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« Inside the Dolby. AFI Fest Begins! | Main | Yes No Maybe So: Into the Woods »
Thursday
Nov062014

Tim's Toons: A history of animated Marvels

Tim here. Tomorrow sees the release of Big Hero 6, the 54th feature made by the Walt Disney Animation Studio canon, and the first time that studio has collaborated with its corporate cousins at Marvel Entertainment. The result is certainly the most prestigious animated project ever based on a Marvel comics title, but far, far from the first. In fact, Marvel superheroes have been showing up in cartoons for almost a half of a century now. I give you a tour of some of them.

The Marvel Super-Heroes (1966)
The very first Marvel TV series, airing 65 episodes in syndication. The first time I ever heard of it was about an hour ago, so I can’t begin to say if it has an kind of rabid fanbase or lingering influence on Marvel writers and artists, but it stands out in my eyes for having extraordinarily cheap animation even by ‘60s syndicated TV standards, basically just waggling still drawings underneath the camera. Seriously, watch that video.

Lasting cultural impact: None, but from now on, if I ever meet Mark Ruffalo, I’m going to chant “watch them change their very shape before your nose!” at him till he punches me in the face.

Classics and new shows alike below the jump!

Spider-Man (1967-1970)
Marvel’s third show finally got it right: it was the first animated comic book series of any sort whose impact lasted more than the 30 minutes it took to air an episode. Marvel’s most jokey, playful hero was ideally suited to the low-stakes, colorful world of children’s television, and while the show’s production values cut some very obvious corners, it still has the kind of bright, energetic fun that makes the same decade’s live-action Batman show feel lively instead of dated. Bonus: it’s all available in excellent quality on YouTube.

Lasting cultural impact: THAT THEME SONG. Generations yet unborn will still hear their elders whisper “Spider-Man, Spider-Man”, and reply, knowing not from what source within their heart “Does whatever a spider can”. Andrew Garfield ain’t got nothing on that.

 

Fred and Barney Meet the Thing (1979-80)
In which Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble never actually meet the Thing of the Fantastic 4 over the course of any of the package show’s 13 episodes. But how much better is your life now that you’ve seen that image?

Lasting cultural impact: That depends on how desperate 20th Century Fox becomes to keep the Fantastic Four rights, I suppose.

X-Men (1992-1997)
Did for the X-Men and my generation what the ‘60s Spider-Man did for the late Baby Boomers. The show was one of the twin pinnacles of 1990s cartoon TV superheroes, alongside DC’s Batman: The Animated Series, using plot arcs and the episodic nature of television to excellent effect in bringing the comic to life in all its narrative and psychological complexity. And unlike the 21st century X-Men movies, it does this without becoming The Adventures of Wolverine and His Mutant Friends.

Lasting cultural impact: It came out at exactly the right point for Jubilee to be one of its main characters, thus giving a whole generation the entirely unsupportable impression that Jubilee is in any way, shape, or form an acceptable X-Men character.

Avengers Assemble; Ultimate Spider-Man (2012-present); Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (2013-present)
The Disney-owned, Disney-aired interconnected animated universe that is at this point the only way to get your kid-friendly superhero fix on television. And, more importantly, it’s going to remain the only chance you have of ever seeing Spider-Man interact with the Avengers into the 2020s, because corporate posturing matters more than putting a song in the heart of the nation’s children.

Lasting culture impact: 20 years from now, at whatever version of the Film Experience is being beamed into your electronic retina, my successor will undoubtedly tell you about what a formative experience it was. Though this person will probably have no clue who Jubilee is, and thus shouldn’t be trusted.

What’s your favorite animated Marvel adaptation to date?

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Reader Comments (7)

I remember Thor as an animated series which I liked. But I assume that the animation was also atrocious.

November 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

Spiderman and his Amazing Friends :)

November 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

"When Captain America swings his mighty shield..."

November 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

so tell us how you really feel about JUBILEE

November 7, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Tim, this is wonderful. But now I am going to have that god-awful Marvel Super Heroes jingle stuck in my head all freaking day. So thanks for that.

"The Mar-vel Su-per Her-oes Have Arriiiiiiived!"

November 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

I remember watching the same 3 episodes of Spider-woman over and over as a kid. I made my dad rent it all the time, it was the only record of spider- woman's existence in my small town.

Jubilee is the best! The sass, the big yellow trench coat, what's not to love. I did find it slightly annoying that her parents coincidentally gave her a name that ended up matching her power set! Jubilee ain't no superhero code name y'all.

November 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

I remember watching the same 3 episodes of Spider-woman over and over as a kid. I made my dad rent it all the time, it was the only record of spider- woman's existence in my small town.

Jubilee is the best! The sass, the big yellow trench coat, what's not to love. I did find it slightly annoying that her parents coincidentally gave her a name that ended up matching her power set! Jubilee ain't no superhero code name y'all.

November 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

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