Saturday, July 09, 2005

Marvel's first family

The Fantastic Four, on the whole, just can't seem to catch a break. I'm not referring specifically to the movie that opens this weekend, because I haven't seen it yet. Nor am I talking to the much-heard-of, little-seen low-budget effort from 1994. Just in general, they aren't a particularly lucky group.

The details of the story change from time to time, but here's the gist of it: Reed Richards, one of the world's leading minds, takes three people with him to fly an experimental spaceship. The pilot is his best friend, Ben Grimm. The other two occupants are his girlfriend, Sue Storm, and her younger brother, Johnny.

The ship doesn't have enough shielding, and the four are bombarded with cosmic rays once they get out into space. The ship malfunctions, and they survive a crash landing to discover they have (ahem) fantastic powers.

You can tell who's in charge by the names they have.

Sue can turn invisible and is called the Invisible Girl. Johnny can shoot flames from his body unlike the way most guys do. He can also fly. He gets called the Human Torch. Poor Ben turns into a walking rockpile and is dubbed the Thing.

But Reed Richards, the world's smartest guy, who allowed unqualified passengers aboard the ship and took said ship into space without authorization or proper shielding, gets to be called Mr. Fantastic. This despite having the power to stretch like a salt-water taffy.

The Fantastic Four is Marvel Comics' first family. Even though they bicker, just like a real family, they still support each other. In the comics, they've done pretty well. Outside of that, well, maybe I'll just lay out the evidence and let you decide.

The Fantastic Four cartoon from Hanna-Barbera is a personal favorite, even though (aside from the Thing) there isn't much characterization and HB's limited animation are a bit weak. Ben Grimm is voiced by Paul Frees, who also did the voice for tons of other cartoon characters, including Boris Badenov. It's his voice I hear any time I read a Fantastic Four comic.

A little over a decade later, the four returned in a new cartoon called, amazingly enough, "The New Fantastic Four." This incarnation is infamous for its addition to the group's roster. In place of the Human Torch was a cross between C-3PO and R2-D2, the annoying robot called Herbie.

Why wasn't the Human Torch in the show? You might have heard a reason, but Mark Evanier, knower of all things cool, has the short answer at his site.

From around the same time, there was also "Fred and Barney Meet the Thing."

No, I'm not kidding. They didn't really meet; it was just a title of a Flinstones-led cartoon anthology. The Thing segment featured a teenage Ben "Benjy" Grimm who turned into the Thing via the (sigh) Thing Ring. He had one on each hand, and when he hit the rings together and said "Thing Ring, do your thing!" tons of orange rocks flew in from nowhere to cover him and transform him into the Thing.

I thought for the longest time that I had hallucinated this cartoon, but I've since seen it on Cartoon Network's sister channel, Boomerang.

Not only was it a bad cartoon, but I have a feeling that it is responsible for another one of my geek pet-peeves. When discussions on the playground (or in the office) drifted toward the episodes of the Superfriends that featured the Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna, somebody would talk about how they had rings that they touched together to activate their powers.

The twins had only to touch each other. True, most of the time they touched their fists together, but they didn't have rings. I'm sure I'm the only person in the whole world who cares about such things (that's what my wife tells me, anyway), but once a geek, always a geek.

There have been a lot of products tied in with the Fantastic Four. My personal favorite was Fantastic Four bubble gum, which came in a foil-lined pouch similar to the one used for Big League Chew. The chewy tabs came in four flavors: orange, grape, strawberry and watermelon. The big draw was that every pack had 100 pieces. When you're a kid, that's like winning the lottery.

I bought a pack and -- just for grins -- counted all the pieces. I expected it to be close -- 97 or so. But it was a measly 88 pieces. I was so outraged that I wrote a letter to the company. To my surprise, I got a letter back from them, along with a free pack of gum.

And this shows you what kind of annoying kid I was -- I counted the pieces in the free pack. Luckily, it was a little over 100, so I figured I broke even. I wish they still made the stuff; it was really good.

In fact, one of the Tide laundry detergents smells similar to the gum. I don't remember which one it is, but my wife, saint that she is, always picks it up at the store.

Isn’t she, uh, fantastic?


  1. I think she might, uhhhh, be a saint. LOL.

    I remember all of those cheesy cartoons too - Wonder Twin Powers -- ACTIVATE!!

  2. "Thing Ring, do your thing!"

    Even as a kid, I knew that was just plain wrong.

  3. Great post. I was steered here through a post on TV Squad where the writer was heartbroken to learn the Wonder Twins didn't use rings. I was heartbroken to hear that someone thought they did! I'd never heard that rumor. Of course, I'm a geek and grew up with geeky friends (all of whom would probably join me in waxing nostalgic about Fred and Barney Meet the Thing)...