The 1995 Cartoon Series
Marvel Action Hour: The Fantastic Four (Season Two)
Originally Aired: 23/9/1995 - 24/2/1996
The only reason for separating the first and second seasons of the Marvel Action Hour cartoon is just to draw attention to the wildly differing quality of them both. While relatively sophisticated, the animation could still be primitive by mid-90s standards, but on every other level this effortlessly surpassed the first season. Gone was the insipid theme song, in its place a vibrant theme to accompany a new title sequence, which wittily contained intertextual references to the covers of FF #1, #16, #47 and #71. Care was actually given to the vocal treatments, with McCann, no longer constrained by child-orientated scripts and broad jokes, suddenly perfect as The Thing.
Brian Austin Green had left, to be replaced by Quinton Flynn who grasped more of Johnny's cocky nature, while guest stars included Michael Dorn as a menacing Gorgon, Mark Hamill in multiple parts and Kathy Ireland as the voice of Crystal. There was an eye on subtext, with Ron Perlman's Wingless Wizard knowingly camp, and Simon Templeman's third Doctor Doom reconfigured as an English-accented cad who was positively effete. ("However, sometimes expediency outweighs originality"/"You primrose poppinjay!")
Probably the most significant factor was Ron Friedman's removal as Supervising Producer and Story Editor. Although the first season may have seemed to use up all the best stories, the second season still had plenty to choose from, including some of the later Byrne books, and told those tales with far greater panache and awareness. The episodes were as follows: And a Blind Man Shall Lead Them; Inhumans Saga: Parts 1-3: (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 and Doomsday. A more ambitious nature saw Johnny's ongoing quest for Crystal stretched over several episodes, with John Byrne's #280-#283 condensed into a single instalment. "Worlds Within Worlds" works extremely well, even if Lora Alan's vocal talents can't quite stretch to the dark side of Sue, known as Malice.
If there were complaints, then it would be that the season could be overambitious, introducing extraneous Marvel characters with no real explanation of who or what they are for the uninitiated. When Calls Galactus was a case in point, involving rapid cameos for The Avengers and Ghost Rider with little introduction for either, indicating that the series wasn't reaching beyond its fanbase. Occasionally the show could try and cram too much in to one episode, and did at times struggle in adapting Byrne scripts, which weren't as adaptable to stand-alone episodes as Stan and Jack's. There's also the small niggle of no "Story" credit for the original writers, though the only genuine failure of the run was the aptly named Hopelessly Impossible. A more apt title could not be found, as over half the runtime was given over to that curiously American phenomenon: the "clips" episode. Used as a budget-saver, it unimaginatively linked together footage from the same season, with a nauseating framing device of The Super Skrull and The Impossible Man. "Impy" was a witty creation in the comics, but under Jess Harnell's voicing was almost unbearable. However, for a series as on-form as this, a sole lapse in thirteen episodes can be more than forgiven. The dark blue/white costumes worked much better on screen than the originals, and John Buscema was Artistic Consultant. It really was that good. Sadly, the series was blighted with low ratings, probably a knock-on effect from the poor first season, and it was not renewed.
The Incredible Hulk: Fantastic Fortitude (27/10/1996, ***) The eighth episode of a cartoon series even more short-lived than the FF's, this saw McCann's Thing with Lisa Zane as She-Hulk and Beau Weaver having a brief cameo as Reed. While the relationship between the Thing and the Hulk followed on from that in Nightmare In Green, for the Hulk series the creature was voiced by Lou Ferigno, and not by Ron Perlman as in the FF show. Weakly animated and light-hearted, the instalment is entertaining enough, though inessential.
A fourth incarnation of the group could be said to have been unveiled on 7 - 21/11/1997, in Spider-Man: Secret Wars: Chapters 1-3; Arrival; The Gauntlet of the Red Skull; Doom). Quinton Flynn reprised his season two role as The Torch, but Reed, Sue and Ben were played by Cam Clarke, Gail Matthius and Pat Pinney respectively.