May 26, 2018


(NBC, September 9-December 16, 1978)

DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, Marvel Comics Animation

Mike RoadMr. Fantastic/Reed Richards
Ginny TylerInvisible Girl/Susan Richards
Ted CassidyThe Thing/Benjamin J. Grimm, Mole Man
Dick Tufeld - Narrator

For the history of the Fantastic Four, check out the post here.

            The second Fantastic Four cartoon was probably the most hated. The reason being? One word: H.E.R.B.I.E.

The Fantastic Four, featuring H.E.R.B.I.E.

Before Marvel became an entertainment powerhouse at the box-office, they were constantly struggling to bring their characters out of the comics and onto the screen. They often had to rely on other studios, and thus made deals licensing out their characters for production. In 1977, Universal Studios optioned an assortment of characters for various live-action productions. Most famously in that deal was the Hulk for The Incredible Hulk television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Universal also optioned the Human Torch. JUST the Human Torch.

H.E.R.B.I.E. helping work the Fantasticar.

When NBC’s Fred Silverman wanted to commission a new Fantastic Four series, Universal would not allow the use of the Torch (ironically, NBC would come to share owners with Universal decades later). A popular myth that had spread over the years was he was left out in fear kids would try to emulate him and set themselves on fire (forgetting that Hanna-Barbera had successfully produced a show with the Torch back in 1967). In the comics up to this point, the Inhumans Crystal and Medusa and hero for hire Luke Cage served as alternate members of the team, as others would as well down the line. But, instead of using an established Marvel character, they decided to use an all-new one: H.E.R.B.I.E. (Frank Welker).

The strange Inhumans.

H.E.R.B.I.E., or Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-Type, Integrated Electronics, was a robot created by Mr. Fantastic (Mike Road) to aid in his experiments and their exploratory missions. Stan Lee pitched the idea of a cute robot sidekick to DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (after a disagreement had them take the show away from Hanna-Barbera), with comic artist Dave Cockrum commissioned to design it. However, Cockrum ended up disliking the character immensely and was replaced by Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby.  Lee would also serve as a writer for the show, while Kirby provided storyboards.

The menace of Magneto!

Like the previous Fantastic Four series, it adapted some of the plots from actual comic stories; however heavily altered for the inclusion of H.E.R.B.I.E. For instance, “Medusa and the Inhumans” adapted the first encounter of the Inhumans and the Fantastic Four from Fantastic Four #45 (1965), but they were led by Medusa instead of her husband, Black Bolt, and had typical villain plans for world conquest. Medusa later returned as a member of the Frightful Four in the same-titled episode, however as a willing member and not under the influence of amnesia as depicted in Fantastic Four #36 (1965). “Calamity on Campus” was based on Fantastic Four #35 (1965) but relocated the story’s setting to St. Louis instead of the fictional New York town of Hegeman and omitted the alchemist villain Diablo. Along with the standard Fantastic Four foes, like Dr. Doom (John Stephenson), the android Dragon Man, the subterranean Mole Man (Ted Cassidy) and the shape-changing alien Impossible Man (Welker), there were also appearances by some original characters and even the X-Men’s Magneto (although, he wasn’t called a mutant during his appearance and was depicted as a typical crook, voiced by Stephenson).

Ad for the series.

Fantastic Four, also known as The New Fantastic Four, debuted on NBC on September 9, 1978. Along with Lee, the series was written by Roy Thomas, Bob Johnson, Christy Marx and Bob Stitzel. In an unusual move, the episode would begin immediately after the intro with narration by Dick Tufeld, and then cut to the title card shortly after instead of at the traditional start of the episode following the intro. The series’ theme was composed by Dean Elliott and Eric Rogers, with the remainder of the music done by Elliott. The result was that nobody was particularly happy with the show. Lee sent a letter to Hanna-Barbera’s Margaret Loesch detailing his desire for the next attempt at the Fantastic Four to be more action-oriented. However, despite DePatie-Freleng’s attempts to salvage the show, Silverman was ready to move on entirely and took back the rights to the Thing; giving them to Hanna-Barbera to make The Thing. DePatie-Freleng moved on to another Marvel hero, Spider-Woman, before eventually becoming Marvel Productions.

