If you're a longtime fan of the Fantastic Four, it's hard not to be judgmental when you first catch a peep of this show. But if you can get past the retooled character and costume designs (for the FF and their villains), and Reed's unruly mop of hair and Johnny's anime-influenced spiky do, and that spray-painted "4" on Ben's chest - then you might get that this is a pretty good animated series. Or was, anyway, since it's been canned already.
FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD'S GREATEST HEROES debuted in September 2006 on the Cartoon Network. For the curious ones, this happens to be the fourth television incarnation of Marvel's first superhero family, succeeding the 1967, 1978 (with H.E.R.B.I.E. taking over for the Torch), and the 1994 versions. It's the hippest and funniest TV adaptation yet.
The series captures the essence of these characters. I've always liked Reed Richards, but he's never been the ideal leading man. Here, he seems to be younger but as typically bland and henpecked (thanks, Sue), although at times his personality channels the hipper Ultimate Reed Richards. Johnny Storm, patterned after the live action film's version, has never been more brash and immature, but he grew on me, and there are many times when he landed me in the silly giggles. He and H.E.R.B.I.E. provide a lot of the humor. The ever-lovin' Thing is still a tragic monster, but big-hearted, as demonstrated in "Contest of Champions." Johnny's older sis, Susan, consistently plays the role of the grown-up in the team and makes a formidable second-in-command. I'm glad that H.E.R.B.I.E. is back in the mix. This time H.E.R.B.I.E. is the self-aware computer system which Reed constructs to help run the Baxter Building. I dig how persistently cheerful and neurotic this new incarnation of H.E.R.B.I.E. is.
The mythos and spirit of the FF are well translated onto the screen. The sci-fi backdrop. Reed's futuristic gadgets. The classic and complex supervillains. The FF's constant family bickerings and infighting. As per norm, Reed's powerhouse intellect and scientific curiosity dictate that the team, besides holding down that saving the world gig, also acts as part-time explorers. As such, the foursome frequently end up in peculiar environments, whether it's the Microverse, the Negative Zone, on a different planet, or even in an alternate timeline. The Fantastic Four have always been adventurers on an epic scale. Mining from the FF mythos, quite a few of the episodes here are inspired by classic FF stories from the comic book (the FF getting evicted, Reed and Doom trading bodies, the Baxter Building being launched into space, the coming of Terminus, etc.).
The scattershot TV scheduling never gave the show a chance to build a loyal following. In my case, the sporadic airing left me lukewarm and even feeling critical of the episodes, and of the changes effected. But, now, having just seen the entire run on this box set, I've come around 180. After steady viewing, the continuity and cohesiveness of the show are more readily discerned, despite that the stories tended to be episodic. Past events are recalled in later episodes. Torch's fear of water is revisited a number of times. The Baxter Building tenants have recurring appearances.
As done by the French-based animation house, Moonscoop, the animation is crazy bananas - a cool, fairly smooth integration of 2D and CG, and rendered with lush and vivid colors. Everything looks great - the FF certainly, but also the revamped classic villains. And the background details are exquisite stuff! The city landscape, for example, is impressively depicted time and again. The "Annihilate" episode, in particular, showcases some stunning visuals. And, the stuff's presented in anamorphic widescreen. Also, I don't want to leave out the episode title cards, which struck me as cool and arresting visuals. The theme song, however, is dang weak.
Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes: The Complete First Season, in four discs, collects all 26 episodes, quite a few of which never got a chance to be aired. This terrific looking box set offers these bonus features: audio commentaries by Head Writer Chris Yost and Exec Producer Craig Kyle on 3 episodes: "My Neighbor Was A Skrull," "Contest of Champions," and "Scavenger Hunt"; "From Origin to Animation" (18 minutes long) tracks the FF's conception and evolution and includes an interview with Stan Lee; "Rise of the Rogues" (9 minutes) covers the FF's classic villains (again, with Stan Lee); "Traveling to New Dimensions" focuses on the animation work and features interviews with the Moonscoop crew; four art galleries, including one showcasing some classic FF comic book covers; and even a miniature comic book reprinting Ultimate Fantastic Four #1.
The surface tweaks might be disconcerting at first, but, trust me, just roll with them. You'll find that this is the quintessential Fantastic Four. The same dysfunctional team, the same family of superheroes. Ben's self-loathing as a monster, Ben and Johnny's non-stop teasing and pranking, the classic supervillains, all these bring a retro feel to the show, hearkening back to when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were doing the honors on the World's Greatest Magazine. And, really, when was the Fantastic Four franchise ever better than when those two old coots were running it?
