While there are some fans who got to know their favorite superheroes through the pages of the a comic book, others grew up watching famous superheroes through morning cartoons. Now, while, for the most part, these cartoons never quite reached the same depth as the comics, they still managed to get a lot quite right with some of the characters surpassing their comic book counterparts in regards to strength and their ability to evoke powerful emotions.
There’s a reason for this. Aside from the fact that most cartoons are made for kids, most things you see on television are made to be relatable on some level. That’s why Superman: The Animated Series had to give us a more vulnerable Superman (voiced by Tim Daly), so we could relate just a little bit more; something the comics have had to adjust several times. Obviously, these changes don’t always work and may even seem a little unnecessary. We’ve decided to take a closer look at that by going through the cartoon adaptations that outdid their comic book counterparts, as well as those animated adaptations that just couldn’t seem to get it right. Here are 7 animated characters better than their comic counterparts and 8 that are way worse.
15. BETTER: SPIDER-MAN
Spidey is the model superhero when you’re looking at comic book characters that are relatable to the audience. He’s got fantastic powers, but other than that, he’s just a regular guy trying to earn a living and be there for the people he loves. We can see him struggling to balance his career, social life and responsibilities.
Regardless of whether or not someone has extraordinary powers, that’s a difficult thing to do and Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which ran from 1994 to 1998, showed us that as kids while the comics were going through a phase of subpar storylines like “Maximum Carnage” and the “Clone Saga,” neither of which had any particularly relatable moments, unless you’re one of those people who have struggled with differentiating yourself from your clone. Let’s face it, you’re probably not.
14. WORSE: VENOM
Eddie Brock, even in his animated adaptations, is quite a dark character. Of course, when you adapt a character for a cartoon made primarily for kids, you can’t very well have him committing the same acts as his comic book counterpart. For example, in his first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #299 (written by David Michelinie, artwork by Todd McFarlane), he breaks into Peter’s house and effectively traumatizes Mary-Jane.
While you could argue that the essence of Venom remains in the cartoon adaptation of Eddie Brock (voiced by Hank Azaria), his character just doesn’t have the same impact on the audience as his comic book counterpart. He’s still the dark reflection of Spider-Man, but in comparison, he’s just a nuisance in the show, as opposed to the formidable threat that his comic book counterpart proves himself to be.
13. BETTER: ELECTRO
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series likely wouldn’t impress anyone in regards to the quality of its animation; some of its writing, however, just has to be praised. Based on the world of the 2002 film, Spider-Man (directed by Sam Raimi), the series successfully maintains a more mature atmosphere than that of most other animated Spider-Man shows.
A perfect example is the show’s depiction of Max Dillon, better known as Electro (voiced by Ethan Embry). His comic book counterpart was usually seen trying to destroy the city while sporting bright yellow and green spandex. His depiction in the show was a little more horrifying (albeit, nearly as outrageous) and shockingly impactful when you see how and why he got his powers. His character is the crux of a message about bullying and revenge, which is more than his comic book counterpart was ever able to be.
12. WORSE: BANE
Bane is much more than just the muscle-bound tank of a villain he appears to be. His comic book origin is both deep and thought-provoking. He has a tragic background and while his actions are undeniably villainous, we can understand the reasoning behind it. In fact, to some, it might even be kind of inspiring. He conquers fear and to that end, must break the Batman.
His animated adaptation in Batman: The Animated Series doesn’t really delve too deeply into his origin and we’re left with a relatively thin villain, criticized for being treated as little more than a gimmick character in who turns to other villains like The Riddler and Mad Hatter for help, like he did in “Knight Time.” In that episode, the Batman goes missing and Bane (voiced by Henry Silva and Hector Elizondo), though displaying great intellect, is nevertheless defeated by Superman, disguised as Batman. There are many things the show got right, unfortunately Bane wasn’t one of them.
11. WORSE: IRON MAN
As we mentioned, cartoons are made for kids and showing them a brooding, alcoholic Tony Stark wouldn’t exactly be appropriate. That being said, most animated adaptations of Iron Man tend to fail at capturing the essence of character, leaving us with a billionaire genius with none of the personality issues that made him so interesting and powerful as a character.
