We all did some weird shit during First Quarantine. I could have made myself a sourdough starter like everyone else, but no. I decided that I’d watch all the Marvel cartoons on Disney+ in chronological order. Why ? No idea. How? Somewhat organically - if I was into it I’d watch it faster and if I wasn’t into it I’d bog down and wait until I was bored or making myself push through.
Since I started, I’ve gotten from 1979 to 2006, and I have 28 titles to go. I most recently finished the 2006 Fantastic Four, which’ll get it’s own post, but here’s a quick summary of what else I’ve watched so far:
Peak 70’s. Roughly Super-Friends level, full of generic cartoon enemies instead of actual Marvel villains, a spin-to-transform straight out of Wonder Woman, a kid sidekick, and a news organization with a globe-spanning jet copter.
It’s most notable for it’s 70’s version of feminism, where the woman was clearly smarter, braver, and better than the dudes in every way, but only the audience knows, because wink wink she definitely plays dumb to make sure the men aren’t threatened in any conceivable way.
SPIDER-MAN/SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS (1981):
In a similar vein, these are the half-assed translations of beloved comic heroes my generation has a weird nostalgia for. Lots of stock shots, off-model villains like a weirdly-colored Dr. Doom, wacky hijinks, etcetera.
Most notable for “Video-Man”, a character in several episodes of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, an attempt to tap into the Atari 2600-era video game craze and nerd culture by creating a villain and later a hero out of a dweeb with ostensibly video-game-inspired powers that mostly made him a dollar-store Electro.
X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1992-1996)
Not as good as you remember. It’s beloved because it was the first real attempt to take iconic cartoon storylines and larger stories to Saturday mornings, and it certainly does that, but four seasons of cartoons is a LOT of episodes, and in between the bits you remember is a whole ton of cringe.
Most notable for a shit-ton of really embarrassing voice choices and accent work that starts with Rogue’s cornpone and Whatever That Gambit Thing Was but extends to a whole host of bit players and minor characters. It’s way more distracting than you think
IRON MAN (1994)
For the better part of two decades, for every high-budget, ambitious Marvel cartoon on a major network, there had to be a syndicated, short lived, pile of complete trash based on an at-the-time lesser character. And in the 90’s, none was more trashy than Iron Man.
The first season of this show is completely awful. It contained some of those first 1990’s forays into CG in Saturday morning cartoons, with 90 seconds of stock Iron Man 3D graphics inserted into every episode. It’s mind-bogglingly sexist, with Scarlet Witch and Spider-Woman doing almost nothing except fighting over Tony. Also Hawkeye is in it, I think.
It got a revamp and new production team for its second season, and managed to become borderline watchable by comparison.
SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (1994-1997)
Better than you remember. In fact, I’d argue that Spidey: TAS is the actual embodiment of what you remember X-Men: TAS being. Long-form storytelling, lots of plots adapted from the comics, and rarely embarrassing itself.Plus, unlike X-Men, it didn’t get a tacked-on final season from a cheaper production company where half the voice cast changed.
It’s really good, and honestly, if you’re going to revisit one pre-2000 Marvel cartoon and watch ALL the episodes, this is the one. Save X-Men for just the big multipart arcs that formed your positive memories.
FANTASTIC FOUR (1994):
Much like Iron Man, this cartoon has an almost unwatchable first season, with a Dr. Doom that looks worse than the one in Amazing Friends despite being the right color, horrible stories, and the most memorably awful theme song in Marvel history.
And then a whole other company took over and revamped the show for it’s second season (again like Iron Man - they may have been packaged together in syndication even) and it got better without really ever getting good. But they fixed the most horrifying stuff from the first season and made a serviceable generic superhero cartoon out of it.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1996)
This series is weird as fuck. It starts strangely ambitiously, with an earnest attempt at bringing late 90’s Hulk tropes to the small screen that never really succeeds. A lot of The Leader and General Ross and Betty Ross and sort of the core stuff you think of when you think post-Ferrigno, pre-Ruffalo Hulk. There’s even some Joe Fixit.
But then, in an inverse of the Iron Man and FF paradigms, they introduce She-Hulk towards the end of Season 1, then revamp the show in Season 2 to be a sort of buddy two-hander between Bruce and Jennifer, and She-Hulk ends up being a weird version of 80’s feminism in the late 90’s - the strong, independent woman who LOVES SHOPPING AND CLOTHES.
Most notable for the episode that exemplifies this. Season 2, Episode 5, “Fashion Warriors”, which is trying so hard and failing so badly at empowerment that it needs to be seen to be believed.
SILVER SURFER (1998)
Silver Surfer continues a block of weird cartoon projects with ambition that exceeds its execution, gratuitous CG, and thinking incorrectly they’re gonna get a second season.
Silver Surfer goes big into the Jack Kirby cosmic shit, with tons of Galactus and weird space stuff and Surfer searching for his lost love Shalla-Bal, which never fails to sound funny every time he tries to say it. It’s not good, but it’s trying to be.
Most notable for versions of characters who’d go on to be MCU-famous later, like Thanos, Gamora, Nebula, and Drax The Destroyer.
SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED (1999)
Speaking of weird as fuck, Spider-Man Unlimited is a series in which a nanotech-suited Spider-Man follows John Jameson to a parallel dimension where they fight the High Evolutionary’s beast-man forces in a dystopian New York City and also very stylized versions of Venom and Carnage are there working some kind of third axis symbiote plan.
It’s not good, but it’s not good in a way that I couldn’t stop watching and also not good in a way that made me sad it ended on a cliffhanger after one season. Which I know makes it sound like “good” and not “bad” but it also very clearly was bad. I can’t explain it either.
AVENGERS: UNITED WE STAND (1999):
Embarrassing top to bottom. An attempt to tell classic Avengers stories using an Ant-Man led team including Wasp, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Tigra, and Falcon… only everyone (except all but one of the women) has snap-on armor that gets applied in anime-inspired CG powerup equences clearly designed for a toy line.
Most notable for an episode where they visit a jungle island that Ultron has a lair on and everyone’s costumes get jungle versions and hoo boy, is that something from a visual design standpoint.
X-MEN EVOLUTION: (200-2003)
This is a real mixed bag of a show that, like the earlier X-Men cartoon, you probably remember more fondly than it deerves.
It starts with the premise of “what if the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants were rival cliques in a high school in a world where nobody knows mutants even exist”, which is a great premise if your target audience is into high school drama, of which there is a ton. It’s all executed very well, but it’s got a lot of very special episode vibes.
It’s also pulling HEAVILY from the Singer X-Men movie’s popularity, with lots of Mystique and a “Principal Kelly” taking over the school. But after a couple of seasons of dicking around, it completely turns the premise of the series upside down for a fantastic season of good mutants on the run being hunted and trying to restore a modified version of the status quo, and that bit is GREAT
That’s it so far, after at least a full year of very intermittent watching.