- Episode 1 - "Doomsday" - Dissension fractures the team as the media accuses Reed of having deliberately exposed Sue, Ben, and Johnny to cosmic rays on their fateful space mission.
- Episode 2 - "Molehattan" - When Manhattan highrises begin to sink underground, it could only mean the work of the Mole Man. And, this time, Ol' Moley wants Ben to join his side.
- Episode 3- "Trial by Fire" - Johnny Storm is charged with high crimes against the intergalactic Kree Empire. Johnny's trial lawyer? Reed Richards.
- Episode 4- "Doomed" - Doom's mind transference technology enables him to swap bodies with Reed. A camera crew follows Johnny around to film a "day in the life" segment.
- Episode 5 - "Puppet Master" - A segment of the space station in which the FF originally got their powers crashes onto a beach and irradiates the sculpting clay of Alicia Masters's disturbed step-father.
- Episode 6 - "Zoned Out" - When a portal to the Negative Zone is opened, bug creatures drawn to energy invade the Baxter Building. This couldn't be a worse time for a tenants' meeting to be held.
- Episode 7 - "Hard Knocks" - Two words: "Hulk smash!"
- Episode 8 - "My Neighbor Was A Skrull" - Wonderful episode. The Baxter Building suffers a systems breakdown even as the F.F.'s neighbors get all weird; H.E.R.B.I.E. begins speaking in Spanish: "El gato es muy macho."
- Episode 9 - "World's Tiniest Heroes" - A lab mishap causes the team to drastically shrink; guest-starring Ant Man.
- Episode 10 - "De-Mole-ition" - While out in the streets of New York, engaging in family time, the FF are attacked by a giant monster which bursts from underneath. So much for family time.
- Episode 11 - "Impossible" - Reed's space probe returns with an unexpected guest: the mischievous, shapeshifting Impossible Man. Now the F.F. can't get rid of the pesky alien.
- Episode 12 - "Bait and Switch" - A power surge accidentally has the Fantastic Four switching powers...and personality traits. Just in time for Doctor Doom to take advantage.
- Episode 13 - "Annihilation" - The FF are whooshed thru a mysterious sphere and into the Negative Zone, where their powers are drastically boosted. Oh, and they meet Annihilus... and an old foe.
- Episode 14 - "Revenge of the Skrulls" - The Skrulls are back, bringing with them the Super Skrull (who boasts all of the F.F.'s powers), but their scheme is thwarted by the F.F. - and some nerd named Rupert, who won Susan's "Be A Fantastic Fifth for a Day" contest. Meanwhile, Ronan the Accuser seeks revenge against the Human Torch.
- Episode 15- "Strings" - The Fantastic Four are evicted from the Baxter Building. Now they have to get real jobs.
- Episode 16 - "Imperius Rex" - Namor the Sub-Mariner (and Prince of Atlantis) bars the human race from the world's oceans. And Johnny, who hates getting wet, gets wet.
- Episode 17 - "Doomsday Plus One" - At 4am, Doctor Doom takes over the Baxter Building and launches it into space; the tenants aren't happy with this.
- Episode 18 - "The Cure" - Reed reverts Ben back to before that fateful space launch, thus making him human again, but without his memories intact; guest-starring She-Hulk.
- Episode 19 - "Frightful" - Move over, Fantastic Four. There's a new superhero team in town - the Frightful Four.
- Episode 20 - "Out of Time" - Returning from a time travelling jaunt, the FF find that present-day New York is now ruled by Doctor Doom.
- Episode 21 - "Atlantis Attacks" - Having been forcefully deposed as monarch of Atlantis, Namor ascends to the surface world with a dire warning: the massive Atlantean army is on the attack (or as Ben says: "It's, uh, a lot of fish guys.").
- Episode 22 - "Shell games" - Versions of the Iron Man armor attack the FF. H.E.R.B.I.E. fears he is about to be replaced.
- Episode 23 - "Johnny Storm and the Potion of Fire" - When Johnny is doused with Diablo's alchemy potion, it turns him kinda evil.
- Episode 24 - "Contest of Champions" - I really dug this one. The FF must compete in a contest against Ronan the Accuser, the Super-Skrull, Annihilus and the Impossible Man, with the fate of humanity at stake. Among the games selected: charades, scooter racing, and a spelling bee (Annihilus: "Could you use that word in a sentence?").
- Episode 25 - "Doom's World Is Law" - One of Doctor Doom's doombots gains sentience and is befriended by Ben.
- Episode 26 - "Scavenger Hunt" - Terminus, fearsome scourge of the universe, comes to scavenge the planet Earth.