Image C- Sound C- Extras D
"The Origin of the Fantastic Four, Part One," "The Origin of the Fantastic Four, Part Two," "Now Comes the Sub-Mariner," "Incursion of the Skrulls," "The Silver Surfer and the Coming of Galactus, Part One," "The Silver Surfer and the Coming of Galactus, Part Two," "Superskrull," "The Mask of Doom, Part One," "The Mask of Doom, Part Two," "The Mask of Doom, Part Three," "Mole Man," "Behold the Negative Zone," "The Silver Surfer and the Return of Galactus," "And a Blind Man Shall Lead Them," "And the Wind Cries Medusa," "The Inhumans Among Us," "Beware the Hidden Land," "Worlds Within Worlds," "To Battle the Living Planet," "Prey of the Black Panther," "When Calls Galactus," "Nightmare in Green," "Behold, a Distant Star," "Hopelessly Impossible," "The Sentry Sinister," "Doomsday"
by Walter Chaw Watching the short-lived "Fantastic Four" animated series from the mid-'90s is a lot like sticking forks in your eyes. It's terribly animated, terribly written, and generally uninspired. The only thing more depressing than hunkering down for a prolonged exposure to this mess is the prospect of actually having to write about it. People who think that what we do isn't a job haven't had the experience of not only being forced to endure something they never would have thought to endure on their own, ever, but also of later having to find the will to write something like an analysis of said experience for the appreciation of the handful of people in the world lonely and pathological enough to start hateful correspondence in defense of it. Think about it: by agreeing to review "Fantastic Four", I'm all but consenting to a conversation with the small tribe of Morlocks who consider this shit gold, mainly because a nine-year-old version of themselves used to like it when they watched it in their footed pyjamas and helmets. So, as a pre-emptive strike (as if it matters): yes, I was a child once; no, I don't hate happiness; no, I don't think that everything has to be Citizen Kane; and, oddly, thinking is not something I believe to be mutually exclusive from pleasure.
I've been told a couple of times that the first season of "Fantastic Four" is a lot worse than the second, but damn if I'm willing to make much of a distinction. It's like saying that each episode of George Lucas's prequel trilogy was better than the previous: maybe so, but why should we pay for the privilege of watching the bumbling trial and error as he gropes his way towards mediocrity? If the only way to say that something is good is by comparing it to the worst-case scenario, better to junk all of it in the spirit of 'I'm not in this to win any friends'--at least not the kind of friends I'd win by defending "Fantastic Four". Life is short: get an apartment, kiss a girl. Running twenty-six episodes, the first thirteen cover the creation story and a couple of battles with merman Namor, Dr. Doom, and, after the arrival of special guest hero Silver Surfer, intergalactic slave trader Galactus. To say that the animation is slack is an understatement; the character models are clunky and ugly (it's like "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" without the brilliance) and the backgrounds are recycled without much imagination. Dour, depressing, soul-sucking stuff--if your parents sat you down in front of this, you're entitled to rear back and give them a good healthy smack. Consider that the titular quartet recounts their origin on a Dick Clark-hosted telethon to raise money for scholarships. (For what it's worth, I sat waiting with baited breath every moment for the appearance of the Cavity Creeps.) It's so wholesome and stupid, it's almost Christian pop.
When Season Two kicks off (with the first episode the last episode of the second disc in a bit of what I like to call "bad planning") with a cameo from everybody's favourite dead franchise hero Daredevil, it's apparent that whatever Korean sweat shop was extruding the templates for the first thirteen episodes had been cashed in for a somewhat superior Korean sweat shop priding themselves on animating something like 12 frames/second instead of an appalling four. Maybe recognizing how at its very heart the Fantastic Four is the title least capable of carrying any kind of character development (hey look, I'm a rock--let's go fight crime!), the producers began piling on guest appearances from other Marvel also-rans (Iron Man, Silver Surfer again) in an attempt to distract from the complete lack of material--despite the title's longevity--that's maybe the number one indicator of Fantastic Four's enduring popularity: it does what it does without any kind of surprise or inspiration. Surprise and inspiration, see, are scary to children and adults who have spent their lives in veneration of justifiably unpopular comic book titles in the mistaken idea that by liking something that sucks, you become a member of an exclusive club the membership to which is desirable. On a bright note, I didn't completely hate a late season two episode featuring Black Panther because, my god, whose bright idea was Black Panther? I'd rather watch any single episode of the excellent "Batman: The Animated Series" or the new "Justice League" or "Teen Titans" shows twenty-six times than sit through the two seasons of "Fantastic Four" again. They're really just bad.
The 4-disc set of "Fantastic Four: The Complete 1994-1995 Animated Television Series" offers up a decidedly unexceptional full-frame rendering of unexceptional source material with flat and non-directional Dolby 2.0 surround audio. That you can hear every howled note of the ridiculous theme song singlehandedly justifies trading in that entertainment system for a pole and a lake. An 8-minute "Stan Lee's Soapbox" segment on the first disc has the hale old suddenly-billionaire fart going on and on about how he thought up the Fantastic Four and how the super-group opened the door for the rest of Marvel's stable. I suppose it's counterproductive to bash the sentimental and myopic Lee (whose idea of "big words" are tongue-twisters like "familial") for his success--not his fault that his rube inventions captured the imaginations of a generation of unimaginative children. Lee's back on board with brief episode introductions along the lines of "You do crazy things for a dame!"; mired in the Fifties (and so was "The Fantastic Four", even though it made its first appearance in the Sixties), these intros aren't offensive so much as a lot what your grandfather seems like when he tries out words and phrases like "groovy" and "jiggy, yo." Par for the course for Buena Vista (and the other Disney ventures), a set of trailers begins automatically upon insertion of, thankfully, only the first disc. Teasers for Chicken Little, Chronicles of Narnia, and a long trailer for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are skippable as well as accessible through the main menu. All four discs are housed in a gatefold case that slides into a cardboard slipcase. Originally published: August 8, 2005.
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