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Off My Mind: The Need for More Animated Comic Book Shows

Cartoons can be used for more than just entertainment. They can even be educational in some ways.

Comic book adaptations are a big market right now. We’re seeing news pretty much everyday about something dealing with a live-action comic book movie or TV show. It might be news about casting, a new trailer, or the development of another property. Fans gobble the news up because it means more entertainment is headed their way.

What we don’t see a lot of is news about animated comic book adaptations. We practically have a drought when it comes to actual cartoon series based on comics. Besides simply providing entertainment, animated shows based on superheroes can offer other advantages for the market and bring even more exposure to the comic book industry.

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My first introduction to the world of superheroes wasn’t through comics. My earliest memories was watching repeats of the 1967 Spider-Man series and old episodes of Super-Friends. Other shows surfaced such as old Superman cartoons and eventually shows like Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and The Incredible Hulk. I was glued to these shows long before I actually read a single comic book. These were my official introduction to the characters and genre. Those are the shows that gave me my foundation in comic book characters.

For others, Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League or the 90s X-Men and Spider-Man animated series were their introductions. This is one reason why we need more animated comic shows.

Take a look at the animated shows that air today. Saturday Morning Cartoons aren’t what they used to be. We may have plenty of animated shows and channels devoted to showing children’s programming but we don’t have many with actual superheroes. There are kids today that do become aware of the characters through the live-action movies. With most of them rated PG-13, they’re not exactly appropriate for the younger crowd, despite many parents taking their kids to them. Should young kids see Tony Stark having a one-night stand or Wolverine telling people to “#%*$ off”? This might be fine for older audiences but it may not be the best introduction for the younger crowd.

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The only shows we really have right now are Ultimate Spider-Man, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., Avengers Assemble, and Teen Titans Go! They may have some good qualities but they aren’t exactly true representative of characters. Hulk doesn’t hang out with other gamma-irradiated characters while doing video diaries during missions. Spider-Man doesn’t break the Fourth Wall and isn’t an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Teen Titans don’t do even a fraction of the wacky things that happen on the show.

Past shows like Batman: The Animated Series, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Young Justice gave a closer look at what comics were like. A large factor the networks rely on for the profitability of a show is being able to sell merchandise. It’s understandable that networks want and need to make money but there has been very few attempts at selling products based on Teen Titans Go! or Beware the Batman. There isn’t even anything based on the Hulk series.

What needs to be learned is what “all-ages” really means. Everyone seems to take those two words together as meaning watered down or something just for kids. If television producers and animators can recapture the formula of quality shows that, literally, anyone of any age can enjoy, new doors could be opened into the comic book world. The younger generation needs to learn who these characters are and what they’re all about. This has to go beyond just being able to recognize them. If we can get shows they can watch along with older siblings or parents, everyone wins.

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Of course the other crucial factor that goes along with animated shows these days is the merchandise. Care and thought needs to be put into what gets approved and made. This was the discussion in a recent video as well. If there’s a quick rush to slap together a mediocre line of action figures or collectibles, no one will buy them and it will be deemed a failure.

Some parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles will buy these bizarre renditions of superheroes for the children in their lives because there isn't much else available in the retail market. Some children will accept them because they simply don't know any better. They have no idea Batman pretty much always wears dark suits and would never wear some of the funky brightly colored 'armor' we've seen over the years in various action figures.

It was those old animated shows that got me interested in reading comic books. Today's market mainly is geared towards the teen or teen plus crowd because they've become familiar with the characters through the movies. Having more animated shows, that are true to the actual characters and not watered down, could bring in more fans. More fans could mean more people interested in buying comic books. It's just really unfortunate that we are currently in an age with really great comic stories and live action movies but the state of the comic book animated market is at an all time low.

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Avatar image for theblueangel93
Edited By TheBlueAngel93

We don't need more comic book cartoons, we just need BETTER comic book cartoons.

Avatar image for gmanfromheck
Posted By gmanfromheck
Avatar image for wheatstalker
Edited By WheatStalker

Cartoons were my first introduction, too. G.I. Joe made me so excited, I would pedal the Huffy three miles one-way to see if they had any new guys or vehicles. I mowed lawns as a kid specifically to make money to support my Joe habit. :) But it was the cartoon that sparked the love. I agree, Saturday morning needs to be brought back to animated superhero life.

