Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was thrilling millions of movie goers around the world and breaking box office records the Marvel Animated Universe was the only place comic book fans could see their favourite Marvel characters interact with each other outside of the comic books.
The Marvel Animated Universe was not the same as DC Animated Universe in the sense that the numerous series that made it up were not produced by one creative team. Instead they were all made by different producers and writers and thus don’t really follow a strict linear continuity or timeline like the DCAU or indeed the MCU.
They were simply a series of stand alone Marvel cartoons that were linked by a couple of crossovers. Still as these crossovers did establish them as taking place within the same canon then the MAU is ultimately as legitimate a shared continuity as the DCAU or the MCU for that matter.
Its worth noting that the MAU is not the only attempt to create an animated shared universe based on marvel comics. There have been other more recent Marvel animated universe’s, but this version is currently the longest and certainly the most famous so this is the one we will be looking at here.
Many of the MAU series had a significant influence on subsequent live action versions of Marvel characters and even the comic books themselves.
X-Men The Animated Series
One of the most iconic openings to any animated series of the 90’s.
Premiering in 1992 this series was arguably the most faithful adaptation of X-Men in any form of media. It managed to incorporate many major storylines from the comic books such as the Phoenix saga, Days of Future Past and the Phalanax Covenant.
X-Men was also the first successful attempt at producing an animated series based on the characters. Previously there been an attempt to produce a series based on the X-Men in 1989, but the pilot called Pryde of the X-Men was not picked up. The pilot is not considered canon to X-Men tas or the Marvel animated universe
What could have been. Though this never lead to a series this version of the X-Men would appear in Konami’s X-Men Arcade game.
Much like Batman the animated series, X-Men tas treated its subject matter seriously and benefited from a strong cast and animation.
Indeed in many ways I think this series was probably the best animated of all the Marvel animated universe series as it didn’t constantly reuse the same shots like Spider-Man did. I also preferred the designs of the characters to those in series like Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and again Spider-Man.
Of all the voices for the show I think Cathal J Dodd who voiced Wolverine was the best. Its like Mark Hamill as the Joker I just hear his voice whenever I read Wolverine comic. There’s just something about his voice that fits that character better than anyone else which is no mean feat considering how much I like Hugh Jackman’s portrayal.
X-Men along with Batman are really the two series that kicked off the craze of animated superhero series in the 90’s. X-Men was also the longest running Marvel animated universe series running for 5 seasons.
In many ways I think it holds up the best out of all the Marvel animated series. Even though Spider-Man will always be my favourite as Spider-Man is my favourite Marvel superhero, I think X-Men was at least certainly better animated. Though all of the MAU series have their own indiviudal strenghts. Also whilst I ironically prefer the animation in this series overall when the X-Men guest starred on Spider-Man I actually did prefer some of their designs on that show to how they looked on their own series. Gambit for instance looked much better on Spider-Man than he ever did on X-Men.
I think that X-Men’s biggest problem was the fact that it could get a bit too repetitive. The Gambit/Rogue romance though popular among fans left me cold because it was basically just him telling her he wanted to kiss her and her saying he would die if he did. That’s it for about 5 years!
Still overall after the films this is definitely the best version of the X-Men and it still holds up today over twenty years on as a classic of the genre.
The theme song for this series was composed and sung by Joe Perry of Aerosmith fame. The Symbiote episode would feature Spider-Man briefly taking the form of “that guy” from Aerosmith as a tribute.
The second longest running MAU show and until the Ultimate Spider-Man surpassed it in 2015 over 20 years later the longest running animated series based on Spider-Man.
According to recent interviews with the shows producer John Semper the series contrary to popular belief was not more heavily censored than any other cartoon from that time.
Still I would argue that Spider-Man suffered to a greater extent than many of its contemporaries simply due to the fact that the source material it was adapting was much more adult.
The original Spider-Man comic books featured things like people being tortured and killed by psychotic villains like Carnage, Gwen Stacy being hurled off of a bridge to her death by the Green Goblin, Venom torturing Black Cat by smashing her face into a wall and breaking her nose, Spider-Man beating his enemies like the Green Goblin, Doc Ock and the Kingpin almost to death. One story even dealt with the death of Peter Parker’s infant child.
Thus naturally whilst Spider-Man may not have been more censored than any other cartoon from that time, the standard restrictions that were placed upon it would still have made it more difficult for the makers of the series to adapt its stories properly.
In Spider-Man the animated series the main character wasn’t allowed to punch anyone which therefore meant that the fight scenes in Spider-Man were often just him dodging people’s attacks or getting grabbed in a bear hug by them for a few seconds before getting free.
Similarly not only was no one allowed to die, but the show wasn’t even allowed to mention the word death or kill. This led to some humorous lines of dialogue such as Mary Jane worrying about her bad dream being a premonition of her destruction!
The fact that no one could die meant that Gwen Stacy could not appear as a regular as the character in the comic books was killed off. Though despite this the character did still make a cameo in the final episode as the girlfriend of an alternate version of Peter Parker which actually marked the characters debut outside of the comic books.
Mary Jane ended up taking Gwen’s place in the Death of Gwen storyline and rather than die she was simply lost in another universe.
