Favorite Animated Adaptations

I've mostly come to comics through their onscreen adaptations than through the printed stories themselves. While I do pick up the occasional book, the bulk of my experiences with comic book characters and stories have been viewed on TV or in movies. Part of this is because that's what I first encountered as a child and part of it is I like stories that I know will end (even if the last line of the series is "And the adventure continues"). It all started with multiple animated series as a kid, and even today, when well done, I'll be sure to catch them.

List items

  • The true question is, for a child of the 90s, could anything else be in the #1 spot. Well, yes, of course, everyone has an opinion. But many, many would answer no. A defining animated series, the series that still sets the standard, the series that made Bruce Timm and Paul Dini synonymous with greatness for so many comic book and superhero geeks. It gave us Kevin Conroy's Batman and Mark Hammil's Joker, the voices more than a few readers will admit they imagine when reading the books to this day. Here Mr. Freeze became a tragic figure and Harley Quinn brought the insanity. Here Bruce Wayne sounded distinct from Batman, long before Christian Bale brought forth the rasp. Somehow, a cartoon show improved on the movie's theme, making it even more memorable. It then debuted its own theme song, iconic in its own right (that's a trend, by the way, great themes. I do wonder if today's youth are as impressed by the offerings. Will they remember X-Men: Evolution, Avengers, and Young Justice the way we remember the Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man, Justice League themes?) It defined Batman and his portrayal, or at least reinforced a portrayal Frank Miller brought back. It humanized the villains and spawned a theatrical release that some fans still claim is the best Batman movie (and also starred Dana Delany). I mean, what more can be said. Maybe just this: "I am vengeance! I am the night! I am Batman!"

  • This, along with its sequel and companion series Justice League: Unlimited, was the culmination of the DCAU. And what a culmination it was. Still some of the best and most memorable portrayals of DC's expanded roster with the defining portrayals for Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and others for a generation of fans. Everything that had come before led to this, and even it upped the ante as the series went on and changed, first building up the epic "Starcrossed" three-parter and then expanding to the larger roster in "Unlimited", introducing new stories and characters while continuing the threads of the first two seasons. If DC's live action movie division had any idea how to set up a franchise like the 90s and early 00s cartoon saga, Marvel might actually have a rival to worry about. As it is, we can continue to relive the apex of animated comic book series, which peaked and ended with five seasons of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

  • I didn't know what to expect when this series debuted. And like pretty much every single comic show that's been released since the end of DCAU, I caught it a few years after it had. I think part of me was afraid of getting the Tiny Toons to the Justice League. I was worried I'd watch it, like it, but always wait for the inevitable Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman cameo. Few surprises could be more pleasant. As with X-Men: Evolution, it was a show that let its characters grow and change. Their past actions had consequences on future episodes and they learned. They grew close, they faced new challenges, they had rifts, they worried about living in the shadows of their legend predecessors (probably a little meta there, coming a few years after Justice League). What we got were great characters set in great stories. The show was daring enough to have one grand story in season one and a major time jump for season two, greatly shaking up the status quo. And it works. A show created by Greg Weisman, so maybe that's no surprise (which reminds me, I should watch The Spectacular Spider-Man). Another one cancelled before its time, especially when you introduce Darkseid in the last episode.

  • Here's a question, how has there not been another Superman series since this left the air. Is it because we had Smallville? Did we get our fill with Legion of Superheroes? Batman has had three series since the last DCAU show went off the air. Three solo shows, with his name in the title. And both played supporting roles in Young Justice. But Superman, possibly the most iconic superhero in the world, hasn't. Which is a little strange, but we still do have this excellent series. The creators of the amazing and crazy successful Batman: TAS gave Superman the same treatment. What a job they did. It has a slightly different animated style, giving it a more cartoonish look, but that really works for Superman. Tim Daly and Dana Delany gave their characters a voice and life that fit them to a T and had a chemistry that sparkled. Superman got a great show in his own right and proved that the minds behind Batman were not one-hit wonders. Batman had shown what they could do, and this show's nearly equal success and quality opened the door for what would be one of the best stretches of storytelling DC has ever seen on TV for its properties. I may always be a Batman fanboy first, but it was this show that proved to me Superman could be cool, too (you, too, Dean Cain! I didn't forget ya!)

