The '90s was a great time for cartoons based on comics. It seemed like every character in every series was getting their own animated show. The animation may not have reflected the art of the comics themselves, but it was fun to see your favorite characters in action, whatever form that happened to take. It was also a time for odd, quirky and different animated shows to be made, some based on adult humor and themes, though still targeted at a young demographic. Outlier comics that no one expected to get shows suddenly got shows, and they were slated into the same blocks of programming as more popular titles. This allowed for quite a large variety, as well as exposure.
That’s why some of the cartoons you watched as a kid (or, lets face it, possibly as an adult) you may have not even realized were inspired by their own comic books. Though, lets face it, some of them were so out there, that their storylines could only be told that way. CBR tracked down 15 of the more cartoons that you may or may not have known were based on comics, but you definitely forgot about ,especially since so many of them didn’t make it to a second season.
15 SILVER SURFER
The Silver Surfer series was an innovative series for its time, combining cel and computer animation to render its characters. While it took after the comic books in terms of stories and events, it changed the origins in a couple of ways. "The Galactus Trilogy" inspired the events of the first several episodes, but the Fantastic Four are nowhere to be found. In this series, Thanos has restored the memories (partially) of “Norrin Radd” to the Silver Surfer, and he protects Earth from Galactus’s hunger because well, it reminds him of his home planet.
Lots of Marvel characters popped up in the series, though they all suffered some alterations to their origins because of the network getting antsy. Like a cooler version of Captain Planet, the Silver Surfer tackled a range of political and social issues, from imperialism to saving the environment.
14 SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED
While Batman: The Animated Series enjoys continuous love, less is given to Spidey’s foray into Saturday morning cartoons. His show lasted only a season, due to the fact that in 1999, Pokemon and Digimon were battling for supremacy of kids’ interest. While it planned to cover the first 26 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, that deal existed between Sony and Marvel already, so the creators had to find other sources of material. They couldn’t even use Spider-Man’s traditional suit.
The series takes place on Counter-Earth on the other side of the sun, with Spidey trying to keep Venom and Carnage from infiltrating the planet. Spider-Man ends up taking up residency there himself after he becomes persecuted on his own world, having “borrowed” some nanotechnology from Reed Richards to design a new suit with anti-symbiote sonic weaponry. A comic was published by Marvel based on the events of the series.
13 THE MASK: THE ANIMATED SERIES
Following the success of Jim Carrey's 1994 smash film of the same name, The Mask hit the small screen in glorious animation form thanks to CBS and their "Kidshow" lineup of cartoons (and later in syndication on The Cartoon Network). Although based on the movie that was based on the comic book, the cartoon did change up a few things, presumably to adhere to the morning cartoon crowd.
Although occurring after the movie narratively (with the events of the film being mentioned at times), taking over for Cameron Diaz's Tiny Carlyle as the main female lead was reporter Peggy Brandt, but the main villains who passed away in the movie are long gone. The series only lasted three seasons (with the third being shorter), so it turns out somebody stopped The Mask.
Surprisingly not a Thundercats rip-off, this animated series focused on the war going on between two prehistoric alien races, the Kherubim and the Daemonites. The former were the good guys, the latter obviously the bad guys. It differed from its comic book origins somewhat in terms of storyline and character development, such as Voodoo still being a psychic but ditching her exotic dancer past history (and outfit).
Helspont remained the main villain and Jacob Marlowe, aka the Kherubim Lord Emp, remained the founder of Wild C.A.T.S., but was an ordinary human. Like so many other series based on comics at the time of its release, it only lasted one season. Certain characters in it, like Warblade, would later go on to have their own solo series.
If you ever wondered what it would be like if normal people that gained a super power used it for evil, then Ultraforce is the show for you. Not all “Ultras” were evil, though, and these Ultras became a team of superheroes that kept the world safe from...the other Ultras! These good Ultras were led by Hardcase, and the team consisted of Prime, Topaz, Prototype, Ghoul and Contrary, who provided them with their tech. Their enemies were Rune, Lord Pumpkin and Sludge, among other supervillain threats.
