The Marvel Action Universe was just a weekly rebroadcast of cancelled shows, but it might be one of the most important animation blocks when it comes to modern pop culture. The block, which ran from 1988 until 1991, gave defunct cartoons like Defenders of the Earth and Dungeons & Dragons a second wind and a chance to pickup new viewers. If the name of the block wasn't already an indication, Marvel shows got the lion's share of onscreen real estate. The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man and His Friends, Spider-Woman and The New Fantastic Four all got the chance to infiltrate the collective consciousness of an audience that was too young to have caught the series when they first aired. Nowadays, many adults can likely trace their fandom allegiances back to the MAU, whether they know it or not.
After all, nostalgia is a powerful instinct in the realm of pop culture. It can tap into the core of a person’s fandom and remind them of how they felt when they first consumed a piece of fiction. Trivial moments from one's youth often define us in ways that can have lasting effects on our emotional maturity and wordviews. Movies, comics, video games and television shows inform how we process the world around us. Something as powerful as that is bound to cement some strong, emotional connections down the line.
Look no further than the colossal success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise that has mined nostalgia to get audiences into theaters two or three times a year. But for those who recall a time when it was unthinkable for Thanos to appear in a movie (basically fans in their 30s or 40s), they need only look back to the MAU for some perspective.
One of the oddest entries in the MAU's Saturday morning line-up was RoboCop: The Animated Series. Adult film properties being adapted to kid-friendly cartoons is a bit odd in hindsight. For example, shows like The Toxic Crusaders and Tales From the Cryptkeeper seem a little off-putting considering their grotesque source material. It begs the question: Who is this for, really?
RoboCop: The Animated Series never really answered that question. It took the pulpy, bloody satire from Paul Verhoeven's original film and distilled it down to a wink and a nod. Now, to be fair, the show did tackle some pretty serious topics for a kid's cartoon. The series included episodes focusing on racism, gang politics, gun control and even corporate corruption. RoboCop: The Animated Series only lasted a dozen episodes, but Marvel Comics produced an ongoing series that split the difference in terms of tone and content between the cartoon and the film. This, coupled with the lackluster film sequels, helped keep the franchise alive to this day.