H.E.R.B.I.E.'s comics debut.

At 13 episodes, this was the shortest Fantastic Four cartoon to date. H.E.R.B.I.E., while not a popular character, soon found his way into the comics in Fantastic Four #209 (1979) by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne. The in-story explanation for his creation was that Mr. Fantastic was inspired to build H.E.R.B.I.E. after the character was included in an in-universe television show as a replacement for the Torch, who was unavailable to give permission to use his likeness. H.E.R.B.I.E. has since appeared in a variety of comics, programs, movies and merchandise. For the comic’s 20th anniversary to be celebrated in Fantastic Four #236 (1981), Lee decided to include finished and reworked storyboards as a 14-page back-up story without Kirby’s knowledge or permission. At this time, Kirby’s relationship with Marvel was strained as he was trying to reclaim his original artwork from the company, and had refused to provide a new story for the issue. While his name was used to promote the story on the cover, a caricature by the issue’s primary writer/artist John Byrne was removed from the cover.

One of the VHS release covers.

            Milton Bradley made a board game inspired by the show, which had players rescuing H.E.R.B.I.E. from Dr. Doom. Prism Entertainment Corp. released six episodes to VHS as part of their Marvel Comics Video Library across several volumes. A two-video set featuring “Meet Doctor Doom” and “The Olympics of Space” was also released. Morningstar Entertainment transferred several of the videos in the Marvel Library series to DVD for release in Canada, which included ‘Meet Doctor Doom” and “The Impossible Man”. The complete series was released to DVD in the United Kingdom in 2010 by Clear Vision Ltd. In 2012, scenes from the series were used and reworked as comical shorts for Disney XD’s Marvel Mash-Up as part of their Marvel Universe on Disney XD programming block. 

“A Monster Among Us” (9/9/78) – The Fantastic Four take on an alien monster that crash-landed on Earth.

“The Menace of Magneto” (9/16/78) – Magneto wins leadership of the team from Mr. Fantastic and turns them into criminals.

“The Phantom of Film City” (9/23/78) – The Fantastic Four’s movie is plagued by Skrulls.

“Medusa and the Inhumans” (9/30/78) – The Fantastic Four investigate reports of strange beings in the Alps and end up prisoners of the Inhumans.

“The Diamond of Doom” (10/7/78) – The sinister Queen Sebel enlists the Fantastic Four’s aid in retrieving the Great White Stone stolen from her.

“The Mole Man” (10/14/78) – The Fantastic Four have to stop Mole Man’s theft of power plants around the world.

“The Olympics of Space” (10/21/78) – Thing is abducted by warring aliens and made to compete in their contests.

“The Fantastic Four Meet Doctor Doom” (10/28/78) – Doctor Doom forces the Fantastic Four to go back in time to steal the treasure of Blackbeard.

“The Frightful Four” (11/4/78) – Wizard creates his own team, the Frightful Four, to combat the Fantastic Four.

“Calamity on the Campus” (11/11/78) – Gregson Gilbert’s robotic Dragon Man ends up stolen by his assistant for his own sinister purposes.

“The Impossible Man” (11/18/78) – A shapeshifting alien comes to Earth and inadvertently befriends a criminal who makes use of his abilities.

“The Final Victory of Doctor Doom” (11/25/78) – Doctor Doom blackmails the United States into turning the country over to him.

“Blastaar, the Living Bomb Burst” (12/2/78) – The discovery of the Negative Zone leads to Mr. Fantastic accidentally unleashing Blastaar on the planet.

Originally posted in 2018. Updated in 2020.

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