Thursday, September 10, 2015

Take 5: Favorite Animated Super-Hero Shows

Karen: Last weekend my husband and I were watching the Green Lantern animated series again, and were struck by just how good it was -the story, the characters, the design, the whole she-bang. It got me to thinking about super-hero animated series, and which ones were my favorites. So without further adieu, I'm going to list my five favorites, seeing as this is a "Take 5" post, and then I'll leave it up to the rest of you to discuss the merits of my list, your own list, each others lists -you get the picture!

1. Justice League: I'm definitely a Marvel fan more than a DC fan, but this show, to me, is just the epitome of animated super-hero shows. A perfect selection of characters, great writing which demonstrated understanding of all those characters and how they fit together, excellent voice casting -Kevin Conroy will always be Batman to me - and stories that drew from the breadth and depth of the DC universe. Plus fabulous Bruce Timm designs. Even when it became Justice League Unlimited it was still a winner. Although the first theme song was the best.

2. Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes: If only this show had gotten another season or two! Instead it was replaced with a watered-down, unwatchable  22 minute ad for toys. This series was everything a Marvel fan could have hoped for. It followed many traditional storylines but subtly incorporated elements from the Marvel films too. The characters acted like they should and we got guest stars from across the Marvel universe. My only complaint would be the art, but it was acceptable if not outstanding.

3. Batman the Animated Series: A classic. It's got Kevin Conroy. Mark Hamill as the Joker. That great opening sequence. This cartoon 'gets' Batman better than any of the films.

4. Green Lantern the Animated Series: This is space and super-heroes done right, with a surprising amount of pathos thrown in. At first I thought I would dislike the animation style, but I came to really enjoy it. The show did a great job fleshing out the main characters and the major storyline in the later half had some spectacular space battles. A sad ending though -I wish they had gotten another season (this is becoming a common complaint).

5. (Tie) Young Justice/ Wolverine and the X-Men: OK, I cheated, but I couldn't decide between these two very good shows! Young Justice was essentially the Teen Titans plus regular guest appearances by the Justice League. Wolverine and the X-Men had a strong storyline that utilized elements of Days of Future Past but put them together in a unique way.


MattComix said...

I'm very torn on JL and JLU because for all that was enjoyable about them I feel like they really dropped the ball on Superman and Bat-Bias seems much more pronounced. Basically if one of the complaints about Super Friends is that Superman was "do anything guy", then that guy is Batman in JL and JLU. Maybe the difference is that Paul Dini wasn't a regular writer on those shows.

Redartz said...

Love this topic, Karen! And you make some excellent choices, two of which show up on my list too ( Paul Dini and Bruce Timm are both incredible talents). Still trying to get BaTS collection on DVD, just waiting for a good price online.
My list, in no particular order:
1. Batman, the Animated Series- possibly the best animated superhero adventure show.Period.
2. Spider-Man (1967 series)- animation was crude, but a big sentimental favorite as it helped introduce me to the web slinger. Plus, the music used in the show was pure dynamite!
3. Justice League- Karen , you covered it well. Great show, great characterization.
4. Fantastic Four (1967 series)- another sentimental favorite, but this one Hanna Barbara got right. Many faithful adaptations of classic Lee/Kirby stories; check out the Galactus episode on youtube...
5. Teen Titans- yes, I got a kick out of Cartoon Network's show. A lot of fun.

Doug said...

With the exception of 1-2 reprints I might have owned, reruns of the Marvel Super-Heroes 1966 cartoons (most are available on YouTube) was my entry point to Marvel's Silver Age. You wanna talk crude animation? But 7-year old me was spellbound in front of the TV. And how fortunate was I that channel 44 out of Chicago backed up the MSH show with the 1967 Spider-Man show? Wonderful memories.

Agreed that BTAS is tops on my list.

I'm not to 5 yet, but I really loved the Gatchaman series, known to we State-siders as G-Force back in the day. Lots of after school fun with that, too.


Humanbelly said...

This is rather embarrassing--

I am not well-versed at ALL in the bounty of animated Super-Hero shows that have developed over the last 20 years or so. In fact, just a week or so ago I picked up the first season of BATMAN: TAS at Costco 'cause the price was too good to resist, and because the consistently positive mentions of it on this very blog have not fallen on deaf ears-! We've never had cable, and our local broadcast channels don't carry any fare like this anymore at all (or at least not when I'm ever in a position to watch TV), and our library system doesn't seem to be able to hang onto the DVD's, bless their heart. The only series I caught most of the first season of- before Disney turned their attention to youtube infractions- was Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and that series was so great it almost killed me outright.

