Last week we took at look at some of the humble beginnings of our comic book heroes. This week we'll finish it up with a look at how things have progressed to our modern shows. We've come a long way!
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1980's)
Spidey got a lot of different treatments over the years. In the 80's, he even got his own team of heroes! Iceman and new heroine Firestar joined up to fight villains left and right. This was the old light-hearted feel of the '67 version, while bringing him into the 80's. This series also featured the second animated appearance of the X-Men, and the first animated appearance of Wolverine! Unfortunately, they gave him a weird Australian accent for some reason (what Canadian speaks with an Australian accent?), but other than that they managed to keep him true to the character. Unlike most other cartoons I'm mentioning, this series is not available on DVD for licensing reasons so we may never get to see these again outside of the internet.
Batman: The Animated Series (1990's)
I can still remember that first still shot I saw of this upcoming series. I didn't like the animation, and thought it made Batman look too much like a cartoon character. Over the years, however, it's sort of grown on me. This was the first cartoon series to try and make the Batman a tough and quite character. There was no strange voice coming from the character (like the old Super Friends cartoons) and the classic blue-and-gray scheme was killed for the black-and-gray look. The creators were going for more of a "Dark Knight Returns" feel on the character, and it worked.
A few seasons into the story, Robin was brought in and Batgirl soon followed. We can't complain though, because Mark Hamill managed to nail the Joker's voice and character. This is the same guy who was the Trickster in the old "The Flash" series, and he took that maniacal feel into this character.
The clip I am including below isn't really from this series. It's from the old "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" movie, but the "death" of the Joker here was such a great example of how these stories had grown from the old "Super Friends" feel I had to add it here. Turn off the annotations and enjoy.
When they finally unleashed this series, you knew it was going to be huge. Remaining fairly faithful to the comic book adaptations of the characters, this series also managed to bring storylines like "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of Future Past" to life in slightly varied versions. At least Wolverine didn't have a weird accent this time around!
Spider Man Unlimited (2000's)
Spidey has had so many animated versions over the years it would take up two posts just to mention them all, but I wanted to mention this one. It was a strange series that took him to another version of Earth to face new villains and new takes on some of his old foes. I have no idea why they went this way, but it took Spidey's animated look more toward the Batman series look. Perhaps Marvel was trying to find a way to cash in on the popularity of that cartoon's feel? Who knows. Cool Spider-Man costume here though!
Justice League (2000's)
A natural evolution for the "Super Friends" was to update them to the JLU. This series kept Bruce Timm's drawing style of the heroes, and even managed to keep Kevin Conroy's Batman voice from the animated series! There was a lot to love about this series--especially when it expanded to the "Unlimited" format and included some great guest stars (most of whom had never seen animation before) and even an updated version of the Legion of Doom. Unfortunately, this series was cancelled after far too short of a second season.
This clip is an example of how cool this series was. Actually, every episode in JLU was an absolute winner, so any clip you can find (or buy the whole series on DVD) is a great one.
Batman Beyond (2000s)
Ok, so how do you take the Batman story to the next level? You put him in the future! Giving Terry Gillis a slightly varied costume with cool new powers (like flight, wouldn't that have come in handy decades earlier?) and keeping the old Bruce Wayne as his mentor, the series managed to keep the feel of the Batman mythos while still breaking new ground. Good stuff!
Fox gave us a new Spider-Man series in the mid-90's that blended the feel of the 90's with the look of the 80's. Spidey fought all his old villains here and a lot of great storylines from the comics found a variation here. Unfortunately, this one didn't solve the "he's married to Mary Jane so how do we undo that?" problem any better than the comics did. In this series, she ends up being a water-based clone.
Next week, we'll look at a few one-offs I skipped over that deserve a little attention, including the Teen Titans, Iron Man, the Silver Surfer and the Hulk.