Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I...Am...LIST MAN!

Erik The Awesome's Personal Top 5 Superhero Shows of All Time

I love superheroes. I love cartoons. I really love superhero cartoons. Getting right to the point, the following is my personal list of the best superhero cartoons of all time.

#5. The Tick
OK, so I'm kicking off with an unorthodox show. The fact that it's unorthodox is not what put it low on the list; if that were the criteria, it wouldn't even be on the list; just that it's a good show, full of great laughs and deserving of mention here. The characters were wonderful, the voice work was delightfully corny and, while the animation wasn't always great, it was always a treat to watch.

#4 The Batman/Batman The Brave and The Bold
Having too hard a time deciding which of these shows I liked more, I decided they would share 4th place on the list. The Batman has a love it or hate it reaction from a lot of fans; I loved it do death. The writing is extremely clever and while under stricter censorship than what it had to live up to, it still managed to be a very solid show. The animation is also consistently fantastic. Not a single shot in the series 5-season run is poorly animated (which is actually more than I can say for the animation of its predecessor).
The Brave and The Bold looked at the dark, brooding character and took a total 180 in the vain of the Adam West incarnation. Did it work? You better believe it did. From the moment I heard of the show, I was extremely skeptical. When I watched the pilot, I laughed my ass off several times and my doubt was gone. We've gotten our dark Batman in two very good shows already, so there's no harm in playing with something so different. In fact, we ended up with some of the best humour to ever come out of a child-appropriate cartoon.

#3 Young Justice
Being a very recent show, it's a bit surprising how strongly I feel it deserves this spot. Right from the beginning, we had very creative and clever writing, with fantastic character interactions, great animation and a solid musical score. Among the internet, I've noticed a lot of flak for Superboy's shallow characterization in the series. Considering the series is still young, I can certainly forgive undeveloped characters since there has, after all, been little time for them to develop.
Plus, I think it's unreasonable to expect a clone of Superman to be a good character.
Robin is awesome, Kid Flash is awesome, Artemis is awesome and Aqualad is awesome. Could we ask for more from the others? Sure, but I don't think we're in dire need of more.

#2 The Spectacular Spider-Man
I can't stress enough just how much I really want to give this show first place on the list. It is without a doubt my personal favourite superhero cartoon to watch, but I'm trying to be reasonably objective.
So where to start with this? Everything that went into this show is absolutely fantastic. Sean Galloway gave it a simple but appealing art style which paved the way for some kick-ass animation. The voice cast is full of wonderful talents, all giving great performances; Josh Keaton as Spidey, John DiMaggio as Hammerhead and Sandman, Clancy Brown as Captain Stacy, Daran Norris as J. Jonah Jameson, Kevin Michael Richardson as Tombstone, Vanessa Marshall as MJ, Steven Blum as Green Goblin, etc., etc..
And that wonderful cast was backed up by some of the best sound design I've ever experienced in a television show. Every last audio cue is so perfectly appropriate. The villains even all had a 'signature sound': Goblin's screaming pumpkin bombs, Doc Ock's hydraulics, Shocker's...shockers, and so on.
But the main deciding point of a show's quality is, of course, the writing. Hot damn did this show have some amazing writing. With extremely clever interlocking between seemingly self-contained episodes, tons of setup and exposition for every character, beautifully integrated overarching themes...this series was nothing short of a masterpiece. Had it survived passed a second season, there's no doubt in my mind that it could have cemented the top spot on this list.
It frustrates me to no end how I so often come to find people who have never even heard of this show. Multiple times lately when I've brought it up, I get a brief pause followed by “Oh, you mean the computer animated one?”...NO!*

