The 90’s was a golden age of cartoons. I think it marked a time when animated series started to become more sophisticated, not just in terms of animation but in terms of story telling.
That’s not to do down the cartoons of previous decades, which still hold up in their own way. In terms of comedy I honestly don’t think anything can top the original Hannah Barbera, Tom and Jerry’s, and the original Warner Bros cartoons starring Mel Blanc.
Still nowadays I think that animated series are taken more seriously. Indeed many modern day animated series could be seen as animated drama’s in a way.
The 90’s I think was really the decade where people began to view cartoons as being a medium where they could tell sophisticated proper stories, rather than just light hearted enjoyable romps. It was the decade where we saw animated series like, The Simpsons, South Park, and Batman the Animated Series make a big impact on the entertainment industry. All of these series were in many ways indistinguishable from live action drama’s and comedy’s in terms of the subject matter they tackled.
The Simpsons and South Park were hard hitting comedies . Arguably more so than most live action comedies from that time in fact, whilst Batman in terms of its serious content could easily hold its own with the likes of Buffy and Star Trek.
At the same time I think that many 90’s cartoons also did retain some of the camper elements of previous decades cartoons. To be fair you can never, nor should you even try and ditch camp from cartoons completely, but still I’d imagine that many 90’s classic may seem quite goofy in some ways to modern children.
In this article I am going to run down the cartoons from this decade that had the biggest effect on me, in no particular order, bu before I start I should mention that I will not be looking at the Simpsons, South Park and Futurama. They were not just simply 90’s cartoons. They are like Doctor Who or Star Trek in that they continued to run and be just as, if not more significant in subsequent decades. You wouldn’t say Doctor Who is a 60’s show the same way that say The Prisoner is. Also if you want to get technical the Simpsons started in the 80’s anyway.
Obviously if I were giving an objective overview of cartoons in the 90’s then I’d look at all of these shows, and I do personally rate all of these series as among the best cartoons too. Futurama is easily one of my all time favourite series.
Still since this is looking at exclusive 90’s cartoons then I feel its best to leave out the big ones that ran throughout many decades, and I also want to be able to focus, on perhaps some of the more obscure cartoons here.
So then lets look at my favourite exclusively 90’s cartoons in no particular order.
Street Sharks (1994-1997)
A classic example of 90’s cheese and camp. Street Sharks was greatly inspired by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in terms of its style and premise. It obviously didn’t make quite the impact TMNT did, but it does still have a loyal cult following.
The series was based on a Mattei toy line of the same name. I must admit I always LOVED the Street Shark toys. The characters were so visually stunning, and large, and colourful, that they just made irresistible toys.
I feel sorry for the generations of children who didn’t have Street Shark toys.
The premise of Street Sharks revolved around 4 brothers, the Bolton brothers who were experimented on by the evil Doctor Paradigm, and turned into half man, half Shark creatures. Paradigm would later fall victim to one of his own experiments which turned him into a hideous piranha like creature, earning him the nickname Doctor Piranoid.
He also went on to create other hideous hybrid creatures including a Lobster man creature, a weird fish monster with a drill nose, and a Killer Whale human hybrid called Moby Lick!
Over the course of the series, the Street Sharks would travel through time, both to the past in the time of the Dinosaurs, and a future where Paranoid had conquered the earth.
They also worked with highly intelligent Dinosaurs called the Dino Vergers to help battle their sworn enemies, highly intelligent Raptors. The Dino Vergers later got their own series, Extreme Dinosaurs.
The show didn’t have the most nuanced story or characters, and it was a fairly barmy idea, but it did still take itself very seriously, which I think was the key to its success as it wasn’t just a full blown parody.
I always felt that what happened to the Bolton boys father was one of the more interesting story arcs of the series.
He was Piranoid’s first victim and like the boys he was mutated into hideous monster, but what was interesting was that we never saw what he looked like after his mutation. We would only ever see his shadow as he helped the boys from a distance. It was quite creepy seeing how in contrast to the boys, who despite being Shark men still had some quality of life and cool super powers, their father became such a freak that he could not be round ordinary people ever again, or even his own mutated sons. It was quite a dark concept and again an example of how 90’s cartoons often took themselves more seriously.
Overall a very entertaining series if not an all time classic.
The two intro’s for the series. I preferred the first one personally. Its lyrics were unbelievably unoriginal, but I think it suited the show more and it was more 90’s.
Beavis and Butthead (1993-1997)
Okay this had a brief revival in 2011, but generally speaking this series is a 90’s cartoon unlike South Park and Futurama, which had more episodes in the 00’s and even the 10’s than they did in the 90’s.
I was introduced to Beavis and Butthead on video so I never really saw their commentary’s on music videos as much when I was younger, as they were often cut out presumably for copyright reasons. I must admit even today I prefer the actual episodes to the scenes of them watching music videos. I know that a lot of their popularity stemmed from the biting comments they’d make about the likes of U2, but for me the actual stories were often far funnier.
The two main characters are thoroughly unlikable people. They are physically repulsive, stupid, perverted, violent and even though they have no friends but each other they constantly treat each other in the most appalling way. They’ll attack each other, insult each other and show not even the slightest bit of concern when the other is beaten/injured/tortured/deported or even seemingly killed!
The humour could get very dark, and in some episodes the two main characters would even die violent, horrific deaths.
In one episode Beavis, whilst trying to give Butthead a shave kills him by slashing his throat open with a razor. In the Halloween special meanwhile, Beavis is kidnapped by a hideous zombie farmer, who hangs him from a meat hook, and then turns Butthead into a zombie. The two of them then slice Beavis to pieces with chainsaws.
This scene wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie. as the horrible undead farmer lures the hapless Beavis away to be horrificly tortured and dismembered. Yet in a twisted way its still quite amusing, as Beavis is just so stupid he can’t tell that this guys a lunatic. Even after he hangs him from a meat hook!
The show reminded me very much of the type of humour Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson used throughout their careers. Like Rik and Ade’s series we have the two most undesirable characters imaginable, both mentally and physically, who are desperate to try and lose their virginity, who have nothing in their lives, even each other because they are both just so vile, they can’t even muster the tiniest bit of sympathy and affection for one another.
They aren’t together because they even like each other . Its just because no one else will have them in any way.
I’ve always loved that type of comedy about really unsympathetic characters, as often you can go the extra mile, and have them either do something utterly deplorable, or have something horrible happen to them, and get away with it, because its what you expect to happen with characters like that.
A prime example of this can be found in my favourite ever episode of Beavis and Butthead, Prank Call which sees the two boys relentlessly torment a poor man for months on end, with the most infantile prank calls until they drive him to actual lunacy and violence with absolutely hilarious results
Beavis and Butthead is definitely deserving of its reputation as a classic. It may not have had the staying power of the Simpsons and South Park, but its just as wild and outrageous in its own way and a good example of how 90’s Cartoons could have a bit more of an edge to them.
Doesn’t that bring back memories.
The anti Beavis and Butthead. This series also ran briefly into the 00’s, but again unlike South Park and the Simpsons it was mostly a 90’s thing.
Rugrats was a classic example of 90’s cartoons having somewhat more depth than what came before. All of the characters despite being babies were very fleshed out and so where their parents, and all of their relationships with one another. In many ways it was like an animated soap opera.
