Marvel’s cartoons have been infamous over the years for how strict they are over the content within them. During the early 1990s, the X-Men Animated Series dealt with a staggering amount of notes from standards and practices on what was not allowed on the series, and the X-Men series had it easy! When the Spider-Man series came out, its restrictions were even more severe! The simple fact of the matter is that Marvel views its cartoons as being something designed for kids first and foremost. It’s not looking for the elusive “crossover” show that parents and kids can watch together. Marvel is all about the kids.
However, even when you’re aiming just at kids, it doesn’t mean that you still can’t occasionally sneak an inappropriate reference by standards and practices. Plus, there are certain instances (especially two decades ago) where standards might have changed between then and now as to what is “appropriate.” Here, then, are 15 of the most inappropriate scenes in Marvel cartoons.
15. POLISHING HIS HORN
The 1990s Spider-Man series was particularly infamous for the restrictions that the show’s writers had to work with, and that’s without even mentioning the fact that they couldn’t use certain characters because of a possible James Cameron Spider-Man film that never actually happened! Most notoriously of the restrictions levied was that Spider-Man was not even allowed to punch the villains on the show!
However, in an early episode, there was a bit of a risqué joke (although there’s a chance that it was an accidental piece of innuendo). When Spider-Man gained his alien costume, he faces off against the Rhino, who tells Spider-Man that he has to go home to “polish his horn.” It seems unlikely that that was not done on purpose, as the term works literally but also as a euphemism for, well, you know.
14. “HELLFIRE” IS TOO MUCH, BUT THAT OUTFIT’S OKAY?
This entry is more about the ridiculousness of the standards that were at play here. In a 1966 episode of the British TV series, The Avengers, the heroes of the show, John Steed and Emma Peel, go undercover in basically a sex club called the Hellfire Club. Seeing Diana Rigg (Emma Peel) dressed up in a corset, cape and little else clearly had an effect on the minds of then-teenager, Chris Claremont and John Byrne.
The classic X-Men creative duo adapted the Hellfire Club (and Peel’s undercover outfit) into the X-Men, with Emma Frost being the character dressed like Peel’s “Queen of Sin.” On the X-Men TV series, however, “Hellfire Club” was not allowed, so it was renamed the Inner Circle Club. Okay, but Emma Frost can still dress in nothing but a corset and a cape?! Their standards are weird.
13. DID HE JUST KILL EVERYONE?!
One of the areas that standards and practices was especially hard on the X-Men writers was when it came to death. Much like how the A-Team famously always managed to find a way to let everyone know that no matter how many machine guns were involved in a given episode, no one was ever really hurt, the same had to be done in the X-Men. You always had to make sure that everyone was all right.
That’s why it was so shocking, and probably haunted the dreams of a generation of viewers, to see Apocalypse just flat out murder the X-Men in Part 1 of “Time Fugitives” in Season 2! Yes, time travel made it so that they all ended up alive by the end of the next episode, but that’s still a whole lot of death for a show that’s worried about that sort of thing.
12. TALK ABOUT BODY HORROR!
The 1994 Spider-Man series would not allow broken glass. It insisted that Spider-Man not disturb any pigeons when he landed on rooftops. Morbius the Living Vampire on the show does not feed on people with fangs, but rather these projectile sucking things. Punisher shows up and does not shoot anyone. So they went way out of their way to make sure that nothing was too violent on this show.
And yet, in Season 2’s “Enter the Punisher,” after Spider-Man accidentally gives himself six arms (the story adapts a few different Spider-Man storylines from the comic, including Amazing Spider-Man #100-102), he then finds himself mutating even further. In a scene that seems right out of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Spider-Man transforms into a horrific mutated man-spider! Morbius can’t bite people, but it’s okay to show kids this?!
