It may seem ridiculous now, but for years, television channels were hesitant to do superhero cartoons. They felt that their audience were too narrow and the content too childish. There have always been some sort of superhero program on the air over the years, but it was not until the early 1990s that the dual successes of Batman: The Animated Series and The X-Men Animated Series proved that superhero cartoons not only worked, but that they were big hits with the fans. This led to a major influx of superhero cartoons throughout the 1990s that has continued to this very day.
Along the way, the writers of these superhero cartoons have often sought to push the boundaries of what is allowed on the air on shows that are mostly aimed at children. There are a number of examples of cartoon superhero shows taking things about as far as they can take them (and in one instance, beyond what was acceptable on American television). Here, then, are 20 examples of cartoon superhero shows slipping content by the censors (and one time they got caught).
21. NICE “S”
The 1990s made up a good decade for banter between Lois Lane and Clark Kent. The Superman comics were filled with them, the Superman live action TV series saw Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain constantly bantering with each other and the Superman animated series had Dana Delaney and Tim Daly going at it in every episode. Their chemistry really helped the series a lot, both between Lois and Clark and Lois and Superman.
In one episode, Lois is looking at a photograph of Superman when she notes that he has a nice “S.” A shocked Clark turns to her and says “Excuse me?” and she then points to Superman’s chest. “Right here.” That’s the sort of innuendo-laced back and forth that would be common throughout the series.
Over the years, there has been plenty of talk over the fact that Wonder Woman came from an island that only had women on it. While we mostly see Wonder Woman romantically involved with men, it was always there in the back of our minds that she must have had relationships with women on the island (and recent comics have confirmed that notion).
In the Justice League episode, “Fury,” Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman have a discussion that goes in that direction, when they are discussing a rogue Amazon. Hawkgirl asks, “But who wants to live in a world without men?” Wonder Woman responds, “They can’t possibly be that essential to your life.” Hawkgirl retorts to that with “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, Princess.”
19. ROBIN’S CRUSH GOES TO EXTREMES
Throughout both versions of the Teen Titans cartoon series (the original and then Teen Titans Go), one of the constants has been Robin’s crush on Starfire. Of course, this crush has generally taken on slightly more kid-friendly approaches in the younger-skewing Teen Titans Go!
One of the less kid-friendly takes on this relationship was in the episode, “Sidekick,” where the other Titans give Robin a hard time when he is ordered to watch Wayne Manor and the Bat-Cave while Batman is out of town. The Titans mess around and Starfire puts on Batgirl’s costume. Robin cannot handle it. When she notes that she can’t take it off because it is far too tight on her, Robin just about loses it. Oh, and by the way, the background gags at Wayne Manor in that episode were amazing. Like an urn with “Robin II” written on it, right next to a crowbar.
18. ALL MYXED UP
On Superman: The Animated Series, Mister Mxyzptlk was a recurring foe of Superman’s. In the continuity of the show, Mister Mxyzptlk is married to Ms. Gsptlsnz. The gag on the show is that a nebbish looking guy like Mxyzptlk has an a gorgeous wife.
In the episode, “Mxyzpixilated,” though, Gsptlsnz takes things to a whole other level when she decides that he is sick and tired of Mxyzptlk ignoring her in favor of his obsession with Superman. So she tries to get his attention by going through a series of magical quick changes that see her outfit get more and more skimpy in every change she makes. The program was definitely pushing the envelope in terms of what they could show her wearing (or should we say, not wearing).
17. A CAT-ASTROPHE
You know how characters who are trying to be seductive always seem to drag out sentences for effect? You know, like, “I’d really love for you to come… to my house.” Well, in the Batman episode, “The Cult of the Cat,” it seemed like every other line of dialogue was as suggestive. First, Batman comes across Catwoman in the Batmobile. He tells her that she looks like she needs a place to spend the night. She agrees. He tells her, “I know of one… jail.”
She then gets caught up in a cat cult and she banters with the cult leader like this all the time, “I need that time to get into the mood… for the initiation.” “I’m sure there will be opportunities later… lots of opportunities.” It’s almost hilarious to see everyone seductively talking all episode long!
16. SHE’S ON FIRE
In the Justice League Unlimited episode, “I Am Legion,” Flash is obsessed with his new teammate, Fire, throughout the episode. He basically leers at her constantly, practically drooling over her body (as the animators, of course, make sure to show as much of her body as they can). However, Fire on the show is very close friends with her teammate, Ice.
They are so close that Hawkgirl uses the possibility of Fire and Ice being in a relationship just to mess with Flash. She tells the Flash of Fire, “You’d probably be wasting your time anyway. I hear she’s, y’know… Brazilian.” The look on Flash’s face when she says Brazilian was priceless. Of course, when Fire actually pursues something with the Flash in the episode, he’s way too nervous to respond.
15. NEEDING A TONGUE LASHING
A major storyline in the Superman series was called “Legacy” and it involved Superman getting brainwashed into thinking that he was the son of Apokolips. Once he believed that to be the truth, he started to act according to his new role in life. One of these areas certainly seemed to be implied that he got his “rewards” in the bedroom with Lashina of the Female Furies. We even see them in bed together (although not under the sheets or anything so implicit… or illicit).