The main characters were, Tommy Pickles the brave and kind hearted leader of the babies, Phl and Lil two twins, Angelica, Tommy’s mean spirited cousin, Suzie, Angelica’s frenemy who stood up for the babies, Chuckie Finster the scaredy cat of the group and later Dylan, Tommy’s adorable little brother and Kim, Chuckie’s adopted sister.
The series dealt with some very serious issues from time to time that would have been unthinkable for something aimed at children to tackle in previous decades.
The most notable example of this was in the episode Mother’s Day, where it is revealed that Chuckie’s mother died when he was a baby from a terminal illness at the age of just 33.
Chuckie later finds a letter that contains a poem that she wrote to him when she was dying in hospital. The poem is later read to him by his father and it assures him that she will always be there in some way.
The poem reads as follows.
My sweet little Chuckie though I must leave you behind me, this poem will tell you where you can always find me. When a gentle wind blows, that’s my hand on your face, and when the tree gives you shade that’s my sheltering embrace. When the sun gives you freckles that’s me tickling my boy. When the rain wets your hair, those are my tears of joy. When the long grass enfolds you, that’s me holding you tight. When the whipperpool sings that’s me whispering night night”.
I remember crying my eyes out after seeing this episode as a child. All of it upset me, watching Chuckie ask why he didn’t have a mum unlike the other babies, his dad struggling to deal with the loss of his wife and how to tell his son what happened to her, but it was the poem at the end that just destroyed me.
Its funny in a way how kids react to things.
Seeing a man be tortured and hacked to pieces with a chainsaw and another man have a phone shoved violently up his arse in Beavis and Butthead made me laugh hysterically as a child. A Rugrats episode that tackled a child losing its mother in the most sensitive and beautiful way possible, on the other hand upset me so much I didn’t watch it again for weeks.
I guess its all just in the delivery.
That’s not to say that Rugrats wasn’t fun however. I think the show really captured the limitless imagination you have as a child. It was brilliant watching the way the babies could create the most fantastic adventures involving robots, superheroes, Dinosaurs and journey’s into outer space from nothing.
As a child you’d get caught up in their adventures every bit as much as they did. A favourite episode of mine was one episode where the babies believed the sky was falling down, and began to imagine what life would be like after they survived the end of the world.
The best episodes for me where always the ones that centered around Reptar. Reptar was a gigantic green mutant Tyrannosaurus Rex who was clearly a parody of Godzilla.
The babies were all big fans of Reptar which again as a child viewer made them easier to relate to. What child doesn’t love Dinosaurs? Also as I was a big Godzilla fan then I absolutely loved Reptar too.
You could tell the writers of the series were big Godzilla fans as Reptar was more of an affectionate tribute. Hell it was closer to Godzilla than the 90’s American Godzilla was.
Many episodes involving Reptar directly parodied classic Godzilla films. The season 6 2 parter Runaway Reptar was a direct parody of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla and featured almost the exact same plot.
It sees Reptar who by this point has gone from a villain to a hero, revert to being a monster again and begin destroying Tokyo, only for it to be revealed in a twist that this is not the real Reptar but in fact a robot. The real Reptar faces the imposter in a fight and rips his synthetic skin off showing that he is a robot underneath. Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla likewise seemingly saw Godzilla who had gone from a villain to a hero, return to being a monster, only for it to be revealed that it was a robot Godzilla, whom the real Godzilla later exposes when he blasts his fake skin off.
Dectar Reptars friend and ally who was a giant mutant Pteranodon was also based off of Rodan, whilst Thorg a giant gorilla he regularly fought with was clearly a parody of King Kong too.
Its a shame they never got to do a Ghidorah style character for Reptar to fight that would have been brilliant.
I think parodies are always better when there is a little bit of love in them like Reptar. On the one hand Reptar was great for Godzilla fans like me as I could recognize who all of the characters he fought like Dectar were meant to be and pick up on all the little in jokes that only Godzilla fans would get.
Yet on the other people who didn’t really care for Godzilla or giant movie monsters could still find Reptar enjoyable as the character did lampoon many of the more over the top and silly aspects of giant monsters movies in a gentle way.
Whilst I would rate Rugrats as a classic series I wouldn’t watch it back today. The Simpsons, Futurama and Batman can all still be enjoyed when you are an adult, hell arguably more so. Even Street Sharks can still be enjoyed in much the same way as the original 60’s Avengers series can, as goofy fun. Things like South Park and Beavis and Butthead you probably shouldn’t have been watching as a child anyway.
Rugrats however is definitely one that you can only like as a child and so I’d never watch it back again. Still that does not mean it isn’t a classic as after all most cartoons primary audiences are children and the Rugrats was a lovely series for little kids to enjoy. One that captured the innocence of childhood but also the pain and responsibility of growing up.
Possibly the greatest ever adaptation of Batman. This series kick started the entire DC animated Universe franchise that lasted until the later half of the 00’s. Batman itself however was purely a 90’s thing.
Batman was really along with the Simpsons a turning point for cartoons. Whilst it was aimed at children first and foremost, it still treated itself seriously and thus could be enjoyed by adults too.
Its main characters felt real, its design was atmospheric and the series could have very dark content. You only have to look at its opening to see how much more serious it was than previous superhero cartoons. Most superhero cartoon openings would be the heroes jumping about in the light of day smiling to some cheesy, but relentlessly catchy theme.
Not that there is anything wrong with that of course. The 60’s Spider-Man theme has entered into pop culture like few other things, but still once again when you look at Batman’s intro where the caped crusader, is almost like a Demon stalking criminals in the night its obvious that this is more of a proper adaptation of the Dark Knight.
As Batman’s characters were more fleshed out, I feel it also gave its voice actors a chance to shine like no superhero cartoon before.
No one really remembers who voiced the Joker in the Filmation Batman Cartoons or who played Lex Luthor in Superfriends. Those characters were just non entities.
With Batman the voice actors were given proper roles to play. It had a very strong cast all around. Kevin Conroy who voiced Batman is for many the definitive voice of the character. He influenced future performers in the role including Christian Bale by providing a different voice for Batman and Bruce Wayne.
Among the other cast members in the series included David Warner who played Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman’s most dangerous enemy even more so than the Joker. This marked the characters first appearance outside of the comic books.
Warner of course was absolutely superb in the role. Like Ghul should be, he was charming, charismatic, even somewhat likable, yet bubbling under the surface you could tell there was a real fanatical desire to shape the earth in his own image, as well as no real human empathy with anyone including even his own daughter.
Its not hard to see why Warner went into voice acting as he has an absolutely wonderful voice. Warner was part of a group of 4 actors, the other three being Mark Hamill, Tim Curry and Clancy Brown who would go on play villains in so many 90’s cartoons. They are really the voices of 90’s villainy. Most cartoons after Batman TAS are bound to have one or two, or sometimes all 4 of them as badguys.
Among the other members of the cast included Jon Glover, best known as Lionel Luther in Smallville as The Riddler. Glover was for me the best Riddler there has been, as I liked the way he actually underplayed the character. Normally I find the Riddler to be quite boring, as to me he is just kind of a third rate Joker. He is another insane, often cackling villain (like Jim Carrey’s portrayal in Batman Forever) who is obsessed with proving that he is smarter than Batman.
