If you think about it, when trying to bring superheroes and villains to life, your best bet is to do it through animation. As epic as we all know superhero films can be, they’ll always require more money and effort than animated features or television shows, even if they’re telling the same story. Live-action television shows tend to have similar issues with budget and effort though it has to be said that they’ve improved greatly in recent years.
That being said, we’ve decided to take a look through some of the best animated adaptations of our favorite superheroes and villains from both DC and Marvel. These are the adaptations that fully captured what the characters and their worlds were all about.
15. DOCTOR DOOM (THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES)
Victor Von Doom rules Latveria with a titanium fist. Since “Fantastic Four” #5 (written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby), Doom has been one of the Fantastic Four’s greatest foes. He’s Reed Richard’s intellectual equal, he’s surprisingly strong and he has experience with the mystic arts. While at first glance he might appear to just be another run of the mill villain made to look scary and fight the good guys, Doom always has larger goals.
If we’re looking for an animated series or film that captures all his qualities, the best adaptation of the character has to be in “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” (in which he’s voiced by Lex Lang). Just look at the episode, “The Private War of Doctor Doom” (written by Christopher Yost) in which he proves that he’s more than capable of taking on the titular group of heroes (and then some!). However, he lets them all go and it’s revealed that he had his reasons for capturing the Wasp and Invisible Woman, reasons both the Avengers and Fantastic Four could never have guessed.
14. GAMBIT (X-MEN EVOLUTION)
We know Gambit to be a cajun with a talent for blowing stuff up and charming the ladies almost effortlessly. In the comics, he really grows from that mysterious thief who rescued Storm to a loyal, powerful member of the X-Men. Though we come to know him as a good guy, over the years he’s constantly been distrusted by others, even his beloved Rogue.
In the long-running “X-Men: The Animated Series” in which he was voiced by Chris Potter and later by Tony Daniels, Gambit was just a bit more goofy than comic fans were used to. That’s why we have to turn to “X-Men: Evolution,” in which he was voiced by Alessandro Juliani. As with most of the characters in the show, his origin story was a little different but the essence of his character is there. We see a younger Remy LeBeau, still walking that thin line between righteous mutant and dangerous villain. He’s a manipulative thief, but someone you can’t help but feel sympathetic toward. The best example of this is in “Cajun Spice” (written by Michael Merton and Greg Johnson).
13. GREEN GOBLIN (SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
The Green Goblin is a villainous figure who has long haunted the Osborn family since Norman was first exposed to the Goblin formula in “Amazing Spider-Man” #37 (written by Stan Lee, illustrated by Steve Ditko). With his bag of tricks and deadly glider, Goblin has hounded Spidey with his destructive insanity. It’s difficult to depict this character for kids’ without making him too much of a cartoon character.
“Spider-Man: The Animated Series” (where he was voiced by Neil Ross) undoubtedly did the best job. It was all in the details, from Harry’s complicated relationship with his father to Harry’s rehabilitation, the show did a great job at depicting him as the villain he is while still maintaining enough of his humanity that we still feel sorry for them both, attributing most if not all the evil to the Goblin and not entirely to Norman Osborn. This was perhaps best shown in the episode “Turning Point” (written by John Semper Jr. and others) where all that humanity shows up just in time to remind Spidey that Norman is not a complete monster.
12. APOCALYPSE (X-MEN: EVOLUTION)
En Sabah Nur first appeared in “X-Factor” #6 (written by Louise Simonson, illustrated by Jackson Guice and others), designed to be the worst of the worst when it came to threats to human and mutantkind. He’s ancient and immensely powerful. The whole world shudders whenever he returns, as things do when a guy known as Apocalypse threatens to weed out the weak from the strong.
He’s only appeared a few times outside of the comics (not counting video games) and while it’d be difficult to get a character like Apocalypse wrong, there’s only one that successfully made him seem as though he would bring about the end of the world. He doesn’t have many lines in “X-Men: Evolution” (in which he’s voiced by David Kaye), but it’s clear he doesn’t need them. While in “X-Men: The Animated Series” (where he was voiced by John Colicos and James Blendick) he was shown to be powerful, he never quite felt like a real threat. In “X-Men: Evolution,” the X-Men and Brotherhood’s discovery of En Sabah Nur’s past and the build up to his appearance, all helped to give him an almost god-like presence, fitting of the name Apocalypse.
11. VENOM (SPIDER-MAN: TAS)
When “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” was still on TV, Venom was the most popular “Spider-Man” character, according to John Semper Jr. That’s why they began building up to Eddie Brock’s transformation from the very beginning. Like most of the series, this adaptation of Venom (voiced by Hank Azaria) remained relatively faithful to the comics. Everything in its adaptation was spot-on, from Brock’s hatred of Spider-Man to his way of coping with the collapse of his life through excessive exercise.
