Decided, while I'm watching X-Men, to check out the '90s Fantastic Four, too.
The cartoon's got a pretty bad reputation (at least, season 1 does), but I watched the first two episodes and kind of loved them?
I mean, I get why audiences of the time wouldn't. X-Men and Spider-Man were both perfect distillations of the comics of the '90s, whereas this one is squarely rooted in the '60s. The first two episodes' framing device has the Fantastic Four telling their origin story on TV, during a Dick Clark telethon, with Clark and Gary Owens as themselves.
This is insane. It is perversely uncommercial. This is a cartoon made in 1994, targeting 8-to-12-year-olds, and the very first thing it does is celebrity guest appearances by Dick Clark and Gary Owens. And I love it beyond all reason. Like, if you told me Stan Lee personally came up with all this himself, I would believe you, and it would be the first time I ever believed Stan Lee came up with anything himself.
And it gets nearly everything right. We establish, right off the bat, that the FF are celebrities; this is the kind of thing they do; they go on TV and give interviews. The Thing, in particular, is perfect; much like Beast on X-Men, he talks exactly like '60s Stan Lee dialogue. (And he's voiced by the great Chuck McCann.)
My biggest complaint is that it introduces a few elements too early. The first two episodes adapt issue #8 of the comic series, the story that introduces the Puppetmaster and Alicia Masters. The trouble is, it's too soon for this story. Alicia falling for Ben despite his frightening appearance, and Reed trying to turn him back into his human form, are both elements that simply don't work as well when you put them right upfront at the beginning. There just hasn't been enough time yet to establish just how miserable Ben is about his new body, that he feels like a freak, people recoil when they see him on the street, and he can't do things he used to be able to do. By the time this story happens in the comics, there have been seven issues building all that up; in the cartoon you simply don't have the background.
They also introduce Sue's force fields too early. When the Puppetmaster fills the room with knockout gas, why doesn't she just use her force field to stop it? The answer is that this is an adaptation of the story from issue #8 and she didn't get her force field power until issue #22; the problem is that in the cartoon, they've already introduced her force field power earlier in the episode, so it just feels like the "whoops, I forgot what my powers are" problem that plagues the X-Men cartoon.
They also completely botch the climax. In the comic, Alicia goes to grab the puppet version of the Puppetmaster; it falls on the floor, which causes the real Puppetmaster to trip and fall out the window. In the cartoon version, the puppet and the Puppetmaster both fall out the window together (and, hilariously, there is a sound effect of breaking glass even though the window is open). Reed even alludes in dialogue to the possibility that some mysterious force caused the Puppetmaster to fall out the window, but there's no evidence whatsoever of that on-screen, because there's no delay between the puppet's fall and his.
So, y'know, it's got some rough edges. There are some storytelling problems, and some of those are major. And the animation's not great.
But on the whole, I think it gets a lot more right than it does wrong. The characters are there, especially Ben. And in the era of '90s EXTREME, amid the angst of the likes of X-Men and Spider-Man, it's a breath of fresh air.
Also, the theme song is great.
(Warning: the second video is much louder than the first; turn your speakers down in-between.)
Though I've got one small complaint here, too: "Reed Richards is elastic/Sue can fade from sight/Johnny is the Human Torch/The Thing just loves to fight" -- okay, what the fuck, lyricist? Reed, Sue, and Johnny all get referred to by their real names, but the Thing is just the Thing? "And Ben just loves to fight" would fit the meter just as easily!