Soooooo my Top 5 is going to rely heavily on the nostalgic memory of shows from my childhood, which may or may not have been, in fact, good.

1) Avengers: EMH-- yep, sure. Of the few scattered episodes of other shows I've caught, it ranks at the top.

2) Underdog-- although it doesn't particularly grab me anymore, I had a huge fixation on him as a child (multiple recurring dreams, etc), so it rides very high on the emotional scale.

3) Batman: TaS-- Only seen about 6 or 7 episodes, but it's really, REALLY good (although they give you an apparently out-of-continuity Christmas episode w/ Robin right after the pilot). It's amazing the difference it made when they finally settled in on Ephraim Zimbalist Jr to voice Alfred. I also re-watched the pilot w/ the creators' commentary, and the unabashed affection and pride they had for it (20 years later) was wonderfully endearing.

4) The original old Hanna-Barbera Amazing Spider-Man series. But. . . I haven't seen it since I was a kid, and I fear it would hold up no better than the FF series upon an adult revisiting. But OMG I loved that show as a sprite!

5) And along that vein-- although I recall few particulars of either, both the Superman and Aquaman Saturday morning cartoons were eventually relegated to the around-lunchtime slot, and I have very warm memories of watching one or the other with (oh lordy, the DELICIOUSNESS of it---!) a baloney sandwich on white bread w/ lots of Miracle Whip and a big pile of wavy potato chips. Hmmm-- no fruit or vegetable in sight. . . But I recall both of those shows being fun and engaging for my particular demographic at the time. The Superman intro was always a grabber, voiced by the same guy that did it for the old TV show and possibly the radio show(?).

The strength for the better modern series that I've caught an episode or two of is unquestionably in the voice directing/casting (often Andrea Romano, yeah?) and the integrity of the voice acting. There's no sense of a condescending "ah, it's just for kids-- who needs subtlety?" attitude-- characters speak like people, over-the-top vocal choices (which can be great!) are an aspect of the character, rather than a substitution for one. It's really good stuff. And geeze, yeah-- Mark Hamill is great (and does a LOT of over-the-top types!)--- one has to think that his voice-acting career has to have provided him with a heck of a lot more actor "fun" than even Star Wars did. It makes ME want to be the Joker!


Doug said...

I wish I had better memories of some of the Batman, Superman, and Tarzan cartoons of the 1970s, as they might make my list.

But I got nothin'.


Humanbelly said...

Doug, aren't you in class right now-??
What time's your first period start-?

HB (Assistant Dean of Discipline)

MattComix said...

@Doug, as you can tell from my avatar Gatchaman would be on my list to. Bird, GO!/Transmute!

Doug said...

HB --

Thank you for your concern. You could be one of our micro-managing administrators here!

My 1st hour students, which arrived at 8:00 am CT eager to show their learning, are writing a summative essay based on our studies of the past three weeks. So, every now and then I take a lap around the room to inspect the degree of their diligence and to see if anyone has a question, then I return to my desk to complete some of the endless paperwork required of our new curriculum process.

But thanks for asking ;) , and yes -- I'd rather be watching cartoons!


JJ said...

Excellent topic. It's important because as the comics from DC and Marvel have veered further and further away from their fundamental depictions into insipid fan-fiction, it's these animated series where the true heart of these universes can often be found. I think Karen's first three choices are spot-on. Justice League in particular is near and dear to my heart. I never expected to become so involved in a cartoon. I'm tempted to put the Batman series at #1 for posterity's sake - it remains the definitive version of the character outside the classic comics - but I can certainly see why Justice League is in the top spot.

I've yet to see Young Justice or Green Lantern and it really looks I'm missing out. That Young Justice video was totally compelling. (Red Tornado is their supervisor? Cool!) And it's great to find out there's an excellent rendition of Green Lantern out there, especially after what happened with his feature film. Such a deserving character. -JJ

Anonymous said...

Hong Kong Phooey?

I haven't enjoyed watching tv animation since I was a kid, because its so badly done. Some of those clips seem quite good as far as they go, but I still find them off putting. Sorry, I studied animation, so just can't help it.
Nothing against the creators, its just the reality of how tv economics impacts on quality.

Now, film on the other hand.... The Incredibles. Best superhero movie ever. By miles.


Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of "Gatchaman" till today but it sounds like the show called "Battle Of The Planets" on British TV - featuring G-Force and 7-Zark-7 if I'm thinking of the same thing :)

Garett said...

I haven't watched much of modern cartoons, but that Batman intro is great! Mood, dynamism, cartooniness--just right!

Edo Bosnar said...

