One of the most powerful forces in the world of popular culture is nostalgia, and most of the time, the strongest form of nostalgia is for things that we enjoyed as children. There is a very good reason why most famous nostalgia-based TV series take place 20 years earlier. For example, Happy Days is set in the 50s, but came out in the 70s; The Wonder Years was set in the 60s, but came out in the 80s; That 70s Show was set in the 70s but came out in the 90s. All of this is because the thirtysomethings making most of these shows were kids 20 years earlier.
However, in the world of comic books, there is an even more interesting use of nostalgia, which is to take a property that we enjoyed as children and to update it and make it “adult” for the modern era. Here, we’ll count down the most extreme examples of this trend, giving extra weight to more famous characters (as it doesn’t have as much of an impact if the character getting changed isn’t as famous) and particularly dramatic changes to the characters. Get yourself ready because we’re about to ruin your childhood!
15. RUFF AND REDDY
One of the most dramatic changes on this list happened to one of the most obscure properties, hence them not ranking too high. In cartoon history, Ruff and Reddy is actually very important. The Ruff and Reddy Show was the first television program produced by Hanna-Barbera after MGM Studios decided that they no longer wanted to do Tom and Jerry cartoons.
Thus, William Hanna and Joe Barbara started their own company in 1957 and began to do cartoons for television (a relatively new medium at the time). Ruff and Reddy (a riff on Tom and Jerry, with these characters being friends instead of adversaries) was their first creation and it was a big hit. Howard Chakyin has re-imagined them as a dirty stand-up comedy duo in the 1950s who aren’t afraid to beat up comics who they think are infringing on their act.
14. HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
He-Man has had a comic book connection for as long as the character existed, as the early He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys all came with mini-comics featuring the action figure with whom the comic book was packaged. However, the earliest He-Man comic books all followed the continuity of the cartoon series that was launched with the toy line, so it was all very kid-friendly.
The concept of the series, though, of a barbarian-like hero and his warrior allies taking on an evil skeleton-like creature, lends itself very much to a darker approach, and the 2012 DC Comics reboot of the series, while dark, seems almost like a natural extension of the story. It’s probably violent enough to still fit the meaning of this list, but it’s impressive how faithful it remains in the process of updating the series.
13. WONDER TWINS
Super Friends ran for one season in 1973 and then was canceled. When it was revived in 1977, they decided to increase the action on the series, and as a result, they needed the youthful sidekicks to be more imposing, so they introduced Zan and Jayna, the Wonder Twins, who could transform into water (Jan) and any animal (Jayna). The Wonder Twins were slowly phased out of the series by the end of the run.
Ivan Velez Jr. finally brought them into the DC Universe in the mid-1990s, with a fairly faithful adaptation (Velez Jr. was a fan of the Super Friends), but since he brought them back in Extreme Justice, they still had to be a little, well, extreme, so they were now intergalactic slaves who broke free and fled to Earth, where Extreme Justice helped them gain their freedom.
12. THE JETSONS
When the Jetsons debuted, they were almost literally just a reflection of the Flintstones, with the setting simply changed from the distant past to the distant future. Otherwise, the whole idea of the series was for it to be a typical sitcom setting, just with robots and futuristic cars thrown into the mix (you’d be surprised at just how little the technology of the future really plays into Jetsons stories).
Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti revamped the Jetsons by choosing to delve into the whole “why are they living above the Earth?” question (as well as “Is there anyone left on Earth?”) and examining the technology further, including the shocking twist that George Jetson’s mother has decided to extend her life by becoming… Rosie the Robot!
This is a tricky one, since Starfire obviously debuted as a comic book character in the early 1980s, and throughout her history, she has always been depicted as a sexual being. In fact, Starfire and her boyfriend, Dick Grayson, being shown in bed together was quite the controversy back in the day. However, Starfire fell into character limbo for quite awhile and became best known as one of the members of the Teen Titans kids cartoon series of 2003-2007.
That Starfire had the same naive approach to Earth’s customs as the comic book version, but she was obviously not sexualized at all, which is why it was still quite off-putting when the character made her New 52 debut in Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, where she was treated practically like a walking sex doll.
10. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: CITYFALL
Similar to Starfire, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles originally debuted as a fairly gritty comic book series in the early 1980s. Initially, it was a parody of a few popular trends in comics at the time, but its sudden popularity saw creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird get more serious with their storytelling. However, the world best knew them from their very kid-friendly animated series in the late 1980s.
The distinguishing characteristic of the two versions was that the original Turtles all wore red masks, while the cartoon show had them wear distinctive colors. In 2011, IDW debuted a new series that combined the two approaches, so fans of the cartoon show might be unprepared for how brutal the comic can be at times, especially the “Cityfall” storyline, where Leonardo joins up with the Foot Clan as Shredder’s second in command!
One of the amusing things about looking back at famous cartoon characters is how the inspirations for these characters have long since been superseded by the cartoon characters themselves. For instance, the famous Hanna-Barbera character, Snagglepuss, is best known for his catch phrase “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” However, what people don’t really recall is that that catch phrase was directly taken from Bert Lahr, who is the basis for the character of Snagglepuss (Lahr played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz).
Mark Russell came up with a fascinating approach to Snagglepuss, choosing to embrace the implied homosexuality of the character by turning him into a Tennessee Williams-esque playwright in the 1950s, forced to go up against the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
Luckily for Jackie Gleason’s legacy, his Honeymooners characters remain famous enough that they have not received the same fate that befell Bert Lahr as Fred Flintstone. While extremely popular, the character has not erased the public’s memories of Ralph Kramden (the Jackie Gleason character Fred was loosely based on). The Flintstones was a traditional sitcom of the era, they just happened to live in the Stone Age.