Carnage meanwhile whilst a vicious serial killer in the comic books was simply depicted as a madman (though his past as a serial killer is alluded to “Kasady’s not a man, he’s a monster he’s done stuff even the post wouldn’t print”) and rather than kill his victims he simply drains their souls from their bodies which puts them in a comatose state and after he is defeated all of the souls are returned to their own bodies and they are perfectly fine.
In addition to the censorship problems the show’s budget was also somewhat more limited and as a result its animation could be sloppy at certain times.
It tended to reuse many of the same shots and scenes from episode to episode even if the background’s or continuity didn’t match.
Despite these problems however Spider-Man TAS is still a classic and a very important series overall.
It had a very strong cast. Christopher Daniel Barnes is probably my favourite Spider-Man. I think he really captured the characters humour more than many other actors which is an important part of the character.
Added to that the series also benefited from having Roscoe Lee Brown as the Kingpin of crime. His rich, velvety voice was just perfect for the suave, debonair villain, whilst acclaimed voice actors Neil Ross, Hank Azaria, Mark Hamill and David Warner also made up the show’s cast as the Green Goblin, Venom, the Hobgoblin and Doctor Landon respectively.
The show was also able to condense many of the greatest Spider-Man storylines quite effectively despite the limitations of the censors such as the Alien costume saga, the death of Gwen Stacy and the mutation disease arc.
Indeed many subsequent adaptations of Spider-Man including even the Sam Raimi film series borrowed elements, even scenes, lines of dialogue and entire shots from this series.
The series even had an influence on the comic books themselves.
In fact I’d go as far as to say that this was probably the most influential Marvel based animated series of all time and as we will explore later in the article most of the MAU’s influence comes solely from this show.
Thus in spite of its faults I’d still rate the show very highly and say it was still a classic of the genre.
Spider-Man TAS finished in 1998 after five seasons. Its end came about not due to low ratings as it was consistently popular throughout its run, but due to a dispute between the producer Avi Arad and the head of Fox kids, Margaret Loesch.
It was followed by a loose sequel Spider Man Unlimited which finished after one series and two video games Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 both for the sony playstation in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
The Fantastic Four summed up in a cheesy little song
One of the more overlooked Marvel cartoons, this series which only lasted for 2 years suffered from having a terrible first season that it was never really able to recover from.
Its a shame as the second series was excellent and I feel had it been allowed to continue then it could have been every bit as good as Spider-Man or X-Men as like them it treated its subject matter seriously, was faithful to the source material whilst at the same time adding new twists to the lore. It also had a brilliant cast too.
Definitely the biggest improvement from series one to two was the casting of Simon Templeman as the Fantastic Four’s archenemy Doctor Doom!
Doom in the first series was handled very badly. He was portrayed as a one note, bland, even somewhat incompetent villain whose design made him look like the stay puff Marshmallow man or the Michellin man.
Doom’s season 1 design
Also his voice just didn’t seem to fit. To be fair they actually did get good voice actors for Doom in season 1, John Vernon and Neil Ross, but their performances whilst not bad didn’t really make much of an impact. I actually have a hard time telling them apart. Unless I look online I can’t tell which actor did which episode.
In season 2 everything about Doom was improved. His design was much better, his characterisation was spot on, and Simon Templeman was just perfect. He captured the characters sneering arrogance, and petty nature just superbly. Though some felt that his accent was off. Templeman simply used his natural English accent for the role I still feel that his performance as Doom was the definitive one.
Templeman’s Doom is arguably the only reason this show is even remembered at all. Whilst the series may not be held in that high regard Templeman’s Doom is still very popular among fans and is at the very least often regarded as one of the best adaptations of the character.
An example of Templeman’s enduring popularity as Doom.
Sadly due to its short run and the fact that its first series is completely naff I am afraid I can’t quite rank this series as a classic like Spider-Man or X-Men. Its second series is definitely above average and had it been given a third series then I think it would have been a classic, but as it stands now its sadly more a case of wasted potential.
I would definitely recommend this series in spite of its faults. The ropey first season is still good for a few laughs at least. Where else are you going to see the Human Torch rap for instance?
I remember once seeing a critic comment that this scene was more horrifying than watching Robin shoot the Joker in Return of the Joker.
The Incredible Hulk
Quite an intro. Shame its so overlooked.
Much like the Fantastic Four series this only lasted for just two years. Unlike the FF cartoon however this series was actually better in its first series than its second.
Its first series was a fairly faithful adaptation of the Hulk, but sadly by season 2 the character of the She Hulk came to completely dominate the series.
Now I am a massive fan of She Hulk. Dan Slott’s run on She Hulk in particular is fabulous.
I actually prefer She Hulk to regular Hulk. I find that regular Hulk stories tend to be a bit more samey than She Hulk. With She Hulk I actually find there is more scope as the fact that she is a lawyer allows us to explore the Marvel universe like never before as we get to see how the law functions in a world with superheroes and monsters and gods.
Sadly however in this series She Hulk to start with is portrayed as an unbearably smug character who never stops going on about how fabulous she is and she steals the limelight too much from the regular Hulk. Whilst I prefer her as a character at the end of the day its his show. Really She Hulk should have been given her own series as she is too big a character to just be a side character in another heroes show. Either she will sideline him or she will get sidelined.
