Over the years, superheroes have come to be known just as much, if not more, for their animated selves as they are for their comics. Capable of reaching a wider audience just by airing on television instead of requiring people to seek them out, cartoons are often everyone's first exposure to many heroes, from the popular to the obscure. They can shape our perceptions of these characters in a way that lasts the rest of our lives, which is why fans believe it to be so important that cartoons get their favorites right. But what happens when they don't? What happens when cartoons completely botch everything that makes a hero cool, or interesting?
It happens more often than you think, and that's where CBR comes in, as we count down 15 times a cartoon completely ruined a superhero. For the purposes of this list, ruined can mean anything from a misunderstanding of the person behind the mask, the show itself just being completely and utterly terrible, or a series completely screwing up how that hero's powers work. We'll be picking different heroes from specific shows, so get ready to look at some of the worst interpretations of some of your favorite heroes.
15 TEEN TITANS (TEEN TITANS GO!)
In 2003 the Teen Titans cartoon caught on like wildfire. One of DC’s first series set outside of the popular Timm-verse, the Teen Titans cartoon allowed a young audience to get into the Wolfman/Perez Titans team for the first time ever. They learned to love the series’ anime-esque art style, expressive characters, and dramatic stories balanced with light humor.
Of course, those fans were considerably less happy when the series made a comeback to Cartoon Network’s airwaves several years later in the form of Teen Titans Go, a series that cranked up the original’s trademark humor, pushing it into slapstick and becoming a parody of its original self. Even after four years on the air, fans remain split on this series and whether it’s damaged the characters forever or if it’s simply a fun alternate take on a beloved series.
14 SPIDER-MAN (SPIDER-MAN: THE NEW ANIMATED SERIES)
Most people won’t even remember this series. It aired very briefly on MTV and existed in the margins between the first Spider-Man film in 2002 and the second in 2004. It had awkward CGI animation and was restricted from using most major Spider-Man villains just in case the films wanted to use them first.
For what it’s worth, Peter Parker isn’t particularly out of character in this series. He’s still the hero with hilariously bad luck, trying to balance his life as Spider-Man with having a social life and friends. The show is just…bad all around. It has to shy away from so much of what makes the Marvel Universe (or even just Spider-Man’s world) cool that it never gets a chance to breathe and do anything fun.
13 SUPERMAN (SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
It’s kind of sad that one of the few animated series Superman has manages to butcher his character so thoroughly. Concerned that Superman was simply too powerful to be confronted with any believable threats, the creatives behind the series have gone on record as saying they intentionally tried to power the character down so he wouldn’t just easily stomp out anyone they threw at him.
Unfortunately, they managed to go too far in the other direction, making him often seem quite useless for someone called “The Man of Steel”. It’s not as bad as Justice League, where the writers mentioned they would have a villain take Supes out to show “how serious things were”, but that has the excuse of being an ensemble series. This series, focusing on Superman himself, saw him get taken out by everything from electricity to creations from Toyman, and that’s just disrespectful.
12 IRON MAN (IRON MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
You really only have two choices when it comes to Tony Stark if you want a solo cartoon following his adventures as the Armored Avenger. You can go with the one that inexplicably emulates the worst time period in the comics and sees him as a teenager. Or, you can go with his 1994 series, where the Mandarin is behind the stories of half the episodes.
That’s a minor infraction, and the bigger problem is that Tony is somehow unable to build a suit of armor that doesn’t get constantly damaged or run out of power for some reason or another. It seems hard to believe that somehow the series where Tony’s a teenager is both better-written and more accurate to the comics, but well…here we are.
11 JUBILEE (X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
The Animated Series was one of the first of many superhero cartoons that would pop up during the '90s. Airing on Fox Kids, it was the first widespread exposure Marvel’s Merry Band of Mutants would get. It’s also heavily responsible for ruining any chance Jubilee ever had of being cool. To be sure, other characters on this list get it way worse than young Jubilation, but her depiction in this has left her ruined even outside of the cartoon.