Glover however made the character more of a pompous, snobby intellectual. Like a homicidal version of Frasier Crane who was a deeply insecure and pathetic little man underneath.
Paul Williams also was wonderfully debonair and sophisticated in an evil way as the Penguin. The Penguin in this series was an odd mix of different styles. On the one hand he was very much the gentleman of crime from the comics, but in terms of design he borrowed from Danny Devito’s version in Batman Returns, and there were hints throughout the series that like Devito’s version, he had been rejected and cast out from high society because of his deformities. The episode Birds of a Feather was able to cast him in a more sympathetic by showing him try and fit in, after he had been released, only to be manipulated by two sleazy reporters who eventually push him to a life of crime once more.
One of the most famous reinterpretations of a classic villain the series was responsible for was its version of Mr Freeze voiced by Michael Anzara.
Prior to this series Mr Freeze had been a fairly flat, generic mad scientist. Though he had appeared in the Adam West series he wasn’t really one of Batman’s most famous foes. He had in fact been killed off by the Joker in the 80’s.
This series however in the episode Heat of Ice managed to turn him into a tragic figure and loving husband who was pushed into villainy when the slimey Ferris Boyle (voiced by Mark Hamill) murdered his wife and caused the accident that transformed him into a monster.
Its quite incredible how moving Heat of Ice is considering at the end of the day it is just a children’s cartoon. You forget you are watching a cartoon when Victor Fries pleads with Boyle to spare his wife, both because of the writing and the dynamic performances from Hamill and Anzara.
Heart of Ice would go on to win an Emmy award and it not only caused Mr Freeze to return to the comic books, but the comics would also borrow his origins from this episode, as would future adaptations of the character such as the most recent Gotham series.
Another way that Batman TAS would go on to influence the comic books and later adaptations of Batman was through the character of Harley Quinn. Harley who was voiced by Arleen Sorkin was originally created to just be a sidekick of the Joker, but over the course of the series they would flesh her character out in a number of interesting ways.
She was revealed to have originally been a psychiatrist who treated the Joker at Arkham. The Joker painted himself as a poor lost soul and Harley Quinn eventually fell in love with him and became his most devoted sidekick.
I think that through Harley Quinn we saw a whole new low to the character of the Joker. Here we had a woman who loved him more than anything else in the world. A woman who had given up her entire life for him and he just treated her so appallingly. The series despite being aimed at children didn’t hold back in just how abusive the Joker was to Harley. We saw him back hand her across the room and in one instance smack her with a sword fish through a two story window. Most disturbing of all, is the image of Harley lying on the pavement, most of her bones broken, blood dripping from her face, half dead blaming herself for what the Joker did to her because she didn’t get his joke!
Normally you’d think introducing a character like Harley Quinn, a love interest would soften a character up, but in the Joker’s case it did the opposite and made him even more despicable.
The character of Harley would not only be incorporated into the comic books, but she will also be appearing in the upcoming Suicide Squad film too. Over the years she has become every bit as popular a character as any of Batman’s other enemies.
Whilst the series had a strong cast overall, ultimately the most celebrated performance of the series was Mark Hamill as the Joker. Hamill was not actually the producers first choice for the role ironically. Tim Curry was, and he played the Joker for 7 episodes before he was replaced with Hamill.
According to Bruce Timm the producer of the series, Curry’s smoking habit meant that he could not sustain the Joker’s laugh for long periods and he would cough and gag violently between takes. Thus he dropped out for health reasons.
Paul Dini meanwhile said that the reason Curry was recast was because he was too terrifying and they didn’t want a Joker who would actually scare children out of the room.
Mark Hamill on the other hand said that it was Fox studios themselves who did not want Tim Curry being on too many cartoons, as they were scared he would become seen as the voice of the studio. At that time Curry was also voicing Captain Hook on Peter Pan the Animated series, and had won an emmy for that role.
All of the episodes Curry made as the Joker were re recorded with Hamill and Curry’s performance has in fact never been heard apart from by the makers of the show.
I have no idea if the tapes he made still exist, but if they do they should release them. There could be a special feature which could allow you to view the episodes Curry did with either Hamill or Curry’s performance. There is an entire performance of the Clown Prince of Crime by an amazing actor that the audience has never heard and, so if it still exists then it would be a crime not to let us hear it.
According to Hamill himself Curry was excellent in the role and having played it for 7 episodes that means he was the Joker for about 2 and a half hours. That’s as long as Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson played the part. Yet despite this the audience has never heard it and may never hear it.
According to this forum below the performance did still exist at least as late as 2006 and was even played at a convention by Bruce Timm.
Of course I don’t know how reliable that source is and I have never seen anything to back it up so take it with a pinch of salt of course.
Whilst Tim Curry is one of my favourite actors and I think he would have been an excellent Joker I think they made the right choice as Mark Hamill to me is the best Joker. He was born to play the role. He was hugely sucessful in the role. In fact I’d say Mark Hamill’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime is easily as popular as any live action version.
I feel he had the most versatility in the role. His Joker could be both funny and camp like the Romero version, but he could also be every bit as dark and frightening as Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson, and his laugh was by far and away the most distinctive and frightening.
If what Paul Dini said is true you have to wonder how scary Tim Curry was if this was the LESS scary version!
I think that Hamill’s performance as the Joker which managed to combine both humorous and serious elements of the character is reflective of Batman the animated series on the whole.
The show managed to incorporate so many different elements from the Batman back catalogue. There were episodes that were extremely camp and would not have looked out of place in the 60’s Adam West series, such as “Make Em Laugh” which see’s the Joker try and win a comedy contest or “If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Rich” which sees the Riddler try and kill his former boss with a giant robot minotaur, or “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” which has an ending that is taken straight from the campy 60’s series. It actually has Dick Grayson dress up as Bruce Wayne to fool an enemy who has discovered Batman’s secret identity.
One episode even featured Adam West as a character based on himself. His character had starred in a television series called the Grey Ghost (which Bruce Wayne loved growing up and even based his Batcave on) but had become so hopelessly typecast as the character that he hasn’t worked in years. The episode features a rather touching tribute to West where at the end Bruce Wayne lets the Grey Ghost know that he will always be his hero. This episode completely revitalised West’s career and following this, he would win roles in many other animated series before landing his most successful part as the demented mayor of Quohog in Family Guy.
At the same time whilst the Animated series did take a lot from Adam West it obviously did have much darker and more serious content too. There were many episodes that obviously drew from Burtons Batman and had a similar Gothic aspect to them. There were also however episodes that could be seen as more of a precursor to Nolan’s Batman in that they featured Batman tackling more ordinary criminals.
The episode “Its Never Too Late” features no supervillains and sees Batman try and help a criminal who is haunted by a traumatic memory when his brother lost his leg in a train accident because of him. Batman actually attempts to talk to the criminal and brings his brother in to convince him not to turn his back on his family. No larger than life villains, ludicrous plots, but instead a very human story about a man who will never turn his back on his brother no matter what.