Avatar image for theblueangel93
Posted By TheBlueAngel93
@g_man said:

@war_killer: I mentioned this in the article...

I know, I was just saying.

Avatar image for MadeinBangladesh
Posted By MadeinBangladesh

We don't need more comic book cartoons, we just need BETTER comic book cartoons.

That's exactly what I was going to say ahaha

Avatar image for stmichalofwilson
Edited By StMichalofWilson

Good article

Avatar image for johnny_blaze
Edited By johnny_blaze

A JSA animated series would be insane. Mister Terrific, Stargirl, Sandman II, Atom Smasher, Wildcat, Hourman (the android version) & Doctor Fate could be a cool lineup. Daredevil, Doom Patrol, The Flash, The Outsiders, Birds of Prey. Hell, even Invincible could work as animated shows.

Avatar image for sentryman555
Posted By sentryman555

What I'm tired of is every superhero cartoon coming out claiming to be a "spiritual successor" to the old shows. It seems to me like cartoons just can't find the right balance nowadays. Either they try to hard to make it like the old cartoons or they go super whacky like Ultimate Spider-man.

Avatar image for myfavoriteviltrumite23
Posted By MyFavoriteViltrumite23

We don't need more comic book cartoons, we just need BETTER comic book cartoons.

I'd be happy for a good action cartoon with no glaring writing flaws

Avatar image for the_tree
Posted By the_tree

CN really needs to give their superhero action shows an actual chance. You know things are grim when even Batman gets cancelled within the span of 11 episodes.

Avatar image for farkam
Posted By Farkam
Avatar image for darthdestructor
Edited By DarthDestructor

Wait, wait - no single mention about Avengers: Earth's Mightest Heroes?

Avatar image for nightfang3
Posted By NightFang3

@war_killer said:

We don't need more comic book cartoons, we just need BETTER comic book cartoons.

Avatar image for winter_kills
Edited By Winter_Kills

We don't need more comic book cartoons, we just need BETTER comic book cartoons.

Exactly this. I fondly remembering getting up early to watch the Marvel Action Hour featuring the FF and Iron Man, and later the Incredible Hulk on UPN and also the then-super-popular X-Men & Spider-Man on Fox. Though I did enjoy them then, they don't exactly stand the test of time. (Though the 2nd season of both FF & Iron Man was better, with FF adapting Kirby stories & putting Thor in some episodes, & Iron Man with that killer intro & theme song which is still pretty rockin' today!) The '90s Batman animated series & Superman from Bruce Timm was awesome, great examples of what an animated series based on a comic character should be- entertaining to kids but also to longtime adult fans. I actually think I enjoyed the Batman & Superman in that show more than I did their comic counterparts at the time, frankly. And I also enjoyed Batman Beyond & JL & JLU- I think I enjoyed JLU more because of the sheer amount of characters being shown, with lesser known characters like Question or Wildcat getting focus in some episodes. I would LOVE to see shows like this make a comeback, shows with excellent quality & writing. I admit there were things about Avengers: Earths Mightiest Heroes that I liked- I actually liked their version of Secret Invasion better, Cap & Thor were awesome, & I loved the Winter Soldier episodes & their take on his origins. I also watched Batman: The Brave and the Bold despite some of its Silver Age wackiness- what I liked about it was characters who had NEVER been adapted for tv, & who I never thought would be, made their way there- like Kamandi & the Doom Patrol. I especially enjoyed the Kamandi episodes & hoped they would've led to a Kamandi revival of sorts, but alas. (I still think it would make an awesome show, kids can identify with a spunky young hero, going on adventures across Earth A.D. & love anthropomorphic animals, & the post-apocalyptic angle would be great for adults.) I actually hated the show was being cancelled, as I was hoping they would get the opportunity to show other lesser known characters like Animal Man, Blue Devil & Swamp Thing. I actually thought at one time this approach would be good to do for Marvel, say a Marvel Team-Up show featuring Spider-Man, teaming up with not just the big names but lesser known characters every episode, giving characters like that exposure they never had before, alongside a popular character like Spider-Man. But, I digress. I would love for them to one day make a truly awesome Avengers or kick-butt Captain America show- Cap hasn't had a tv show of his own since the old '66 cartoons, which boggles my mind- as well as Thor, there was talks of it but nothing came, & with all the interest in Norse mythology & things like that, I think it'd make a great series as well- those are some of my dream animated shows. (Along with Kamandi The Last Boy on Earth!)