Though Emma Frost would eventually describe Jubilee’s powers in the comics as “the ability to explode matter on a molecular level”, X-Men: TAS just made her constantly shoot ineffective fireworks at their opponents. Tack that onto her being a teenaged character and she suddenly became the '90s poster child for “annoying, useless sidekick” and destined to land on dozens of “Most Useless X-Men” lists ever since.
10 IRON FIST (ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN)
Besides being a billionaire, Danny Rand’s biggest key trait is being one of the Marvel Universe’s most impressive martial artists. With only that to go by, and nowhere near as many solo comics as he deserves, when the good folks at Marvel Animation decided to give Spider-Man some “sidekicks”-slash-fellow heroes to lead, they tossed Iron Man in the mix alongside Power Man, White Tiger and Nova.
This was fine, but instead of being the focused martial artist he’s known as in the comic, Ultimate Spider-Man turns Danny into a bit of a parody. He’s a much more comedic character, playing an easygoing character who tends to spout a lot of New Age, “zen” catchphrases that make him seem a lot more shallow than he is. Well, at least the depiction lines up with the Netflix series the character starred in?
9 GREEN LANTERN (JUSTICE LEAGUE)
Justice League is one of the most respected cartoon series to come out of the '00s era. Fans loved it for how it managed to tell mature stories not just with Batman and Superman, but the entire League. And it’s not that John Stewart the character was particularly mistreated -- as a tough-as-nails former Marine, he provided valuable combat experience in some of the team’s most trying situations.
No, the problem was more on the “Green Lantern” side of things. Green Lanterns are known for their ability to create anything they imagine as hard light constructs -- from giant manga-inspired robots to boxing gloves. But the Green Lantern on Justice League typically used his ring more like a ray gun, occasionally making force fields with it. This might’ve been easier to animate, but it also made Green Lantern into the most generic hero on the team.
8 QUICKSILVER (X-MEN: EVOLUTION)
Some could argue that there isn’t much of a character to ruin when it comes to Quicksilver. He’s a jerk who’s constantly annoyed by the people around him because from his perspective everyone in the world moves at a crawl. His alignments move almost as fast as he does, jumping from villain to hero to anti-hero and back again.
But he’s never been stupid. On the contrary, whether it’s working with the Inhuman royal family, as a member of the Avengers or the X-Men, Quicksilver’s always proven himself to be an asset, and one of the most powerful members of any team he joins up with. Unless it’s on X-Men: Evolution, where his hotheadedness has makes him into a total idiot that’s played for laughs almost as often as he seems to be a threat as a part of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
7 SILVER SURFER (SUPER HERO SQUAD)
Super Hero Squad was meant to be a fun parody of the Marvel Universe, aimed primarily at an even younger crowd than most of the “for all ages” toons that are usually developed by the Big Two. It broke some of these characters down into easily understandable stereotypes that were still generally fairly accurate for what they were.
At least, that was true until they got to the Silver Surfer. For him, they just took the “surfer” part of his name overly serious, taking the normally quiet, introspective Silver Surfer and transforming him into a much more laid back character, of the kind that constantly misunderstood “strange human culture and traditions”. It was ground that had already been tread with Teen Titans’ Starfire, and definitely a far cry from the Silver Surfer we all know and love.
6 TIM DRAKE (THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES)
Tim Drake fans have it rough. When Batman: TAS first introduced Robin it was the original, Dick Grayson, even though by the time he appeared the character had long been Nightwing in the comics. But as the show developed, it tried to incorporate a few changes from the comics, including Dick breaking away from Batman. Once that happened, they were free to introduce a new Robin. Enter Tim Drake.
Or at least, they called him Tim Drake, but he shared a lot more in common with Jason Todd. He was a spunky kid with a disobedient streak, who remained just likable enough to avoid being beaten to death by Joker…but not enough to avoid getting tortured and brainwashed into becoming The Joker several decades later in the Batman Beyond film, Return of The Joker. Not the nicest way to write off one of the Bat-Family’s most interesting characters.
