This animated Fantastic Four show Is an Underrated Take on Marvel’s First Family

When it comes to adaptations, few Marvel properties have had a rougher time of it than the Fantastic Four. Despite being Marvel’s “First Family,” with their original comic debuting all the way back in 1961, the Fantastic Four have struggled in an age when seemingly every other Marvel hero or team has become a big-screen sensation. We did get three 20th Century Fox-produced Fantastic Four films released over the past 20 years, but all three failed to leave much of a lasting impact. We also know that a new film reboot from Marvel Studios is on the way, but, while we wait on that, let’s look back at an underappreciated adaptation that really did get these characters right: Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroesthe unfortunately short-lived cartoon from French animation studio MoonScoop that aired on and off throughout the back half of the 2000s.

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Where the previous Fantastic Four cartoon from 1994 (just titled Fantastic Four) tended to directly adapt storylines from comic issues relatively unchanged, World’s Greatest Heroes found the right balance between being faithful to the character dynamics and upbeat tone from classic comics while building its own take on the characters and scenarios. Some base premises from the comics are used here (such as Doctor Doom launching the Baxter Building into space and the Hulk and the Thing getting into a brawl), but the way they play out feel specific to the world of the show. This makes World’s Greatest Heroes a great entry point for newcomers to the franchise while also being a treat for longtime fans who already know these stories and characters so well.

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Fantastic Four World's Greatest Heroes
Image via Marvel Studios

Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes also incorporates a full visual makeover for the property, incorporating plenty of anime influence into its character design and animation style. The exaggerated proportions, such as Thing’s incredible width or the way most of the major characters feel weirdly tall and angular, fit well with the pulpy superhero tone and helps make the storytelling feel consistent with the visuals. The team’s suits, which feature the classic “4” logo overtop a bright orange background, are a highlight. (And the fact that the same logo is just spray-painted on the Thing’s chest is particularly inspired.) There were undoubtedly risks involved in redesigning the characters in this manner, but everyone is still immediately recognizable as themselves, and every character feels distinct and memorable from a visual standpoint. According to the special features on the Season 1 DVD, the art team wanted to push the boundaries of their reinvented designs even further by giving Susan Storm bubblegum-pink hair, but this idea was apparently vetoed by Marvel, who insisted she remain a blonde.


The characters are the real standout here. Although not mined for as much depth as they would be in more modern comics, World’s Greatest Heroes stays true to the essence of the main four by building off of the base concept of “a collection of sitcom family archetypes turned superheroes” that’s been the foundation of the property for decades. The show often constructs humorous scenarios built around the Four’s domestic life and the petty squabbles they have in between super heroics. While Reed and Susan’s potential romantic relationship is only hinted at, the Johnny and Ben friendship / rivalry dynamic (exemplified in the excellent episode “Doom’s Word is Law”), the contrast between Reed’s scientific intellect and his interpersonal absentmindedness, and Susan’s role as the aggrieved glue that holds the team together are all intact. The show also crafts a far more involved role for HERBIE, Reed Richards’ virtual intelligence assistant originally created for the 1978 cartoon The New Fantastic Fourwhose neurotic personality adds plenty of hilarious complications to the proceedings.


In terms of structure, pretty much every episode of World’s Greatest Heroes is a stand-alone adventure. While some villains are obviously recurring (Doctor Doom appears in 9 out of 26 episodes!), The episodes never really form multi-episode arcs, with minor references to previous episodes being the extent of the continuity management. It’s clear that the show’s narrative style hearkens back to the 60s era under Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, where most of the stories in early issues of Fantastic Four comic would be relatively self-contained to that particular issue. This makes the show easily digestible for newcomers and casual watchers since you don’t have to watch the episodes in the correct order to enjoy them. You’re free to hop in and out as you please while making your way through it. This structure was also useful because the episodes were aired extremely out of order, although the correct production order was restored on home-video releases.



Fantastic Four World's Greatest Heroes
Image via Marvel Studios

It also makes it easy to recommend a handful of specific episodes if you’re only looking to test the waters. The first one (in production order, anyway), “Doomsday,” is about as succinct of an introduction to the basic setup of the Fantastic Four as you’re likely to get anywhere, providing a foundation for all four main characters, the tone of the series, and their biggest villain, Doctor Doom … all in just around 20 minutes. If you’re interested in seeing the Fantastic Four interact with other characters from the wider Marvel Universe, you can look at “Hard Knocks,” which provides the aforementioned showdown between the Hulk and the Thing, or “Shell Games,” which features a guest appearance from Iron Man, who has to team up with the Fantastic Four when Doctor Doom hacks into his armor. “The Cure” is a great examination of why the Thing’s desire to be “just Benjamin Grimm” again is sympathetic but ultimately misguided, and “Out of Time” has one of the series’ most shocking moments when a member of the Fantastic Four is wiped from existence, forcing the remaining heroes to figure out what to do without them.


Unfortunately, similarly to Spectacular Spider-Man, Wolverine & the X-Menand Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes was canceled before it had the time it needed to build up its audience. It never got to some of the most important Fantastic Four supporting characters and storylines, such as the Inhumans, Reed and Susan’s marriage and subsequent children, or the arrival of Silver Surfer and Galactus. It doesn’t represent the totality of what the Fantastic Four could be in an adaptation, but it’s still a gem in its own right that both fans and fresh faces can enjoy.


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