Its still a fun series overall though and is worth it alone for Mark Hamill’s performance as Gargoyle.
Possibly the blandest opening to any of the MAU series.
Another short lived MAU series. I must confess this is probably my least favourite of all the main MAU series. I will say though that I have never been an Iron Man fan at all so naturally my enthusiasm for this character was never that big to begin with. Its not that I dislike Iron Man or anything I have just never really had an interest in it and I haven’t ever read even a single Iron Man comic book in my life.
Still this was a fun show and I must admit even though I’m not an Iron Man fan even I thought this was a much better version of Iron Man’s archenemy the Mandarin than the version the MCU gave us in Iron Man 3.
Although one problem with this version of the Mandarin is that he is green. Apparently this was because the studio was scared that having an Asian villain would appear racist so they coloured him green to make him appear inhuman.
Unfortunately turning him green just led to other unfortunate implications.
Much like the Fantastic Four it was generally agreed by fans and critics alike that the first season was much poorer than the second and considerably less faithful to the comic books.
In many ways these are the episodes that created the Marvel Animated Universe as these are the episodes that linked them all together in the one canon.
Spider-Man/ The Mutant Agenda/ The Mutant’s Revenge
One of the best crossover episodes this was also the first one that firmly linked Spider-Man and X-Men together. It featured the entire cast from the X-Men animated series, though their designs were somewhat changed in order to mesh with Spider-Man’s animated style, which in some cases was actually an improvement ironically such as in Gambiit’s case.
The premise for this story see’s Spider-Man go to Professor Xavier the worlds leading expert on mutations hoping that he can cure his mutation disease. Spider-Man had been warned by Doctor Curt Connors that the radioactive spider bite which had given him his powers in the first place was now mutating his body further to the point where he would turn into something that wasn’t even human.
Spider-Man is told by Professor X that he can’t cure him of his mutation as its his job to help Mutants accept who they are. Spider-Man angrily leaves and Beast chases him down hoping that he can help him. Spider-Man refuses Beasts offer of help and is later captured by Doctor Herbert Landon.
Landon is one of the worlds leading experts on mutations and has apparently found a cure, but little does anyone know that Landon is in fact working for the Kingpin who is funding all of his research to create an army of loyal Mutant slaves for him.
It is revealed however that even the Kingpin is unaware of Landon’s true motives. Landon is actually planning to create a plague that will exterminate all mutants around the world and thus purify humanity in his mind once again. He plans to use Beast who was an old friend of Landon’s as a test subject. Landon however is actually being blackmailed by the Hobgoblin who knows what he is planning and threatens to reveal it to everyone unless he pays him.
The Hobgoblin has absolutely no problem with Landon planning to murder every mutant just so long as he pays him to keep quiet. Spider-Man soon runs into Wolverine who having traced Beasts scent to where he last was before he was captured, thinks Spider-Man who was talking to him shortly before he was snatched is in on it. Spider-Man manages to convince him that he had nothing to do with it and the two team up to investigate Landon’s facility, with Spider-Man having suspected there is more to him than meets the eye after Hobgoblin attacked Landon in public.
The two are able to free Beast and battle both the Hobgoblin and Landon. Over the course of the fight Landon falls into his own experiment and mutates into a gigantic creature, but fortunately the X-Men and Spider-Man working together are able to stop him.
Its really hard to fault this episode as just about everything in it works. The X-Men they choose to have the most screen time, Beast and Wolverine work the best for this story. Beast who has taken on a less human appearance can empathise with what Spider-Man whose mutation will make him something other than human is going through. Wolverine meanwhile though it is true he is overused, is nevertheless still the perfect foil for Spider-Man.
There are many reasons that those two have always worked well together. They are both loners in many ways yet have very different ways of doing things. Spider-Man on the surface seems somewhat more jokey and light hearted, whilst Wolverine is somewhat dour and humourless and very gruff. Wolverine is also willing to kill whilst Spider-Man obviously possess a very strong moral code and finally Wolverine is a much older character too. He is over 100 years old, has travelled the world and is a somewhat weary and cynical character whilst Spider-Man in contrast is a teenager or in his early twenties, so they’re two very different yet two very strong characters who can play off of one another and clash in many different and exciting ways . Also its always funny watching the sarcastic Spider-Man wind up the short fused Wolverine too.
I also like the way this crossover actually has a proper reason for Spider-Man and the X-Men to meet. They don’t just happen to randomly bump into one another Spider-Man seeks Xavier out to help him with his mutation problem and though Xavier ultimately is unable to, its rather touching at the end when Wolverine tells Spider-Man that no matter what problems he has, he and the X-Men will always be his friends who’ll make sure he doesn’t have to go through them alone.
Finally this story also benefits from having excellent villains too. The Hobgoblin is voiced by Mark Hamill whilst Doctor Landon is voiced by David Warner. Now these two guys are excellent actors, famous for their high profile animated and live action genre roles.
They have a special place in the hearts of those of us who grew up in the 90’s however as they were responsible for the voices of so many villains in our favourite cartoons. By far and away Hamill’s most famous villainous role was as the Joker in Batman TAS whilst Warners was as Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman TAS.