5 JEAN GREY (X-MEN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
Jean Grey is an Omega-level mutant, boasting some of the most powerful telepathic and telekinetic skills ever. But if you watched the 1992 X-Men series, you’d never know it, as Jean repeatedly stands out as one of the most useless members of the team. Yes, that’s still on the team where Jubilee can only shoot out sparklers from her hand.
The writers frequently show her unable to accomplish the most basic of tasks; she often fails outright, requires immediate help from teammates, or passes out dramatically after barely getting the job done. Surprisingly, it doesn’t even seem to be a sexist “women are useless” thing—Storm and Rogue are frequently some of the most capable butt-kickers on the team—the creatives just seemed to believe that psychic powers were impossible to use no matter how many years of experience you had with them. Fortunately X-Men: Evolution rehabbed this awesome character.
4 THE THING (FRED AND BARNEY MEET THE THING)
Most comic book fans don’t even know this show exists, and the rest of us remaining have tried our best to strike it from our memory entirely. Airing back when cartoons would air in a combo block but never interact, this was possibly the strangest version of The Thing ever created. The Fantastic Four never appear -- even Ben Grimm, The Thing himself, is absent from the show.
Instead, the show follows a teenager called Benjy Grimm, who has a pair of magic rings that turn him into The Thing when he utters his oh-so-clever magic words, “Thing Ring, Do Your Thing!” Instead of Dr. Doom or Galactus, this Thing spends most of his time keeping the Yancy Street Gang from bullying his friends, which has to rank high on the list of most pointless uses for superpowers of all time. Stopping bullies is important but…couldn’t you just call an adult?
3 HAWKMAN (JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED)
In order to keep the Justice League from seeming like the boys’ club it often was in the comics, the cartoon balanced out the teams a little by adding Hawkgirl. It was a smart decision -- she was strong, tough, and a likable character that added necessary friction to the team. But for years fans wondered…where was Hawkman?
In Justice League Unlimited, the fans finally got their answer, and it…wasn’t pretty. The usually awesome archaeologist Carter Hall was reduced to a nobody, obsessed with a mysterious legend stating he and Shayera were lovers in a past life. That’s actually true to the comics, but after the character sat on the sidelines throughout all of the Justice League and only started dressing up like Hawkman in order to get Shayera’s attention, it just makes him come off as a creepy stalker.
2 PUNISHER (SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES)
Spider-Man: The Animated Series is one of the best representations of the wall-crawler, in any medium. It feels like a superhero comic book perfectly translated into animated form, from the way it balances Peter Parker’s busy social life to the constant background narration taking the place of thought bubbles. Having said that…
Everyone involved should be forced to write “Punisher does NOT belong on a children’s cartoon” five hundred times on a blackboard. A character known primarily for his massive collection of weapons with which he murders as many criminals as possible, the character is completely neutered when he’s forced to exist on a show that airs in the same block as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. Suddenly he’s forced to use lasers instead of bullets, and is about as successful at the whole killing thing as Rita Repulsa was.
1 AQUAMAN (SUPER FRIENDS)
As probably the only superhero cartoon series to run for over a decade on a major television network, Super Friends was probably responsible for the biggest look pop culture ever got at superheroes until they started to become blockbuster film franchises. Whatever knowledge base people pull from to understand superheroes -- especially DC characters -- generally comes from Super Friends.
Knowing that, there’s really no question that the character most ruined by cartoons has been Aquaman. Ruler of the Seven Seas, in the comics there are no shortage of excellently-written runs on the character from some of the brightest creators in the game, from Peter David to Geoff Johns to Dan Abnett. Cool as he is, and whether it was intentional or not, Super Friends managed to turn Aquaman into a goofball whose only power to most people for decades was “talking to fish” and was literally worthless outside of the ocean.
What superheroes do you think were ruined in the cartoons? Be sure to let us know in the comments!