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

Bob Chipman | 20 Aug 2014 12:30
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Marvel's television efforts weren't always hits, but that didn't stop the company from trying. And trying.

In case it hasn't yet become abundantly clear, Marvel Comics wanted its roster of superhero characters to spread out across multimedia from the very beginning. The entertainment world we live in now -- where "Marvel" is at once the powerful brand name across Hollywood and a singular Hollywood studio in its own right, where rival studios compete for box-office supremacy with movies based on Marvel characters, where the Marvel name can get audiences to turn out in record numbers for a movie about a space raccoon -- is the culmination of a long (longer than they would've liked, surely) game play begun by Stan Lee and the gang back in the earliest days of their would-be empire.

The strategy? Put your guys in anything. Anything.


Kiddie education shows? "Sure!" (And yes, that's who you think it is narrating.) Loose Japanese reworkings? "Done!" Terrible TV movies? "Why not?" An unbelievably embarrassing wedding stunt? "We're getting paid for this, right?" It has not been, suffice it to say, a terribly dignified track record -- particularly when rival DC Comics spent those same decades being represented by genre-defining megahits like the Adam West Batman, 1978's Superman and The Superfriends.

But in the 60s, 70s and 80s Marvel tried its level best to make its four-color heroes into cartoon stars as well, with... marginally better (or, at least, more memorable) results than most of their live-action offerings. For many a young fan in those eras, these offbeat adaptations were the first exposure to characters who'd become their favorites -- which might help to explain how truly bizarre Marvel fixtures like Thor and The Sub-Mariner gained lasting traction in the first place.

This week, we'll take a look at the animated offerings of the swingin' 60s and the... also-swingin', but in a vaguely less "innocent" sense of the word, 70s. Starting with:

marvel superheroes cartoon

Produced by Grantray-Lawrence Animation, the first cartoons to feature Marvel heroes were an absolute trip -- time capsules of an era when kids' TV was as low-rent and corner-cutting as you can imagine. The Marvel Superheroes was an anthology-style series based around rotating adventures starring either Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor or Sub-Mariner; each with their own maddeningly-ingratiating theme song. In some markets, networks like Boston's WNAC would dress local TV personalities up in Marvel costumes to introduce the shorts.

The series is today best known for its infamously cheap animation, which was accomplished by taking stills from the actual comics and adding minimal animated touches like limbs changing position, lip movements or disappearing/reappearing sound effects balloons. While not quite as surreal as the infamous "Syncro-Vox" technology (which superimposed human actor's mouths onto barely-animated figures' faces) employed by the likes of Clutch Cargo. It's still incredibly bizarre and easy to see why its sheer weirdness coupled with the wide recycling of the individual shorts as filler-material for other kiddie-broadcasts for decades after made an indelible mark on the psyches of generations, inspiring parodies like Minoriteam well into the present.

Interestingly, despite not being a popular book in their then-present incarnation, The X-Men made their animated-adaptation debut in one of the Sub-Mariner episodes. The story was an adaptation of a comics adventure that had involved The Fantastic Four, but they were unavailable -- so The X-Men were used to fill their role.

Where were the Four? Starring in their own series for a competing animation studio...

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