History of Hanna-Barbera: 'Fantastic Four' (1967)

Updated on June 14, 2019

1967 was a profitable year for Hanna-Barbera when it came to superhero cartoons. Following the success of Space Ghost & Dino Boy the previous year (and, to a lesser extent, Frankenstein Jr. & the Impossibles), they had six new action/adventure cartoons greenlit for the 1967-68 season across all three networks. While most of these were original characters, or based on characters in the public domain, one show stood unique among them as being based on a pre-existing superhero team. Developed for ABC to be paired with the Spider-Man cartoon that would be airing that same season, Hanna-Barbera adapted the First Family of Marvel: The Fantastic Four.

The Fantastic Four (1967)

Airdates
Network
Studio
September 9, 1967 - September 21, 1968
ABC
Hanna-Barbera
The Fantastic Four were developed by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the first of many superheroes they would create together.
The Fantastic Four were developed by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the first of many superheroes they would create together.

The Fantastic Four’s real life origin, and indeed the origin of the Marvel Universe itself, goes back to six years earlier, in 1961. Sales of superheroes had been down for over a decade following the end of World War 2, but they were on the rise again after rival publisher National Periodical Publications (later known as DC Comics) managed to spark a new interest in them, beginning with the introduction of the Barry Allen version of the Flash (the often cited beginning of the “Silver Age” of comic books). By 1961, their newest hit was the Justice League of America, a team made up of DC’s most popular heroes. The newly rebranded Marvel Comics (previously known as “Timely” in the 40s and “Atlas” in the 50s), led by publisher Martin Goodman, saw how profitable the trend was going, and decided to create their own superhero team. Goodman enlisted Stan Lee, who had been working at the company since he was a teenager in 1939, as well as Jack Kirby, an artist who had previously worked on the Captain America comics, to develop the new team.

The Fantastic Four as seen in their origin.
The Fantastic Four as seen in their origin.

The general thought from Lee going in was that he felt that the heroes from DC at the time were too perfect, never seeming to display any personal follies and never arguing between each other the way that real people do. Using Kirby’s earlier DC series “Challengers of the Unknown” as a basis, the two creators developed a team of four heroes given powers by gamma rays while on a test flight. Heroes who, while operating in cooperation as a family, also quarrelled between each other like a family.

Mr. Fantastic stretching to punch Klaw
Mr. Fantastic stretching to punch Klaw

There was the genius scientist Reed Richards, “Mr. Fantastic”, authoritative and with the ability to stretch his body in a way like that of Plastic Man from Quality Comics. His girlfriend, Sue Storm, “The Invisible Woman”, was given her powers because, as Lee would claim, he was inspired by Universal’s “The Invisible Man” and didn’t want Sue to be just a copy of Wonder Woman with super-strength.

The Human Torch, having just melted a wall.
The Human Torch, having just melted a wall.

Sue’s hot-headed brother, Johnny Storm, was appropriately given the ability to turn into fire as “The Human Torch”, a reimagining of an earlier Timely Comics hero. Then there was Ben Grimm, “The Thing”, a hero seeped in tragedy as he had been transformed into a powerful rock-like creature, but being unable to change back, had been robbed of a normal life.

The Skrulls observing the Fantastic Four
The Skrulls observing the Fantastic Four

The comic book was a hit with audiences, and boosted Marvel Comics as a legitimate competitor to DC, with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby continuing to develop numerous iconic heroes throughout the 1960s. Five years after the Fantastic Four launched, the comic publisher had already made it onto television with “The Marvel Super Heroes”, a syndicated cartoon using extremely limited animation to bring Kirby’s artwork to life. However, the Fantastic Four were not part of this; Instead, the following year, the honor to animate Marvel’s first superheroes of the Silver Age would befall Hanna-Barbera, who debuted a Fantastic Four animated series in the fall of 1967 on ABC.