In the current acclaimed comic book series by Mark Russell, though, the Flintstones are used as a sharp satirical tool, poking fun at modern life through the adventures of the Flintstones and their friends. One notable storyline saw Fred and Wilma become ostracized since they were monogamous! In the end, when they convince people that monogamy is okay, people quickly turn to rally against the idea of same-sex monogamy instead.
7. PLASTIC MAN
When Jack Cole created Plastic Man, he did not necessarily aim the character at kids, but at the same time, the character wasn’t overtly adult-oriented, either. It was just brilliantly inventive to see Cole push the medium with the transformations that he would put Plastic Man through. The character eventually fell out of print, though, and eventually became best known for a popular cartoon series starring the character in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
Kyle Baker’s award-winning Plastic Man series paid homage to Cole’s brilliance, but Baker also took aim at satirizing comic books, as well, and some of his critiques (while brilliant) were decidedly adult-centric, like his contrast of Mary Marvel talking about how superheroes were meant for kids with the famously buxom superheroines that seemed geared towards adults.
6. WACKY RACElAND
Wacky Races, inspired by the 1965 film, The Great Race (another instance of the cartoon version of something having more cultural relevance today than the original), was about a group of disparate races competing each other in the perpetual “wacky race.” While the villainous Dick Dastardly and his dog, Muttley, were prominently featured, the show was still lighthearted in nature.
Ken Pontac and Leonardo Manco, though, re-imagined the series as being a riff on the world of Mad Max: Fury Road, as the world has now been more or less destroyed, and the survivors are racing against other to get to Utopia, the last great hope for the human race. One of the racers, Professor Pat Pending, created many of the racers in experiments before he accidentally led to the destruction of the world.
5. SCOOBY APOCALYPSE
The apocalypse is also the backdrop for another recent DC Comics featuring Hanna-Barbera characters. In Scooby: Apocalypse (by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Howard Porter, with character designs by Jim Lee), Scooby Doo was a subject of the Nevada Complex’s “smart dog” program, where dogs were injected with computer chips to give them the ability to talk and interact with humans. Shaggy is one of the dog handlers at the Complex.
Fred and Daphne work for a television series that discovers fraudulent monsters, but when they stumbled upon the Nevada Complex (and Velma, one of its lead scientists), they discover that monsters are for real, as the experiments at the Nevada Complex have gone horribly wrong and now the four young people (and Scooby Doo) must travel the globe fighting the monsters from the project.
4. THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina spun out of Afterlife of Archie, a series by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla where Sabrina brought Jughead’s dead pooch, Hot Dog, back to life, instigating a zombie apocalypse! That initial series introduced the concept of Sabrina as a much darker character than the lighthearted witch that was the star of her own 1970s animated series (not to mention the long-running live action sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart).
That concept continued in the spinoff series by Aguirre-Sacasa and artist Robert Hack, which took a sort of Lovecraftian approach to Sabrina and all of the characters in her life, including her aunts, who are particularly twisted in this series. It is set in the 1960s, so the retro flair of the series adds to the overall spooky nature of it all.
3. THUNDERCATS: THE RETURN
Thundercats was a long-running hit cartoon series in the 1980s about a group of humanoid cat-like creatures who land on a planet to try to turn it into their new home, but are besieged by the evil Mumm-Ra. In 2002, DC’s Wildstorm imprint brought the characters back in a new miniseries. The characters were so beloved that writer Ford Lytle Gilmore was initially paired with superstar artists J. Scott Campbell (doing a rare interior comic book story) and Ed McGuinness. At the end of that story, Lion-O goes into the Sword of Shadows for five years.
When he returned, though, in the follow-up miniseries, Thundercats: The Return (by Gilmore and Ed Benes), things got seriously disturbing, with the young Wily-Kit and Wily-Kat now slaves of Mumm-Ra and Cheetara dealing with what looked like sexual torture. It was way too dark for a kids property.
2. ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR
Archie Comics was one of the last comic book companies to still abide by the Comics Code Authority. Once they dropped the Comics Code, they had freedom to do some interesting new ideas, and with the Afterlife of Archie series, they demonstrated that that could include doing rather adult-oriented stories featuring the Archie characters.
Once that ball got rolling, they came up with more and more disturbing ideas, with perhaps Archie vs. the Predator, by Alex de Campi and Fernando Ruiz being the most disturbing, as the Predator monster slaughters most of Archie’s Gals and Pals, and even Archie himself! The series was a whole lot of fun, but it is fair to say that it is very disturbing to see classic kids characters like Archie and his friends get dismembered by a killer alien.
1. WONDER DOG
On the original Super Friends series, before the heroes were paired with the Wonder Twins, they instead had two teenagers named Marvin and Wendy helping them, along with Marvin’s dog, who he dubbed Wonder Dog (he and his dog both wore capes, which was actually kind of disturbing when you really think about it). It was never really explained why the Super Friends allowed two non-powered teens to hang out with them, especially since Marvin was a complete moron, but they all had fun and learned lessons.
Years later, DC introduced Marvin and Wendy in the Teen Titans as the team’s computer experts. They then met a seemingly stray dog who they dubbed “Wonder Dog.” The dog turned out to be a hellhound owned by Ares’ son who then murdered Marvin and paralyzed Wendy before the Titans managed to stop it. Your childhood is ruined now, isn’t it? You’re welcome.
Which childhood cartoons would you most like to see get an “adult” update? Let us know in the comments!
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