So this episode not only has Spider-Man and the X-Men but the Joker and Ra’s Al Ghul too!
I suppose you could also look at Hamill and Warner being in this together as yet another crossover. Doctor Who and Star Wars. Mark Hamill obviously played Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy and is set to reprise the role in the upcoming sequel series. David Warner meanwhile played the Doctor in two Doctor Who Unbound Audio stories. Doctor Who Unbound for those of you unfamiliar with it is an audio series that revolves around alternate versions of the Doctor similar to Marvel’s What If series. Warner played an alternate third Doctor.
Thus Landon vs Hobgoblin is technically The Doctor vs Luke.
Time Lord vs Jedi who wins?
Both Hamill and Warner are in their elements as these villains with the Hobgoblin being the perfect crazy maniacal villain like the Joker and Landon being the perfect charming, cold, ruthless villain like Ghul. Its sad and surprising that this is one of the few times Warner and Hamill have been able to play off of one another.
Overall this is possibly the best crossover episode and a classic all around.
This was not the second time Spider-Man met another Marvel hero. In between this and the X-Men two parter Spidey had run ins with the Punisher, Blade, Daredevil and Doctor Strange, but since none of them had their own series within the MAU then I only going to look at this one.
This story sees Baron Mordo bring the Venom symbiote back to earth. In his last encounter with Venom, Spider-Man managed to defeat him by luring him to a rocket where the noise of the rocket taking off separated Brock and the Symbiote.
Spider-Man then webbed the alien to the side of the John Jameson probe where it was blasted off into space. Mordo brings the probe back to earth and offers Brock a chance to rebond with it provided he swear allegiance to Dormammu his Demonic master. Brock agrees and he is soon sent to retrieve an interdimensional machine developed by Stark industries. Mordo naturally hopes to use this machine to free his Master from his hell dimension and allow him to conquer this reality and bring ever lasting torment to it.
Venom confronts both Spider-Man and War Machine who do all they can to defend the machine and though Venom puts up a good fight he proves to be no match for the two heroes. Dormammu then reveals to Mordo that he asked him to bring the Symbiote to earth not just because of its power, but because it was about to reproduce. Dormammu sends Mordo to find a host for the second symbiote.
Realizing that he will need someone as unstable as Brock in order for it to be effective Mordo chooses Cletus Kasady a demented serial killer who at the start of the episode Spider-Man apprehended when he tried to blow up an orphanage. Kasady and the second symbiote merge into one being, a hideous, psychotic monster that calls itself Carnage. Carnage is perfectly happy to serve Dormammu just so that he can simply witness the pain and death he will inflict on all of humanity when he is freed.
Carnage easily defeats War Machine and Spider-Man very nearly killing both of them, but he and his father don’t get along as Carnage views Venom as “a sentimental old fool”.
After bringing the machine to Mordo Venom leaves to pursue Spider-Man and soon faces both the wallcrawler and Iron Man who is called in after War Machine is forced to go to hospital to recover from his injuries at Carnage’s hands.
Carnage meanwhile continues to help Dormammu. In order to leave his dimension Dormammu will need an equal amount of psychic energy to take his place. Thus he creates a link between himself and Carnage which allows the monster to drain people’s souls literally from their bodies and deposit them in Dormammu’s hell dimension. Once enough souls have been drained Dormammu will finally be able to leave using Stark’s machine.
Carnage goes on a massive rampage and drains hundreds of souls. Among his victims include Dr Ashley Kafka, Eddie Brocks psychiatrist with whom he had fallen in love with and even separated from the symbiote to be with. Brock rebonds with the symbiote and teams up with Venom and Iron Man to take on Carnage and Mordo. The two villains are able to free Dormammu, but before he can unleash hell on this earth, Spider-Man is able to reverse the polarity of the interdimensional machine whilst Venom and Iron Man hold off Mordo and Carnage which sends Dormammu hurling back into his hell dimension and all of the souls Carnage drained back into their bodies. Unfortunately Venom is forced to sacrifice himself in order to send Carnage into Dormammu’s dimension.
I am not sure whether this is better than the X-Men two parter. Spider-Man and Iron Man go well together. Maybe not quite as well as he and Wolverine but they are quite a good team. Its refreshing the way for once we don’t have to have the two heroes clash before working together. I often find that people do that in superhero team ups in order to avoid it just being like super friends. Sometimes it works, but other times it can seem tedious, as there is no real reason for certain heroes to clash. Wolverine and Spider-Man fair enough as they are so different, but Iron Man and Spider-Man really wouldn’t have a reason to and so its good that from the start Spidey and Iron Man have a positive relationship.
Its really cool watching both War Machine and Iron Man stick up for Spider-Man against J Jonah Jameson.
The villains in this story are brilliant as well. Venom and Carnage are both among Spider-Man’s strongest and most popular enemies so their inclusion was always going to raise the profile of this story somewhat even without Iron Man. Hank Azaria who plays Venom (best known for his work with the Simpsons, where he voices the likes of Moe, Apu, Snake, Comic Book Guy, Professor Frink, and Chief Wiggum. He is also known for playing Phoebe’s boyfriend David in Friends and his roles in films such as Run Fatboy Run.) And Scott Cleverdon who plays Carnage do brilliant jobs with the character and add a lot of personality and menace to their characters.