Avatar image for shot
Posted By Shot

Avengers Earth Mightest Heroes, Ultimate Spider Man and the classic X-men cartoons are pretty great imo.

Though they are all PG. We need some hardcore cartoons like Ghost Rider,Spawn. Though there has been some pretty boring animes about marvel, like Blade and Wolverine.

Avatar image for scouterv
Posted By ScouterV

@the_tree: Is that what happened with Beware The Batman? Because if so, It was no huge loss. Magpie? Prof. Pyg? Cypher? No offense if you like it, but one-off baddies like this, even with a League of Assassins overplot, you're probably not gonna get too many people invested. Although, I thought taking a chance on using Katana instead of Robin was interesting.

Avatar image for lvenger
Posted By lvenger

Excellent article Tony and I couldn't agree more. Specifically, we need the kind of shows that used to appear on our TVs all the time. Stuff like Batman: The Animated series, the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon, Justice League/JLU, the list goes on. Cartoons that were fine for a younger audience but had qualities and strengths that appealed to the older generation and hopefully even comic book fans too. Those cartoons are also part of the reason why I'm invested in superhero comics and it's a shame this generation of superhero cartoon viewers won't have the same privilege as those of us who watched in the glory days of animated superhero shows.

Avatar image for mrcobain215
Posted By MrCobain215
Avatar image for darthdestructor
Posted By DarthDestructor

@mrcobain215: No single mention about one of the greatest Marvel series.

Avatar image for masterkungfu
Posted By MasterKungFu

need some shows that focus mainly on characters that the general public does not know much about e.g. daredevil, dr strange, cap atom, black lightning etc

we see too much of batman, superman, hulk, iron man etc. someone else should get a show of their own.

Avatar image for tommythehitman
Posted By TommytheHitman

@mrcobain215: No single mention about one of the greatest Marvel series.

Wasn't it cancelled because Marvel wanted to create an Avengers cartoon for younger ages?

Avatar image for bl00dwerk
Posted By Bl00dwerK

America, as a whole, doesn't watch action cartoons. Comedy? Yes. It's sad...

Avatar image for thenexusrebound
Posted By thenexusrebound

Some of the current shows are so campy. I still remember when Batman the Animated Series came out watching it with my dad and mom. There was story and you cared about the characters, same with the 90's Spider-man and X-men shows. This ties into what G-man has been saying in the current realm All-Ages turns into something more silly. I love a good story and it doesn't always have to be doom and gloom, but too much camp turns me off to caring.

Avatar image for the_legendary_supersaiyan_hulk
Posted By The_Legendary_SuperSaiyan_Hulk

Lets take a serious approach at an Agent Venom animated version, I'd love to watch that lol. And I don't want any of it watered down D:< I want to see Jack in all his glory lol

Avatar image for supbatz
Posted By SupBatz

I could really go for a new superhero cartoon. Young Justice was absolutely perfect, in my eyes. I miss having an animated superhero series I could look forward to watching every week. Something that could be amusing, but also serious enough that adults can enjoy.

Avatar image for ultragreenboy
Posted By Ultragreenboy

@supbatz said:

I could really go for a new superhero cartoon. Young Justice was absolutely perfect, in my eyes. I miss having an animated superhero series I could look forward to watching every week. Something that could be amusing, but also serious enough that adults can enjoy.

I loved YJ as well and was hoping Wally dying was him getting dumped in the speed force

Avatar image for mje360
Posted By mje360

I was 90s kid. The best version I've seen of superheroes in animation has been Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men of those years. There were so well done they continue to claim the top spot among fans, they are my favorite. Also the comics and movies have taken some great things from them as they were great there in animation. And these cartoons did one important thing great, they showed the superheroes to be HEROES. More importantly in other terms, these cartoons were entertaining to young crowds with so much that was great and stretching it for the audience's age carefully. And these cartoons also upgraded some of the source material.

Avatar image for saintwildcard
Posted By saintwildcard

Problem is that any Superhero Cartoon with a good plot and not enough jokes is cancelled. It seems that only cartoons aimed at kids last (Teen Titans Go and Ultimate Spiderman)

Avatar image for runawayavenger
Posted By RunawayAvenger

With Marvel I feel they are just trying too hard to base it off the MCU and exclusive brands. With EMH they were telling stories from the comic books and using a large variety of characters, trying to mix the superheroes together. I know the current shows aren't specifically aimed at us and they want to bring new readers in, but I've been reading Marvel comics for years and feel like as a longtime fan I should feel satisfied. To be honest all fans, young and old, new or longtime, deserve a good show for everyone.