Venom has appeared in several animated shows over the years but none have been able to capture his darkness and contrast it properly with his arch-nemesis the way the 1994 animated series did. Take “Spider-Man: Unlimited” for example. Venom had a larger role in that, along with Carnage, but his character had been reduced to a two-dimensional villain who just wanted to flood Counter-Earth with symbiotes. Though later series such as “Spectacular Spider-Man” or “Ultimate Spider-Man” would try to include Venom, they just couldn’t bring the same depth to him as that first series.
10. ANGEL (WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN)
Angel first appeared in “X-Men” #1 and was initially just another wealthy playboy (albeit with giant wings). He’s definitely grown from that character into one with more depth, especially after being turned into Archangel by Apocalypse. The film, “X-Men: The Last Stand” (directed by Brett Ratner) didn’t quite do the character justice. While other adaptations have done much better, none of them can really compare to his depiction in “Wolverine and the X-Men” in which he was voiced by Liam O’Brian.
Throughout the series, Warren is shown to be a loyal member of the X-Men, using his wealth to help mutants all over. He’s confident but hounded by his own issues, like his father for example. His best appearance is in the episode, “Guardian Angel” (written by Greg Johnson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost and Boyd Kirkland) in which his wings are taken from him and in his desperation, he turns to Mister Sinister. It’s a powerfully emotional episode that perfectly captures the brooding character we’ve come to know in recent years.
9. DEATHSTROKE (TEEN TITANS)
Slade Wilson is a highly-trained warrior who’s taken on some of DC’s most powerful heroes and villains and walked away the victor, like when he took on the Justice League by himself in the “Identity Crisis” storyline. In the comics, he uses his intellect as much as his well-honed physical skills, which is one of the reasons we loved his portrayal in the “Teen Titans” animated series.
In the series, he’s referred to as Slade as opposed to Deathstroke. It is a kids’ show after all. They’ve changed certain things about him, but for the most part, he’s still the same formidable adversary he is in the comics. He’s more manipulative in the series, though, preferring to work from the shadows as opposed to heading over to Titans tower and taking them head-on. In the show, he successfully manipulates Robin into turning against the Titans and returned from the dead. He’s a different kind of villain but the essence of Deathstroke is most certainly still there, as a deadly foe on every front.
8. BLACK PANTHER (BLACK PANTHER)
T’Challa inherited the kingdom of Wakanda after his father was assassinated by Ulysses Klaw. With it, he also inherited the title of the Black Panther. There have been a few changes here and there but it’s an origin story we’ve only seen adapted a few times. Some have been slightly more believable, like in “Captain America: Civil War” (directed by Joe and Anthony Russo), some a little less believable, like in the animated film “Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther” in which his father was killed by a chitauri disguised as a Nazi commander.
The best animated depiction of Black Panther so far has been in the miniseries, “Black Panther,” in which he was voiced by Djimon Hounsou. The series, only six episodes long, focuses on Black Panther as a king and not just a fighter. He has to fight against his own royal court as well as the assault on his nation led by Klaw. It’s a pretty gritty portrayal, which really works with the character. He’s a king but he doesn’t shy away from the dirty work. That’s something most other portrayals don’t really show.
7. GREEN LANTERN (JLU)
Green Lantern, specifically John Stewart, was originally selected by the Guardians when Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner were both incapacitated. Stewart is a former Marine who had a bit of a problem with authority in earlier comics. While Hal Jordan thought it would be a problem, for which he was chastised, Stewart proved him wrong over time and even went on to replace Jordan in the Justice League.
John Stewart definitely hasn’t appeared as often as Hal, but out of the two, he’s arguably the stronger character. You can see this in the “Justice League” animated series, in which he’s voiced by Phil Lamarr. He’s depicted as being strong, level-headed and a natural leader– someone you can definitely imagine has the strength of will worthy of wearing a power ring. Even without his ring, he proved to be a worthy combatant in the three part episode, “The Savage Time,” (written by Stan Berkowitz). If you’re looking for depth and a character you can really feel happy for in the rare moments of tranquility, DCAU Stewart is your guy.
6. SPIDER-MAN (SPIDER-MAN: TAS)
Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962 and he’s been one of the most recognizable and enduring members of the Marvel Universe ever since. The reason for that is that he’s not like other heroes. He was an average guy before being bitten by that radioactive spider but he became a dedicated defender of the innocent afterward. He’s not the strongest, he’s not even the most intelligent (though he is up there), but he’s committed. He also stops at nothing to do right by his loved ones.
It’s that perfect mix of sentiment and action that makes his comic book and television series so great. That perfect mix is why “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” worked so well. He had his sharp wit, he fought a lot of bad guys and he had his intense emotional moments, like the conclusion of the two-part episode, “The Return of Hydro-Man” (written by John Semper and Meg McLaughlin). In it, he loses Mary-Jane a second time, and, in no small part thanks to the talented Christopher Daniel Barnes, the pain he feels is abundantly clear. It’s moments like that which show us why we enjoy Spider-Man as a character.