I still have a few problems with these versions of Venom and Carnage however.
With Venom I feel the biggest problem is the way they make him good by having him fall in love with someone nice. I hate that not only because its a huge cliche but also because it makes Venom a considerably blander character than he was in the comic books.
In the comic book continuity Venom helps Spider-Man defeat Carnage because he has a genuine desire to help innocents. He does not view Spider-Man as an innocent, but rather interestingly he does not wish to harm those nearest and dearest to Spider-Man like Mary Jane or Aunt May. When not trying to kill Spider-Man Venom actually goes out of his way to help people. Sadly however they couldn’t do that with this version of the character as in his first appearance he very nearly killed Aunt May. Thus in order to have him go good and turn on Carnage they had to go down the bad guy in love route which as really quite lame in my opinion.
Still I will give Semper credit for actually trying to flesh Venom out and show his more heroic side. Every single other adaptation of the character I have seen so far such as in the Spectacular Spider-Man and Spider-Man 3 all portray the character as a total monster which I don’t like.
To me a large part of Venom’s appeal is his moral ambiguity. It helps to set him apart from Spidey’s other two archenemies the Green Goblin and Doc Ock who are both completely evil.
Venom in Spectacular Spider-Man for instance is just a poor man’s Green Goblin. He’s another thoroughly evil enemy of the wall crawler who wants to hurt him by killing Gwen. I’m not dissing Spectacular Spider-Man by the way I think its a classic series and in some ways better than this series. All the Spider-Man cartoons have their strengths and weaknesses, but still in regards to Venom the version in Spectacular though an effective enemy is just another Green Goblin.
Semper with this episode at least shows us that Venom unlike many of Spider-Man’s other enemies is capable of self sacrifice when he gives his life to save the woman he loved. In fact it could be argued that he does much more than merely give his life as he willingly throws himself into a hell dimension forever where he will have to deal with a pissed off Dormammu and Carnage. He’ll probably be enduring an eternity of torture on the other side at their hands!
Its nice the way that even Spider-Man himself is shocked by Venom’s actions “Who would have expected Eddie Brock to make a sacrifice like that?” That reminds me somewhat of the end of Maximum Carnage where Venom sacrifices himself to stop Carnage and Spider-Man is genuinely shocked at what his former enemy has done.
Whilst it may be a bit cliched that Venom only turns good because of his love for Doctor Kafka, at least it does allow Venom to be a more heroic character like his comic book counterpart rather than just a hissing monster. Venom in this series is not just a retread of the Green Goblin. When we see Venom throwing himself into the portal to save Doctor Kafka and also willingly give up being Venom to be with her and express guilt over his previous actions as Venom, he couldn’t be more of a different character to the Goblin.
With Carnage meanwhile my problem was that they didn’t make this version of Carnage a miserable coward. I always loved the way Carnage who wanted to bring chaos and anarchy to the world was someone who could dish it out but not take it. It made him a somewhat more 3 dimensional and interesting character for me, but sadly this version is shown to be willing to blow himself up just to stop Spider-Man.
Still I think this episode did a good job of making Carnage seem dangerous even though they couldn’t actually have him kill anyone. The idea of him sucking their souls out of their bodies is a nice substitute for him hacking his victims to pieces.Its actually more horrific when you think about it. Whilst he might tear his victims to bits in the comics at least when he killed them he was done with them. Here he essentially does kill them, but he also sends their souls to a hell dimension where they would have, had it not been for Spider-Man at the end of the story, endured an eternity of torture. I also like the way that Carnage helps Dormammu not out of loyalty but simply to see what pain and misery he will inflict on the world when he arrives.
They are able to still make Carnage seem like the most twisted and perverse of all of Spider-Man’s enemies without having him kill a single person.
It is a bit of a shame the way that this story basically writes off any chance to see Venom and Carnage again.
A big criticism of Spider-Man the animated series that I have seen from some fans online is that it only featured Spider-Man’s most iconic and interesting villains like Venom, Carnage and The Green Goblin fleetingly whilst more minor villains like Alistair Smythe and Morbius were given far more exposure. Though at the same time some have seen this as a strength that it didn’t overuse Spider-Man’s most powerful and dangerous enemies and thus demean their effectiveness
I will say that I definitely don’t think that Carnage is a villain you can use lots of times because he is so powerful. In his first appearance it takes multiple heroes to beat him, so if you have him show up every other week to get his ass kicked by Spider-Man alone then naturally it seems like a come down.
Still having said that it would have been nice to see this version of the character, who actually had one of the better designs of the series and a terrific voice at least once more.
We do see the Carnage Symbiote once more in the season finale when it escapes from Dormammu’s dimension without Cletus Kasady through a portal into an alternate dimension where it bonds to that realities emotionally unstable Peter Parker creating Spider-Carnage. Spider-Carnage then attempts to destroy every universe by creating a superweapon using an interdimensional machine.
He actually succeeds in setting this weapon off but fortunately the Beyonder and Madame Web two vastly powerful beings manage to travel backwards in time just as the blast reaches their universe and gather Spider-Men from different realities led by our Spider-Man to stop Spider-Carnage before he detonates the bomb. I did like the Spider-Carnage arc, but it would have been nice to see the real Carnage show up again.
