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!
Jeff, you’re really think you’re missing out on the 90’s X-Men animated series. There’s a certain hip cache about it when I started bringing it to work on the weekends I had to go in (Saturdays were deadly slow, but I had to be there). Everyone still loves it, even though it does seem a little dated, and dear God, I still want to punch Jubilee in the face.
Still though, I had to go with DCAU Batman.
TMNT for the win! I loved this show as a child, it’s the only cartoon I can remember watching constantly and I still have the VHS collection of the entire series.
“Wolwerine and X-man”?
Justice League will always be my favorite no matter what… I like Batman also. Actually I was kind of undecided which one to chose.
While some of these others are great series (X-men, Batman Beyond, JL to just name a few) I don’t think any can live up to the Batman Animated Series. It showed what worked as a TV show that could be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. With examples of a dark world that was still child friendly where sometimes good and evil were really shades of gray. Need proof? Watch the episode “Almost Got ‘Im”. With such great writing and that little twist at the end, this episode showed that superhero animated tv could be intelligent.
I voted for BTAS because of its historyt and it was a great show. Though,I wish Spectacular Spiderman was on that list. It had great writing and in my opinion was the best Spidey incarnation to date. Without that option though, I had to vote for BTAS.
The 90’s X-men cartoon was what introduced me to the comics world to begin with. And the fact that they “killed” a character at the end of the very first episode had me hooked.
Likewise, I also have fond memories for BTAS. The show was perfect. I’ve never been able to connect to DC characters as much as I do with Marvel characters, but Batman is the exception, and this show is the reason for it.
So, this is a tough choice for me, but I think I have to go with BTAS with X-men being a close second. Some of X-men’s episodes in later seasons were just…bad. Jubilee telling a fairy tale with X-men characters…X-men loses cool points for that.
Also, with a nod to Rozenstal’s suggestion, Wolverine and the X-men is a good adaptation of some popular storylines. And while it’s a bit hard to see Wolverine as the leader and not Cyclops, I think the show pulled it off successfully, if you consider it a “what if” scenario. Sadly, this show only lasted one season.
Other shows to note…the 90’s Spiderman cartoon and Spectacular Spiderman. The 90’s cartoon was a bit too soap opera-ish for me at times, but overall it was a great show. However, the series finale left a little more to be desired. Spectacular Spiderman has one of the great opening theme songs I’ve ever heard for a superhero show. Aside from this, the characterization and story adaptations were done perfectly and I’m willing to rank this above the 90’s cartoon. Sadly, this show was cancelled after just two seasons.
Y’know, I really wanted to choose Batman: The Animated Series as the greatest Western-style superhero animation of all time; and believe me, that’s said with a heavy heart. That show had one of the finest creative teams in the whole of animation, which saw their talent awarded with three Emmy wins and several nods. The voice talent they amassed deserves a mention alone. It didn’t matter if you grew up a kid in the 90’s or not, when you think of Batman and The Joker, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill will flash up their montage style with the rest of the definitives.
Quite a few of these poll choices either owe its existence directly to Batman: TAS as a spin-off or because Batman: TAS helped pave their way.
However…greatest superhero animation of all-time? *SIGH* Sadly, I think not. Batman: TAS was influenced by my all-time choice for the title– Fleischer’s Superman. In two very crucial ways. 1. Batman borrowed heavily from Fleischer’s art deco aesthetic. 2. Even though both these shows were geared toward children, I think they also managed to gain adult viewers as well.
So, while Batman: TAS was a critical and beloved milestone of the past 30 to 20 years, for all-time very well may have to go to Fleischer’s Superman.
For my money, it has to be Batman. This was the one that made me feel the actual themes, the gravity of the situations, and the dialogue was heart-grabbingly strong. For instance, I can’t name the episode, but there was one where a scientist was turning people into catlike humanoids. The rescued female says to the original “There is no place for you here,” and he responds “There is no place for me anywhere.” Coupled with a flash of lightning, the drama and tension were heightened so high, and then the end credits rolled. It was a fantastic, emotionally gutting way to end the episode. You know it’s special when all the daycare kids are too enthralled during the episode to talk. 😉
Making me choose between all of these? As the much more awesome Aquaman would say: Outrageous! http://redren3.deviantart.com/art/THIS-STAMP-IS-OUTRAGEOUS-125974193
Dun dun duh dud du daaaaaa! (Powerpuff Girls theme, sorry…had to)
I really liked it, but I can’t say it was the greatest. Batman has that title, just had to mention PPG because I hadn’t seen anyone in my quick skim of the comments.
It’s Fluttering Arthur! oh how i love the tick.
I would say The Batman because of how it’s written but I have to go with the nearest thing BTBATB
Batman the animated series all the way. These are all great shows and i love them all but that one is still number one. I remember when they started doing the Batman/Superman power hour it was awesome.
Batman:The Animated Series. Justice League(Unlimited)a close second. Ironman:Armored Adventures is good, as was the Batman.