Animation has been a popular medium for storytelling since it first debuted in the early 1900s. Comic book properties are a perfect fit for animation because animation, unlike any other medium, can truly show the spectacle of what happens on the comic book page.
This is Part III of The Superhero Invasion, focusing on animation through the 1980s.
Animation as an art form began in the early 1900s. By rapidly showing a series of hand-drawn images in rapid succession, animation could tell stories in a new way. Animation has become a predominant form of telling stories, with major studios like the Walt Disney Company starting as an animation studio.
Superhero characters have been adapted to the screen through animation since their inception. Superman had a series of serial of 17 animated films in the 1940s drawn by Fleischer Animation and would have several animated television shows in the 1960s.
Superman was included in his own show, as well as separate animated shows with Batman and Aquaman.
Superman would continue to be a man feature of the famous “Super Friends” series of cartoons, which featured the regular characters of Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Other popular DC Comics superheroes would often appear as guests, including the Flash, Green Arrow and Green Lantern, among many others. The show also created several new characters, like the Wonder Twins, Wendy and Marvin Harris and their dog, Wonder Dog.
“Super Friends” was generally a very silly show, and features the heroes getting into childish but still incredibly fun adventures. It also featured many goofy moments specifically for Aquaman, who could be seen riding two dolphins at the same time and generally being useless when above water.
“Super Friends” ran in some form from 1973 to 1986 with over 100 episodes. Different seasons took different subtitles, but all were made by Hannah Barbara, the company who famously made “Scooby-Doo.”
Spider-Man was another character who received many cartoons from the 1960s to the 1980s. His first series starting in 1967 is primarily remembered for two things, its theme song, and its terribly low budget. Featuring the lyrics “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can” this song has been synonymous with the character and has been homaged and parodies since its inception.
Next, in the early 1980s, Spider-Man got a much more famous cartoon, again named “Spider-Man” which lead to the sequel animated show, “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.” This show featured Spider-Man fighting alongside Iceman and new character Firestar, as they all lived with Aunt May and went to college.
The character of Firestar would prove so popular that she would transition to the comic books in the mid-1980s.
Other shows included an animated continuation of Adam West’s Batman live action show titled “The New Adventures of Batman” with Adam West reprising his role as the caped crusader and Burt Ward reprising his role as Robin, the boy wonder.
While the quality of the animated shows of this time varied, they were able to show comic book characters the most accurate to their source material. The very essence of animation allows for more outlandish and less restricted actions versus live action adaptations.