Hope you are all keeping well.
A little while back, I wrote about my love of Batman: The Animated Series and how it completely changed my perception of what could be achieved from animated TV shows. Today, I wanted to take a look back at a few of the the things that made those shows so memorable for so many of us. For a lot of the people I have spoken to over the years, Marvel’s animated TV shows of the mid 1990’s were their ‘gateway drug’, introducing them to the world of geekdom and taking them on the first steps of a lifelong journey of discovery. So, here are my 5 reasons why I love Marvel’s cartoons of the 90’s!
1) Intro Music
From the moment the first few bars of the opening theme for X-Men: The Animated Series begins, you get goose pimples and slide forward to the edge of your seat. Great intro music should suck you into the story as much as anything you see on the screen, and the 90’s Marvel shows were terrific at doing just that. Spiderman The Animated Series has a punchy, riffy intro theme that perfectly captures the character’s spirit and the shows tone; The Incredible Hulk has a baroque style opening that plays on the ‘Phantom of The Opera’ and hints at the tragedy that often befalls the character. As for The Fantastic Four and Iron Man, they went through 2 changes to their intro music. In both cases, the music and intro sequences were an upgrade on the initial offerings, but i’ll always have a place in my heart for The Fantastic Four’s ‘sing-along’ theme tune. YouTube is a great place to remind yourself of these tracks, and if you click here you’ll find a great compilation video that should have so many memories flooding back to you!
One of the things that I really enjoyed about these shows was their ambition. Whilst it would have been easy to do as many other animated adaptions of comic books have done in the past and simply borrow the name of the character and head off in their own direction, the likes of Spiderman and X-Men The Animated Series stayed largely true to their comic book origins, with a few adaptations made here and there. This meant that whilst my younger sibling could enjoy the colourful characters on screen, I could get my jones from seeing Galactus arriving on earth and Iron-Man battling Fin Fang Foom and the Mandarin. It also meant that we got some pretty faithful adaptations of classic comic book story arcs, such as the ‘Armour Wars’ from Iron-Man and a frankly brilliant take on the classic X-Men storyline, ‘Days of Future Past’ that managed to integrate Bishop, Cable and Apocalypse. And whilst on the subject of Apocalypse, can we all take a moment to appreciate the genius of voice actor John Colicos(R.I.P) who delivered one of the most chilling voice acting performances I can remember? We even got a ‘mini’ Secret Wars storyline from Spiderman; The Animated Series which leads me too my next point..
3) Character Crossovers
It’s something that comic-book adaptations have always done well, and the Marvel 90’s shows positively reveled in their ability to throw characters together at anytime. We got Hulk and the Thing fighting in downtown New York in the Fantastic Four, Spiderman teaming up with Wolverine, Gambit, Storm, Daredevil, The Punisher and Blade at different times. She-Hulk became a permanent fixture in The Incredible Hulk, and who can forget the time Nova, Thor and Ghost-Rider all showed up to take down Galactus? Now, there really was no logical reason from a storytelling point of view why Ghost Rider would show up in the middle of a showdown between the Fantastic Four and Galactus, but holy shit, what an epic cameo!! Even Tony Stark donning his ‘Hulk-Buster’ armour for a confrontation with the green goliath was just all kinds of crowd pleasing fun.
4) Memorable Villains
Unlike the Marvel cinematic universe, which at times seems to be going out of it’s way to find the most forgettable villains it has in it’s back catalogue, the Marvel 90’s animated shows really didn’t hold back from giving us the epic confrontations that the comics give us throughout our childhood. Hulk was forever tormented by the maniacal Leader, The Fantastic Four struggled to combat the the guile and power of Doctor Doom, the X-men found themselves up against the worst their world had to offer. Mr Sinister, The Sentinels, Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix and even Mojo all pushed them to the limit, whilst Iron Man had crooked industrialist Justin Hammer to contend with along with the previously mentioned foes. Spiderman was put to the test many times, but along with seeing the expected collection of enemies, we were treated to Spidey taking on Venom and the surprisingly homicidal Carnage. It made for some gripping kids TV and again meant that us adults could get a major kick out of seeing our comic book adventures played out on our screens.
5) Kick Ass Female Characters.
This one almost goes without saying, but the women of the 90’s Marvel animated shows took no prisoners and I freaking loved it. Rogue was always one of my favourite characters from the X-Men comic book relaunch in the early 90’s, and the animated shows was extremely faithful in it’s representation of her. She had the same Southern charm that leapt at you off the pages of the comics and the same internal struggle to deal with her erratic powers. But don’t let the laid back drawl fool you, this is the same Rogue that had no problem punching Juggernaut through brick walls if he was dumb enough to rub her the wrong way. Storm was given the respect she deserved, her unique powers were displayed for all to see, and perhaps even more so than her comic book counterpart, we saw the levels of control she was capable of and the fear and respect her enemies have for her. They were just two of many that popped up across the series, including morally ambiguous characters like Mystique and Psylocke. She-Hulk became one of the best things about the Incredible Hulk series, adding some much needed levity and saving us from the regular ‘damsel in distress’ storylines we got earlier on with Betty Ross as the female lead character. Add into the mix the likes of Medusa from the Inhumans, to Julia Carpenter in Iron Man, female characters had the opportunity to flex as much muscle as the men. Admittedly, the quality of the writing for these characters varies greatly, but nonetheless, it was important to show these characters in a proactive and positive light, and the shows mostly managed to achieve this.
What are your memories of Marvel’s animated TV shows? Did you have a favourite show or character? Or did the whole era pass you by? Let us know in the comments!
all images are property of Marvel Entertainment.