Monday, October 8, 2012

THE single worst super-hero cartoon in history.

They always say you can't go home again, and that's usually fairly wise advice. There are times when the yen for nostalgia takes over and you have to give in and take a look at the past. I have done this tonight. And I have paid the same price I did way back in 1978 when I first saw this particular cultural train wreck. 

Somehow Hollywood almost always manages to screw up when they adapt comic books, and particularly super-heroes, to the screen. Even the very best don't quite ring true to the source material. Billy Batson got his powers from an Egyptian wizard in The Adventures of Captain Marvel and packs heat for most of the serial. Superman II added some strange powers to the Man of Steel. The Rogues' Gallery of TV's The Flash was just the Trickster and a bunch of people who couldn't be bothered to wear costumes. But the worst super-hero cartoon series in history can only be one show: The New Fantastic Four

The year was 1978, and super-heroes were a somewhat hot property, though not nearly as popular as today in the movies. Superman the Movie had hit the theatres, and Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk had respectable runs on CBS. The Fantastic Four had been adapted in the sixties by Hanna-Barbera, and is fondly remembered as the good Marvel cartoon of the sixties, as the Spider-Man series was fairly forgettable beyond the theme song, and the Grantray Lawrence nearly-animated cartoons were well-remembered and ridiculed both for being fairly consistent with the original stories and for being some of the cheapest animation in TV history. They were still a hundred times better than the New Fantastic Four

I'm sure most kids from the seventies remember the show, mainly for one thing: 

Yeah, you might've noticed it, too. It's the Fantastic Three and a little robot. The rights to the Human Torch had been optioned for a live-action development deal that eventually fell through, but not soon enough to stop them from making this travesty with H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot. I'd love to say Stan Lee was twirling in his grave some place because of that, but 1) the art-stealing bozo is still alive and 2) he just wants the cash to keep coming in, so he even did some voice-overs for this show. 

The second episode of the New Fantastic Four represents the nadir of an entire medium. "The Menace of Magneto" was so poorly written and characterized that even back then I remember staring at my TV and going "What the fuck?"

First off, Magneto makes his powerful and decisive entrance thusly:

Yeah, he asks for directions to the Baxter Building at a gas station. I realize that, yes, these were the days before Google Maps, Tom-Toms, and the like. But fuck. The Mutant Master of Magnetism, traveling in something that even Buckminster Fuller would've rejected, asking a service station attendant for directions to one of what has to be the four most famous buildings in New York City. There are things called maps. Oh, but magnetism doesn't affect paper. Guess that's why he needed the directions. And is the basis for the whole crappy show.

Magneto got to the Baxter Building, and right away challenged Reed Richards for the leadership of the Fantastic Four. After a short battle in their workout room, Magneto was triumphant. Soon after, Magneto's first assignment for the team was to protect a bank from being robbed by going there first and removing the money themselves. Naturally, they put the money in that thing that passes for Magneto's car and he took it to hide it from the robbers. 

Yeah, I know. Magneto. In alternate comic book realities, this mutant has nearly destroyed the planet on several occasions. In this animated world, he robs a bank. Well, now Reed is certain that Magneto is up to something (duh) and sets a plan into action to stop him from getting away with the money, which he was loading into his helicopter to fly across the border. I am not making that up, by the way.

After another short fight in which somehow magnetic powers are just as ineffective as having a stretchy body, Reed pulls out a gun on Magneto. The mutant bank robber finds he can't affect the gun in any way, and figures that Reed has found a way to neutralize his powers. And the cops come and take the distraught super-villain away to the hoosegow. Oh, and before he goes, Reed tells him that the gun was made out of wood and, essentially, he still has his powers.

Thirty seconds after that revelation, the iron-rich marrow of that cop's bones was pulled out of his nipples. 

Yes, Reed Richards' plan was revealed and Magneto still went along full of self-doubt. This was a retread of a Stan Lee plot point from an old issue of Incredible Hulk, in which ol' Greenskin managed to defeat an alien known as the Metal Master with a similar, though Hulk-sized weapon. The thing is, no one told the Metal Master what the kicker was, so he still thought he better move his ass back out into space. These cops are taking Magneto, who knows his powers still work, to a jail full of metal bars, steel-reinforced concrete, guns, handcuffs ... you know, like taking a kid with a sweet tooth to a candy store. I would've like to seen the episode that was broadcast in about a month. You know, after all the police funerals.

There is not a single redeeming feature to this episode. The animators had a unique approach to anatomy and proportion throughout this series, as in they didn't have one. Most of this shows' look like a kiddie coloring book that was colored in wrongly about 20% of the time. Even the episodes that should've been fun, like the one with the Impossible Man, are bland and boring. And like most cartoons of the sixties and seventies, actual humor was conspicuously absent. A vaudeville routine would've been more entertaining than some of the "good-natured ribbing" that takes place between the Thing and H.E.R.B.I.E.

Sigh. It would be nice, just once, to have a memory of a TV show or movie from when I was a kid that actually was up to snuff when I finally got around finding it again. I recently unearthed some episodes of The Man from Atlantis. I'm not holding out much hope, but I at least have some. Not like for the remaining twelve episodes of the New Fantastic Four

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