Thus to me Batman the animated series is the definitive version of the caped crusader as whilst the Adam West ,Michael Keaton and Christian Bale versions may all be excellent, I feel that you only see all sides to Batman, the camp and the kitsch and the ability to do serious, dramatic and even moving and powerful stories such as “Heart of Ice” and “Its Never Too Late” with the character when you look at Batman the animated series.
Batman the Animated Series ran for 4 seasons. It was followed by a sequel series the New Batman Adventures which had crossovers both with the Superman the animated series and Static Shock, establishing all three series as being set in the same universe. There was then another sequel Batman Beyond, set 50 years in the future, as well as 4 movies Batman Mask of the Phantasm, Batman and Mr Freeze Subzero, Batman Mystery of the Batwoman, and Batman Beyond Return of the Joker. Finally in the early 00’s there were 2 Justice League series set within this continuity, which served as sequels to Batman and Superman TAS and prequels to Batman Beyond, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited which came to an end in 2006. Together these series and films were known as the DC animated Universe or DCAU for short.
The DCAU marked the first time anyone attempted to create a shared continuity based on comic book characters and it is thus a precursor to the modern day Marvel and DC cinematic universes.
The final DCAU series which came to a close 14 years after Batman the Animated Series.
Kevin Conroy reprised his role in all of these productions as Batman, whilst Mark Hamill also appeared as the Joker in many later DCAU series and films such as the New Batman Adventures, Batman Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Beyond Return of the Joker, a crossover episode of Static Shock, three crossover episodes of Superman the Animated series which saw him team up with Lex Luthor, and 6 episodes of Justice League.
Since the end of the DCAU Hamill and Conroy have gone on to reprise their roles as the Joker and Batman in various other non DCAU films, television series, films and video games, such as most notably the Arkham games which saw Hamill win a Bafta for his performance.
Batman the Animated Series has one of the biggest legacies of any animated series and it remains a classic over 20 years on.
This 90’s animated series featured quite an interesting premise about ancient Gargoyles, who were the last of their kind, being awoken in modern day.
The creatures by day were turned to stone, which was how their race had been brought to the brink of extinction. In the first episode. a warlord voiced by Clancy Brown. smashes all but 5 of them as statues.
The show included among its cast many regulars of 90’s cartoons. Tim Curry, David Warner and Clancy Brown all played villains in the series, whilst Ed Asner who had main roles in Batman, Superman and Spider-Man also voiced one of the Gargoyles.
The shows main characters were fairly interesting even just from a novelty point of view, and of course like all characters in 90’s cartoons they made brilliant toys. Keith David who voiced Goliath the leader of the Gargoyles was brilliant. He had a very strong imposing voice that was still quite warm and friendly, and he gave the character a lot of gravitas and depth.
Still in spite of this, I think it was really the villains that made the series stand out for me. David Xanatos and Demona.
Xantos was a sleazy corrupt business man, who freed the Gargoyles from their curse for his own benefit.
He is a mastermind who comes up with the most complicated, elaborate schemes that almost always managed to work. He always designs them in such a way where no matter what the outcome, it will always benefit him.
Thus the Gargoyles throughout the series very rarely completely defeat him. If they stop one plan, then the way he has worked things out, he will still benefit from the outcome in some other way. The phrase Xanatos Gambit, has in fact entered into popular culture as an example of a villain who really does think of everything.
The great thing about David Xanatos is that he is a completely logical villain. He isn’t even remotely vengeful or spiteful or sadistic. He never lets his emotions get the better of him and he can be reasoned with. There are many occasions where the Gargoyles are able to get through to him using rationale arguments, such as when he plans to make himself an immortal.
Xantos is the antithesis to villains like the Joker or even Lex Luthor. Lex may be another criminal mastermind, but he is also a very emotional villain who is so consumed by his hatred towards the Man of Steel (in the DCAU at least) that it eventually destroys him. Added to that Lex in most of his incarnations is a sadist and the type who holds grudges.
Xanatos I feel offered up a different type of enemy, one who was a smug slimy snake yet at times quite likable as he wasn’t evil. More just amoral. He was never cruel, just self serving and he was capable of great acts of kindness too, though again almost only if it benefited him. He wasn’t the villain that you loved to hate like say the Joker or Lex. He was a villain you could respect and admire. Jonathan Frakes best known as Riker on the Star Trek franchise, was excellent in the role and brought a real smary, yet charming quality to the villain.
In contrast to Xanatos, Demona the other main villain of the series was a completely irrational, emotional, hysterical villain.
She’s someone who can’t ever blame herself, always paints herself as the victim, lets her prejudices and bitterness rule her decisions, and destroys everything around her. She turns the man she loves into her worst enemy, kills scores of innocent people and nearly brings her own kind to extinction.
She’s far more evil than Xanatos and more capable of senseless cruelty than he is, but you do still have sympathy for her in a way, simply because she is such a tragic, pathetic, hopeless character who in contrast to Xanatos always ruins things for herself.
It was great watching these two villains play off of each other.
Demona doesn’t start out as an evil character. Its just her own inability to accept responsibility for her actions that drive her down such a dark path. In the end she reaches a point where there is no turning back and as a result she becomes a total monster. They don’t hold back with showing us how twisted she becomes. Despite the fact that it is a children’s cartoon, Demona kills scores of people in violent ways, such as turning them to stone and then smashing them to pieces with a mace.
Demona was voiced by Marina Sirtis who was excellent as the character.
I have always felt that Sirtis as Demona was comparable to Mark Hamill as the Joker in that in both cases, we had people who were known for playing a fairly straight forward even perhaps, bland heroic characters in major sci fi franchises. Luke Skywalker, and Deanna Troi, but they later ended up playing a far more interesting villainous character in a classic 90’s cartoon.
Its a shame that Sirtis didn’t do much animation after this. Her performance as Demona is easily on a par with any from David Warner, Clancy Brown, Mark Hamill or Tim Curry in any 90’s animated series, and I’d love to have seen her pop up in the DCAU at some point. She could have been the 5th major voice of 90’s villainy.
Gargoyles was a reasonable success when it first aired, but it has since gone on to develop a major cult following and it regularly makes best cartoon lists.
There have been some negative evaluations of the series over the years such as from Bruce Timm the man responsible for all of the DCAU series alongside Paul Dini. Timm dismissed Gargoyles as being too “namby pamby”, and full of “Celtic Mythology crap”
Personally I would rate it as one of the best animated series of all time and deserving of its reputation as a cult classic.
Superman the Animated Series (1996-200)
A somewhat overlooked gem. I think this series is perhaps not given as much attention as either Batman or Spider-Man because Superman sadly has perhaps fallen in terms of popularity compared to other heroes. He’s obviously still a global icon and will always be, and in all fairness he has had a more successful life on television in the last 10 or so yeas via Smallville, the longest running American sci fi series of all time.
Still on the big screen Supes sadly can’t compete with Batman or Spider-Man. Batman has had the Nolan trilogy which has achieved unprecedented critical and commercial acclaim for comic book movies, whilst Spider-Man has starred in 5 films many of which have been regarded as among the greatest superhero films ever made.
Superman has only had 2 average films in terms of renown and impact spread out across ten years.
