Almost exactly a month ago, I put this feature's spotlight on a couple old school Marvel cartoons to fit that week's Thor-honoring theme. Now, here's another Marvel movie and the subject's relevant once more. In a month or so, Captain America will be on screens and we'll round out the trifecta with a third part. Man... remember the days when you'd maybe only get one of these a year?
Anyway, the two toons we're looking at today are especially relevant to myself. They come from the days of my own misspent youth in the 90s...
Straight up, I’ll admit that this show maybe hasn’t aged quite well. It didn't go for a timeless look and feel like Batman: the Animated Series did and it’s consequently the more dated of the two, now. Instead of going for a cumulative adaptation that captured all eras of these heroes at once, it was an almost direct translation of the contemporary comics. Thus, it’s got probably the densest concentration of easter eggs in any comics-based toon, ever. The staff was a bunch of hardcore fans of the comic and they tried to pack in as many winks and nods as they could possibly get away with. The result might've been confusing to some, but lil' Tommy P was utterly intrigued; so much so that I just had to find out the stories behind the cameos by picking up the comics.
There’s no denying that this won over a generation of kids to fandom and planted seeds that are still blossoming. Without this, you wouldn't have the years of X-Men movies that are still going strong today. And this one wasn't the one to do that because it happened to fit into some inevitability. There’s a reason that the Marvel Action Hour and the first Avengers cartoon didn’t take off like this did and there’s a reason other early 90s juggernauts like Power Rangers and Captain Planet haven’t made nearly as lasting an impression on pop culture. If you were a kid back then, this felt edgier and far more fascinating than any other show on Saturday morning. Actually, I suspect it was one of the last gasps of creative freedom American kids entertainment enjoyed before the defanging and declawing that Lieberman’s party-poopers instigated around '93. For years afterward, there's no way you could've gotten away with something as ballsy as killing off Morph in the first episode.
Even the theme song had edge...
I’ll always have a big soft spot for this because it turned me from a dabbler into a lifelong comics fanatic. I’ve noticed some backlash arise in some spots against this show and, no matter how different this may look to adult fans now, I’m not going to subtract any points from it. My career draws a clear, straight line to this point of origin, and I strongly doubt any subsequent iterations would’ve had as profound an effect on me if I’d been born a few years later.
The ying to X-Men’s yang in this greater circle of the 90s. Coming after Lieberman’s aforementioned crackdown, the toon's far more constrained, content-wise. Actually, let me put it this way… Spider-Man was barred from actually hitting anybody. Standards and practices didn’t think that was O.K. When you’ve got a show like this where the hero can’t physically fight his villains, you’ve got to think of some alternatives to create conflict. In this case, the crew embraced the soap operatic nature of Spidey full on, pulling it in deep like a reunited lover.
Man, even Peter Parker's hairdo looked like it'd been done up by General Hospital's staff stylist.
As much icky romance as there was in X-Men, this had a far higher concentration of kooties. I swear, it felt like every villain in this show - - from Kraven to Morbius to the Lizard - - could only be defeated by Spidey putting on the relationship counselor’s hat and reconciling them with their wives or girlfriends. Bad guys were beaten with kisses, not punches. I think the only villain who didn’t have a little woman waiting for him was Carnage, which made the options of how to beat the guy even more limited. It's a mind-looping paradox to have a serial killer possessed by a bloodthirsty parasite who can’t actually cut anybody on screen, let alone kill them. Such was the "neither, nor" quality of this toon.
At least the theme song was kind-of cool (and very randomly composed by Aerosmith's guitarist)...