Features, Film and TV

The Worst Superhero Cartoons Ever Made

It only seemed fair, after doing the Best article, to have a look at some of the worst superhero cartoons that have been shoved in our faces by the attention hungry entertainment industry.

Let’s start early on with…

The Marvel Super Heroes

While everybody is probably familiar with the Spider-Man series of the 1960s (or at least its theme song), this anthology series produced the preceding year is much less famous with the general population. It’s not exactly what you’d call a hidden gem though.

Each half hour episode of the show featured three individual segments, any combination of the five characters the producers, Grantray-Lawrence, picked the rights for: Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk and Namor. Each segment was adapted straight from an issue of the original comics, usually taking three segments to tell the whole issue. While this is theoretically quite cool, Grantray-Lawrence did it in the worst manner possible. They literally photocopied panels from the comics to use as the core of the animation. Each panel would then get the barest possible animation added to it. Mouths and eyes would occasionally be animated (and look somewhat decent) but in many shots you were lucky to get big simplistic movements of elements that had clearly been cut out and pulled about like a pop-up book feature.

Added to some really variable acting (which ranges from bored to ridiculously hammy) and the show’s a real chore to watch. On the upside though, the segments did get some pretty cool theme songs, especially Iron Man’s (which an instrumental version of is hidden as an easter egg in the first Iron Man film).

Loonatics Unleashed

Warner Bros generally has a decent history with super-hero cartoons, from classics like Batman the Animated Series and Justice League to lesser but still solid stuff like Legion of Superheroes, you can rely on them to produce some good cartoons. Quite what they were thinking with Loonatics Unleashed though, I have no idea.

The concept is ‘what if the Looney Tunes characters were super-heroes in the future?’ The answer to that conundrum is, of course, ‘that’d be awful’, but that didn’t seem to occur to anyone at WB as they desperately looked for a way to make their Looney Tunes characters relevant to the 21st Century that didn’t involved just, you know, making Looney Tunes cartoons.

So we get a group of heroes that are based on, but not actually, Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck, Taz, Road Runner and Wile E Coyote, albeit with really ugly designs and horrible personalities. Yay?

Avengers: United They Stand

Although the Avengers are very much the in-thing these days, for decades the team played second fiddle to Marvel’s other groups. The Fantastic Four were the flagship Marvel team from the 60s to the 70s, only to be replaced by the X-Men for the 80s to the 90s. It was only in 99 that the Avengers got their chance at animated glory. It would have best if they didn’t bother.

The first, obvious, problem is the roster. The team is led not by Captain America, Iron Man or even Thor, but by Ant-Man. Now, I’m a big Ant-Man fan, but really, having him anchor the series is a big ask. Not only were the Big Three not leading the team, they only appeared sporadically as guest stars, for no apparent reason. They certainly weren’t being used in their own series at the same time.

The rest of the roster is filled out by Avengers staples – The Wasp, Hawkeye, Vision – and slightly more unusual choices, like The Falcon (who, I hate to say it, feels like a token black guy here) and Tigra (who weirdly has the exact same voice as Rogue from the 90s X-Men series).

The roster doesn’t prove to be the main problem though. There’s the design and animation. Everything is very shiny and glossy, as things tended to be in animation around the millennium, while all the characters’ usual costumes had been ditched for overly busy, shiny armour bollocks. I mean look at Hawkeye. Just look.

AvengersUnitedHawkeye

Not only that, these armours came complete with Power Rangers style sequences of stock animation when they were put on.

Based solely on this cartoon, it’s astounding that a multi-billion dollar movie was made out of the Avengers.

Fred and Barney Meet The Thing

Yes, that’s Fred and Barney of the Flintstones, but they don’t really meet the thing. Packages of unrelated cartoons were a common thing in decades past and this was another example, as a late 70s revival of the Flintstones was packed together with this most bizarre adaptation of the Thing.

Accuracy with adaptations is often a sticking point. Sometimes you need to make changes to better suit the new medium, but if you change too much you risk losing what made the character work in the first place. The writing staff at Hanna-Barbera clearly had no comprehension of this when they did their Thing solo series. Gone was the rest of the Fantastic Four! Gone was Ben Grimm’s traditional cosmic ray origin! Gone was most of Ben Grimm’s usual personality. Instead of being a grouchy test pilot transformed indelibly into a rocky super-hero, Ben Grimm is now a high school student that uses his pair of special rings to attract near-by rocks to him, magically transforming him into The Thing.

It gets worse. This power is activated by him saying “thing ring, do your thing!” Really? That was the best phrase they could come up with? Captain Marvel gets “Shazam!” but the Thing gets a shitty rhyme. Even the Wonder Twins got “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” which sort of works. Sheesh.

Marvel Action Hour (Season One)

I mentioned, in the Best article, the second season of the 90s Iron Man series being a vast improvement on the first season. The Marvel Action Hour is the show that contained Iron Man, as well as the companion Fantastic Four series and its first season comprises some of the worst mainstream animation of the 90s.

The writing on both shows was pretty atrocious. Iron Man was a sub-par rehashing of the format of GI Joe, featuring the team from the sort-of Avengers comic Force Works fighting against a group of incompetent villains led by the Mandarin. The Fantastic Four was less obviously broken but was too madcap for its own good.

The animation was particularly bad on each show. Iron Man was filled with gratuitous CGI stock footage, at the expense of the rest of the show being animated competently, while the FF just looked awful, the Thing especially sporting a weird pointy eyebrow thing.

(Here’s the pointless CGI armour bit from Iron Man if you couldn’t make it far enough into the above clip).

Even the introductions by Stan Lee were pretty lame, not a patch on earlier and later efforts on other series where he would actually be used as a proper narrator. It’s amazing they turned it all around for the second series, frankly.

Pryde of the X-Men

Actually, Pryde of the X-Men’s not that bad, I just like sharing the awful theme tune and Australian Wolverine. (Starts about 52 seconds in).

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Martin is a writer and misanthrope from Gloucestershire, with an obses... er interest in comics, video games and animation. You can also find him at his blog, The Taste of Rising Bile, where he's in the middle of a cynic's guide to Disney films.

1 Comment

  1. SycoMantis91

    I was a fan of the Fantastic Four cartoon as a kid, though I was 3 when it debuted, and looking back on it, it’s pretty bad. I think Loonatics is often amusingly atrocious, though it surprisingly has its moments, though there are about 3 or 4 in the entire series. Also, it’s disappointing that we had to wait for the live-action obsession of Disney’s Marvel to get a decent Iron Man adaptation.

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