The New Fantastic Four is a superhero cartoon show originally aired on NBC from September 9 to December 16, 1978. The said show features the title superhero group that first appeared on the Marvel comic book series Fantastic Four, which was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The New Fantastic Four featured a new character who replaced a member of the group due to legal reasons, and because this character became quite popular, he officially became a sidekick or assistant for the comic book counterpart of the Fantastic Four. To know more about this new character and the show, here is an introduction to The New Fantastic Four.
Conceptualization and Production
The show was produced by both Marvel Comics Animation and DePatie Freleng Enterprises in 1978. The latter is mostly known for its animated shows in the early 1970s, and one of their longest-running shows was The Pink Panther Show, which ran from 1969 to 1980. The company is also notable for creating the special effects for the original Star Wars film in 1977, including the blaster effects and the lightsaber effects that allowed the laser swords in the movie to glow blue or red. DePatie Freleng was eventually dissolved in 1981, and it was re-branded as Marvel Productions. However, Marvel was unable to secure the intellectual properties of the company, and years later, they were acquired by various film and animation companies.
The New Fantastic Four arose as a joint venture between Marvel and DePatie Freleng, and it serves as a successor to the 1967 Fantastic Four series that was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions. The 1967 show is known as the first animated series that is based on the comic book “Fantastic Four.”
Lee Gunther, the co-founder of Marvel Productions that worked as a film editor for more than 80 animated short films, served as the executive producer for The New Fantastic Four. The show only ran for one season with 13 episodes in total.
Three of the original Fantastic Four members are featured in the show, and these characters are Mister Fantastic, Invisible Girl, and The Thing. Mister Fantastic, whose real name is Reed Richards, has the ability to stretch out or elongate any part of his body, and his elasticity is accompanied by durability that enables him to withstand heavy blows. Because his body is somehow made of rubber, he is immune to electricity. Furthermore, Mister Fantastic is considered as one of the smartest superheroes in the Marvel universe.
Susan Storm, known by her superhero name Invisible Girl (later Invisible Woman in the comics), possesses the ability to become invisible by bending and controlling light. Invisible Girl eventually develops the power to generate force fields that can block or sometimes reflect attacks.
The Thing, whose alter ego is Benjamin Grimm, has a body made up of sturdy rocks that allow him to become stronger and more durable. Before becoming The Thin, Benjamin Grimm is already an experience hand-to-hand combat fighter, and with his added power of super strength and durability, he can pummel enemies without getting hurt by hits.
Susan Storm’s brother and an original member of the group, Johnny Storm, did not appear in The New Fantastic Four as The Human Torch because the intellectual property for the character was owned by Universal Studios during the time of the show’s airing. Universal Studios was supposed to use The Human Torch for a television movie, but it was never produced.
The Human Torch character was then replaced by a robot named H.E.R.B.I.E, who was created by Mister Fantastic to aid him in his experiments in the laboratory. Eventually, the robot was fitted with weapons to defend other people from nefarious villains. H.E.R.B.I.E was originally conceptualized by Stan Lee as the fourth member of the group before the publication of the Fantastic Four comic book. However, the one that Lee assigned to be the artist for the comic, Dave Cockrum, disliked the robot character and didn’t want to draw it. Cockrum was then replaced by Jack Kirby, but the robot character was scrapped and was replaced by The Human Torch. When The New Fantastic Four aired, audiences loved H.E.R.B.I.E so much that it prompted the writer for the Fantastic Four comic book during that time, Marv Wolfman, to incorporate the character in the Marvel comic universe.
Broadcast and Home Video Release
The New Fantastic Four premiered at NBC on September 9, 1978, and it was able to continue production until December 16, 1978, when it aired its 13th and final episode. NBC still aired the show in reruns over the years after its cancellation, and the reruns are what made the show even more known to kids and adults alike.
A DVD collection of all episodes of the show was supposed to be distributed by Liberation Films on the UK in 2008, but the release was canceled following the company’s filing for bankruptcy in the same year. Another company, Clear Vision, successfully distributed the DVD collection in March 2010, but only in the UK.
Because The Fantastic Four superhero group was already quite popular during the late 1970s, The New Fantastic Four became an instant hit. However, the show’s popularity did not only rely on iconic characters, as the new characters that it introduced were so well-received that they were integrated into the universe of Marvel Comics.