Take Marvel’s Avengers Assemble for example, wherein Tony Stark (voiced by Adrian Pasdar) is depicted as a much less complex character, struggling only with his own ego as opposed to the forward thinking genius, plagued by deep-seated insecurity issues, driving him toward the vices we all know him to have in the comics. It begs the questioning of whether or not it’s worth it, having another thinly written animated Iron Man just so you can have a show about the Avengers. You could, but don’t expect any praise for his depiction here.
10. BETTER: MISTER FREEZE
All you need to do to see why the Batman: The Animated Series adaptation of Mister Freeze was better is take a look at the character prior to the show. When the comics introduced the character of Mister Freeze back in 1959 with Batman #121 (written by Bill Finger, artwork by Sheldon Moldoff and others), he called himself Mister Zero and became a villain after creating a cryogenic weapon that backfired, turning him into a cryogenic baddie. This was back when Batman had a rogues gallery made up of villains that were intended to be funny. That changed with Batman: The Animated Series.
Paul Dini introduced a more tragic villain to the Batman franchise. The award-winning episode, “Heart of Ice,” in which we see Fries (voiced by Michael Ansara) struggling to save his wife before being turned into the cold-hearted villain by the greed and reckless behavior of Ferris Boyle. It was because of the animated adaptation of the character that DC revamped Mister Freeze’s origin.
9. WORSE: WOLVERINE
It’s nearly impossible to properly adapt a character as violent as Wolverine for kids without sacrificing a few qualities. Wolverine (voiced by Cathal J. Dodd) from X-Men: The Animated Series, came pretty close to getting it right. He was still the coarse, brooding loner that quickly rose in popularity during the early 90s’. Much like his comic book counterpart, he often wandered the world on his own, searching for answers, trying to piece his past back together.
In almost every way, it was a great adaptation. Unfortunately, owing to the fact that Fox Kids obviously wasn’t allowed to air shows with bloodshed in them or real violence against anything that wasn’t a robot, Wolverine’s dark side was never fully developed, though it was often alluded to. That animal is a huge part of Wolverine and we just weren’t able to see that, which is why the comics will always be superior to that animated adaptation.
8. BETTER: CLAYFACE
There was a lot of criticism for the The Batman, which seemed to be an attempt to create a child-friendly middleground of sorts between the dark, gritty atmosphere of the modern Batman comics and the over-the-top mythos that preceded it. While it had its fair share of disappointing adaptations of well-known villains, there were a few worth watching.
The Batman created a new Clayface by having Joker turn former GCPD officer, Ethan Bennett (voiced by Steve Harris), into a terrifying monster through a storyline told in the episodes, “The Rubberface of Comedy” and “The Clayface of Tragedy” (written by Greg Weisman). Giving Ethan a more tragic backstory made for a more compelling character, more so than the original Basil Karlo (who would appear later on in the show) or most of the other Clayfaces introduced in the comics over the years, most of which were just bad guys even before they acquired their powers.
7. WORSE: HULK
The Incredible Hulk series of 1996 began with a relatively dark tone and was able to show how destructive the Hulk could be without actually showing him hurt anyone… at least, no one without superpowers. That being said, as a character, the animated series failed to convey the struggle Banner (voiced by Neal McDonough with Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk) had with the green monster inside him the way the comics did. It’s understandable, since the primary antagonist was the Leader and you couldn’t really show kids that their favorite Avenger was actually a terrible creature.
It didn’t get better later on in the second season when the series adopted a lighter tone and became The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk and shifted focus toward She-Hulk. Ultimately, what you ended up with was a thinly written character who was fun for kids, but nothing compared to what the comics had in store.
6. BETTER: MAGNETO
The X-Men were originally a young group of teens with extraordinary powers, trying to find acceptance in the world. To match their colorful team, a powerful villain was written for them, one with control over metal and magnetic fields. While the villain has grown as a character over the years but despite having a compelling history, he was never quite as powerful as a character as he could have been.
