10 Worst Comic Book Animated Series of All Time1 of 12C'mon, it's only fair right? Last week we posted a list of the 10 Best Animated Comic Book TV Adaptations of All Time.
Giving equal time to the opposite end of the spectrum, it's time to look at the 10 worst – the wrongheaded, the clunkers, the misfires, the "how did this ever make it to the airwaves? (and in some cases, they didn't)."
Like the "best" countdown, we're sticking to animated TV series, as opposed to full-length features, and sticking to shows based on American comic books.
So join us, won't you, on a nostalgic wrong turn down memory lane...
FRED AND BARNEY MEET THE THING (1979)2 of 12An unfortunate testament to the popularity of the Fantastic Four's the Thing in the '70s (he was the Wolverine of the era), this train wreck only gets spared the title of worst-ever because it was just a "loose" adaptation of the Marvel character.
Try this one on for size: In a more Scooby Doo-ish style of animation, teenager Benjy Grimm transforms into the gruff, streetwise Thing (with no connection to the FF to speak of) when he touches 2 magic rings together and recites the phrase Thing ring, do your thing!
Nope, not kidding...
Pair it with Flintstones segments during the same hour and you get a couple million 10-year-old comic book fans screaming "WTF!?" (or whatever the 70s equivalent was) at their TVs the morning of its debut on September 8, 1979.
Marvel Super-Heroes (1966)3 of 12These days you gotta dig deep just to find evidence that this show existed.
Remembered mostly for its kitschy theme songs...
When Captain America throws his mighty shield,
All those who chose to oppose his shield must yield.
... this was one of the very first animated comic book adaptations, although adaptation might be too strong of a word, as it was basically static panels lifted straight from the comic books, with music, dialogue, moving lips and the occasional arm movement or two added for TV.
Yes, it was motion comics 40 years before we started calling them motion comics and therefore not the most fulfilling television experience, even considering the era.
The animation technique understandably wasn't seen or heard from on TV again for decades until inexplicably...
BLACK PANTHER (2009)4 of 12... Marvel and Reginald Hudlin revived it some 42 years later for what was proposed to be a Black Panther animated series for BET.
Based off of Hudlin and artist John Romita Jr.'s 2005 Black Panther comic book series, the motion comic animation style made for a perfectly adequate piece of comic book entertainment and the six episodes produced are generally well-regarded, but the limited production value simply makes the end-product more suited for home video than a full-fledged television program in the 21st century.
As such, it never aired on BET and it fact has only aired on broadcast TV on an Australian kids TV channel.
ULTRAFORCE (1995)5 of 12As discussed in our "best" animated series countdown, there are a couple of inalienable truths about comic book-based cartoons in the '90s – a lot of independent comics managed to get their own shows, and the X-Men series was really popular.
Both of those factors probably explain the odd existence of Ultraforce, an animated series that ran for 13 episodes in 1995. Clearly attempting to capitalize on the success of X-Men, the opening sequence was practically identical, showcasing each member displaying their power, followed by a logo featuring the character name.
Though one of many successful non-Marvel/non-DC superhero teams of the '90s boom, there wasn't even that much Ultraforce material to draw on for a cartoon the comic started the year before, right around the time publisher Malibu Comics went under. The properties were acquired by Marvel, but have been in legal limbo for years – though you don't hear people asking about Ultraforce nearly as much as you do, say, Marvelman.
AVENGERS: UNITED THEY STAND (1999)6 of 12It was the West Coast Avengers. In terrible armored costumes. In the future.
If that's not enough for you to understand why Avengers: United They Stand only lasted one 13-episode season, let's focus on the villains for a moment, shall we? With the entire stable of Avengers villains that were available to them, the big bad of the season was... the Zodiac. Eggman and Whirlwind also made appearances, along with everyone's favorite: Dragonfly.
Iron Man and Captain America were each in one episode, and Thor was in the opening titles but not ever on the show itself.
Once again: West Coast Avengers. In terrible armored costumes. In the future. If we somehow didn't undersell this show to you enough, you can watch it all on Marvel.com.
WILDC.A.T.S./SAVAGE DRAGON/YOUNGBLOOD/CYBERFORCE (Mid '90s)7 of 12Okay, to be fair, two of these (Cyberforce and Youngblood) were never actually produced and Savage Dragon lasted 26 episodes and generally wasn't half-bad. We're just lumping them all together due to the legacy (or lack thereof) of Image Comics animated programs in the mid-1990s.
MTV's The Maxx and HBO's Spawn fared a bit better, because they were created for more mature audiences, but considering the hold Image and their creators had on the comic book/pop culture world during the era, to not have more to show on the animated front in the Image time capsule is something of a black mark.
SWAMP THING (1991)8 of 12A lot of '90s comic book-based cartoons had great theme songs. Then there was Swamp Thing, which had an opening number that went a little something like this:
You are amazing.
You fight everything... nasty.
Swamp Thing, Earth really needs you.
Yeah. And this came just years after Alan Moore's seminal run on the character, which changed the comic book game and thoughtfully pondered the very nature of existence while exploring issues traditionally off-limits in mainstream titles. Pretty much the same tone, right?
SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED (1999)9 of 12At the same time that Avengers: United They Stand was commissioned, this series also had 13 episodes, though when it first premiered on Fox Kids, it was pulled after a couple of episodes... for Avengers.
While Fox did eventually air the full 13 episode season, the show, which took place on Counter-Earth and featured a suit that, frankly, has a lot of the same properties as some of the new suits Peter Parker has developed in recent comics (also a lot of the same properties as the very-popular-at-the-time-Batman Beyond, coincidentally or not), somehow never caught on.
The show has its cult following, but it's not likely you'll ever see the Beastials popping up into regular Marvel continuity. Still, it had its redeeming qualities, like Jennifer Hale as Mary Jane Watson and its use of Machine Man.
FRED AND BARNEY MEET THE THING (1979)10 of 12Yeah, sorry, it isn't getting the top (worst) for the previously stated reason but to make up for that we're counting it twice...
"Thing ring," really?
FANTASTIC FOUR (1978)11 of 12Remarkably, as knuckle-headed as it was, The Thing isn't even the most infamous animated butchering of Marvel's First Family.
That honor belongs to this 1978 series that will forever be remembered for replacing the Human Torch with robot sidekick H.E.R.B.I.E." Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics, for whomever's wondering.
For years, urban legend maintained the Torch was excised from the show (despite being present in a late '60s version) because NBC executives didn't want to encourage impressionable young boys to light themselves on fire, but the real explanation is apparently much less cool than that the rights to the characters were tied up in a proposed-but-never-produced Human Torch TV pilot.
Despite a stable of hundreds of Marvel characters presumably available for a replacement (how awesome would Power Man have been?), H.E.R.B.I.E. was no doubt created due to the popularity of robot sidekicks during the late '70s (see: R2-D2 and C-3PO).
Only 13 episodes were produced, the least by far of the four Fantastic Four animated series, yet it remains the most well known in a landslide.
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