5. MISTER FREEZE (BTAS)
It would have been difficult to imagine that a villain by the name of Mr. Zero would become one of the most enduring, heartbreaking characters in the “Batman” mythos. Thanks to Paul Dini’s “Batman: The Animated Series,” he was given a different origin, one that was tragic and powerful. He was a scientist working on a cure for his terminally ill wife. When the CEO of GothCorp, Ferris Boyle, attempted to put a stop to it and a fight ensued, he kicked Fries into a table full of chemicals, which turned Victor into Mister Freeze.
There have been several attempts at re-imagining Freeze for animated shows. Just one example is in “The Batman,” which depicted him as more of a criminal and monster. “Young Justice,” in which he appears in just two episodes, casts him as more human, but still as essentially just another villain. His best depiction of course is in “Batman: The Animated Series,” in which he’s voiced by Michael Ansara, who gives him a fittingly cold voice. There, he’s the perfect blend of human and monster, one you can’t help feeling sorry for and sometimes rooting for.
4. SUPERMAN (JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM)
For decades, Clark Kent has been the iconic force for good: using his awesome powers to defend innocents from evil and injustice. This is a guy who could easily destroy the world if he wanted to. Batman himself said as much in “Batman” #612 (written by Jeph Loeb, illustrated by Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair) when he fought a Poison Ivy-controlled Superman and in his own thoughts, he says, “Deep down, Clark’s essentially a good person… and deep down, I’m not.”
So, which of the many animated features depicts Clark Kent the best? While the “Justice League” animated series and various other animated features have all done a great job at depicting the man of steel, we’re going to have to go with his depiction in 2012s’ “Justice League: Doom.” What’s great about it isn’t just the moments in which he’s fighting, it’s what he does when he isn’t, like when he stopped a former journalist from committing suicide or when he trusted Batman with a weapon that could kill him. It shows much more humanity than a lot of other heroes, which is ironic, given how god-like he can be.
3. WOLVERINE (WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN)
He’s an animal. He’s a tortured soul. He’s the best he is at what he does. That’s how we grew to know him in the comics, from his first appearance taking on the Hulk in “The Incredible Hulk” #181 (written by Len Wein, artwork by Herb Trimpe, Jack Abel and Glynis Wein), to his very last rampage as Wolverine in the “Death of Wolverine” story arc. Most adaptations tend to focus on that coarser side of his character to keep that air of mystery around him, and to (appropriately) paint him as a super-hard badass!
“Wolverine and the X-Men” (in which he’s voiced by Steve Blum) focused on him differently. In it, we got a closer look at his character as a reluctant leader, doing what needs to be done. He admits that he’s a monster in “Guardian Angel” and we see an even softer side to him in “Stolen Lives” (written by Joshua Fine) when he reconnects with his past and an old lover. That’s not something we saw a lot of in other shows like “X-Men: Evolution” and “X-Men: The Animated Series,” which, while undeniably deep at times, never quite had the same emotional impact.
2. BATMAN (BTAS)
The Batman comics are dark. They’ve ranged in their grit over the decades, with the Dark Knight being given more depth and dimension than either pure noir horror or outright camp. His villains have similarly benefitted, garnering relatable, tragic reasons behind their villainy, like Mister Freeze and the tragically manipulated Harley Quinn. And Batman? Well, fittingly, Batman turned from that smiling blue-caped vigilante to Gotham’s Dark Knight, cloaked in shadow and constantly fighting a city whose underworld threatens to break him.
“Batman: The Animated Series” (where he’s voiced by the one and only Kevin Conroy) did everything right when they brought maturity to Batman and Gotham. Where other animated features such as “The Batman” and “Beware the Batman” opted for more colorful depictions of Bruce Wayne, “Batman: The Animated Series” stayed true to the comics and gave us a Batman that was understandably frightening to his enemies without losing the Bruce Wayne persona. He could still play coy, stereotypically rich and arrogant, but you’d still believe he could be the Batman.
1. JOKER (BTAS)
Of course, with such a powerful depiction of Batman, you can’t have anything but the best for his foe. Unlike most “Batman” villains, the Joker really is pure madness and evil. With that ghostly skin, haunting laughter, purple suit and twisted grin, Joker has become a staple of Batman’s world: the antithesis of the Dark Knight. It’s incredibly difficult to adapt the character right. It’s important to show he’s evil but he’s had his share of tragedy, as shown in the animated adaptation “Batman: The Killing Joke” (based on the graphic novel).
A lot of things about the Joker fit perfectly together in BTAS. He was insane and clown-like but in a homicidal (yet comical) way. As the series progressed, his depiction grew darker, from things like his plan to have Catwoman ground up and sent to Batman in the “Batman: The Animated Series” episode “Almost Got ‘Im” (written by Paul Dini), to his infamously violent depiction “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” (also written by Paul Dini). It was fitting for the comic book character and it was in no small part due to the talented voice acting of the inimitable Mark Hamill.
Which were your favorite animated adaptations of superheroes and villains? Let us know in the comments!