I’m not saying that that means Superman is dead. There no doubt will come a time when Superman is the most popular again, but right now, of the 3 most iconic heroes Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, I’d say he is the least popular and thus not surprisingly this series isn’t quite as remembered as the Batman and Spider-Man cartoons of the 90’s.
Anyway Superman I think gave us the best version of the man of tomorrow. He wasn’t too powerful which is often the key problem you run into with the character, and unlike the films he actually got a chance to fight super powered beings.
I think Superman had superior animation to many other 90’s classics. Its stories were also both strong and faithful to the comics and it had a brilliant cast.
Superman was voiced by Tim Daly best known as J.T. Dolan on The Soprano’s, and Joe Hackett on Wings, whilst Dana Delany whose probably best known to modern audiences as Katherine Mayfair on Desperate Housewives voiced Lois Lane. The two stand out performances for me however were Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor and Michael Ironside as Darkseid.
Brown is the definitive Lex. He has more charisma than any on screen Lex. His voice is just so smooth, rich and full of character. The only problem with Lex in this series is that much like Roger Delgado as The Master in Doctor Who he always gets betrayed by his allies, which kid of makes you doubt his status as a super genius. I did think Brown’s Lex Luthor was far more impressive in the later Justice League series where they were able to make him more like his earlier 60’s version, who was more of a mad scientist.
The version in this cartoon follows the later evil business man approach which I have never found as interesting, but it was good the way the DCAU much like with the Joker were able to blend the two different sides of the character by having him start out in this series as just a crooked business man, before having him progress into becoming a more dangerous villain in the later series.
In this respect I actually don’t mind that Lex gets his ass kicked a lot in this series as its quite cool seeing him go from a sleazy business man, who is in some ways out of his depth going up against villains like Brainiac, to eventually in the Justice League series the most powerful villain on earth.
Darkseid meanwhile is a truly terrifying foe. He is pure evil but the best thing is the way you get the feeling he is in control of everything around him. Also the series really goes to great lengths to establish him as a worthy foe for the Man of Steel. Throughout the series he bests Superman in combat, outsmarts him and brainwashes him and sets him loose on the earth where he kills innocent people.
He also murders one of Superman’s friends Dan Turpin right in front of him. It says a lot about a villain when he can kill someone in front of Superman of all people and Superman is completely powerless to stop him.
By far his best moment is when Superman bests him on his home planet and tosses him to his own people thinking that they will be glad to be free of the tyrant, they instead lift him up and carry him to safety after which Darkseid then declares
I am many things Kal El but here I am god!
Superman the animated series was part of the DCAU. It was made by the same team behind Batman the animated series and had a number of crossovers with that series.
The first was a three parter which saw the Joker and Lex team up to take down Superman after the Joker discovers a statue made of Kryptonite.
The fact that its Mark Hamill and Clancy Brown is just as cool as the fact that its the Joker and Lex Luthor.
Batman would pop up in two more episodes of Superman, whilst Supergirl popped up in an episode Batman to help Batgirl. In Superman and Batman’s next meeting Batman is completely taken over by Brainiac and Superman has to save him. However in their next appearance Ra’s Al Ghul (with David Warner reprising his role) very nearly steals Superman’s life force and powers, but Batman manages to save him.
So they both save each other against the Joker and Lex, and then each have a chance to save the other one from one of their most deadly enemies.
Superman never got a sequel like Batman, but this version of Superman did reappear in Batman Beyond and as a main character in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series of the 00’s. Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside reprised their roles as Lex Luthor and Darkseid in the two Justice League animated series, with Lex becoming arguably the main villain of Justice League Unlimited. The final episode of Justice League Unlimited and the DCAU itself saw a massive confrontation between Darkseid and Luthor.
I don’t think that this series was quite as good as Batman. I am a much bigger fan of the Batman character overall to be fair, but I don’t think that this series ever quite hit the highs of Batman. There isn’t an episode that’s on a par with the very best of Batman like Heart of Ice. I think that Batman was simply more sensational than Superman. You only have to look at the opening of Superman TAS to see how much more tame it is than Batman.
That’s not a bad intro but its not quite on the level of Batman’s. Its just basically clips of the show to music.
At the same time though whilst this series may not have hit the highs of Batman, I think it may have been more consistent. Batman did have some real low points where as with Superman there isn’t really an episode I dislike.
Also again the animation is much smoother than a lot of what we see in Batman. I think that the team had learned all of the tricks of the trade when they produced Superman and thus where able to avoid some of the mistakes of Batman.
Thus whilst it may not have been quite as ground breaking as Batman in some ways it was a better series and it still holds up as a classic in its own right.
Mighty Max (1993-94)
Mighty Max is a very overlooked series about a boy named Max, his talking fowl named Virgil and an ancient immortal warrior named Norman.
Virgil is said to be from Atlantis which was destroyed by the vastly powerful demon named Skullmaster. Skullmaster has now awoken in modern day and seeks to destroy all life on the planet.
Most episodes featured Skullmaster as the main villain or one of his minions, though a few did involve stand alone villains. Max travelled the world but also ventured into different dimensions and travelled through time in one episode.
The Skullmaster was voiced by Tim Curry in what is probably his best Cartoon baddie role. David Warner also had a role in the series as Talon.
Like many 90’s cartoons it sometimes featured inappropriate levels of violence such as in the last episode of the series where the Skullmaster actually succeeded in killing Virgil and Norman leaving Max to face the monster alone though Max was able to undo their deaths.
The toys for this series might have been the best. They were faces in the shape of monsters from each episode that could open up and there would be a recreation of the setting of an episode complete with small figures of the characters inside.
The series was massively popular at the time, but sadly in recent years its not quite as remembered as other 90’s series. I must admit even I forgot it until recently. I think that’s because for whatever reason its not yet been released on DVD which is a shame though thankfully the full series is still on youtube.
This series needs more recognition.It had an interesting premise, Dinosaurs, talking apes, giant sea monsters, zombies and Tim Curry as an evil dark lord. What more could you want!
The Dreamstone (1990-1995)
This barmy British cartoon was a wonderfully surreal and imaginative series that was quite unlike anything else on tv at the time or since.
It revolved around two lands the beautiful paradise, the land of Dreams run by the wizard like Dream Maker and Viltheed a dark hell like place where the evil Dragon Zordrak dwelled.
Zordrak had once been one of the Dream Makers council but he attempted to use the Dream stone, a powerful magical artifact that could bend reality itself to take control of the land of dreams. After his plan failed he turned from fox into a hideous reptilian monster and was banished from the land of Dreams forever.
In Viltheed Zordrak was served by an army of Reptile man called the Urpney’s whom he would regularly send into the land of dreams to try and steal the dream stone. Without the Dream stone’s protection the Land of Dreams would be vulnerable and he could send in his hideous ghostly Argorribles to decimate the land and condemn its inhabitants to an eternity of torment.
The conflict between Zordrak and the Dream Maker was a classic fallen Angel scenario. Zordrak was originally to be called Nasta Shelfim an anagram of Satan Himseelf.
Later episodes would see Zordrak attempt to use the Dream Stone’s power to try and conquer the entire universe itself.