Later, when he breaks free of Darkseid’s control, Lashina taunts Superman by calling him “lover” and her “boy toy.” Initially, Superman was to have actually impregnated Lashina for a plot that would have been resolved in the future in the Batman Beyond TV series. That idea was dropped, so Superman’s relationship with Lashina is still technically vague.
14. LAUNDRY DAY
One of the most memorable episodes of Teen Titans Go! is “Laundry Day,” in which the Teen Titans need to get their costumes cleaned. Robin tricks Raven into doing the chore despite it technically being his turn to do the laundry. For the rest of the episode, Robin, Beast Boy and Cyborg go on, in effect, “bare” adventures.
Robin accidentally ends up outside where he is being hounded by his fans, who keep taking pictures of him while he is sans-clothes. Cyborg tries out new bodies to fill in while his main one is cleaned and Beast Boy enjoys the freedom of it all. At one point, he goes to sleep and his zoo magazine is propped up like a tent on his lap. Hmmm… zoo magazine… Beast Boy… tent on his lap… hmmmmm.
13. BOY SCOUTS ARE ALWAYS PREPARED
In a particularly disturbing episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Livewire and Parasite team-up to take Superman down. The most disturbing part is early on, when Parasite tries to drain Livewire of her powers. He does so by seemingly trying to grope her. She reiterates that she said no and he backs off, but the whole thing screams “sexual assault metaphor.”
Throughout the episode, Livewire would frequently make comments that were clearly intended as innuendos. The whole thing came to a crescendo when Superman comes up with a unique way to protect himself from both her electrical powers and the Parasite’s power-draining abilities. He encases himself in a full-body latex suit. This leads to Livewire hilariously noting, “Ooh, the boy scout brought protection!”
12. DRESS FOR SUCCESS
One of the interesting aspects of the Justice League series of cartoons is that it is one of the few series to have two characters (in this case, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern) not only explore relationships with each other but also with other superheroes throughout the show. In the case of Hawkgirl, she clearly develops a relationship with Hawkman at one point.
In “Shadow of the Hawk,” she is on an archaeological dig with Hawkman the day after they had a date. He notes that he misses the dress that she wore the previous night. She replied, “You didn’t miss it last night.” They follow up on that severe case of innuendo by Hawkman noting her backside in her current outfit and saying, “The pants are good, too.”
11. DON’T GET YOUR NOSE OUT OF JOINT
In the Ultimate Spider-Man series, Spider-Man teamed up with Iron Man to take on the evil Doctor Octopus, who is extra-dangerous in this episode because Doc Ock has broken into Iron Man’s collection of old Iron Man armor and set the armor against their former wearer. So Spider-Man and Iron Man must fight them all!
Along the way, Spider-Man notes that one of the older armor has a nose on its face (an allusion to an actual armor design Iron Man briefly wore in the 1970s). He says to Iron Man, “A Nose? Really?…” and Iron Man retorts, “It was an anatomical stage… be thankful you didn’t see the Armour with th–” and before he can finish that sentence, Spider-Man tells him, “Another time, or maybe never… thanks…”
10. NEEDS MORE WILLPOWER
As noted earlier, in the Justice League series of shows, after Green Lantern and Hawkgirl break up, they each start to see other people. Green Lantern slowly begins to get involved with one of his new Justice League teammates, Vixen. They build up their relationship slowly, through a lot of flirting at first.
In one episode, Vixen decides to try to step things up a bit by taking Green Lantern into another room by surprise. He is agitated at first. He notes to her, “Don’t sneak up on me like that! Do you know what this ring could do to you?” He is not prepared for Vixen’s response, however, which is to say, “Promises, promises.” Since she has animal powers, it is appropriate for us to say, “Me-oww” to that!
The introduction of the Bayville Sirens in the X-Men: Evolution episode, ““Walk on the Wild Side” is like the characters in the episode just suddenly transported into X-Men: Evolution from another cartoon series, a series that had much more sexualized versions of the characters. Due to receiving some sexist behavior from their male teammates, Boom Boom, Magma, Shadowcat, Jean Grey and Rogue decide to form their own superhero team, the Bayville Sirens.
They make quite a name for themselves, partially for their crimefighting and partially for how they act while doing so. There’s a big music montage where the girls are just grinding away on each other and there is a bit where they all just change their clothes in front of a toll booth operator for no reason. Things go back to normal at the end of the episode, but it was one crazy diversion.
8. TOO MUCH GIRLPOWER
“Girl’s Night Out” sees Supergirl and Batgirl forced to team-up with each other to take the place of Superman and Batman when those heroes are out of town. Meanwhile, the Superman adversary, Livewire, has teamed up with the Batman villains, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, to cause some major trouble in Gotham City. The two heroines must stop them, while dealing with Harvey Bullock, who doesn’t seem too enthused to be dealing with them instead of their mentors.
