Episode #1: Trial By Fire
Original Airdate: September 2nd, 2006

Johnny is put on trial for crimes against the Kree Empire by Ronan the Accuser after destroying the latest in a line of Kree Sentries, alien robots that have been observing the Fantastic Four. When Johnny chooses Reed as his lawyer, Ben and Susan take the stand in Johnny’s defense. But defending Johnny’s reckless behavior is tougher than they thought, especially when the accused is presumed guilty before the trial even starts.

Written by Bob Forward
Directed by Franck Miohel
Music by Noam Kaniel
Animation By Sunmin/ The Animation Studio/ Fantasta

Mr. Fantastic - Hiro Kanagawa
Invisible Woman - Lara Gilchrist
The Thing - Brian Dobson
Human Torch - Christopher Jacot

Stu - It’s been well over 10 years since we’ve seen The Fantastic Four in their own show and with the group riding of the popularity of their movie in every way imaginable, it was only a matter of time before we were bound to see them on the small screen once again.

The buzz for the show beforehand was optimistic, but most people seemed oddly concerned with the ‘4’ being spray painted on The Thing’s chest more than anything else. Cartoon Network oddly premiered the third episode first, meaning that the viewer’s first impression is a standard episode, rather than one that was designed to introduce the characters.

Marvel and co went for a different direction than what we usually see from them this time around with more anime inspired designs rather than the usual comic book adaptations, and I think it looks quite sharp looking. The animation falters here and there and the lip sync is often sloppy but overall, I was quite impressed with the shows designs and animation. I love the backgrounds – if you’ve browsed through any of the previous sites I’ve done here you’ll be aware I’m a sucker for a pretty background and these are some of the coolest ones I’ve seen since the old Batman: The Animated Series days. They’re defiantly up their with Spider-Man: The New Animated Series and X-Men: Evolution in terms of their prettiness.

I found the casting to be solid. I fear Johnny may become incredibly annoying over the course of the season but he was fine here, and even got a few chuckles out of me, especially with his Smurf lines. It’s not quite up to Chris Evans standards, despite it’s clear attempts to try but we’re a single episode in – I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. Reed and Sue both served their roles well but the true highlight, as in the previous series, was Ben. This version of Ben is simply rockin’ if you’ll pardon the pathetic pun. The voice, the design, the attitude, this is classic Ben Grimm. I can’t wait until they really start digging into Ben – I think we could have the best version yet of the character on our hands. The team dynamic is also great to see – it reminds me of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s run on the Fantastic Four comic, which was a legendary run for those of you who aren’t aware.

This episode doesn’t lend itself to a pilot; it really does feel like the viewer has been thrown into the middle of things. The villain of the piece isn’t especially interesting, but the fight scene in which he fought the Four was pretty well done. The most interesting thing I found about the villains was them mentioning the Skrulls towards the end of the episode – could we be in for a Kree/Skrull war, especially as it’s been confirmed that the Skrulls will be appearing in the show?

The ending with the picture on the back was classic Johnny. Whilst this episode itself was nothing amazing, it’s leaving me with high hopes as it has enormous potential, which is more than I can say for the more recent superhero cartoons, such as Teen Titans, The Batman and even Justice League.

It’s true – the episode is no On Leather Wings, Night Of The Lizard or Iron Man’s The Beast Within. But it could’ve been a hell of a lot worse. The future looks bright however, and I for one, can’t wait to see Dr. Doom’s glorious return to TV next week. Stick around everyone – I truly believe the best is yet to come!

Screw On Head - "Trial By Fire", the series premiere of Fantastic Four, has a solid plot but is unfortunately bogged down by some noticeably stiff animation.

I very much enjoyed our first outing with the Fantastic Four in this well written adventure by Bob Forward, who knits together a tightly plotted story. I'm pleased to say I'm thrilled with the characterization of the Fantastic Four in this episode. To be honest Sue's more emotional moments didn't bother me at all. Johnny's hair-do? I didn't bat an eye. On the whole I thought the team's personalities and visuals worked very well together. Thing has the perfect voice and character design all around. While Reed seems a bit sheepish, I thought he was otherwise spot-on as brilliant scientist and leader. I really enjoyed Sue in this episode, which is a first because I've never been too fond of her. As with Sue, Johnny has never been a favourite of mine but I thought he worked very well in the episode. The story's very straight forward, but I thought it flowed beautifully, managed the Fantastic Four well, and was just a very satisfying episode. Ronan the Accuser acted as a solid obstacle for the team, even if he was another cliché tyrant.

As I said at the start, the animation here isn't the same "full animation" that one might be used to seeing in superhero animation like Justice League Unlimited or even Teen Titans. The animation style is much more in line with anime, opting for static poses moving over blurred backgrounds and animating a number of other tricks that lend for noticeably less full animation. Actual animation aside, the episode, particularly the last third of it, just didn't look like it was directed as well as it could have been. There didn't seem to be an overall finesse in the direction of the episode, as the editing, cuts, and screen compositions looked wonky and awkward in places. Things like the excessively wide shots that are cut between Johnny, Ben, Reed, and Sue's conversations in that huge Kree arena seemed ill placed, as my eye struggled to find who is saying what and which character is standing where. The visuals here certainly weren't a total mess, but if these hiccups continue to happen in future episodes, I think it could become a total turn-off for long-time fans and even the young audience who can just as easily spot when things like the direction of a series just isn't being executed properly.

