Everybody knows that the Fantastic Four are Marvel heroes. They’re one of the properties fans have demanded go to the Marvel Cinematic Universe…because we all know how awesome the live-action versions of the Fantastic Four have been. As for the MCU being more accurate to the comics that’s been less and less true with each phase so good luck with that!
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as Marvel’s first attempt at a superhero team since I believe World War II and the Young Allies in the Timely days, the four have had better showings in animation. Four cartoons and whatever you’d classify Fred & Barney Meet The Thing as of the Baxter Building’s resident paranormal investigators with super powers were produced but one of them is not own by Marvel. Technically two, but again, this:
Yeah. If you haven’t guessed this was a weird crossover show with characters from the Flintstones (that only crossed over in bumper segments) at a strange time in their history I could go over someday as well because that might be fun. Let’s stick with the heroes though because thanks to rights issues this and a different show are in a strange position. We’ve seen the odd rights issues with Star Trek and the Rankin-Bass library scattered to the four winds but this one is a bit different.
In 1967 Hanna-Barbera created a Fantastic Four cartoon. At the time they were no strangers to superheroes, with a huge group of superheroes under their belt from Space Ghost to Birdman to characters you haven’t heard of because Adult Swim didn’t make a parody starring them. It’s not a surprise that they would license an existing comic, as they would years later with a good chunk of the DC universe in the 1970s and 1980s with Superfriends. Alex Toth, who worked on those Hanna-Barbera superheroes and the later DC show for most of its run, did the character designs.
Many episodes were adaptations of comic book stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The debuts of Galactus, Silver Surfer, Black Panther, and others were made into episodes, though some original stories were also scattered in. The show only ran for one season, collecting twenty episodes so I guess it didn’t do very well. However, it would find new life of sorts as part of my introduction to the show in the late 1970s.
That intro never fails to pound my nostalgia button like a slow elevator when you’re in a hurry. Odd little simile but accurate.
So how did this end up with DC’s current crew? I did mention this was Hanna-Barbera, right?
So follow along, and I’m truncating a lot. Ted Turner bought Hanna-Barbera and its library not only for the syndication rights but to have a library of cartoons for his new Cartoon Network without paying for licensing. Turner’s company would merge with Warner Brothers (who at one point bought DC Comics), Time Magazine, America Online, lose America Online, spin Time Magazine back off but still call itself Time Warner, and numerous acquisitions and sell offs later we have Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics sharing a home together in what as of this hour is called Warner Brothers Discovery. At this point blink and it might have a new name.
Meanwhile Marvel was gobbled up by Disney as we slowly move to one large entertainment company owning everything that hasn’t slipped into public domain, and Disney’s working to eliminate that as well. While there technically isn’t a Hanna-Barbera anymore Warner Brothers now owns their library, including the first Fantastic Four and the weird show where Ben Grimm is a teenage who puts his rings together to become the Thing. Consequently, while other Hanna-Barbera superhero shows have gained their own home video release these shows have not, possibly out of not wanting to give the competition any more press before the two companies eventually merge in maybe twenty years. Although you’d think with those Fantastic Four movies they may have considered it to cash in, but who knows how the rights issues are messed up there? Of course nobody knew this would happen back then. At the time Marvel and DC were just two publishers with a friendly rivalry putting out comics and occasionally licensing them to TV and movie studios for the merchandising fees.
So there’s a portion of the Marvel universe owned by Marvel’s (or at least Disney’s) competition. Will it ever get an official release? Probably not, but it just shows you how media property rights continue to get weird.