Like HB, my move from to a new continent over 2 decades ago (geez, time flies!) means that I missed out on a lot of these newer cartoons that keep getting mentioned here, but I have seen some of them, either online or on TV. So I think my top five list will reflect both an appreciation for the new and pure nostalgia:
1. Batman: The Brave and the Bold - fun, funny, entertaining all-ages fare
2. Batman the Animated Series - I've watched enough episodes on YouTube, as well as Mask of the Phantasm, to conclude that this is really as good as everyone says.
3. Space Ghost
4. The Filmation Batman cartoon from the late 1970s. Honestly not very good compared to the newer stuff, but a nostalgic favorite, as I remember being my eyes being glued to the screen on Saturday mornings when this aired. Also, points for using Adam West and Burt Ward as the voice actors.
5. Mighty Mouse - pretty much any iteration, but I really recall liking the New Adventures from the late 1980s (produced by Ralph Bakshi).

Doug said...

Colin J. --

Yes -- that's the same show! And I do think it was in our TV listings as "Battle of the Planets".


Redartz said...

Sean- fully agree with you on the quality of "The Incredibles". A Pixar masterpiece; and it sounds like Brad Bird finally as a sequal in the works.

Edo- great mention of Space Ghost! Alex Toth sure knew design. Oh, and there were the Herculoids too- the late 60's were a trove of great heroic action...

Humanbelly said...

Oh man, I almost cited the HERCULOIDS, Redartz-! I much preferred it to SPACE GHOST, really.
Wasn't exactly sure if it was a "super-hero" cartoon, though-- more like sci-fi adventure, y'know?

The first time I saw THE INCREDIBLES my reaction was a gleeful surrender to FINALLY being able to see a believable visual representation of super-powers in "live" action. Dyna-Woman's stretching antics on Syndrome's island absolutely answered the call.


Anonymous said...

Like some others here have said, I'm not up at all on the newer superhero cartoons. But, I appreciate some of the recommendations of same, most notably Avengers EMH, JLA and Batman TAS as shows I really need to check out.

So my list will be somewhat like HBs - heavily influenced by feelings of nostalgia as opposed to actually concrete memories.

1. 1967 Spiderman - who doesn't love that theme song?
2. 1966 Marvel Superheroes - more great themes
3. Underdog
4. Space Ghost
5. And an amalgamation of the Superman/Aquaman, Superman/Batman Filmation shows of the late 60s. They kind of blur together.

Plus, an honorable mention to all those wacky attempts to capitalize on the 60s Bat Craze - Herculoids, Mightor, the Impossibles, the Might Heroes and...lest we forget...Super Chicken!


William said...

The best animated superhero show ever, to me, will always be "Batman The Animated Series". Strangely, DC has historically done a better job of animating their characters than Marvel has, with shows like "BTAS", "Superman", and the various incarnations of the "Justice League". Yes, when it comes to the small screen, DC has almost always out-shined Marvel, with one big exception. And that is "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes"! I will be forever grateful for that show. The absolute most faithful comicbook-to-TV animated Marvel superhero show ever done.

The creators who worked on "Avengers: EMH" were obviously huge fans of the classic Marvel Universe. They of course had to throw in some bits of the modern Marvel U here and there, but the show was obviously firmly grounded in the Bronze Age of Marvel Comics. From the artwork and costume designs, to the choice of villains and storylines, the show was like a series of classic Avengers comics come to life. It was too short lived, but I am thankful it even exists at all. The Avengers cartoon I had always been hoping for. In the two seasons it was around, they covered a lot of ground in the history of the world's greatest heroes. Unfortunately, the suits at Disney obviously stepped in and replaced the show with the far far inferior "Avengers Assemble" which is based on the movie universe. "bleh"! I watched the first couple of episodes and I was done with it.

It's also funny that you posted this topic now. Because for the past few days I have been re-watching every episode of "Avengers: EMH" from the very beginning. I am currently up to episode 18 of the first season, and I am enjoying every minute of it. What an awesome show. A virtual animated love letter to the classic Avengers (and classic Marvel in general).

Redartz said...

Tom- wow, I forgot about the Mighty Heroes! Strong Man, Cuckoo Man, Tornado Man, Rope Man and Diaper Man (who was actually a baby, not a man). Wacky show with some crazy villains; courtesy of Ralph Bakshi.

Say, there sure seemed to be an dearth of female cartoon heroes back then; there was Space Ghost's companion Jan, and....hmm, was Wonder Woman ever on the Superman/Aquaman show? Most of the other JLA members showed up...

HB- Yes, Herculoids were great- I watched them mostly for Gloop and Gleep. And yes, I consider them heroes!

pfgavigan said...


My favorite animated show is, surprisingly, one that never got made.

