I’ve been lucky enough to have spent the last few weeks catching up on the wonders of Marvel Digital Comics, and along with finally watching some of the new “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what makes for good super-hero entertainment. And animated TV series are definitely a huge part of that.
So I want to know:
Discussion to follow!
First, I worded the question carefully. I don’t want to get into the one-off animated films, or to get into a long hairy discussion of Japanese animated series. I want to focus on American TV shows, period. The rest can wait for another day, because I said so, that’s why. Also, get off my lawn!
- Batman: The Animated Series: For me, this is the one that started the trend in treating super-hero animation seriously, making it possible for everything that followed to be produced. Its strong artistic design sense, distinctive character modeling, and film noir aesthetic were a home run. The stories were great, the characterization spot-on, and the whole package absolutely compelling.
- Justice League Unlimited: I think combining disparate groups of characters who were not conceived of as a team originally is one of the most difficult challenges in the genre. And JLU nailed it. Continuing Bruce Timm’s distinctive artistic vision first articulated in B:TAS, the characters all look and sound great. Their powers were well-utilized, without making it seem like it was a series of “Goof off till Superman gets here and fixes it all” episodes. A great marriage of design, story, and quality animation.
- Superman: The Animated Series: Produced at roughly the same time, and by the same studio, as B:TAS, what always fascinated me about this series was its ability to take all the same elements as Batman, but to present them in a totally different way. To get shiny, fancy, primary colors (both visually and in terms of plot) from the previously dark Animated Universe tool kit is truly an achievement. And the visceral thrill of watching Superman pound people through entire buildings … wow. I would argue that this stands as the best Superman we’ve ever seen on film.
- Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: Granted this one is still in its first, formative year, I still wanted to included it for those with more of a Marvel bent. However, I don’t think it holds up to the DC offerings on the list. I sometimes feel like there are three or four different visions at work on these characters. You’ve got the hyperkinetic and very “anime” style Wasp side-by-side with a Hulk that looks like he just walked off the set of a 1980s Hanna Barbera cartoon. And I flat-out hate Thor’s look. However, Iron Man and Ant Man are both very well done, and the stories so far have been fairly compelling. So, a mixed bag for me.
- Teen Titans: I love the opening sequence. TEEN TITANS!! I also liked the more anime-style design and animation, it was a refreshing change from the Timm-style DCAU. But sometimes it fell too far off the deep end for me and I’d find my mind wandering while watching it.
- Super Friends: Wendy and Marvin and Wondermutt! Zan and Jayna and Gleep! The Legion of Doom in their Darth Vader Helmet Swamp-Edition HQ! Aquaman not able to stay out of the water for more than an hour! Man, this thing sucked.
- Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends: Horrific animation dealt a deathblow to this otherwise fun offering.
- Batman: Brave and the Bold: Good lord, how I love the opening sequence to BBB. The old-school character design and no-apologies two-fisted storytelling completely won me over. It’s amazing to me how different Batman can be depending on who is behind the production. I do wish there was less Blue Beetle and more Aquaman, though. I mean, come on, anything that can make Aquaman cool has to rank as one of the all-time great artistic achievements in Western history.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Although this was popular when I was of an age to be its targeted demo, I never really cared for it. Once you get past the fun name … meh.
- Batman Beyond: I liked parts of this, notably the costume design and nifty powers, but overall Bruce Wayne shouldn’t be walkin’ with no cane, y’all.
- The Powerpuff Girls: I actually liked this show. A lot. Sue me.
- Legion of Super-Heroes: Doomed, I think, by having to yoke themselves to Superboy-I-Mean-Superman, this one never really got off the ground. Which is a shame, because I was always a HUGE LSH fan.
- The Tick: Funny, funny, funny.
- X-Men: I confess, I never saw an episode of this. But I know many of you have, so I included it in case I am missing out on the best of all time.
- X-Men: Evolution: See “X-Men”, no evolution, immediately prior to this entry.
For my money, I have to go “Justice League Unlimited” for the best all-around characterization, storytelling, and animation. Every episode had something to love.
Now it’s your turn to tell me how wrongitty wrong wrong I am in comments, and make the case for YOUR favorite!