Apparently there were plans for the real Carnage to show up in the never made season 6 of Spider-Man the animated series. It would have revolved around Madame Web taking Spider-Man to Victorian England where the real Mary Jane would have ended up after she fell through a portal two seasons earlier. Unfortunately the real Carnage would also have been there too (which meant that the version that bonded to Spider-Carnage was an alternate version after all). Carnage it was revealed would have been Jack the Ripper.
Personally I always thought this storyline and aborted storyline was an influence on Reality Bomb story arc from Doctor Who. Its worth noting that Russell T Davies who wrote that story line is a massive Marvel comics fan. He even named his character Jack Harkness after Agatha Harkness.
When you look at the reality bomb story arc its very like the whole Spider Carnage arc that really begins with this two part story.
In both stories two of the heroes archenemies are lost in an alternate universe after they attempt to use interdimensional technology which someone develops because of them in both cases.
Mordo manipulates Tony Stark into developing the interdimensional machine whilst the Daleks create the rip between the universes that Torchwood later exploits.
At the same time the interdimensional technology leads to the hero’s one true love being lost in another universe too, though this happens in a later episode with Spider-Man its a similar idea.
Two seasons later in both series one of the villains lost in another universe returns and creates a superweapon that can destroy every universe and sets it off and in both cases someone from another universe in the future travels back and warns the hero of the impending disaster and in both cases it takes multiple versions of the hero to stop them, three Doctors and an army of Spider-Men.
Finally the story that comes after sees/would have seen in Spider-Man’s case the hero travel to Victorian England where they would encounter one of the enemies two seasons earlier who had fallen through a portal into another universe, but had instead somehow fallen through time and was now stalking the gothic streets of Victorian England as an otherworldly killer.
Personally I think this story arc influenced Doctor Who. To me this two parter, Venom Returns/Carnage as well as Turning Point together are Army of Ghosts/Doomsday and Spider-Wars is The Stolen Earth/Journeys End and the would be season 6 is The Next Doctor.
Ironically in a way Iron Man created the very technology that would lead to Mary Jane being lost.
Overall like I said I am not sure as to whether or not this is the best crossover episode or the X-Men two parter, but its lots of fun nonetheless.
Spider-Man/ Secret Wars
This three parter is the largest Marvel Animated Universe crossover. It features cast members from 4 different Animated series.
The premise for this series sees The Beyonder and Madame Web whisk Spider-Man away into space and show him a planet that has long since eliminated war and suffering. The Beyonder decides to introduce evil to the planet and thus brings 5 of the worlds worst supervillains there. Doctor Doom, The Lizard, Doctor Octopus, Alistair Smythe and the Red Skull.
The Beyonder allows them to overrun the planet and then sends Spider-Man there telling him that his job is to banish the evil. Spider-Man is allowed to recruit several other heroes to help him in this task and he chooses the Fantastic Four due to their previous battles against Doctor Doom, Captain America the Red Skull’s archenemy, Iron Man whom he trusts after their previous battle with Venom and Carnage and finally Storm from the X-Men as he believes her power might be a match for the Beyonders.
The team of heroes are able to foil the villains though not before Doom briefly manages to steal the Beyonders powers. Ultimately after Doom is defeated all of the heroes are returned home whilst Spider-Man is whisked away for the real battle. It is later revealed that the Secret Wars was just a test to see if this Spider-Man was right to lead the others against Spider-Carnage.
Overall this three part story is a great adventure. Its fun seeing so many different Marvel heroes interact with each other, and again I like seeing Iron Man stick up for Spider-Man when the Thing attacks him.
My only major beef with this story is the way the Fantastic Four are handled. Only Quentin Flynn reprises his role from the Fantastic Four animated series. John Semper the producer of this series apparently hated all of the voices from the 90’s animated series and decided to recast them.
I was disappointed at this. First of all the voices in the Fantastic Four animated series were all brilliant. Particularly Simon Templeman as Doctor Doom. Semper’s replacements quite frankly are very flat and dull in comparison. The guy Semper chose to play Doom, Tom Kane though a good voice actor normally is not really that effective as Doom. He sounds like Count Von Count from Sesame Street!
Though having said that Sempers characterisation of Doom is excellent.
Semper clearly understands the character of Doom as here he is portrayed as someone who seeks power because he believes that he can make a positive difference with it and actually is capable of genuinely benevolent acts, but ultimately its his own ego and greed that destroys him and eventually turns people who would have followed him to the ends of the earth like Ben Grimm against him.
To be honest I’d say this story and the second season of the Fantastic Four are the only two works outside of the comic books that get the character of Doctor Doom right. Most people just portray him as a psychopath that is evil because, he’s evil!
I feel that Doom is somewhat comparable to Venom here in that in the comic books both are much more interesting characters who at times despite being the heroes most relentless and unforgiving enemies almost walk a fine line between being evil and good and are capable of genuinely heroic acts, but sadly their flaws, in Doom’s case his vanity, in Venom’s his bitterness at how his life turned out drive them down dark path’s.
Its great that Semper tried to capture these more sympathetic qualities in both villains, though for reasons I have already explored I think he did a better job with Doom in this adventure than Venom.