  • Before 2008, there were really only two Marvel properties of whom I would consider myself a fan. To this day, when I think of Marvel, it's usually these two I think of first. Both are due, in part, to their excellent animated series that ran during the 90s. Of those two, in my opinion, Spider-Man was better. Or at least I liked it better. I was a huge fan of this show when I was a kid. Spider-Man, as Marvel's most iconic hero, was the guy I'd been aware of as far back as I could remember. As a consequence, when this show debuted I was hooked. I tried to catch it every week. It was fun, it was exciting, it was funny. It taught me pretty much everything I knew about the Spider-Man story. From here I learned that Spider-Man is snarky, that Mary Jane calls him "Tiger", that Jonah hates him, that that seemingly super fat villain is actually muscular as hell. It grabbed me in a way that X-Men never quite did, as I made sure come hell or high water I would either catch or tape the next episode if the last had a "To Be Continued..." at the end of it. It was genuinely shocking when he sprouted four extra arms and later transformed into the Man-Spider. It was the first thing to introduce me to so much of his Rogue's gallery, including both Goblins, the Lizard, Rhino, the Scorpion, the Vulture (that's a lot of animal-based villains), Kraven the Hunter, and more. Christopher Daniel Barnes is still the voice I imagine any time I read a Spidey book. The only knock I have against it is the animation doesn't quite hold up. Well, that and once I learned all of the ways it was censored, it's hard not to notice how neutered the violence is. I mean, no punching with a fist? Seriously? That said, it pulled me in like no cartoon had before, not even Batman. For that, I will always remember it fondly. Also, another memorable theme song. I always tried to figure out if it was some electronic remix of the classic "Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can" song.

  • If you can't tell from my avatar, I'm slightly biased here. I love Green Lantern. I love the rings, I love the logo, I love the idea of an entire corps of powerful space cops, I loved John Stewart on Justice League, I love Sinestro as a villain, I love seeing all of the alien Lanterns, I love the oath. I was over the moon when I found out that there would be an animated series especially when I found out that it was being done by Bruce Timm and his colleagues. It was interesting to find out that it would be a CGI series and after the ridiculous production values we'd seen with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I was a little worried how it might come across. And, honestly, I think that comparison hurts it a little. After watching that show grow over the years, the look of this series and the emptiness of the environments made it feel a little dated. Like, Beast Wars dated. But when you have a good story with interesting characters, that becomes secondary. Like Wolverine and the X-Men, this show only has one 26 episode season. It's broken up into two halves, with separate stories dominating each half, making it feel more like two 13-episode seasons. Given that, it's amazing how much the creators fit in while still telling a coherent story. We see the Red, Orange, and Blue Lanterns as well as the Star Sapphires. Blackest Night is hinted at as well as Sinestro's eventual fall. Anti-Monitor is a major villain and the show even introduces Guy Gardner (while name dropping John Stewart). It keeps a small cast of main players with Hal Jordan, Kilowog, Razer, and Aya made me care deeply about all of them. The second half was devastating and I wasn't sure how it would resolve. It's a show that came a long way in a short time and like several other entries on this list, gone before its time.

  • When I first started this show a few years ago, I don't think I ever dreamed it would be my favorite of the three X-Men series I've seen (maybe I should watch the Pryde of the X-Men trailer so I can claim I've seen them all). It was like no other X-men adaptation I'd seen, with many of its iconic members back in high school like the early comic books and others serving as their guardians and mentors at the mansion. It was honestly rough going early on, some of the designs are a little odd (Avlanche's fish bowl helmet is ridiculous) and it took a while for the show to find its footing. Once it did, though, it really did. I think that's in large part to its portrayal as the characters, nontraditional as they were. The show let them organically develop, experiencing all of the victories and pitfalls of growing up. Some characters didn't choose the right path, some chose their own, some grew closer, and some drifted apart. The show wasn't afraid to bring in the New Mutants and mostly develop them and give them identities of their own. The first animated series covered more and had a larger scope. The one after this had the chance to exceed Evolution. This one struck a balance, though, was able to effectively juggle a number of major characters, and explore the characters in ways we hadn't really seen on screen. It was a solid series and, in spite of getting four seasons, cancelled before its time.

  • There's something to be said about a show that refuses to take itself too seriously. For some, content deliberately aimed at an even younger demographic is off putting and ridiculous. For whatever reason this show, which introduced me to Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg among so many others, worked for me. It balanced often ridiculous humor with serious villains and problems. It leaned on the fourth wall, winking to its in the know audience while at the same time telling stories with depth and genuine emotion. It let its characters grow and change and, like any good show, expand and develop its world. By the time we reached latter seasons, the stories had grown to an epic scope, almost setting a foundation for the excellent Young Justice that would come after. I will always have a special place for this version of Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven. And I'll definitely remember that theme song, too. Well, its english version, anyway.

