Superhero Cartoons

I just finished watching the first thirteen episodes (the midway point in the season) of Wolverine and the X-Men with my roommate because Canada is awesome and began airing the series months ahead of the US. I’d been watxm-011hearing good things about the show, and I have to say I’m enjoying it even if there are some exceedingly lame bits, and the fact that they’ve now gone a dozen episodes without bringing back Colossus (who was awesome in the first ep) is just criminal. However it is very much an episodic show (complete with overly-long ‘previously’ segment at the start of each ep), which is a cool move. Cartoons are usually pretty light on continuity but every ep of Wolverine and the X-Men has ties to the overarching storyline.

Watching this has had me thinking about the various superhero cartoons I’ve watched throughout my life, and as I’m a big comics geek I thought I’d talk about them a bit. The first truly memorable superhero cartoons for me would be Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men, back in the early nineties. Both of these series were excellent, X-Men for combining the Jim Lee-era costumes (most of which are still batman-tas-harleymy favourites) and team roster with some of the most famous Chris Claremont storylines, and TAS for taking all the iconic aspects of Batman and Bruce Wayne and combining them with a really distinctive artistic style (that of Bruce Timm), all held together by Paul Dini’s writing. These shows still stand as some of my favourite North American animated work of all time.

It may be because my first taste of superhero cartoons were such high quality, but it was a long time before another series really impressed me. Later in the nineties Marvel started to flood TV with their licences, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. None of them came anywhere near to the quality of the X-Men, unfortunately. On the DC side we got Superman: The Animated Series which was very much in the same vein as Batman: TAS, and was also a Dini/Timm production (in fact the combined DC-based cartoons are referred to as the Diniverse), but it just wasn’t quite as awesome as Batman.

the-maxxThere were a few series that were even based on properties not belonging to the Big Two, most notable of which I’d have to say was The Tick (fun fact: that cartoon made me search for some issues of the original Tick comics, which were the first indie comics I actively sought out), which of course was weird and quirky and awesome. There was also the HBO Spawn show (pretty crap), the WildC.A.T.s cartoon (not very good, but I loved it all the same), and MTV’s retelling of the early issues of The Maxx (really good, may have given The Tick some competition if it had lasted more than thirteen episodes). But for the most part, superhero cartoons have been based of Marvel and DC properties.

Around the start of the new millennium, there was a sharp decline in superhero cartoons. Both Marvel and DC tried things here and there, but nothing came close to the early nineties programming until 2003-2004, though I’m sure there are X-Men: Evolution fans out there who’d disagree with me. In 2003 the awesome new Spider-Man cartoon (with NPH as Spidey and Lisa Loeb as MJ!) exec produced by Brian Michael Bendis came out, though it unfortunately only lasted thirteen episodes. The best and brightest of the more recent shows, however, began in ’04 (no, not The Batman. That was shit) when the Diniverse Justice League show was retweaked into Justice League Unlimited.

jlu-zatannaJLU brought in tons of fan-favourite characters from every corner of the DCU, from Booster Gold to the Question to the Suicide Squad (referred to in the show only by their official name, Task Force X) to Vigilante, while providing excellent episodes written by some extremely talented writers. Not only was this a show that reached the bar set by Batman: TAS, it surpassed it to become in my mind the best cartoon about superheroes ever made.

With DC’s recent success with JLU (and the recent ending of The Batman to replace it with Batman: The Brave and the Bold which I haven’t seen, watxm-02but logically has to be several steps up from The Batman), it became more apparent that it had been a while since Marvel had made a good cartoon. They tried with new Spidey and Fantastic Four series, but never really succeeded.

Which brings us back to Wolverine and the X-Men. I’ve heard it compared to JLU in terms of quality, which is silly (it isn’t even as good as the original X-Men cartoon, let alone JLU) but it is a new, good Marvel cartoon, which is a pretty rare event. Here’s hoping it gets the viewers needed to keep it going for a few years. I was going to bring up the direct-to-DVD movies that both Marvel and DC have been making, but this has been a really big post already, so I’ll not do that.



~ by Jerk on January 15, 2009.

One Response to “Superhero Cartoons”

  1. Marvel is doing really well with cartoons right now, Wolverine and Spectacular Spider-Man combined managed to make me start waking up on weekends again.

    I just finished watching Hulk vs which I really liked because 1) Its uncensored for the most part. (Wolverine’s is a bloodbath though Thor’s was dissapointingly conservative.) and 2) Deadpool. My god I’ve been waiting so long for a Deadpool cartoon. I wouldnt be surprised to see them do more with him in the future.

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