Retro Marvel TV
The Best (And Worst) Marvel Cartoons of the 60s and 70s

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 20 Aug 2014 12:30
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marvel fantastic four cartoon 1978

DePatie-Freleng Enterprises decided to give The Fantastic Four another try in 1978 with a bigger animation budget and better techniques overall than any Marvel cartoon previously... but with one big missing element: They could only use three of the four heroes. Johnny Storm, "The Human Torch," was off-limits.

For years, the legend held that spurious TV censors had "banned" the character in fear that America's impressionable schoolchildren might light themselves on fire in an imitation of his powers. Amusing, but the truth is more mundane: Marvel had been trying to sell a pilot deal for a live-action solo series featuring Torch to Universal (he would've been a race car driver and unaffiliated with the FF) at the time, and didn't want him in cartoons muddying the rights waters.

The animation studio's solution? A helpful flying robot named H.E.R.B.I.E (this was a year after Star Wars, so beeping robot sidekicks were as cool as they were ever going to get) became the new Number 4. Apart from the oddity of Johnny being replaced by an R2-wannabe, the series is fairly unremarkable -- decent animation, nice versions of classic FF villains, but it's a footnote for a reason. H.E.R.B.I.E was reviled for years by fans, Jar-Jar style, but in recent decades he's been gradually integrated into the comics to a mostly positive reception.

Once again: Please consult The Big Picture for deeper context. Short version: Hanna-Barbera did a run of solo cartoons featuring a teenaged version of the The Thing who used a magic ring to change from human to monster, and for some reason they stuck them next to pieces from one of the myriad Flintstones do-overs from the same period as a single programming block. It's pretty horrible.

marvel spider-woman cartoon

SPIDER-WOMAN (1979-1980)
As I've mentioned elsewhere, Marvel's fear of TV producers creating female versions of their licensed heroes to cut them out of rights deals inspired them to create two distaff-counterparts on their own. The first was The She-Hulk, the second was Jessica Drew: Spider-Woman.

It's a shame that she was for so long mainly known for the tacky business stuff surrounding her origin, because Spider-Woman kind of rules. She has a great costume, nifty origin story, an interesting (if notoriously inconsistent) power-set, etc. And the cartoon? It's pretty good -- rendered in a grime-and-neon color palette that nicely captures the New York of the Marvel Universe at the tail end of the Disco era. Give it a watch, you'll see.

Marvel cartoons (apart from Spider-Man) spent most of this era living in the shadows of DC material and original heroes from the likes of Hanna-Barbera. But the tide would change as the 1980s dawned. The first seeds of Marvel's pop-culture takeover were about to be sown, and we'll recall how it started... next week.

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