The series was based on characters from Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse, though Marvel would later go on to publish the Ultraforce comics (and replace nearly all the main characters). The series only lasted one season, with 13 episodes airing in ‘95.
10 SAVAGE DRAGON
When the' 80s gave us Beauty and the Beast, about Linda Hamilton getting police help from a very furry Ron Perlman, something clicked. It was the lightbulb moment. Large, supernatural, mythical beasts helping cops solve crimes was an untapped genre. Will Smith is going to do it on Netflix’s Bright real soon, so why not more love for Savage Dragon, about the muscley green-skinned dragon man with super strength and advanced healing powers? Dragon had amnesia on the animated series, and so apparently does everyone else that this show existed.
Unlike it’s fellow comic book inspired cartoons, it had a decent cast of well crafted characters, snappy dialogue and quality plots. The animation didn’t suck, either. That’s probably why unlike them, it got a second season. So Dragon could continue to stop the “superfreaks” from laying waste to Chicago.
9 BUCKY O’HARE AND THE TOAD WARS
Since mutant ninja turtle teenagers and biker mice from mars didn’t cap off the need for more anthropomorphic superheroes, the void was filled with the adventures of Bucky O’Hare. In a parallel universe to our own, a war raged between the United Animals Federation and the evil Toad Empire, which was led by KOMPLEX, a computer system that brainwashed the entire toad population.
Based on a comic from the '70s, the cartoon was faithful in its representation of Bucky O’Hare, a green hare who fought for the UAF and captained the starship "The Righteous Indignation", along with mammalian members of his crew. The big exception was in the case of Willy DuWitt, a human kid from San Francisco who enters their universe via a portal in the ship. In the comics, he could never go back and forth between Earth and the Aniverse.
8 SWAMP THING
Sometimes, the mysterious foe in a Scooby Doo cartoon gets its own show. Or in this case, the Vertigo/DC superhero Swamp Thing, about Alec Holland’s transformation into the Swamp Thing at the hands of the evil Anton Arcane. Like any quality villain, Anton Arcane is both a mad scientist and a magician, obsessed with gaining immortality. Besides helping to inadvertently create Swamp Thing, he also made the Un-Men, a group of monstrosities that Swamp Thing deals with in the bayou, using his power over nature.
The show didn’t last more than one season, which contained only a few episodes, but was spread over several years. It did have a groovy theme song though (a spoof on “Wild Thing” except, y’know, “Swamp Thing”), and inspired several toys and other merchandise.
7 XENOZOIC TALES (CADILLACS AND DINOSAURS)
Correctly ascertaining that nothing could be better than cruising in a classic alongside a herd of brontosauruses, CBS rolled out Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, a series about that very activity (and some more violent ones). It was based off of a late '80s comic called Xenozoic Tales, which Marvel took over publishing in the '90s.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth where humankind has had to build underground cities to escape pollution and natural disasters, they emerge 600 years later to find dinosaurs once again rule. Technology being extremely limited, those with mechanical skill are greatly respected, like the main character Jack Tenrec who runs a garage where he restores Cadillacs. He has a pet allosaurus, befriends reptilian humanoids, and rigs his cars to run on dino crap. It was a very inventive series that had a creative concept, but only lasted a season.
6 TODD MCFARLANE’S SPAWN
Unique in so many ways, the Spawn cartoon was much darker and grittier than other cartoons based on comic books. This was probably because it was on HBO and could get away with a whole lot of stuff. A series like Spawn would need a premium network to let it show all of its mature material, like Spawn shape-shifting into the new husband of his ex-wife, and impregnating her with the spawn of Spawn. Most of the time though, Spawn chilled in dark alleys, spouting dreary soliloquies to himself and murdering anyone that interrupted him.