The main characters aside from Zordrak and the Dream maker included two noops, elf like people who lived in the land of Dreams, Amberely and Rufus, Seargent Blob who commanded the Urpney’s and Urpgyor the Urpney’s leading scientist who was completely insane but still a genius responsible for all of the Urpney’s weaponry and technology.
The plot for every episode would usually revolve around Blob and his subordinates using some new invention of Urpgyor’s to try and steal the Dream stone and failing miserably.
The series in this respect followed on from the tradition of classic British cartoons such as Dick Dastardly. Blob’s haphazard attempts to steal the Dream Stone every week using a new super weapon of Urpgyor’s is comparable to Dastardly’s attempts to catch the pigeon using some fantastic new flying machine.
However the Dreamstone whilst comedic in some respects could also veer into darker territory.
Zordrak was a terrifying villain for younger children for instance. His endgame was to bring eternal torment to the land of Dreams and later the universe itself by bringing their worst nightmares to life. He had genuinely terrifying monsters as his pets including the Argorribles and worst of all the Frazznats, hideous, flesh eating, crab, dinosaur, shark like creatures that dwelled within the pit of no return.
In the first ever scene of the series Zordrak murders Captain Crigg one of his Urpney servants by tossing him into the pit of Frazznats who eat him alive. Crigg’s death is drawn out as we see Zordrak dangle him over the pit whilst he begs for mercy.
Considering hardly anyone ever dies in cartoons for the Dreamstone to open with a man being eaten alive was pretty daring.
Here it is.
You can see how Zordrak would be a lot scarier than you average Saturday morning Cartoon baddie. Zordrak would often punish the Urpneys at the end of each episode in an over the top way though Crigg was the only one he ever actually killed. These punishments were often played for laughs, but sometimes they could be quite violent such as in one episode where he covers them in burning hot wax and sets fire to them.
He also would turn them to stone where they would remain aware, fully conscious, but unable to move, speak or interact with the world around them forever. Compared to these guys Crigg actually got off lightly!
I always felt scared for the Urpney’s whenever they’d fail and they’d have to try and explain it to Zordrak.
I did like the way that the Urpneys all hated Zordrak too. It wasn’t a question of that they were his loyal servants who were devoted to his evil cause. They served him purely out of fear and if it were not for him would have never bothered the main heroes. Every time Zordrak was seemingly killed or lost the Urpney’s rejoiced just as much if not more than the Noops.
One of my favourite episodes sees a spell by Zordrak go wrong which turns him into a very nice person and the Urpney’s are all delighted. They get to hang up decorations and make the hell hole they live in look like a nice place, they happily hand back the dream stone that they finally managed to capture with some flowers and an apology to the dream master. They even put on plays and sing songs, but sadly a bump on the head restores Zordrak to his former persona much to the dismay of all the Urpney’s. “I told you it wouldn’t last”.
The fact that Zordrak’s own men hated him made him seem all the more frightening as it made him seem like he was dangerous to everything around him. It was also a nice twist as normally in fantasy series the villains mooks or minions are genuinely loyal to them. In Lord of the Rings for instance the Orcs though savage brutal monsters that even eat each other on a few occasions are genuinely loyal to Saruman and Sauron and love working for them. The Urpey’s however if anything are bigger victims of Zordrak than anyone else and actually the heroes seem somewhat unsympathetic at times for the way they view them all as evil and never make any attempt to help them over throw Zordrak.
Zordrak was voiced by Gary Martin a prolific British voice artist who has appeared in many productions on both sides of the Atlantic. One of Martin’s other high profile roles was as the virus Epidime in Red Dwarf .
These two roles I think demonstrate his versatility as a voice artist better than anything else as though they are both villains Epidime has a very high pitched, erratic voice and a jokey demeanour whilst Zordrak in contrast has a very deep, growling, demonic slow voice.
Originally the producers of the series wanted Christopher Lee to play Zordrak but he turned the role down. Their first 5 choices for the Dream Maker meanwhile some of whom turned it down, some of whom were too busy were Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy then all living actors who had played the Doctor in Doctor Who. Something tells me the makers of the series were big Whovians.
Billy Connolly, Frank Bruno and Ozzy Osborne meanwhile performed together on the War of the Urpney’s song that was used frequently in the series though none of them provided voices for the show it was still quite an unusual musical collaboration to say the least.
The only time Billy Connolly, Ozzy Osborne and Frank Bruno have sang about how hard it is to be reptile men serving a giant evil dragon.
Another piece of music used in the series was Better than a Dream which was used as the closing theme to the series. It was a more peaceful, serene piece of music in contrast to the march of the Urpney’s as this was meant to reflect the idyllic land of Dreams.
This song was unusually for the theme to a cartoon composed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It would also later be covered by Katie Melua in 2012 almost 20 years after the Dreamstone had finished.
The Dreamstone was a truly great series full of imagination, humour and stunning visuals.
If t had one drawback then it was that perhaps its main heroes were somewhat dull and boring. Granted the Urpney’s had more screen time anyway, but still I think many people who watched the series was always a little bit annoyed when they lost as they were more interesting than the Moops.
Still overall I think the Dreamstone is a classic series and I think it deserves far more recognition. So far it has never been released on DVD and sadly whilst it does still have a very small but devoted cult following, its largely forgotten about.
I think that might be because it is a British cartoon. British things I think have a greater difficulty becoming known abroad than American forms of entertainment do.
Obviously at certain points British forms of entertainment are dominant such as during the British invasion started by the Beatles in the 1960’s or to a lesser extent the new British invasion started in the late 00’s by Amy Winehouse.
Still other than these little flourishes I think British forms of entertainment have to struggle more to be noticed abroad. Look at Star Trek and Doctor Who for instance.
Despite the fact that Doctor Who was a massive sensation in its native UK from almost the very beginning whilst Star Trek TOS was a massive flop in the USA we still saw Star Trek a few years after it had finished in the US, where as the Americans didn’t see Doctor Who properly until the late 70’s almost 20 years after it had started in the UK.
Thus sadly it doesn’t surprise me that the Dreamstone is more overlooked than even the Gargolyes is.
The Dreamstone definitely deserves more attention and I hope someone big in the industry discovers it one day.
One of the most celebrated animated series of all time. Animaniacs in some ways I think was more of an old school cartoon. In terms of its animation, it was very slick of course, but in terms of its content, it wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 30’s or 40’s.
As we have explored, 90’s cartoons tended to have more depth to them than previous decades. Whether that was Mr Freeze crying over his wife’s death, or Chuckie’s mum’s heart breakingly beautiful poem to her son. The 90’s saw cartoons move from just being wacky little diversions, to more serious television series.
Even the more comedic cartoons still generally tended to have more hard hitting humour, such as South Park, the Simpsons and Beavis and Butthead.
Animaniacs was thus an attempt to return to more zany, light hearted cartoons that relied on pure slapstick like Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny.
There were even homages to the older cartoons. The Pinky and the Brain were shown to use equipment from Acme, the same infamous company who supplied Wile Coyote with his weapons that always backfired.
The show was really like the Amy Winehouse of cartoons in that it returned to the old style, and perhaps as a result of that it was a big hit. Its nice that series like Batman proved to people that cartoons could be more than amusing diversions, but its good to have cartoons that are just good old fashioned fun.