Let me explain; during the late Nineties I was living in Minneapolis. Every first Wednesday of the month, or so I recall, there was a meeting of the local comic book and animation enthusiasts at a local bar and restaurant in St. Paul. The reason why we met there is because during the earlier part of the century the building had housed the shop and upstairs living quarters of a barber, the son of whom was going to create a comic strip of a little boy who would live in perpetual hope of someday kicking a football.

Now the group that used to assemble wasn't so much the casual fan, but a collection of professional and semi-pros. One of us was a conceptual artist who one day brought in some of the most beautiful designs for a proposed Spider-man cartoon show. They were sleek, minimalist, beautiful and piratical. Imagine something approaching Bruce Timm but predating his Batman by five years.

The show never got made because of a human road block who insisted that Spider-man and all Superheroes had to look like they had had an air hose shoved up them. Muscles galore. Like those X-Men cartoons they had about the same time.

Wonderful opportunity lost.




Steve said...

No mention here of The Challenge of the Super Friends cartoon in 1978 which featured basically The Justice League of America vs. The Legion of Doom (basically an animated version of The Secret Society of Super-Villains).

Crude animation for the time but actually some engaging Silver and Bronze age plotting going on in some of the episodes.

I also enjoyed the 1985 Super Friends Galactic Guardians show which featured a much more modern animated style and introduced the animated versions of Cyborg and Firestorm as newbie team members. Much more sophisticated storytelling here.

Anonymous said...

What about the Venture Bros.?
I would recommend it as an affectionate satire of many things, including comics.

Humanbelly said...

Wow, pfg-- and then, am I correct that the later Spidey animated cartoons did indeed go in exactly that Timm-ish direction?

This was a great recollection you gave us-- the setting alone is wonderful. That barbershop looms so quietly large (and usually in a bittersweet way) in the early Peanuts canon that you almost feel like it merits Historical Marker status. Boy, I'd like to think that the building is still there.

The human roadbloack--- was he a member of your own group, or someone up the submission chain of command? Assuming that artist/illustrator wasn't you (was it?), did s/he go on to other projects that were more appreciated?


R. Lloyd said...

When I was a kid it was:

Spider Man The 1967 series
Hanna Barbera's Fantastic Four
Filmation's Batman, Superman, Aqua Man hour

All of them were canceled for being too "violent" from the parent groups at the time. In comparison to what we have on TV today, it's so laughable. I loved the 90's Bruce Timm, Batman:The Animated Series, Superman: The animated Series and the Justice League. In many ways they are better than the cartoons that I watched in the late 1960's. I just have to laugh at the irony that in some schools, super heroes are banned because school administrators say that super heroes solve their problems through violence. Well what are they supposed to do? Negotiate with the Joker and Lex Luther? When I look at the current pop culture icons that kids emulate, Super Heroes are a lot better role models!

R. Lloyd said...

I also liked Super Friends. However even at that young age I knew it was a watered down version of the Justice League. The later 80's versions of the Super Friends with several changes in the name like Galactic Guardians, changed the show for the better. Luckily I bought many on DVD so I could see what I missed while I was working on those Saturday mornings when it was on the air. I do have to say that cartoons for kids aren't the same anymore. They don't embrace the super heroes like my generation did. Video games have replaced comic books and sadly the comics are not as popular any more. I wish they were because I still read my old comics when time allows. I wish I could afford all those omnibus editions and paperbacks to re-live those old days.

I just went to the Comic Con at Mohegan Sun on August 14th, 15th and 16th and got autographs from lots of super stars like Walt Simonson and Jim Shooter. I was surprised there was still older comics fans like myself who were out there just to get an autograph. I even got a chance to shake hands with John Wesley Shipp who was the original Flash!

But I digress, it's sad that some of the older super hero cartoons don't get any air time on the Cartoon Network. I like some of the classics like Space Ghost, Mighty Sampson, Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles. Even the Venture Brothers touches upon that old 60's nostalgia, but there's nothing like the classics from Hanna Barbera.

Anonymous said...

For me, it's JL/JLU, Batman:TAS, Young Justice, Avengers:EMH, and...

... Spectacular Spider-Man! Along with A:EMH and Wolverine and the X-Men, it looked like Marvel was entering a new age of legitimately good cartoons. My son and I watched Wolverine... and Spec.S-M every week. Spec S-M was the best Spider-Man cartoon I've ever seen, far better written than the '90s series or the current Ultimate Spider-Man. The character work was notable, with Gwen Stacy reinvented as Peter's scientific equal. It was cancelled to bring a different, less intelligent cartoon to life, but at least we got two seasons of great animated Spidey.

- Mike Loughlin

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