Superhero cartoons have been around almost as long as animation itself. Be it the original Superman shorts, Batman The Animated Series, or the upcoming Big Hero 6 series, animation and superheroes seem to go hand in hand. Anything can happen in a cartoon, and feats that might be possible with CGI in live-action seem so much more alive in animation. Stylization that intensifies action or shows off a hero’s power is only possible in animation. All this in mind, it’s no wonder there’s been so many superhero cartoons. The list of heroes that have showed up in movies or TV is constantly growing, as is the list of heroes that have shown up in cartoons.
Some superheroes have shown up in well-known superhero cartoons, but their cameos were forgotten. Others had short-lived TV shows that faded into obscurity after only a season. Heck, the fact that there are so many superhero cartoons plays into why some appearances are forgotten. The market is so overstuffed, we can’t possibly recall every one! Whatever the reason, superhero cartoons don’t get as much love as the movies these days, so we thought it might be fun to explore all the superheroes you NEVER knew showed up in the world of animation!
15. IRON MAN
Most people know of Iron Man’s more recent animated endeavors, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Avengers Assemble, but these aren’t Tony Stark’s only cartoon appearances. In fact, way back in the ’60s, Iron Man was one of five heroes who starred in The Marvel Superheroes. Fast forward to the ’80s and Iron Man made a few appearances on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.
Then, in 1994, Iron Man got his own animated series produced by New World Entertainment. The series lasted two seasons for a total of 26 episodes, though most people might not remember it. After the short-lived series, Iron Man made a couple of guest appearances on the ’90s Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk cartoons. After a guest spot on Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes, Iron Man got another solo series, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, before starring in more widely-known cartoons.
14. BOOSTER GOLD
Like Iron Man, Booster Gold has started to become more prolific in the animated world. Though he is now known as a recurring character on Justice League Action, it isn’t his first cartoon role. His animated career is rather sparse, starting with non-speaking cameos in early episodes of Justice League Unlimited. Eventually though, Booster got his time in the spotlight in the episode “The Greatest Story Never Told,” in which he learns that glory isn’t the only way to be a hero.
Though he doesn’t appear as his superhero persona, Booster made a cameo in the Legion of Superheroes cartoon as a janitor in the Superman museum, a nod to his origin. Booster’s biggest animated role was in Batman: The Brave and the Bold where he appeared in a total of eight episodes, often alongside Blue Beetle.
There’s a Deadpool animated series coming to FX, and but it won’t be the merc with a mouth’s first foray into animation. Deadpool’s earliest animated appearances were on the ’90s X-Men cartoon, where he made a few cameos. He appeared in Wolverine’s flashbacks in one episode, Morph shape-shifted into him in another, and there was one episode where Professor X made a mental image of Deadpool to attack Wolverine.
Fast forward to 2008 and Deadpool had a rather well-known role in Hulk Vs Wolverine, voiced by Nolan North. Then, in 2010, Deadpool made a brief cameo in Marvel Anime: X-Men. But this wasn’t his only anime appearance. After starring in an episode of Ultimate Spider-Man, Deadpool appeared in two episodes of Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers.
12. PLASTIC MAN
Plastic Man’s zany personality and powers make him the perfect superhero for animation, which is probably the reason he has such an impressive cartoon filmography. Plastic Man’s first animated appearance was on Super Friends where Superman asked him to get a mouse out of a computer system. In 1984, Plastic Man starred in The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, a series that followed his exploits as an agent of a secret organization.
In 2006, Warner Brothers produced a Plastic Man pilot for a series that never got picked up. However, this version of the character, voiced by Tom Kenny, would be reprised for a series of DC Nation shorts. Kenny would continue to voice Plastic Man for his various Batman: Brave and the Bold appearances. After a non-speaking role on Young Justice, Plastic Man has started appearing on Justice League Action, voiced by Dana Snyder.
11. THE FANTASTIC FOUR
The Fantastic Four have had horrible luck when it comes to live-action adaptations, and their track record in animation is, unfortunately, not much better. Their first animated adaptation came from Hanna-Barbera in 1967, a series that ran for only 20 episodes. An even shorter series came in 1978 from DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (what a mouthful!), only lasting 13 episodes.
The Fantastic Four’s most well known animated adaptation came in 1994. Though it only ran for two seasons, the show was critically panned for its campy tone. Even when they tried to revamp the show for the second season, ratings continued to drop until it was cancelled. The Fantastic Four’s most recent animated adaptation was 2006’s Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes, which was also met with critical failure. Man, Marvel’s first family can’t catch a break!
10. MISTER MIRACLE & BIG BARDA
Big Barda and Mister Miracle are one of DC’s longest standing power couples, hailing from the pages of Jack Kirby’s New Gods. Though we don’t expect a New Gods movie or TV series any time soon, these two have had their fair share of cartoon appearances. The two have appeared both together and individually across various cartoons. Together, Mister Miracle and Big Barda first appeared as background characters in Superman: The Animated Series, in the episode “Apokolips… Now!”
Their next shared appearance was on Justice League Unlimited, followed by a teaser cameo in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Separately, Big Barda has appeared on Batman Beyond, DC Super Hero Girls and Justice League Action. Mister Miracle is also set to appear on Justice League Action and appeared as a background character in Justice League before making his full appearance in the sequel series.
It seems like the negative reception of the 2003 Daredevil film is what has prevented the character from getting his own animated series, since all of DD’s animated appearances were as a guest star. Daredevil’s earliest appearance was on Spiderman and His Amazing Friends in the episode “Attack of the Arachnoid.” In the episode, Matt Murdock serves as Spider-Man’s lawyer after he was framed, with Daredevil showing up in a flashback.