Still in spite of how brilliantly Semper writes for Doom the fact that its not Simon Templeman voicing him and the rest of the 90’s Fantastic Four animated cast means it doesn’t feel quite like the big crossover of 90’s animated series it should as the cast of one of them has been replaced.
As it turns out regardless of Sempers feelings about the 90’s Fantastic Four series the versions of the Fantastic Four featured in this story are the same as the ones from the Fantastic Four animated series anyway simply by default due to the fact that both the 90’s Spider-Man and Fantastic Four series are connected through various other crossovers with other series such as X-Men, the Hulk and Iron Man.
Its also a shame that there weren’t more X-Men too. It would have been nice to have seen a Spidey/Wolverine reunion. This is not John Semper’s fault however as apparently all of the X-Men were originally slated to appear as was the X-Men villain Mr Sinister who would have been one of the villains transported to the planet.
There was even a whole extra episode of the Secret Wars written that had to be scrapped that would have revolved around the X-Men. This episode also would also have seen Spider-Man use the Venom symbiote at one point which also would have been transported to the planet by the Beyonder. Black Suit Spider-Man vs Mr Sinister would have been amazing. Sadly however it would have been too expensive to fly the entire X-Men cast out from Canada where it was recorded so instead only Storm appeared as her voice actress Iona Morris was a friend of Semper.
The Hulk and She Hulk would also have appeared, in a crossover with the Hulk animated series. Sadly however again they could not get the rights and so the Lizard took the place of the Hulk in this story.
If only Semper had used the cast from the Fantastic Four and had been able to get the cast from the X-Men and the Incredible Hulk series then it would have had the full cast members from 5 different series together. I can’t think of any other tv crossover that vast.
As it is it is still an enjoyable story though not quite as strong as the previous crossovers.
Fantastic Four/ Nightmare in Green
This episode of the Fantastic Four was actually made before the Hulk animated series. However it would later be referenced in the Hulk animated series itself. Thus in many ways you can consider the Hulk animated series a spin off of this series.
The story for this episode is fairly straight forward. Doctor Doom seeking revenge against the Thing for crushing his hands tricks the Hulk into thinking that the Fantastic Four stole his only friend Rick leading to him trying to kill them.
Though its a fairly straight forward story this episode is still loads of fun. Simon Templeman as Doctor Doom is really what makes this story so great. He has some of his best moments in this story such as his casually dismissing Ben Grimm’s grieving girlfriend “she’ll get over it” or his relishing in watching Ben get the shit kicked out of him by the Hulk.
Just like in the comic books The Thing has no chance against the Hulk. Its not even a fight the Thing gets smashed all the way up Manhattan and even when Sue turns him invisible he still gets the shit kicked out of him. At one point he is cowering under a shield created by Sue! Notice what a perfect gentleman the Hulk is that even when Sue is defending Ben he doesn’t attack her, just keeps banging away on the shield.
This episode is also notable for featuring a came from the X-Men in their civillian clothes and also the Scarlet Spider appears briefly as does the Juggernauts hand,emerging from the water placing this episode at around the time of series 3 of the X-Men and after season 5 of Spider-Man as Miles Warren attempted to create a clone of Spider-Man in that season.
Sadly the full episode is not on line.
Fantastic Four/ Doomsday
This isn’t a fully fledged crossover, but I am still including it as it does involve other heroes rather prominantly. In this episode Doctor Doom manages to steal the Silver Surfers powers a second time and uses them to conquer the earth. Fortunately the Fantastic Four and the Avengers by working together are able to foil Dooms plan.
The Avengers in the MAU are shown to include Captain America, She Hulk and Iron Man. Though they only make cameos they still play an important role in the plot. The X-Men also make a brief appearance.
This episode once again establishes Fantastic Four season 2 as taking place after the end of Spider-Man as in Spider-Man Captain America at the end of the war became trapped in another dimension with the Red Skull. He and the Skull were freed briefly twice in Spider-Man including during the Secret Wars but sadly in both cases they were sent back into the other dimension. Here however we see that obviously Captain America escaped once again and formed the Avengers.
I must confess I was always sad the way Captain America was trapped in an alternate dimension with only his psychotic Nazi archenemy at his throat for all eternity. It was a brilliant twist on the Cap being frozen in ice, don’t get me wrong and it was also great from a dramatic point of view. Cap’s sacrifice to stop the Red Skull is much like Eddie Brock’s in that it is even more poignant and heroic as he is not just simply giving up his life.
He is hurling himself into a tiny little cell where he will have to battle his archenemy for all eternity. Its a truly horrific fate. It just goes to show you how sometimes not having any characters be allowed to die can be a benefit as it can lead to things like Captain America and Venom’s fates in Spider-Man the animated series which are actually more disturbing when you think about it. Trapped with lunatics like the Red Skull and Carnage at your throats for all eternity!
Still having said that it is still nice that this episode indirectly gives the Cap a happy ending by having him escape and help save the earth. I’m not the biggest fan of Captain America, but he is one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes so its a bit of a downer to think of him being trapped with the Red Skull forever
Overall this episode is one of my favourite episodes of the entire MAU. Its definitely Templeman’s best performance as Doom. He’s able to inject so much humour into the character of Doom with wonderful little lines like telling Ben Grimm to keep an eye out for pigeons after he turns him to stone or when he casually tells the Siver Surfer that he might take over the entire universe itself. Its truly a classic episode. Check it out.