The series did a great job of capturing the depression and dread of a man tricked into walking the Earth as a decaying corpse, only to find his family has moved on without him. It must have been doing something right because it lasted longer than one season and even scored itself an Emmy.
5 THE TICK
Beginning with one of the most epic entrances for a hero in a comic based cartoon, The Tick crashes a superhero convention at the National Super Institute so that he can be assigned the “protectorship” of The City. From there, it’s nothing but a series of satirical ripping off of famous superheroes, especially in the form of his circle of superhero friends; Die Fledermaus who is an egomaniacal Batman parody, a mentally handicapped Aquaman parod named Sewer Urchin and American Maid, a stick-up-her-butt superheroine that parodies Wonder Woman.
Every episode basically followed the same format; The Tick battles a villain, Arthur (his sidekick) has to devise a plan to save the day and when all's said and done, The Tick declares a great moral lesson from the conflict. It had a successful three seasons and acquired a cult following.
4 THE MAXX
The Maxx was a dark and existential cartoon, dealing with two different planes of existence. In the real world, the titular hero Maxx is a homeless bum who lives in a box and could give Spawn’s inner monologue a run for its money. He watches over his social worker friend Julie, who in turn occasionally bails him out of jail. When they go to the alternate reality known as the Outback, she transforms into the Jungle Queen and he is her giant purple, claw-handed protector.
Every person has their own “Outback”, a place where they feel more powerful. Julie’s existed as a refuge from Mr. Gone, a villain with a telekinetic link to her mind, who was a serial rapist in the real world. The show diverged frequently with its main storyline, but the overall themes remained the same; coping with loss, dealing with grief and healing the mind.
3 THE ADVENTURES OF SAM & MAX: FREELANCE POLICE
In case you thought private investigating would be even cooler if it was done by a trenchcoat wearing dog and a hyper “rabbity thing” with unnaturally large, pointed teeth, you’d be right. In 1997, Steve Purcell created The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police based on his comic of the same name. It followed Sam (the noir loving dog) and Max (the rabbity thing) as they solved cases given to them by the mysterious Commissioner. These cases took them to all sorts of bizarre places (such as the moon), and sometimes involved time travel.
Despite winning the Gemini Award for “Best Animated Series” in 1998, the series was cancelled that same year, presumably because it was too awesome and out there, and leaving nothing to fill the void left by Ren and Stimpy.
This quirky show, which followed the life and times of one Eric T. Duckman, private investigator and all around self-loathing grouch, was not for the kiddies. It was not a kind-hearted show, a happy show, or anything like what you’d expect from a family of ducks. Especially since they’re always at each other’s throats. Very much an adult show, it was still animated to look like the Rugrats. It had a hefty amount of nihilism, cynicism and generally everything not found in a kid’s cartoon.
Everyone hated Eric and he hated everyone else, from his sister in law who’s an insufferable fitness buff, to his ever-flatulent mother-in-law. He lived with his family in Los Angeles where he also solved crimes. It was based off of a Dark Horse comic of the same name, and its dark humor was perfectly delivered by Seinfeld's Jason Alexander.
1 BATMAN BEYOND
This series was a great departure from the look and feel of Batman: The Animated Series, though it’s considered a continuation of the series and narrative, depicting a teenage Batman in a futuristic Gotham. He is instructed and mentored by an aging (and very cranky) Bruce Wayne, voiced by the great Kevin Conroy, who has provided the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne in several different series. He passes on the cowl to young Terry McGinnis when he can no longer fight in his mechanized Bat-suit and all his original friends and foes are retired or dead.
The series was known for its unique art style, the tackling of themes such as fear, depression, death, loss and many other deep emotions on a scale that no previous animated version of Batman had, while still appealing to children. It also could look at cyberpunk and dystopic themes given it’s time period.
Which of these cartoons were your favorites? Let us know in the comments!