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A Monster Among Us
Review and Media by Jon T

Episode #1 - A Monster Among Us
Original Airdate - September 9, 1978

Above the Earth, a meteor shower damages an alien spacecraft, which then falls down to the planet's surface. A giant humanoid alien emerges and makes its way towards New York. In the Fantastic Four's headquarters in the Baxter Building, Ben is helping Reed to install some heavy equipment when they are alerted to the alien's presence in the city by Herbie and Sue. Reed, Sue and Ben board the Fantasticar and find the alien threatening a city bridge, at the same time as the army, air force and navy mobilise themselves for an assault on the alien. Meanwhile, the alien has badly damaged the bridge, leaving it up to Ben and Reed to fix it while Sue follows the alien. It attacks the Fantasticar and captures Sue, forcing the planned air strike against the creature to be called off. Sue turns invisible and manages to escape from the alien, and Herbie informs the rest of the team that according to his analysis of the alien's thought patterns, any harm to the alien would place the whole planet in jeopardy. Sue turns the alien invisible so that the army has nothing to fire at and the Four return it to the crashed spaceship. The Four then have to protect the alien from the army and find out its secret.

Story by: Stan Lee
Teleplay by: Stan Lee

Review: A rather odd first episode, made even more unusual considering that it was actually written by Stan Lee himself!

The first noticeable thing about this episode, and indeed the whole series, is that thanks to rights issues we have Herbie the robot instead of the Human Torch. Somehow, the change isn't as jarring as it could be, and Herbie actually fits in reasonably well, inheriting Johnny strained relationship with Ben, which makes for some quite amusing moments between them that would have seemed very tacked on if Johnny were used instead. Herbie himself is something of a stereotypical robot who's not supposed to have feelings, but clearly does.

The main plot of this episode is surprisingly simplistic, consisting of a giant monster that has to be stopped by the Fantastic Four, which ultimately results in a slight twist ending. As a result of this, there's quite a lot of clear padding of the script, and Herbie is noticeably given very little to do. Even the first few issues of the original FF comic never had plots as slight as this, so on that front, this episode is fairly disappointing.

There are still some strengths however, and although I do prefer the 1967 FF show overall, the 1978 show was the one I saw first, and I still have a soft spot for the voice-work in this series; they just seemed like a far more natural fit compared to the sometimes stilted voices in the previous show. It helps that the actual dialogue is very much suited to the characters, and can be quite (intentionally) funny at times.

Amazingly, considering the 11-year gap in-between shows, this series actually had more primitive animation than even the Hanna-Barbera (not exactly a studio famed for their expressive animation) version. This just doesn't make sense to me, especially considering that the Spider-Woman series the following year had far superior animation than this. It was a real shame as well, especially as the makers of this show had Jack Kirby doing the story boards! Thankfully some his dynamic work still shows through the primitive animation, and helps carry the story along with some sense of style.

A strange, but by no means terrible, start to the series.