Marvel on TV: The 90's

Marvel on TV: The 90's

With both S.H.I.E.L.D. and some new animated programming in the form of Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Avengers Assemble on the horizon; I decided to look back at Marvel on TV. This article covers the 90's where Marvel finally found its stride with a string of successful cartoons.

Marvel and Stan Lee learned a valuable lesson in the 70's and that was (at the time) that Marvel and live-action were not the easiest to do. In the 80's Marvel sought a return to the animated format albeit with a few problems. Still, you have to hand them credit -- they were trying. In the 90's though, Marvel kicked it into high gear and released over 10 cartoons in the 90's. Many of these cartoons are some peoples entry into Marvel cartoons and Marvel properties in general.

X-Men (1992-1997)

While Pryde of the X-Men wasn't picked up for a full series order, it ran in rerun form for many years, showcasing the popularity of characters such as (Australian) Wolverine and Cyclops. Finally in 1992, Marvel and Fox debuted X-Men. Which at the time garnered excellent ratings and critical acclaim. Like Batman: The Animated Series, the success of X-Men was largely due in part to the amount of characters and stories lifted from the comics. During it's run we were treated to adaptions of Days of Future Past, The Phoenix Saga, Age of Apocalypse, The Phalanx Covenant, and The Legacy Virus to name a few. It did help that the X-Men had some amazing stories throughout the 80's and 90's; but kudos to Marvel for recognising the potential for some great adaptations within their own books. Surely many of the other cartoons simply just didn't have enough material to adapt. A case of the right place at the right time.

Unfortunately, rumor has it that Fox was uncomfortable with Marvel having so much control over their properties and cancelled the series. That said, the show did decline in quality in its last couple of seasons. Regardless, the infamous melody of the opening credits lives on in our collective conscious.

Fantastic Four (1994-1996)

On the heels of the success with X-Men; Marvel attempted a Fantastic Four cartoon yet again. As with past incarnations of the team on TV; it was not exactly well received.

The first season is generally regarded as being poorly animated and having awful attempts to add humor through the addition of a Nanny. Did Marvel learn nothing from the debacle that was H.E.R.B.I.E.?

While the show and its cousin Iron Man were retooled for their second seasons, the damage was done.

Iron Man (1994-1996)

Like Fantastic Four, Iron Man got off to a rocky start. Poor animation, and original stories did not help Iron Man reach mainstream success. Imagine being a young kid in the 90's and you're watching some faithful adaptions of Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman; you look at Iron Man and his original stories and you're likely to tune out.

Like Fantastic Four, the show was retooled for its second season but by time the changes were made the damage was done.

I'll give the producers and Marvel credit where it's due. They certainly made the intro cooler between seasons:

Season 1

Season 2

Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Like X-Men, Spider-Man was faithful to the comics; adapting major storylines and characters. A lesson that was sadly not universal. Like X-Men though, the show was packed to the brim with great cameos and two-parters. A staple of the era for Marvel cartoons.

The show was popular, and ran for five seasons. Unlike many other cartoons though, it was ended not due to ratings but due to a breakdown of negotiations behind the scenes. Like X-Men though, it's arguable that the show maintained it's original quality throughout the years. Alas, I think many of us will remember the first season of that show vividly.

Ultraforce (1995)

An obscure comic team, and an obscure show. Lasting only 13 episodes; isn't it obvious how Marvel wanted to spin this as being 'just like X-Men'?

The Incredible Hulk (1996-1997)

Let The Incredible Hulk cartoon of the 90's stand as an excellent example of studio interference. Sure, many of these shows were ultimately mucked with by Marvel or a partner in some way, but The Incredible Hulk was just unfairly treated in my humble opinion.

The first season was dark, and kind of depressing. Episodes didn't end with The Hulk reiterating the lesson of the episode, the stories ended in a way that left Banner/Hulk in a darker place then before. It was, nor is it, fair to compare the show to X-Men or Spider-Man because tonally they are no where near the same. The show did not hold back, and was surprisingly mature for a childrens cartoon.

As the second season rolled around though, the show was retooled to put She-Hulk alongside Hulk as the star of the show. It dropped many of the serialized elements of the show; and instead focused on Hulk and She-Hulk teaming up with other heroes like Doctor Strange. Sure, Hulk teamed up with other heroes such as War Machine and Tron Man in Season 1 but it's not fair to compare the two; Season 2 devolved the show from a mature Hulk tale to Hulk And His Amazing Friends.

The worst travesty in my opinion was that Ross goes from an insane opponent of the Hulk who wants nothing more then him dead; to accepting the Hulk at the end of Season 2.

Silver Surfer (1998)

A personal favourite of mine; Silver Surfer brought the Cosmic side of Marvel to TV's around the world. While we had seen The Hulk and X-Men numerous times; it was refreshing as a young and dumb Canadian kid to watch my VHS recordings of this show in the frigid winters. What else is a Canadian kid supposed to do?

The show only ran for a 13 episode season; but in that season characters such as Galactus, Thanos, Beta Ray Bill, Thanos, Adam Warlock, Uuatu, Gamora, Drax, and Nova all appeared. Pretty impressive roster for one season.

The show did feature some excellent animation that evoked Kirby's style more then any other cartoon from the 90's, or any decade for that matter. In terms of Cosmic Marvel; it's a pretty faithful adaption. Sadly, the show did drag on in terms of repetitive dialogue. In retrospect, Silver Sufer may not have been the best choice for the lead. He's a great character, but as a lead who's to carry your show I think he ran a bit thin after a few episodes.

Spider-Man Unlimited (1999-2001)

Hoping to cash in on the success of spinning off Batman into Batman Beyond (Great show in it's own right) by having The Spider-Man cartoon lead into Spider-Man Unlimited. The show ran for one season over two years; but sadly at this time many children had drifted away from Superheroes as a whole, gravitatign towards Pokemon and Digimon. While Marvel had a great run in the 90's, it was ultimately Pikachu that stopped that gravy train.

pikachu gif photo: Pikachu pikachu9.gif
Smug lil' rat aren't you

Avengers: United They Stand (1999-2000)

Now, I think it's safe to say that this was the first Avengers show to debut. Sure, many of these cartoons and live-action shows featured cameos but nothing to the degree like you saw in Avengers. More based on the West Coast Avengers lineup, the major three were often teased but never made an appearance on the show.

The main reason the show is so hated is that the show was primarily made to sell toys. Characters like Vision and Falcon were given new sets of armors that looked great, and made for a new set of toys but ultimately were useless in the show. Viewers saw through this and quickly dropped the show.

Wow, the 90's were full of some great highs and some depressing lows for Marvel. Shows like X-Men and Spider-Man were successful; but many of their other efforts failed to get a lot right. Still, Marvel was starting to understand that to be successful they needed to incorporate storylines and characters from the comics.

What do you guys think of Marvel's TV efforts in the 90's? You know where to rant. In the meantime, continue on to the other decades.

Marvel on TV: The 60's
Marvel on TV: The 70's
Marvel on TV: The 80's
Marvel on TV: The 00's
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