  • It was a novel idea, moving into Batman's future, making Bruce Wayne an old man, forced to retire even as Gotham's criminal element grows. Even older than he was in the iconic The Dark Knight Returns, I was lukewarm to this idea as a kid. I didn't want a Batman who wasn't Bruce Wayne. I didn't want to think that he hadn't managed to fix Gotham, that some kid was going to be doing his job in the future while he advised over the radio. This wasn't MY Batman. But I watched it, and I liked it, even if I never loved it the way I had the series that preceded it. And later, after it was off the air and I had drifted away I came back. And something clicked. Maybe it was "Epilogue", in the second to last season of Justice League Unlimited, where the discussion was about Batman's legacy and passing the mantle on. Maybe by that point in my life I'd come to accept the idea of Batman over the man alone, the symbol that Christian Bale spoke of in Batman Begins. But I accepted it and I rewatched. And I loved it. I loved the future technology and the snarky kid that reminded me of Peter Parker from another beloved childhood show. I loved the new villains and the occasional legacy or returned old villains. I loved the tricks old man Bruce still had up his sleeve and the hints of how the larger DC world had changed over the decades. As its place on the list shows, I still prefer the other DCAU shows to this one. But I learned to appreciate it. Sorry, Dick Grayson, but in my mind, there's one man who will take up the mantle of the Bat and this is it.

  • The most recent X-Men adaptation had a great first, and only, season. It was exciting, looked great, and had some of my favorite portrayals of some well known X-Men and mutants including Nightcrawler, Emma Frost, and Scarlet Witch. Though it wasn't related in any way, it had a number of elements that made it feel like a spiritual successor to X-Men: Evolution, itself on this list. It had a lot of potential after its excellent first season, but it never reached that thanks to being cut short. It would have been nice to see Age of Apocalypse finally adapted on screen, but I guess we'll have to wait until 2016. And, let's face it, it lived up to its title. It focused HEAVILY on Wolverine. There were trials and tribulations as he tried to take the leadership role, but I don't think the show let him fail enough of the time. It didn't make him wrong and the rest of the team right. And while it did help me like adult Cyclops when it bothered to focus on him, I think it also tore him down a little too much. It wasn't afraid to hit the ground running, though, and it rarely let up. Like its 90s predecessor, it opened up the world greatly, more than one would expect in a single season, and hinted at greater things that could have come. It's a shame we'll never see that.

  • I feel like it's almost sacrilege putting this show last. I loved it when I was a kid, it made me a fan of the X-Men, and it was years later that I realized how faithful it was to the comics in look, portrayal, and storyline. It didn't duck issues for a comic that often faced serious ideas. It killed a team member in the first episode and put one in jail for a large chunk of its first year (as a kid, it felt like Beast was in jail for an eternity. Funny to realize it was only 13 episodes or so, though that's about three months worth of broadcast). It introduced me to all of the classic X-Men outside of Kitty Pryde (for years, I didn't realize how essential to the team she's been thanks to Jubilee). And for whatever reason, it made me like Wolverine at the expense of everyone else (and still seems to be the only adaptation to have him at the right height and hairiness). I still don't like Cyclops thanks to this show. I love Beast and Storm. And I don't know how much I liked them as a kid, but the nostalgia did help me realize how much I liked Rogue and Gambit as an adult. I still feel a twinge of disappointment when modern adaptations don't give Rogue Captain Marvel's powers. So, why is it last of my favorite animated series? Unlike many fellow fans, I don't think it holds up as well as other series. When I started rewatching Batman: TAS a few years ago in my adulthood, I was blown away by how well it held up, in storytelling, in voice acting, in animation and look. X-Men, unfortunately, doesn't. The animation is kind of crude. The costumes are classic, but as someone who prefers the modern outfits and style of comics in the Modern Era, they look goofy. The dialogue and acting are over the top, perhaps intentionally so, but it still comes across as cornier than it needs to be. I'm reluctant to rewatch the entire series, because I'm afraid I'll break my computer if I hear Storm oh so dramatically command the weather to wreak her enemies, Wolverine or Cyclops "JEEEAAANNNN!" through both Phoenix storylines, Jean "SCOTT!" right back, or realize just how insane Gambit's Cajun accent is. Or perhaps I'll crack up. It could go either way. Though George Buza's Beast may make up for that (and the occasional Dr. McCoy name drop). Then there's the iconic theme song, perhaps the best of any superhero cartoon I've seen. And I'll always wonder why my younger self didn't have a bigger crush on Rogue.