#1 Batman The Animated Series
You had to have seen this one coming. Not only one of the best cartoons of all time but also one of the most influential; Batman The Animated Series deserves this spot even if it's not my personal favourite.
There are only 2, extremely minor, gripes I have with the series:
  1. When this show was still in its early days, the animation wasn't anything too great.
  2. Again in the early days, there was no continuity in the show. Characters would suddenly show up without any setup (Robin/Dick Grayson being the particularly glaring example).
Other than that, this show was incredible. Dark, emotional, clever and at times downright heart-wrenching, this series has some of the best writing you'll ever encounter in not just cartoons but television as a whole.
Spanning nearly a decade's-worth of episodes, if you take into account the rebrandings of the series (The Adventures of Batman & Robin, The New Batman Adventures) it's obvious this show was a big deal. It created the ground work for the modern DCAU, allowing an opening for Superman The Animated Series, setting up Batman Beyond and leading right into Justice League.
It's also among the earliest examples in modern cartoons, especially superhero cartoons, to show that animation is most definitely not strictly a medium for entertaining children.
Batman The Animated Series is one of those rare examples of a show that actually deserves the unprecedented amount of praise directed at it.
Where Spectacular Spider-Man was a masterpiece, Batman The Animated Series is that and then some; a lasting masterpiece, one of the most successful and influential superhero cartoons of all time and a television series of the highest calibre.

And now for an additional treat:

The Top 5 Superhero Shows With Wasted Potential

There were other shows I wanted to at least address in this post and this seemed like a fun list to make.

#5 Iron Man: Armored Adventures
I have nothing against re-imagining a hero, though I have to admit the lack of an alcoholic, womanizing Tony Stark is part of what makes this show unappealing; but I can back that up because it basically turned Tony into a very basic, stereotypical teen hero. He became Peter Parker only without the wit...so he basically became Toby Macguire.
Other than that, the animation is dull. The character designs don't compliment the cel-shading and the bright, colourful look didn't fit in with the themes of the series.
The characters' personalities were just as dull.
It's not a bad show, it just does everything so conservatively and safe, basically placing itself in a permanent state of mediocrity.

#4 Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, AKA MTV Spider-Man
*This is the computer animated one. Spanning only a single season and making a poor effort to blend the live-action movies with elements of the Ultimate Universe, this show was a pretty flawed concept from the start.
Despite being an extension of the Sam Raimi films' universe, the character designs are derived from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. In this case, the designs do compliment the cel-shaded look but not the concept or writing.
The plots were relatively dull, the animation was mediocre and the characters were eternally one-note. All in all...it just wasn't very good. Cutting the ties to the live-action films and bringing in a stronger writing team would have improved the series greatly.

#3 Wolverine and the X-Men
I have an unusual relationship with X-Men cartoons. I've enjoyed, to some extent, all 3 that I've seen (The Animated Series, Evolution and the subject at hand) but I never find myself caring to keep up with them. In this case, that feeling was multiplied a good ten-fold.
The characters were dull, the animation was mediocre, and the plot threads were tedious and uninteresting, often giving far too much of a spotlight on individual characters which only served to highlight their lack of depth.
It doesn't help that I hated the art style from the start too and it never grew on me. It seemed like the characters were designed halfway between DCAU and Teen Titans. The problem with the Teen Titans stylization is that it just doesn't work unless you go all out with it; Transformers Animated being a good example (also being animated by the Teen Titans team).

#2 The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes
Honestly, you could take my comments on Wolverine and the X-Men, change the names and they'd be an accurate description of our new Avengers series here. Except for the art style bit; it is stylized, but not in the Teen Titans way.
I've read a lot of flak for the voicework on this series and oddly, coming from somebody with a lot of respect for voice acting, I don't see the problem. If anything, the voicework is the most redeeming quality the show has.
This is the kind of show I watch only when I have absolutely nothing else to do.

#1 Spider-Man The Animated Series
Our friendly neighbourhood web-slinger is getting a lot of attention in these lists. Like any 90's kid, I watched quite a bit of this show. Now, I have a hard time stomaching it.
The series started out pretty solid but plummeted very far, very fast. The animation is bad, the voicework is bad, the writing is bad, the music...well, the music is pretty good, but still.
Like pretty much everything else on this secondary list, Spider-Man The Animated Series could have been greatly improved by a healthy dose of better animation and stronger writing.

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