Monday, June 30, 2008

DVD Review: Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes (The Complete First Season)

Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes is the latest animated take on the Marvel superhero team. After out-of-order airings on Cartoon Network and random episode releases on DVD, the show finally gets a chance to shine in its first DVD box set. With a look and feel that's quite different from other superhero shows, Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes is a great deal of fun.

Just like the comics, TV shows, and movies before it, Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes features a group of superheroes who gain their powers after being exposed to cosmic rays. The four of them live and work together to keep New York and the world safe. Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) is a brilliant scientist who can stretch his body like a rubber band. Ben Grimm (The Thing) is super strong and almost indestructible thanks to his rock-like skin. Susan Storm (The Invisible Woman) can turn invisible and create force fields while her younger brother Johnny (The Human Torch) can manipulate fire at will.

Once you get past the basic plot, there are things that set FF:WGH apart from the other incarnations of the Fantastic Four. The most noticeable thing is the look of the show. Produced by France's Moonscoop, this show has a colorful, anime-influenced look that features a combination of 2D and 3D animation. The animation is nice for a television series and the 2D and 3D animation integrate quite well.

What also sets this show apart is its use of humor. While most superhero shows may have a funny part here or there, FF:WGH can genuinely be called an action comedy. The banter between the four main characters is usually pretty funny and the characterizations are strong. Reed Richards, for example, is portrayed as someone obsessed with science almost to a fault. His idea of a morning out is to only spend "49% of his attention" on his lab. Villains are also often played for humor. The Skrulls, who are a big part of the Marvel Comics universe right now, are portrayed as somewhat dumb and ignorant of human culture in "My Neighbor Was A Skrull."

Several other Marvel characters make appearances throughout the series. The Hulk battles The Thing in "Hard Knocks." "Shell Games" has various forms of Iron Man's armor wreaking havoc. She-Hulk, along with a slew of obscure Marvel heroes, try out for a position in the Fantastic Four in "The Cure" and Namor The Sub-Mariner appears in two episodes. There's even an episode that features an appearance by an unnamed photographer obviously meant to be Peter Parker.

The 26 episodes of the first season (which include nine episodes never broadcast in America and 14 episodes new to DVD) are spread out across four discs in an unusual fashion. The first three discs each contain eight episodes with the final disc containing only two along with the majority of the extras. The episodes are arranged in production order meaning that this set is the first time the show is seen in the order it was meant to be seen. The show is also in its original widescreen format unlike the previous DVD releases.

The extras are fairly light but pretty good. One episode each on discs one, three, and four feature audio commentary with Executive Producer Craig Kyle and Story Editor Christopher Yost. All of the other extras are on disc four. There are three featurettes. "From Origins To Animation" features an interview with Stan Lee about the origins of the comic book along with interviews with comic book writers Marv Wolfman and Mark Waid about their own work on the comic. "Rise Of The Rogues" deals with the various Fantastic Four villains. "Traveling To New Dimensions" is a brief overview of the show's design and animation process and takes us inside Moonscoop's facilities. In addition, there are four galleries of artwork featuring art from the comic book and the series.

Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes is a fresh, unique spin on these classic superheroes. It's not faithful to the comic book but doesn't disrespect it either. It's a fun (and funny) show that aspires only to entertain and this season set is a great value compared to the single-disc releases. If you don't mind a superhero show that wants to make you laugh as much as it brings you action, give Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes a shot.

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