The Incredible Hulk/ Doomed
Another excellent episode. This is actually my favourite episode of the Hulk animated series. Again a large part of that is because of Simon Templeman as Doctor Doom.
He gets some of his best lines in this episode such as calling the president of the United States “a posturing corn fed commoner”.
However the thing this episode is most famous for to this day is the over sexualized transformation of She Hulk
The story for this episode is fairly basic. Doom captures Jennifer and uses her to lure the Hulk into a trap after which he then takes control of the Hulk and plans to use him to murder the president of the USA. With Jennifer wounded Doctor Banner gives her a blood transfusion which causes her to become She Hulk. Together She Hulk and the Hulk thrash Doom and send him running for the hills.
This episode must logically take place before Dooms appearance in Doomsday which sees She Hulk as a member of the Avengers as this is her origin story, whilst it obviously takes place after Nightmare in Green as Doom is already familiar with the Hulk here and comments on their last meeting.
The Incredible Hulk/ Hollywood Rocks
Simon Templeman’s second performance as Doctor Doom in The Hulk animated series, sadly this is not the best episode.
Templeman is as good as always, but its just a fairly unspectacular episode. Its quite interesting the way that Doom has lost control of Latveria, but they don’t do much with it. This also means that this must take place before his appearance in Doomsday as in that story he is in control of Latveria whilst he loses it in Doomed. So therefore he must have managed to reclaim it at some point after this episode.
The plot for this story basically sees Doom try and get back at the Hulks and take over the world. As is typical of the second season of this show Hulk is basically useless in this and its She Hulk that brings Doom down.
Another drawback of this episode is the way it redesigns Doom and gives him a jaw that moves in sync with his mouth. It looks ridiculous.
The Incredible Hulk/ Helping Hand, Iron Fist
Easily one of the best episodes of the entire series. Iron Man it had been established was a friend of Banner on his own show and this episode serves as a sequel of sorts to that episode which helps to create a stronger continuity between the MAU shows.
This episode brings together many other cast members from the Iron Man animated series such as War Machine which helps to make it seem like a proper Iron Man episode as well as a Hulk episode.
This episode firmly links the Hulk with the MAU as through this episode Iron Man takes place in the same canon as the Hulk and therefore through Iron Man Hulk takes place in the same canon as Spider-Man and X-Men. This also means that Fantastic Four takes place in the same canon as Spider-Man and X-Men too meaning again the version of the FF that appear in Secret Wars is automatically the version from that series.
Though the Hulk had appeared in Iron Man he was voiced by a different actor and thus it was not clear that it was this Hulk until this episode which firmly linked all the marvel animated series together.
The Incredible Hulk/Fantastic Fortitude
Probably the weakest crossover. I must confess I’ve never been too big a fan of the Thing. I don’t hate him or anything, but his constant whining has always bugged me. Not that he doesn’t have a reason to whine mind you but still, he’s just a bit too whiney for me.
Still it was good that they actually mentioned the events of the previous episode of the Fantastic Four though the romance between She Hulk and Ben was a bit lame to be honest.
Iron Man/ Hulkbuster
The only crossover in Iron Man’s own series which is ironic considering the amount of times he appeared in other series. This is a fairly enjoyable if somewhat straightforward crossover. It sees the Mandarin try and travel backwards in time to try and steal the Hulk’s power. The Hulk in this episode is voiced by Ron Perlman like he was in Fantastic Four. This predated his own series, but it would later be established in his own series that it was this Hulk that appeared in this episode.
Sadly this episode is not online.
In addition to these crossovers, the characters of Daredevil, Thor, Captain America, The Red Skull and Doctor Strange appeared on multiple Marvel Animated Universe series. Though there were some discrepancies involved in these appearances. For instance Daredevil’s personality in Spider-Man was completely different to his personality in Spider-Man. Meanwhile the Red Skull in Spider-Man was shown to be a formidable hand to hand combatant whilst in the X-Men he was shown to be comically inept.
Finally Spider-Man and War Machine also made tiny cameos in an episode of X-Men saving fleeing civillians.
Examples of MAU’s influence
The Marvel Animated Universe had a significant influence on Marvel comics and other adaptations of Marvel comics characters.
The most notable example was in the MAU’s depiction of Venom. In the comic books the black costume did not make Peter Parker aggressive. It tried to control him but it did not bring out his aggressive side. That comes solely from the MAU. It also did not make him physically stronger either. Again that comes from the MAU version.
The idea of the symbiote making its hosts stronger and more violent would not only appear in the comics after this but they would also be featured in virtually all other adaptations of the character such as the film Spider-Man 3 and the animated series The Spectacular Spider-Man and The Ultimate Spider-Man.
The MAU’s version of the Green Goblin also influenced Raimi’s version of the character too. The MAU version unlike his comic counterpart is not only shown to have a split personality which the Raimi version but he is also shown to genuinely care about his son and try and epair his relationship with him too.
Finally the success of X-Men also helped along with Batman to pave the way for a whole wave of successful animated series based on superheroes.