I think DC has always done better with their tv adaptations, but lately they've just hit a bump I guess. I don't think is too late for YJ to continue, they just need to get the scheduling right for a better audience count.

Avatar image for j4zzm4n88
Posted By j4zzm4n88

I grew up with BTAS and the DCAU and I thoroughly enjoy GL and YJ and especially Spectacular Spider- Man. I introduced my 7 year old nephew to all of them and he loved them all. The only thing that we can both watch now is TMNT.

The issue is that people seem to think nowadays that wacky antics and jingoistic kungfoolery is the way to appeal to kids. The older stuff and even the new stuff like GL and YJ did what is essential, fleshing out the characters, building worlds, getting to know the character's senses of humour so that a 7 year old and a man in his late 20s could both laugh at different things and certain aspects appealed to both children and young adults.

What the old shows got right was that there was a shared appreciation of characters, storylines and animation. Today the shows are forgettable if there is no actual attachment to characters and their growth then the show becomes hollow. I swear YJ and Spectacular Spider-Man both had soul, humour and great drama. Respect for source material while streamlining and modernising is what made so many of our favorite comic book shows work.

In brief,the new shows need soul,character,wit and charm while being action packed and well written.

Avatar image for owie
Edited By Owie

I was going to say, haven't there been a million cartoons recently, and haven't they all been kind of crappy? But you made some really good points here. I agree, there aren't a lot of good shows that accurately represent the comics.

As a dad of kids ages 6 and 9, I am also always looking for any comics-related material that is appropriate for them. There hasn't been as many good all-ages comics recently compared to a few years ago (although good to see Tiny Titans back), there's not any shows they're interested in, and the movies are all a bit old for them still. They need something to bridge the gap between Tiny Titans and all the teen-rated comics/movies.

Avatar image for caladorcp
Edited By Caladorcp

My intro into superheroes was Batman, Xmen, and Spiderman the animated series. I didn't start reading comics until much later, but I probably wouldn't have started reading comics if it weren't for these series.

Avatar image for bystander
Posted By Bystander

More comicbook shows? No thanks, if they are as crapy as these.

Avatar image for kounurasaka
Posted By KouNurasaka

Completely agree G-man! As a child of the 90's, I grew up with the 90's versions of Spider-Man and X Men (which actually made me like X Men) and I was a huge Spidey fan before I ever read a Spidey comic. Like you, my introduction to comics were the stellar cartoons back in the day. And of course the awesomeness that is Batman:TAS.

My mother remembered watching the old live action Incredible Hulk when she was a kid so guess what we did one summer (she is a school teacher) when a marathon came on? We watched it all day long. She was also a fan of The Spectacular Friends of Spider-Man, but I never cared much that one (sorry!).

Anyway, I agree, most of the cartoons today are not setting the bar high. Ultimate Spider-Man would actually be pretty good without the obvious 4th wall breaking, which is waaaay out of character for Spidey.

You mentioned Teen Titans GO!, but did you follow the first Teen Titans? That one was actually pretty good, and was my first introduction to the Titans franchise beyond Robin.

Avatar image for averywetfrog
Edited By averywetfrog

the people at disney have no clue what they are doing. they have so many characters to use but no, and when they do have shows they are specifically for children. i can watch ultimate spiderman but, i refuse to watch the rest. they should start up a netflix like service if they are afraid to fund these shows. they should start up a connected animated universe and put out monthly episodes just like with comics. id pay for that in a heartbeat. i would rather have animated shows that are great than the mediocre films they put out.

Avatar image for judasnixon
Posted By judasnixon

You nerds don't deserve a better all age animated super hero show. All you going do is go online, and complain about how much it sucks. Then the moment they cancel it you are going to cry about how stupid they are for doing so. Instead of being grateful you got 52 episodes of a show you actual liked......

Avatar image for the_scourge
Posted By The_Scourge

Please just bring Young Justice back

Avatar image for averywetfrog
Posted By averywetfrog

@judasnixon: nice generalization. thats an inaccurate summary of what happens and you know it. most people complain about how disney only puts out childish shows. people also like to praise certain older shows for good reason. you can be grateful for the shows you enjoy and dislike others at the same time, its not that hard.