Meanwhile, X-Men: Evolution was able to depict Magneto (voiced by Christopher Judge) as someone who was both chilling as a villain and complex as a character. In the beginning, he is depicted as being more of a mysterious entity, and over the course of the series is shown to be more complex, especially after the introduction of his daughter, Wanda Maximoff in the episode, “The Hex Factor” (written by Cydne Clark and Steve Granat), all the while maintaining that air of darkness around him, something the comics used to struggle with, forcing the character to appear as more of an extremist than anything else.
5. WORSE: HAWKEYE
This particular adaptation of Hawkeye and his comic book counterpart share one thing in common: while they are heroic and self-sacrificing, they’re both a little too carefree and reckless. The difference is that comic book Hawkeye actually develops as a character. He began as a villain (albeit a hesitant one) and is now a respected hero, despite generally having no superpowers.
The animated Hawkeye (voiced by Troy Baker) of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble doesn’t seem to change out of a need for him to be the funny guy in the group. The show is aimed at kids, so it might be understandable for the character to remain relatively simple. It’s just a shame because Hawkeye doesn’t get adapted a whole lot, certainly not as much as his fellow avengers.
4. BETTER: ANGEL
The mutant known as Angel has been in comics since the beginning of the X-Men, but his life as Warren Worthington III has never been as well developed as we’d like. In earlier comics, there was tension between him and the rest of the X-Men since he was a bit rebellious and continued to live the billionaire playboy lifestyle. That changed when his father was killed in Ka-Zar #2 (written by Jerry Siegel, illustrated by George Tuska and more) and his character began to really grow.
Wolverine and the X-Men managed to develop Angel (voiced by Liam O’Brien) just a little further in its brief run. They shortened a couple of storylines, hinted at his backstory but just enough for a huge emotional payoff in “Guardian Angel” (written by Boyd Kirkland), in which he is turned into Archangel after his wings were removed without his consent. In just a few episodes, the show was able to make Angel more impactful as a character than the comics.
3. WORSE: DEATHSTROKE
The Wade Wilson we’ve come to know over the years in the comics operates while abiding my his own personal code, although, he has been known to abandon that code completely from time to time. He’s a highly trained, super intelligent mercenary whose mind was warped by the experiment that turned him into the warrior he is. While he’s usually seen as a villain, he’s no stranger to heroism, especially in more recent comics. He’s an antihero, not just another deranged villain from Batman’s rogues gallery.
Beware the Batman ignored that rich backstory and the character’s complexities, opting for a more simplistic approach. Slade Wilson (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes) was a CIA agent before becoming a student of Alfred (who, in the show, was a member of MI6). He proved to be too violent, forcing his superiors to discharge him. They kept the character’s powers and costume but that’s more or less everything they kept from the comics. What you end up with is a vastly inferior version of Deathstroke who seems to be driven by jealousy.
2. BETTER: TEEN TITANS
The roster that makes up the Teen Titans in the 2003 animated series, based on the New Teen Titans series, differed from the team in the comics at the time. Where the show had Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and Cyborg, the comics had Superboy, Wonder Girl and Impulse with Raven returning to the team later on. While the comics appealed to teens (which was the series’ intended audience anyway), the show managed to attract a wider audience, which is why it was able to develop a darker tone in later seasons.
A good indicator of this is the fact that the comics have adopted quite a few things from the show. For example, Beast Boy and Raven adopted their animated counterparts’ costumes in DC’s “New 52” and several villains such as Cinderblock have appeared in the comics, pretty much proving that while the comics were awesome, the show just did the Teen Titans and their world better.
1. WORSE: JOKER
The Joker is a tough character to get right outside of the comics and while there have been some pretty successful adaptations of him, his depiction in The Batman was pretty far from being right. That being said, you have to give credit to the show for being bold enough to try something new with the character.
He’s got jokes and he’s definitely a homicidal lunatic, but he just doesn’t have the same kind of panache or murderous humor that made the comic book Joker so great. The comics often portray him as the clown you see in your nightmares but with elegance and style, whereas Joker (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) in The Batman unfortunately leans more toward the kind of clowns you see in the circus. It doesn’t help that he was drawn to look like the result of a love affair between a joker playing card and an ape.
Are there any adaptations you were pleasantly surprised or disappointed by? Tell us in the comments!
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