“I Bet You We Won’t See Him Again Until Doomsday!”: Hanna-Barbera’s Fantastic Four

Curator's Note

By 1967, Hanna-Barbera ruled the small world of TV animation. The Flintstones had finished its pioneering run the previous year. Having proven its success at comedy with shows like Yogi Bear, The Jetsons and many more, in 1966, the studio took its first steps into action with Space Ghost and Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles. Those shows were so successful on Saturday mornings that 1967 saw the studio unleash a wave of action cartoons.

The same year that saw The Atom Ant Show and The Magilla Gorilla Show saw new shows like Birdman and the Galaxy Trio and The Herculoids. The only show based on non-original material was Fantastic Four. Premiering on ABC on September 9, 1967, the show aired 20 episodes. Many episodes leapt straight from the iconic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics.

The studio’s trademark limited animation means the show loses a lot of its source material’s Kirby panache. The Human Torch doesn’t flame on for too long and Mr. Fantastic uses his vast intellect more than his stretching powers. Character designs are overhauled. Most notably, Doctor Doom’s iconic mask was streamlined, which made him look semi-friendly instead of menacing.

Despite this, strong scripts, upbeat music and a cast of inspired professionals—most notably Paul Frees as an enthusiastic Thing—make up for the flat visuals and sometimes glacially slow pacing. With time and a legal odyssey that resulted in a show about Disney-owned characters being owned by Warner Brothers, Fantastic Four has largely fallen through the cracks. Except for one unlikely corner.

In 1999, underground rapper MF DOOM—who’d patterned himself after Doctor Doom in appearance and fictional mythos—released his debut double album Operation: Doomsday. A “pop-art mash-up of plastic ’80s R&B, comic-book iconography, and unique rhymes,” the album uses music and dialogue snippets from Fantastic Four. Such a conceit not only keeps with DOOM’s enigmatic brand of funk grooves and low culture ephemera but also repurposes a Hanna-Barbera work in ways no one involved could ever have foreseen.



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