Animaniacs was produced by Steven Spielberg and was a very high budget series. It was an anthology cartoon that focused on a variety of mad characters. My favourite characters were always the Pinky and the Brain who later went on to star in their own animated series. They were voiced by Maurice LeMarche and Rob Paulsen both acclaimed voice actors. LeMarche gave Brain a voice resembling Orson Welles whom he would later impersonate in Futurama.
Its a shame that Animaniacs never quite entered into popular culture like the classic Warner Brothers cartoons but it is still fondly remembered and was in its own right a hilarious cartoon.
Based on the short story of the same name, Jumanji was an exciting adventure series. It followed the same basic premise as the film adaptation, of two children trying to help a man who had been trapped in the game of Jumanji for decades.
The main villains of the series included the hunter Van Pelt, who was voiced by Sherman Howard, who also played Bub in Day of the Dead (a character who couldn’t be more different to Van Pelt), Professor J.S. Ibsen, an evil mad scientist who is really a cyborg voiced by William Sanderson, famous for his role as J. F. Sebastian in Blade Runner. And J.H. Trader voiced by Tim Curry.
Some of the stories could get quite wild, and involved things like giant chickens, and evil wizards who turned people into stone One story even saw one of the main characters become possessed by the spirit of Van Pelt, after he is seemingly killed.
The series like many 90’s classic had a right balance of being light enough for children to enjoy, but having compelling enough stories for adults too.
Sadly the show has not yet been released on DVD but it is available on youtube.
Produced by John Semper Jr this series which introduced a whole generation of fans to the wall crawlers exploits, is probably the most 90’s cartoon. In some ways it was very sophisticated and took itself very seriously, whilst in other ways it was perhaps a little bit more over the top than later, completely serious animated adaptations of Spider-Man.
Along with Gargoyles, it really helped to pioneer story arcs in cartoons, with all but the first series, having a thread that ran throughout most, if not all the episodes of each season. It also treated Peter Parker much like his comic book counterpart as a three dimensional hero, constantly doubting himself, struggling with every day problems, rather than just a bland, quip spouting, generic hero like previous versions.
It also stayed as faithful as it possibly could to the original source material and adapted many of the most iconic Spider-Man stories too, such as the alien costume saga, the death of Gwen Stacy, the mutation disease and the sinister 6.
Still at the same time its stories could get a little wild, and involved things like Spider-Man losing Mary Jane in a portal to another universe, and journey’s to alien planets. The last episode of the series saw Spider-Man battle an evil alternate universe version of himself, called Spider-Carnage, who tried to destroy every universe!
Even just minor details, like the cops running through the streets with laser guns instead of regular weapons made it seem somewhat more OTT.
Of course in many ways this just reflects the comic books themselves which obviously are very over the top as well. Still I often find that more modern adaptations, such as the Spectacular Spider-man will often try and tone these larger than life qualities down somewhat, where as this version if anything expanded on them.
I’m not saying that against Spider-Man the animated series. To me that’s a huge part of its charm, and also I think its interesting in hindsight as the show does almost feel like a transitional piece, between the old camp “Does whatever a Spide can” type cartoons, and the new, more serious adaptations.
Spider-Man is undoubtedly the most influential superhero animated series of its generation along with Batman. Like Batman it influenced not only the comic books themselves, but future adaptations.
This series depiction of Venom, one of Spider-Man’s archenemies, influenced literally every single version of the character that came after in some way.
In the comic books Venom’s origins began in the Secret Wars, a multi crossover event, where all of Marvels heroes and villains were taken to a far away planet called battleworld, by an evil godlike being called the Beyonder. There Spider-Man found a new costume in the Beyonder’s base. It was black and gave him limitless webbing, as well as the power to blend in with his surroundings.
Spider-Man took the new cool black costume home and kept it for several months until he discovered it was an alien symbiote, that was taking him over as he slept. He discovered this after going to Reed Richards for help. After getting rid of it the black suit, it would later jump him on his way home, and try to bond to him permanently. Spider-Man seemingly kills it using the power of the bells of a church (with sound being one of the symbiotes few weaknesses).
The suit survived however and would later bond to Eddie Brock, a reporter with a grudge against Spider-Man. The two merged to become Venom, a savage monster that wanted nothing more than to make Spider-Man suffer.
In the animated series Venom’s origin was greatly condensed. The Symbiote is found by astronaut John Jameson on the moon. It slips its way back to his ship, causing it to crash on the George Washington bridge, where when Spider-Man comes to rescue the astronauts, the suit bonds itself to him.
This nicely allows them to junk about 8 months worth of build up and go straight to the action, though as it turns out they did later do an adaptation of Secret Wars in the final season. Still this allowed Venom a chance to have a more straight forward, less overly complicated origin.
In additions to this, the animated series also somewhat improves on Venom’s origin in other ways. It has Eddie Brock working at the Daily Bugle where Peter Parker works, with the two having a clear dislike of each other from the start, which only serves to make their feud more bitter and hateful. In the comic though Eddie had a grudge against Spider-Man before bonding with the symbiote, he and Peter did not know each other at all.
More importantly the series also had it, that the Symbiote made Peter Parker stronger and that it made him violent. In the comics it never increased his physical strength and it also did not make him violent. It tried to take control of him when he slept, but it still steered him towards heroism.
Again this was an improvement in my opinion as it allowed the writers to tap into the darker side of Peter Parker, with the symbiote tapping into his feelings of rejection, entitlement and anger he had towards the world, for how it had always treated him.
The fact that the symbiote makes its hosts stronger also makes it like a drug with Peter and Eddie, who both come to crave the power and freedom it grants them. Ultimately however Peter proves to be stronger and manages to reject it, whilst Brock sadly believing he has nothing else allows it to completely consume him.
Finally the Venom of this series was portrayed as a total monster who was willing to murder innocent people in order to get Spider-Man. In the comic books Eddie Brock had a strong moral code that prevented him from harming innocents (except for Spider-Man whom he viewed as a monster.) He never harmed the likes of Mary Jane and Aunt May, Spider-Man’s loved ones and indeed when not trying to kill Spider-Man, he often tried to help people he deemed innocent.
Venom would even later team up with Spider-Man to take down Carnage, the symbiote offspring of Venom bonded to Cletus Kasady.
In this version however Venom is happy to murder Aunt May and Mary Jane in order hurt Peter. I must admit in this instance I don’t think this was an improvement on the original as I preferred Venom’s moral ambiguity.
Still improvements or not, all of these aspects have appeared in later versions. A lot of the time the symbiote will simply crash to earth like in this series. In the Spectacular Spider-Man it comes to earth via a space shuttle, exactly like in this series.
Also all versions of Venom have it that the symbiote makes Peter both stronger and more aggressive. In the Raimi film, the Specatcular Spider-Man series etc. The comic books themselves would later retcon it so that the suit made him aggressive and stronger in their continuity too. Many other versions will have the black suited Spider-Man effortlessly beat villains he’d normally struggle against, to demonstrate how powerful it is and even have him come close to killing them.