Batgirl and Supergirl enjoy their time together, giving themselves makeovers and everything. However, as much as they’re enjoying themselves, it seems as though the animators are enjoying themselves even more. In some sketchy sequences, Batgirl flies on Supergirl’s back and we can see right up Supergirl’s skirt as she flies.
7. POCKET ROCKET
When it comes to shows that push the envelope with content, few can quite match Batman: The Animated Series, which has already shown up a couple of times on this list. In the character of Roxy Rocket, the show introduced someone whose entire existence was about her being a walking, talking innuendo. Everything about the thrill junkie was intended to be read as something… more.
She became obsessed with Batman, while also flirting with Penguin in the episode, noting, “I love a man with staying power.” The episode ends with Rocket and Batman straddling a rocket as it heads towards a canyon wall and Roxy keeps screaming, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” in obvious ecstasy. Once the rocket is defused, Roxy even notes that her attempted escape would be her “third act climax.”
6. YOU’RE NOT EVEN TRYING TO BE SUBTLE, GAMBIT!
Throughout the X-Men Animated Series, Gambit flirts with Rogue shamelessly, leading to some rather sketchy behavior. One of the weirdest parts of the series is the fact that, no matter how inappropriate Gambit treats Rogue, she not only encourages him, she tends to get upset when he stops acting creepy to her!
One of the most notable examples of Gambit coming on to Rogue is when they are playing pool and he tries to get her to kiss him (like always). She continues to tell him that if she kissed him, she would drain him (like she always tells him). He responds, “You can drain my energy any time, Chère. Gambit has plenty.” Yeesh. He then charges just the tip of his pool cue with his powers. You have lost all subtlety, Gambit!
5. YOU’RE MAKING GAMBIT LOOK SUBTLE, FLASH!
In the Justice League, Flash is constantly making innuendos to make himself seem like he is more experienced than he really is, while trying to hide his rather obvious insecurities. The rest of his Justice League teammates seem mostly content to just ignore his antics, but Hawkgirl likes to mix it up with him and really call him out on his behavior.
One of the main ways that she does this is to actually draw attention to how little sense most of his references make. For instance, when Flash brags about being “The Fastest Man Alive,” Hawkgirl notes that that is probably why he can’t get a date. You’re just making it way too easy for her, Flash! You have to do a better job than that!
4. ALL REVVED UP AND NO PLACE TO GO
While Roxy Rocket is a walking, talking innuendo, Harley Quinn seems to take things to an even further level. She goes beyond innuendo and seemingly just does salacious stuff in her episodes. It’s really mind-boggling how they were able to get away with some of the stuff that they do with Harley Quinn.
In the famous Harley Quinn origin story, “Mad Love,” which was adapted from a comic book, Harley Quinn flat out climbs on to a table where the Joker is working while wearing negligee and asks him if he wants to “Rev up this Harley.” How is that even an innuendo? The comic book scene, by the way, was somehow even more graphic (they had to tone down her making actual revving motions with her hands).
3. STICKY SITUATION
In the Spectacular Spider-Man, the Venom symbiote is introduced in an episode where Spider-Man meets the Black Cat for the first time, as she has been hired to steal the alien costume. Instantly, the two have a real connection, as Spider-Man is not used to dealing with sensual cat burglars wearing tight clothing, and Black Cat is not used to dealing with superheroes who can actually match her talents.
She then begins to flirt with him. The thing is that she doesn’t realize that Spider-Man is still just a 15-year-old kid, so she makes some racy references that are a bit above his head, like warning him that she doesn’t wasn’t him to get any of his goop (his web fluids) in her hair. Spider-Man never knew what hit him!
2. AN EVEN STICKIER SITUATION
As we have noted before, when it comes to Harley Quinn, we are constantly amazed at what they get away with with regards to the content with her in the Batman animated series. Perhaps no episode better exemplifies this than “Beware the Creeper,” where the Creeper has the hots for Harley Quinn. Throughout the episode, there are a series of over-the-top sexual innuendos between Creeper and Harley.
However, none of this matches the opening of the episode, where Harley gives Joker an anniversary present. She emerges from a giant pie (backside first, of course), covering herself in pastry filling and singing a seductive tune to the Joker and then asking him if he’d like to try some of her pie. How did they ever get away with this stuff?!
1. TOO FAR: THE BIRDS OF PREY ARE TOO MUCH FOR THE CENSORS
One episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, was considered just too racy to air in the United States. When it debuted in Australia in 2011, there is a song in the episode performed by Huntress, Catwoman and Black Canary (as the Birds of Prey) called “The Birds of Prey” and the entire song is essentially just double entendre after double entendre.
For instance, “Green Arrow has heroic traits, that is when he’s shooting straight!”, “Flash’s foes, they finish last! Too bad sometimes he’s just too fast!” and “Batman throws his Batarang, what a weapon, what a bang… Check out that utility belt, sure can make a girl’s heart melt. He’s always right there for the save, I’d like to see his secret cave.” It eventually was made available as a bonus episode on the Season 3 DVD set, but it was never officially aired in the United States because of the suggestive content of the song.
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