As far as premiere episodes go, this one wasn't bad. It isn't a stellar start to the series, but it does enough things right that it's clear the potential for greater episodes is there. I enjoyed that at the end of the episode there was the mention of a coming Kree/Skrull war that the Fantastic Four could get swept into, which shows that the writers are thinking ahead and are obviously popping in little hints and winks to long time fans. If future episodes are written as well as this one, and are animated with just a tinge more fluidity and finesse, this series could easily become the best-animated adaptation of the Fantastic Four fans have ever received!

Arsenal - Oh great, another trial episode. One of those shows where the hero is ironically placed on trial by the villains.

Where have I seen that before?

This is a common, by now almost stock, type of episode. Batman: The Animated Series had "The Trial," Justice League had "In Blackest Night," Hank McCoy was put through a macabre trial in X-Men: TAS. Spider-Man faced charges in "The Man without Fear."

The point of the trial episode is to put the audience in the place of the jury and let them pass judgment on the character. Inevitably the hero will be redeemed and he will be even more heroic for having suffered the trial. (Indeed, the first "trial episode" was the myth of Hercules and his Twelve Trials.)

FF does very little that is new and clever with this well worn trope. Meanwhile they speed through character development and exposition. The episode is half-finished before we even realize why Johnny is being accused.

The one clever twist FF does add to the trial mould is that Johnny Storm--unlike most heroes--is irrefutably guilty. He has attacked the Kree sentries unprovoked. This makes it interesting. The audience is asked to embrace Johnny not because he has survived the trial, but despite that fact.

We are asked to accept Johnny as a flawed and irritating, but big-hearted, person. This strikes to the very core of the FF mythos: imperfect people trying to do heroic things.

So while the plot may be stock and the characters may need further development (especially the woefully unexplained Ronan and Kree Supreme Intelligence), this series has unquestionable potential because it "gets" why people liked the Fantastic Four to begin with.

Now the creative team needs to find something original for them to do.

Finally, this episode functioned as the series premiere even though it was not the first in production order. "Doomsday" was. Thus, I'm willing to forgive the lack of introductions, explanations or exposition; because, perhaps, that was all handled in the unseen "Doomsday."

So the final grade? It's not perfect. The animation looked fantastic sometimes and awkward at others. And the lip-synching was not always synched. The characters have some way to go. (What was with Sue fainting?) And the villain will need to be revamped before any return appearance.

However, the creative staff obviously understands these characters on more than a superficial level. It gets who they are and how they interact. That is the most important thing and the bedrock any successful FF show will rest on. Now it just needs to be communicated to the audience better.

Jim Harvey - While a different take on the classic characters, the new Fantastic Four animated series still provides the basics of a good story based on our four heroes. With a sharp anime style applied to the designs, the show provides a vivid new look for the characters.

As any person with even the basic comic-book knowledge knows, the Fantastic Four gained their powers by cosmic rays during a voyage into outer space. All four were granted different powers, such as the ability to stretch, turn invisible, burst into flame, or unbelievable strength. All of that remains here, as can be expected. The characters remain as they are in other interpretations, though some of their respective character weaknesses do become apparent in this episode.

Obviously not a pilot episode, we’re thrown immediately into the action, which causes crucial character development to be left out. In the first episode, though not the pilot as Cartoon Network is airing the series out of order, we find Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) on trial by Ronin The Accuser for the destruction of Kree alien life forms (e.g., robots). Naturally, the remaining Fantastic Four come to the aid to try and save the troublesome hothead.

In short, I found this to be a fun, albeit generic, Fantastic Four adventure. It hit many of the right notes, and left me feeling pleased overall. It felt like a story I’d see when picking up an issue of the comic from which these characters came from. And while the story was self-contained, it gave hints toward some possible future storylines for the series. I felt the writing was well done overall, the best for a typical “hero on trial” story, though the episode did dip on a couple of occasions.

As for the characters themselves, they were well handled for the majority. The Thing was spot-on and very enjoyable. That spray painted “4” on his chest, which people still complain about, didn’t even bother me. Johnny Storm was picture perfect, arrogant and always stumbling into trouble. However, Reed Richards and Sue Storm seemed slightly off. Richard was still the genius he ever was, but his confidence seems to have dwindled a bit in this interpretation of the series. And Sue Storm, much like last year’s horrendous live-action Fantastic Four movie has no personality and was incredibly bland. I imagine future episodes will fix this, and any other character hiccups for the rest of the team.

I did enjoy what I saw, however. I thought overall, this is a very pleasing series with a strong and enjoyable visual style. While some may not be able to adjust to the anime look of the series, I thought the characters adapted to it very well. I thought it would be hard to pull of characters such as the Fantastic Four in an anime style, but they did it beautifully. I found the animated, and the mix of 2D and 3D, was handled great.

While I currently find Toonami to be a mere shell of its’ former glory (and hardly watchable at this point), I’m glad it has a show like Fantastic Four on the block. Taking this route, and revamping the style of the characters, will assure it a new audience and new fans. I can see this show easily building up an intense fan following as more of the bigger episodes from the series premiere.

While this episode was a tad generic, it was still handled well and showed that there’s a lot of promise for this new series. It’s a very worthy addition to the animated Marvel collection, and worth catching on Saturday nights.


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