The Thing facing off with the Super-Skrull
The Thing facing off with the Super-Skrull

Whether it was intentional or just incidental, the decision to wait a year for Hanna-Barbera to make the show, rather than have the team appear on Marvel’s syndicated program, worked in their favor. While the syndicated program had such a minimal budget that what little animation it had was primarily used to move pre-drawn comic book art just enough to seem convincing, “Fantastic Four” was completely animated from the ground-up. Utilizing the production pipeline Hanna-Barbera had developed over the past ten years, as well as redesigns by artist Alex Toth (a frequent contributor to the studio’s superhero shows), the series came out looking arguably better than any of the other cartoons of the time based on comic books.

Doctor Doom addressing the United Nations
Doctor Doom addressing the United Nations

While not as direct as the syndicated program, Hanna-Barbera’s “Fantastic Four” did see many of the early memorable storylines get adapted into animated form. Some of these episodes even shared the same titles as the stories they adapted, such as episode 5b and 7 being the same as issues 13 and 29 (which featured villain Red Ghost). Through these adaptations, many of their iconic villains appeared, such as Doctor Doom, the Mole Man, Super-Skrull, Klaw, and even Blastaar (who had only made his debut in the comics a few months earlier).

One of the most iconic Fantastic Four storylines, "The Galactus Trilogy", was adapted into an episode.
One of the most iconic Fantastic Four storylines, "The Galactus Trilogy", was adapted into an episode.

Even the most iconic storyline of the comic’s first five years, “The Galactus Trilogy”, was adapted as an episode. In this appearance, Galactus (voiced by actor Ted Cassidy, who’d go on to play Ben Grimm in the unrelated Fantastic Four cartoon from the 70s) was oddly depicted with green skin. Overall, the episode was a decent attempt at condensing the three issue storyline into a 22 minute format.

Due to the rights being held up with Krantz Films, Prince Namor was substituted with an original character, "Prince Triton".
Due to the rights being held up with Krantz Films, Prince Namor was substituted with an original character, "Prince Triton".

On the subject of oddities, it’s worth noting about the episode “Danger in the Depths”. An important character to the early years of the Fantastic Four was Prince Namor, a character from the Golden Age of comics who was reintroduced in Fantastic Four as a sometimes-antagonist/sometimes-ally of the group. The episode adapted a story in which he had appeared in the comics (issue #33), however his role was replaced with an original character, “Prince Triton”. This was due to the face that Namor had been appearing in the syndicated “Marvel Super Heroes” show in his own segments, barring Hanna-Barbera from using him. However, his supporting cast was still allowed to appear.

The Fantastic Four cartoon saw the voice talents of actor Gerald Mohr as Reed Richards, actress Jo Ann Pflug as Sue Storm, Jac Flounders as Johnny Storm, and Paul Frees as Ben Grimm and Utau the Watcher. Additional guest voices include Joseph Sirola, Jack DeLeon, Vic Perrin, and Hal Smith.


While popular, the series only lasted one season (plus a season of reruns in 1968), as the rising tide of parental groups against violence on television made the networks gradually shied away from action cartoons. It went on to have a decent run in syndication, most notably as part of the “Hanna Barbera’s World of Super Adventure” block in 1978 alongside other series with character designs by Alex Toth. Most recently, however, the show has been tied up in company rivalry which prevent a home release, as the rights were eventually acquired Warner Bros, rival studio to Disney, who now own Marvel itself.

In 1979, Hanna-Barbera would make a series of cartoons about a boy who could transform into the Thing via a magic ring.
In 1979, Hanna-Barbera would make a series of cartoons about a boy who could transform into the Thing via a magic ring.

For the First Family of Marvel, Hanna-Barbera’s Fantastic Four was an important milestone in both proving the characters could be translated into animation well, and that the studio could handle adapting pre-existing superheroes. Hanna-Barbera did somewhat revisit the Fantastic Four again, with a series of shorts starring a boy who could transform into the Thing. But as for what they learned in working on the 1967 series, it would help them on their next big superhero project the following decade.

Fantastic Four model sheet by Alex Toth
Fantastic Four model sheet by Alex Toth

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)