11. X, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE
Growing up, Joss Whedon was a big Kitty Pryde fan and she helped to influence his creation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (he took that full circle by later writing Kitty in Astonishing X-Men). The influence went the other direction in a sequence from X-Men: Evolution‘s “Spykecam” from Season 1.
The scene involves Spyke spying on everyone with his video camera. He comes across Rogue and Kitty (who were both in the midst of trying out for the school play) dancing in the woods and Spyke convinces Rogue (who was being too stiff with her dance moves) to absorb some of Kitty’s dance moves (and her peppy personality). She agrees and the two begin dancing in an exact copy of how Buffy and Faith danced in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, “Bad Girls.”
10. LIZ ALLEN IS KINKY
One of the few Marvel cartoons that tended to have a bit more leeway with its content (the others being the MTV Spider-Man series and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) was the Spectacular Spider-Man. While it was Spider-Man set in high school, it seemed to allow an approach that was a bit more mature than past Spider-Man cartoons, even ones where Spider-Man was an adult.
In any event, in the first season of the show, on Halloween, Peter wears his Spider-Man gear as a Halloween costume and the girls are all appreciating his look. One of the girls who admires how he looks in his costume is Liz Allen, who used to not give him the time of day until he started tutoring her. She let him know here that he could web her up any time.
9. MORPH COMES UP WITH A MESSED UP PLAN
As the second season of the X-Men animated series began, Morph turned out to be alive and he was not happy with the X-Men for “abandoning” him. He then sets about taking them down with an awfully disturbing plan. First off, he turns into Rogue. He then seduces Gambit as Rogue, convincing Gambit that Rogue’s touch now apparently no longer absorb people’s personalities.
He then leads Gambit to the next room, where the real Rogue is lying passed out on the couch (probably just napping, but it does make you wonder if Morph did something to her, as his plan would be ruined if Rogue happened to be awake). Gambit kisses her, knocking himself out in the process. All in all, it’s a really messed up sequence.
8. PREMATURE WHAT NOW?
In the Christmas episode of Season 2 of the Spectacular Spider-Man, Spidey finds himself attacked by most of the Sinister Six, who are working for the mysterious Master Planner. Spoiler here, but as fans of the classic storyline in the original Steve Ditko/Stan Lee Amazing Spider-Man days know, the Planner is secretly Doctor Octopus.
In the end, it comes down to Spider-Man vs. Mysterio. Mysterio pretends to make a magic spell where he produces a bunch of Homunculi. The spell is the famous Rolling Stones song, “Satisfaction,” in Latin, “nulla satisfactione potere non possum.” That Mysterio “can’t get no satisfaction” is particularly funny considering, when Spider-Man defeats him after he has gloated too soon, he accuses Mysterio of being “the expert on premature gloatalation.” There is no way that most kids would get that joke, but the parents sure did!
7. CPR IS NOT THE TIME FOR FLIRTING, ROGUE!
Rogue was always treated very oddly during the X-Men animated series. She constantly would talk about not wanting Gambit to pursue her, but then the show makes it clear that she is definitely enjoying his pursuit, which sends all sorts of mixed messages to the viewers. On top of that, the show would often have her acting “sexy” in inappropriate situations.
One of these instances came in the fourth episode of the series, where Cyclops is knocking unconscious due to being exposed to some fumes. Rogue gives him CPR, but then decides to flirt while doing it. She asks him to make her “feel welcome” and that he shouldn’t worry, since she “won’t tell Jean.” He’s unconscious and you’re doing CPR, lady! It’s super disturbing.
6. GETTING REAL WITH SABRETOOTH
In the Season 4 episode, “Weapon X, Lies and Videotapes,” the show adapts a storyline from the Wolverine ongoing series where Logan discovered that some (if not all) of his memories have actually been implanted in his brain by the Weapon X project, a classic setup for the character in the comics reused here.
