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 fantastic four cartoon 1966

Hanna-Barbera's 1967 Fantastic Four cartoon is, full-stop, one of the best early superhero adaptations to TV. Yes, it's cheap HB-standard animation. Yes, it strips a lot of the more truly unusual nuance from the Lee/Kirby classic tales being adapted. But compared to almost everything else doing the same job on TV it was frequently the best of the bunch.

Over the course of 20 episodes, fans got to see Marvel's First Family square off with everybody from Galactus to Dr. Doom to Blastaar the Living Bomb. Good stuff. Everyone is in character, everything feels "right" to the Marvel books of the era, there's actually very little to complain about or say other than "Hey, those were some good cartoons!" Of some amusement: The same rights issues that kept Reed Richards and company out of The Marvel Super Heroes also kept Sub-Mariner out of this series, so instead the team faces off against a new character named Triton.

If only Hanna-Barbera could have been given control of other Marvel properties, the history of Marvel 'toons might have been a lot different. Unfortunately for Marvel, once HB had figured out how to adapt what was then the cool new breed of superhero into animation, they decided to make a whole slew of original heroes of their own. Those shows, along with Fantastic Four, would become effectively immortal as part of the long-running programming block Hanna-Barbera's World of Super Adventure.

marvel spider-man cartoon

The big one. Even if you've never actually watched an episode. You know the look. You've seen the memes. You've heard the theme song.

The 1967-1970 Spider-Man probably did more to turn Marvel's webbed-wonder into a superhero A-lister than any of his actual comics did, in terms of exposure to the broader public. In an era when kid's TV shows were seldom expected to run more than a season (if that) before slipping comfortably into re-run oblivion, Spidey proved popular enough to get three full seasons -- an amazing achievement considering that the Marvel heroes were largely still considered superhero also-rans next to the evergreen big guns like Batman and Superman.

That's not to say that this incarnation of Spider-Man is especially good -- it's not, especially compared to the aforementioned stuff Hanna-Barbera was putting out in the same era -- but it clicked. That Spidey was, even then, so different from any other hero in terms of his civilian life and powerset that he stood out: This was very clearly NOT just Superman with a different coat of paint.

The show's first two seasons, put together by Grantray-Lawrence again but with a notable upgrade in animation quality from the animated-panels approach taken by The Marvel Super Heroes, are generally regarded as the best of the lot -- largely-faithful translations of classic Spidey stories and villains and featuring one of the more memorable J. Jonah Jameson interpretations. The third season was produced under Ralph Bakshi, otherwise a maverick legend of animation but whose efforts on Spider-Man look exactly like the hired-gun job it likely was. At least two episodes were made by repurposing footage from Bakshi's earlier scifi/fantasy series Rocket Robin Hood, ironically the main reason that series is remembered today.

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