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COMIC URBAN LEGEND: The Human Torch was replaced by H.E.R.B.I.E. in the Fantastic Four cartoon because the network was afraid that kids would, inspired by the Torch, set themselves on fire.
Remember the Byrne Fantastic Four issue where the kid who idolized the Human Torch set himself on fire? Was that based on a REAL concern? Was THAT why H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot was invented?
To get our answer, let us turn to comic guru Mark Evanier, who has a nice section on his site, POVonline where he answers what he terms “Incessantly Asked Questions.” There are a lot of cool questions that he answers, but I thought that this was the neatest, so here is his answer:
In 1977, Marvel made a deal that licensed a number of their characters to Universal Studios to be developed as live-action TV-movies and potential series. The Incredible Hulk TV show (the one with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno) came out of that deal, as did TV-movie/pilotss of Dr. Strange and Captain America that never became regular series. The Human Torch was one of the characters that Universal wanted to develop, and a teleplay was written but never produced.
This meant that, the following year when NBC wanted to buy a new, animated Fantastic Four series, the rights to the Torch were encumbered. Universal – which was not to be involved in the cartoon show – would not make a deal that would allow the Torch to be included. Therefore, he was replaced by a robot named H.E.R.B.I.E., conceived and named by Stan Lee and designed by Jack Kirby.
The rumor that is asked about above was abetted by a few statements from folks who worked on Marvel animated projects, saying that the Torch was omitted for the cited reason. Either they had short memories or figured there was some P.R. benefit to claiming that. And, of course, it’s theoretically possible that had they not had to make the switch, there would have been some objection to the Torch. But it never came to that.
So there you have it! Mark also tossed in the tidbit at the end that the animation studio that filmed the Fantastic Four cartoon was housed in a building that burned to the ground a few years later! It is almost ironic!
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