We see that in this series when the black suited Spider-Man tortures Rhino and nearly crushes him to death, in what is one of the darkest moments in the series. He also later comes close to murdering Shocker to. In the Raimi movie the black suited Spider-Man nearly kills the Sandman (who only survives through sheer luck) and scars the New Goblin. In the Spectacular Spider-Man meanwhile he defeats the entire sinister 6 on his own and had it not been for the police would have killed Doc Ock by stabbing him to death with one of his own tenticles.
Many later versions of Venom will also have Peter know Eddie Brock personally, before he becomes Venom, such as the Spectacular Spider-Man, which has them as friends before Eddie grows to dislike Peter, or the Raimi movie which like this series has Brock working at the Daily Bugle.
Finally all the later versions of Venom would depict him as a monster who is happy to kill innocent people, such as in the Spectacular Spider-Man, where Venom tries to murder Gwen Stacey, and the Raimi version, who murders many innocent police men, stabs Harry Osborne to death and tries to murder Mary Jane too and at one point even says “I like being bad it makes me happy”.
The Venom of this series is really like Bela Lugosi of Dracula, in that in both cases as much of what we think of, when we think of this character in popular culture, actually stems from this iconic portrayal, as it does from the source material itself.
Venom truly is Spider-Man’s ultimate foe. He is just a towering mass of unforgiving hate and the series unquestionably played a large part in making him what he was, and added to his enduring appeal.
Venom was voiced by Hank Azaria a prolific voice actor, who is most famous for providing many voices for The Simpsons including Moe, Chief Wiggum, Snake Apu, Professor Frink, Superintendent Chalmers and Frank “Grimey” Grimes. He has also had a few prominent live actions roles too in films such as Night at the Museum 2, Run Fatboy Run and he played David Phoebe’s scientist love interest in Friends.
Aside from Venom, this cartoon also influenced how the Green Goblin would be depicted too. In the comics the Green Goblin was simply driven mad when by a lab accident that also mutated him and gave him powers. He was already a pretty horrible guy before becoming a supervillain.
In this series Norman Osborne is shown to develop a split personality. Thus initially he is not responsible for his actions as the Goblin, but in an interesting twist on the Jekyll and Hyde idea, when the good side finds out about it, he is horrified at first but later goes along with his actions. The good side is a pansy, but actually deep down is as amoral as his evil one. Much like the black suited Spider-Man, the Goblin represents what Norman Osborne would like to do but is too weak to do.
This characterisation would be used beat for beat for the version in the Raimi movie. Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin also has a split personality and his Norman Osborne persona is also like the animated version, a pansy who relies on the Goblin to do what he feels needs to be done.
There is a scene in the Raimi movie of the scared Norman Osborne talking to his evil persona in the mirror, who manages to twist his mind into thinking that he is there to help him, that is taken straight from the animated series episode Goblin War.
The animated version also tries to patch things up with his son which again the film version does as well. Both the animated and film versions are also depicted as being more absentee fathers, than an abusive father like the comic book version.
Also this series had Mary Jane take the place of Gwen Stacey in Spider-Man and the Goblin’s famous duel atop the Brooklyn or George Washington Bridge, which ends in Spider-Man’s beloved falling from the bridge.
Whilst some fans disliked swapping in both the film and the tv series, Gwen for Mary Jane I personally thought it was effective as it meant you didn’t know what way it was going to go. If it were Gwen you’d know that they’d have to kill her.
The series also was the first to have a more sympathetic version of J Jonah Jameson. In the comics he is a total dickhead, and a miserable skinflint bastard who smears Spider-Man simply because he is jealous of him. In this series however he does have some redeeming features and his hatred of Sider-Man is said to stem from a dislike of vigilante’s after one caused the death of his wife. The Jameson from the Raimi films similarly is more sympathetic, and even risks his own life to protect Peter from the Goblin in the first Raimi movie.
Finally this series also brought the character of Blade to Avi Arad, the producer of the Marvel films attention. According to producer John Semper, Arad who was also an executive producer of this series, had never heard of the character and after this series wrapped, produced the big screen film adaptation starring Wesley Snipes.
This film kicked off the Marvel film craze which persists to this day. In many ways Blade was the best choice to use at that point. Vampires were very popular thanks to the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lost Boys, Interview with the Vampire and Gary Oldman’s Dracula. Thus Blade could be sold more as a Vampire film than a Marvel film. Marvel at that point couldn’t get arrested in Hollywood. Of course after the success of Blade all that changed and the likes of X-Men and Spider-Man followed in its wake, and eventually the Marvel Cinematic Universe followed them. But it was this series that brought Blade to Avi Arad’s attention in the first place.
This series also influenced how the character of Blade himself would be portrayed. In the original comics he was not actually a Vampire/human hybrid. He had a longer lifespan, and could sense vampires, but he was not actually a Vampire. This film marked the first time he was a Vampire, that had human qualities instead like compassion and could walk in the day, which earned him the nickname the day walker. This was carried over into the films and then the comic books which had him become a Vampire/human hybrid.
Furthermore the character of Whistler played by Kris Kristofferson who appears in all 3 Blade films, originated in this series where he was voiced by Malcolm McDowell.
Whistler would also go on to inspire a similar character in the Buffy franchise who was even called Whistler. Both Whistlers find a special Vampire, Angel and Blade who has more human qualities (in Blade’s case he is half human, in Angel’s case he has a human soul) who is living on the streets homeless and takes them in, trains them, becomes a mentor to them and teach’s them to use their powers to fight other members of their kind and become heroes.
Thus as you can see Spider-Man had an immense impact on the entertainment industry. Really its on the level of Batman in terms of how it inspired future versions of the character.
Spider-Man was also like Batman, part of a shared universe of animated series. It had crossovers with the 90’s X-Men the animated series, the Iron Man animated series which in turn had crossovers with the Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk animated series creating a Marvel Animated universe. The MAU as it has become known however was not like the DCAU in that it was not created by the one team and therefore there were some contradictions. It also did not last into the 00’s like the DCAU.
Spider-Man TAS benefited from having a strong cast. Christopher Daniel Barnes voiced the wallcrawler and in my opinion was the best voice for the character, as I think he captured Peter Parkers sense of humour, which is one of the most important aspects of his personality to get right.
Mark Hamill and David Warner naturally voiced villains in the series, The Hobgoblin and Doctor Landon.
The crossover episode with the X-Men featured both Landon and the Hobgoblin as the main villains and is thus one of the few times Hamill and Warner have worked together.
Ironically John Semper hated the Hobgoblin character and was forced to include him as there had already been a toy based made. The Hobgoblin thanks to Hamill’s performance went on to become one of the most popular villains in the series. Arguably the most popular after Venom and Carnage in fact, and Semper did later go on to say that working with Hamill was one of the highlights of his career.
I love it when Spider-Man says “I’d know that laugh anywhere”. You think “Yeah that’s the Jokers laugh!”
The main villain of the series was the Kingpin voiced by Roscoe Lee Browne. The Kingpin was reimagined as a Moriarty figure to Spider-Man here often being the mastermind behind all of the other villains schemes.
Spider-Man the animated series did have some problems. Its animation though starting out strong, did get sloppy in the later seasons, as the budget was slashed and stock footage was often used in later episodes quite a lot too.
Still overall it was a truly groundbreaking series in some way, and ultimately one of the most important adaptations of Spider-Man.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what your top 90’s cartoons are in the comments below.