Avatar image for mrmazz
Posted By MrMazz

The gatekeepers don't think the market is there. Due to the popularity of Adventure Time and Regular show, the CN, Nickelodeon, and to a degree DisneyXD (but really they're all about that cheap live tween demo) they're target is to immulate the absurdist humor of the above mentioned and not really what makes those shows great. The hard truth is, kids (even when we were one) don't consume content the way we do now, it sounds dismissive but we would/do watch whatever. O an episode of Teen Titans GO! is on sweet don't care if there hasn't been a new one for a month. This makes the mini-micro styled series far more profitable and programable for CN stations like them.

Young Justice, the DCU, A:TLA, Korra go against the norm and while we (people likely above 16 years of age) love that stuff it dosen't really fly with that (apprently) highly profitable 11-14 demo male. Theaction and seralized content as seen in Young Justice or the excellent two part writing in the original Justice League just dosen't work. And even if in the case like Korra there is a appreciable audience we are soo outside the demo that Nickelodeon dosen't really know what to do with it - I've tried emailing their PR on why iTunes hasn't been released and all that sense I get is they have no clue why people would talk about this thing.

I think Avengers Assemble and Ult Spider-man are terrible but they fit the model of the time they were made. We are not the form any more it has changed. Do I wish there were more shows like YJ heck yea. But there isn't a market for it.

There is some hope Star Wars: Rebels looks like a solid action-toon.

Avatar image for the_comebacks
Edited By the_comebacks

Great article! I agree we need more all ages shows. The "all ages" adaptations like Spectacular Spider Man and Young Justice were some of my favorite tv shows period.

Avatar image for cosmicallyaware1
Edited By cosmicallyaware1

@g_man: fantastic topic, and one of which I feel the same. I comment a lot on this myself in threads, and of the same age genre that grew up with classics such as; Super-Friends (how I loved Galactic Guardians!), original Spider Man and then the best cartoon of all time....Spider MAn and his Amazing Friends (followed by the shorter lived Incredible Hulk), etc...........

I have always felt that with each propriety they release.....they could do so much better, and there's so much more untapped material.

I say we band together and pitch the industry, what we as fans, truly want to see!!!

Avatar image for 2cool4fun
Posted By 2cool4fun

@war_killer: Better Marvel Cartoons maybe, but except for Beware the Batman, there is no bad DC cartoon.

Avatar image for judasnixon
Posted By judasnixon
Avatar image for krypton-115
Posted By Krypton-115

So far All New X-Factor is just PERFECT for a cartoon adaptation.

Avatar image for lurkero
Posted By Lurkero

I think the shift to comedy cartoons and away from action cartoons is indicative of the easy market advertising dollars and not necessarily a lack of effort. Nickelodeon has TMNT and Avatar and both of those seem to be doing well, but likely cost a lot of money in production and marketing.

I don't have any statistics to properly analyze market shifts, but I assume there was a good reason why after-school cartoons and Saturday morning cartoons are not as popular as they used to be.

Avatar image for dedpool
Posted By Dedpool

My favorite Comic toons are (in no particular order): Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League/JLU, The Batman, X-men (90's), X-men: Evolution, Wolverine and the X-men, Young Justice, Green Lantern: TAS, Superman: TAS, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Teen Titans, Legion of Superheroes, Iron man: Armored Adventures, Incredible Hulk (90's) and Spectacular Spiderman. There are more but some I really only liked just for the fact that there was a show.

Avatar image for cloudguy
Posted By Cloudguy

I miss quality comic-based cartoons.

Avatar image for amazing_webhead
Edited By amazing_webhead

Here's the problems with today's shows:

  • Ultimate Spider-Man: jumped the shark
  • Avengers Assemble: glorified movie advertisement (Wolverine and the X-Men all over again!)
  • Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.: animation budget lower than Marvel had in the 60's
  • Teen Titans Go!: too generic

What we need is more shows about characters who've never had shows before. Like a Deadpool show on adult swim or a Wonder Woman show, or even Lobo, Howard the Duck, the Punisher, Blue Beetle, Nightwing, Aquaman, the New Mutants, the sky is the limit people!

Hell, you could even make a show about the bad guys! Like so:

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