Meanwhile, we see that the same basic memory implant approach was used on Sabretooth, as well, and it was used to give him memories of being abused as a child. Yes, not only is it disturbing enough that they showed kids getting physically abused, but it is actually just a ploy by an evil agency to make him think that he was abused as a child! Dang, X-Men, that’s super dark!
5. THE BAYVILLE SIRENS WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
One of the odder things that you will sometimes see on episodic programs is that characters will suddenly have a problem with other characters that was never actually shown up until that point. For instance, other than Spyke, the guys on X-Men: Evolution were always quite respectful of their female teammates. So it was pretty weird in Season 2’s “Walk on the Wild Side” that suddenly Cyclops is a sexist jerk, which leads to the girls forming their own all-female group, the Bayville Sirens.
What follows after they start the group is the weirdest music video, as the girls all wear matching provocative outfits and then dance around while montages show them fighting crime. Jean and Amara are just grinding away on each other. It’s the oddest thing. It’s so out of nowhere. Then, later in the episode, the girls change into their costumes in front of a toll booth operator, noting that no one would ever believe him. Yikes.
4. IS THAT REALLY SOMETHING YOU WANT TO BRAG ABOUT, GAMBIT?
The very first episode of the X-Men has to set up the characters as best as they can, while, of course, also dealing with the fact that they’re fighting against some giant Sentinels at a shopping mall. So for Gambit’s big introduction to the story, we see him picking up some playing cards as the mall (the animation makes it look like he’s buy a stack of index card sized playing cards).
The clerk flirts with him, noting, “You must like playing with cards” (imagine her saying that sort of seductively) and Gambit responds, “I like Solitaire ok… that is, unless I got someone to play with.” Besides that being an overly obvious innuendo, why is he bragging about polishing his horn?! Gambit is so weird on this show!
3. TONY STARK HAS TOO MUCH TIME ON HIS HANDS
In the 22nd episode of the first season of the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series, Spider-Man teams up with Iron Man to take on Doctor Octopus, who has built an armor of his own and has always cracked into Tony Stark’s private armor supply. Spider-Man and Iron Man have to team up to defeat a bunch of Iron Man’s armor. When the dust is settled from their battle, Spider-Man notes that one of the older models happened to come with a nose.
He asks Iron Man, “A Nose? Really?…” and Iron Man replies, “It was an anatomical stage… be thankful you didn’t see the Armour with th–” and Spidey quickly cuts him off with, “Another time, or maybe never… thanks…” That does sound like the sort of thing Tony Stark would think about putting on armor…
2. “WHY DO GAMBIT SPEAK IN DA THIRD PERSON?”
Truly, the most inappropriate aspect of the X-Men animated series was, by far, the relationship between Gambit and Rogue. Gambit just kept going on and on about wanting to seduce Rogue and she kept telling him that she absorbs people’s powers and their minds when she makes physical contact with them so she might kill him!
That isn’t enough for Gambit, as he keeps on trying to snare a kiss. Even when he has to be really creepy about it, like in “Rise of Apocalypse” from Season 1, he and Rogue are playing pool and he tells her, “You can drain my energy any time, Chère. Gambit has plenty.” Ew. But then he charges up just the tip of his pool cue in a super-phallic display that can only elicit another “Ew.” That he does it all while speaking about him in the third person is just the worst.
1. BLACK CAT GETS DIRTY
In the 10th episode of the first season of Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man encounters both the alien symbiote for the first time and meets the Black Cat for the first time. In fact, she’s there to capture the symbiote! Black Cat gets a rush from stealing and she obviously is even more thrilled when she meets someone like Spider-Man, who can actually keep up with her.
However, she doesn’t know that he’s just 15 years old, so she makes some inappropriate comments, like telling him to make sure that he keeps his “goop” (his web fluids) out of her hair, in reference to the famous scene in There’s Something About Mary. It’s one of the more outrageous jokes that you can imagine in a Marvel cartoon.
Can you think of other moments in Marvel cartoons that you found to be inappropriate? Let us know in the comments section!
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