In Meta-Messages, I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book creator comments on/references the work of another comic book/comic book creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.” This time around, we look at a time that Marvel made fun of their own cartoon series.
In the early 1990s, there was a bit of a boom for comic book-inspired animated shows. You see, at the time, there really wasn’t all that many successful cartoon shows based on comic book characters. Spider-Man had had some success, and so had the Super Friends, but by the 1990s, it was still a risky proposition, mostly because A. superheroes were seen as too dumb to sustain a whole show and B. superheroes were seen as too boy-specific for a show. Those positions were both stupid, but hey, that’s what people were dealing with at the time.
However, 1992 changed everything with the launch of both the critically-acclaimed and gorgeous Batman: The Animated Series…
and the super popular X-Men: The Animated Series…
After the success of the X-Men cartoon show, the move was made to quickly cash in as many Marvel properties as possible, and in 1994, an Iron Man cartoon series and a Fantastic Four cartoon series both were released, both BASICALLY following in the footsteps of the X-Men cartoon, in the sense that they took a lot of their inspiration from the comics of the time.
However, they were not as well received as the X-Men series, the Fantastic Four cartoon was particularly looked down upon…
It still lasted two seasons, running until 1996. After the negative reaction to the first season, which was felt to be too simplistic, the show greatly altered its approach in the second season to make the stories more complex.
However, as it turned out, the feelings about the cartoon’s first season surprisingly carried over to the pages of the Fantastic Four’s own comic book! 1994 was a tumultuous year for the World’s Greatest Comic Book Magazine, as Reed Richards had seemingly died in battle with Doctor Doom (while also seemingly killing Doom, as well) at the end of the previous year (1992-1993 was, like, the year of DEATH in comics). The Thing had been badly injured in a fight with Wolverine and he was particularly all “The world sucks” because now he wasn’t just a monster, but he was a monster with a huge scar on his face. Sue Richards, meanwhile, was dealing with suddenly being in charge of the team and dealing with some personality issues of her own.
The Fantastic Four ended up bringing in Namor for help, but also hiring Scott Lang, Ant-Man, to help as their new tech expert in the wake of Reed’s apparent death (by the way, shock among all shocks, Reed turned up alive eventually – just not until after Fantastic Four #400, as I think there was almost a sort of “Oh, so you think that we’re going to bring him back for #400, don’t you? Well, guess again! We’re going to wait until #40i>8!”)
So in 1994’s Fantastic Four #396, the team has mostly become Sue, Ben, Johnny, Scott and Namor.
In that issue (written by Tom DeFalco and drawn by Paul Ryan and Danny Bulanadi), Ben suddenly hears Scott shout out loud…
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