barbera stuff – which I was new to, back then. I saw a lot of classics I knew (Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes), new stuff I came to love (Scooby Doo, Huckleberry Hound) and a feature that looked too interesting for words – The Power Zone. I remember this part all too well as it was a two-hour programme that featured only action cartoons.
At the outset, I remember running home from school to thrill to the adventures of The Fantastic Four, The Centurions, Jonny Quest, Thundarr The Barbarianand Super Adventures – a gamut of H-B studio works, like Space Ghost,Birdman, Mightor, The Herculoids, Shazzan, Moby Dick, Dino Boy and theGalaxy Trio. These cartoons and the ones that followed – Swat Kats, Captain Planet, Sky Commanders, Galtar and the Golden Lance – inspired me to look for comics featuring action heroes, and to be honest I wasn’t reading a lot of foreign comics, so my action comics were limited to Indrajal Comics and Diamond Comics’ Mahabali Shaka, Agniputra Abhay, Fauladi Singh and Lamboo Motu. Only after viewing these did my interest in foreign comics, as well as in Indian publications featuring other foreign characters (IBH & Dolton both printed Indian editions of DC Comics long ago), and my chief inspiration was The Fantastic Four (1967)
Why is all this important right now? Well, I chanced upon a copy of Maximum FF , a deluxe hardcover book which actually tops the DC Absolute editions. The book features the classic issue of Fantastic Four #1, with each panel as a blow-up occupying an entire page. I have that feeling that long before the concept of “widescreen-comics” became, well, fashionable (particularly with Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man & Bryan Hitch on The Ultimates & The Authority), people like Jack Kirby and Curt Swan were using it all the time. The book is a treat to behold, and took me back to my childhood days. It was this which drove me back to the animated series of yore, which in turn brought me back to more of Jack Kirby’s original comics. This series, even though made in 1967 had great production values for the day.
Fantastic Four featured a team of cosmic powered individuals – with one mission – bad guys beware! As the blurb said, those weren’t the days of sophisticated characterization, on TV as well as in the funnybooks written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby. Character designs were by Alex Toth and captured the youthful dynamism of the Jack Kirby illustrations. The series produced a total of twenty episodes, two of which were rehashes of earlier episodes. Of the remaining eighteen, sixteen featured in half hour shows, while the other two made up one hour-long episode.
The series has many of the familiar characters from the comics (a notable few missing are Alicia Masters, Wyatt Wingfoot, Annihilus, The Frightful Four, The Inhumans, The Mad Thinker, Puppet Master and Psycho Man) with subtle differences. Another weak-point is that most characters’ origins are never told, and are introduced as having appeared before, when they didn’t – although perhaps to a kid this makes little difference.
The episode “Klaws” features the team going head-to-head with Klaw, the master of sound. Interestingly, neither the Black Panther nor Wakanda are mentioned here.
The Mole Man makes his presence felt in two episodes, “Menace of the Mole Men” and “Return of the Mole Man”, with his original set up and plans to lower the major cities of the Earth into his domain.
We see the Red Ghost’s origin here, along with his attempts to beat the Fantastic Four in and “The Red Ghost” as well as “It all started on Yancy Street”.
Molecule Man and Gigantoappear as one-note villains in “The Mysterious Molecule Man” and “Demon in the Deep” respectively.
The villain getting the most screen time is of course FF arch-nemesis Doctor Doom, having appeared in “The Three Predictions of Doctor Doom”, “The Way It All Began” and “The Micro World of Doctor Doom”.
Doctor Doom’s origin, is as always interwoven with The Fantastic Four. “The Three Predictions of Doctor Doom” has the Fantastic Four trapped in his airship while he takes them out one by one, while in the Micro World story, he traps the Fantastic Four using, what else, a shrinking device.
The Skrulls appear in “Invasion of the Super Skrulls”, wherein the Skrull Emperor sends the Super-Skrull who has the powers of all members of the Fantastic Four. In “Behold, A Distant Star”, the power hungry Warlord Morrat, as part of a plan to overthrow the Skrull Emperor – captures the Fantastic Four.
Galactus and the Silver Surfermake their debut in “Galactus” where the Silver Surfer approaches Earth to determine whether it is fit for consumption until Sue Richards (due to the absence of Alicia Masters from the show) teaches him the value of human life.
In “Prisoners of Planet X”, we see Kurgo and the inhabitants of his doomed planet as he captures the Fantastic Four and forces them to help him.
Diablo is portrayed much like his comic-origin, as an ageless warlock who is the master of alchemy and whose potions can successfully change the world, and also succeed in changing The Thing back to Ben Grimm, albeit temporarily.
A Namor pastiche, Triton appears here in “Danger in the Depths”, fighting Attuma over the fate of the surface dwellers.
The Fantastic Four encounters Kang (as Ram-A-Tut) when they travel to the past using Doctor Doom’s time platform.
Blastaar, the living bomb burst is shown to be an inhabitant of The Negative Zone who gets into our universe using a space portal.
“The Terrible Tribunal” features Blastaar, The Molecule Man and Klaw recollecting their adventures as a judge sentences Reed as guilty. In “The Deadly Director”, the Imposter plots to make a film on the Fantastic Four, as unbeknownst to them he secretly plots their death. The above two episodes, for the most part are retelling of previous stories.
My favourite episodes, in order are:
Behold, A Distant Star
The Three Predictions of Doctor Doom
After watching all this, I have an urge to catch all the Marvel Animated Features – especially those I missed the first time around. Join me next week for the First Season of the longest running show and most respected of them all, The X-Men, wont you?