In the ’80s, ABC planned a Daredevil cartoon — complete with a totally ’80s super powered guide dog named Lightning — but it never came to fruition. His next animated appearance wouldn’t come until the ’90s Spiderman cartoon in a team up split into two episodes, “Framed” and “The Man Without Fear.” After this, Daredevil showed up in the ’90s Fantastic Four episodes “And a Blind Man Shall Lead Them,” marking his last animated appearance to date.
Firestorm has gained some popularity thanks to shows like The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, The Arrowverse has depicted both versions of the character and pulled him out of relative comics obscurity. However, the CW superhero universe wasn’t the first on-screen adaptation of Firestorm. In fact, up until The Flash, Firestorm’s was exclusively on TV in animated form.
Surprisingly, the character first premiered on Super Friends in the follow up series The Legendary Super Powers Show and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. Though Firestorm was planned for Justice League Unlimited, his next animated appearance wouldn’t come until Batman: The Brave and the Bold, followed by the straight-to-DVD animated film, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. The Arrowverse’s Firestorm shows up in the Vixen series, and his most current cartoon appearance is a starring role on Justice League Action.
Despite being one of the founding members of the X-Men, Iceman has had rather small roles in the Fox films and his role in the comics isn’t quite as big as his original teammates (except maybe for Angel). We haven’t seen Bobby Drake in any live-action X-Men adaptations since Days of Future Past, another minimal role. However, Iceman’s career in animation has been rather prolific.
Iceman’s first cartoon appearances was on The Marvel Super Heroes in the Sub-Mariner portion. Iceman’s first “big break” in cartoons was of course Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. Iceman later showed up in the ’90s X-Men cartoon as a former member who quit the team. In 2000, Iceman acted as the leader of the “New Mutants” of X-Men: Evolution and was part of the main cast of Wolverine and the X-Men in 2009.
6. HAWK AND DOVE
It was recently revealed that superhero duo Hawk and Dove would be appearing in the upcoming Titans TV series, but it won’t be their first TV incarnations. Hawk and Dove made a couple of appearances on Justice League Unlimited, with one of the episodes focusing on them. The episode, appropriately titled “Hawk and Dove,” focused on their relationship as brother superheroes. Funnily enough, the characters were voiced by Jason Hervey and Fred Savage, who played brothers on The Wonder Years.
Hawk and Dove’s only other animated appearance came in, surprise, Batman: The Brave and the Bold. They appear in the episode “When OMAC Attacks!,” where their brotherly bickering gets in the way of bringing intergalactic peace. The heroes end up making a cameo appearance in a later episode, “The Siege of Starro,” but have otherwise had no other television appearances, animated or otherwise.
Marvel’s Blade franchise paved the way for the Marvel Studios and the MCU, and it introduced a lot of people to the character. With rising popularity, Blade ended up making quit a few animated appearances, ranging from guest star to full series. Blade’s first cartoon appearances was in the ’90s Spider-Man series in five episodes starting with “Blade the Vampire Hunter.”
Blade later got his own series in 2011, an anime, in fact. Produced by Marvel and Madhouse, Marvel Anime released four series, Iron Man, Wolverine, X-Men and lastly, Blade. The anime followed Blade as he hunted Deacon Frost and his secret organization, The Existence. Blade later appeared in the Ultimate Spider-Man Halloween special, voiced by Terry Crews, who reprised the role for his Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. appearance. Blade made another anime appearance on Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers.
OMAC is one of those somewhat obscure DC characters who has sort of a cult following. Created by Jack Kirby, OMAC is essentially Captain America set in the future, a concept that Kirby wanted to do with Marvel, but ended up using to fulfill his contractual obligations for DC. By interfacing with a satellite, OMAC can control and shift his density to give himself super strength, increased durability, super speed and flight.
As insanely cool as the character is, he hasn’t received much love in the world of animation, save for one appearance. If you guessed the appearance was on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, then you’d be correct. The series was known for digging up even the most obscure characters and giving them some time in the Batman spotlight. OMAC was one of these heroes, appearing alongside Hawk and Dove in the episode, “When OMAC Attacks!”
3. ADAM STRANGE
There’s a lot to love about Adam Strange; he’s got a great pulp hero vibe, he’s a sci-fi adventurer in a superhero universe and he’s got one spiffy space suit. Despite most people not knowing who Adam Strange is, he’s made it into a couple of cartoons, starting with a cameo in Justice League: The New Frontier.
Adam Strange appeared in two episodes of Batman:The Brave and the Bold (we’re starting to see a pattern here), “Mystery in Space!” and “Four Star Spectacular!” More recently, Strange showed up in Young Justice: Invasion, in the episode “Happy New Year.” In it, he recounts his tale of ending up on Rann, helping to guide the team on a return trip and ends up wearing his signature red, white and yellow suit in the episode as a disguise.
2. SILVER SURFER
The Silver Surfer has a vast and interesting history in comic books, and the same could be said of his animation filmography. As one might expect, The Silver Surfer appeared in both the Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four series and the 1994 cartoon. Both appearances closely adapted his first comic appearance as the herald of Galactus, the 1994 version being a two-parter.
Some might not know that the Surfer actually got his own animated series from Fox back in 1998. Simply titled, The Silver Surfer, the series only lasted 13 episodes, but was praised for its mix of digital and cel animation and for evoking Jack Kirby’s art and writing style. More recently, The Silver Surfer appeared on the kid-oriented series The Superhero Squad Show and Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.
Stargirl is another one of those DC superheroes who might not be the most popular but holds a place in a lot of fans’ hearts. Originally known as the second Star-Spangled Kid, Courtney Whitmore was given the Cosmic Staff by Jack Knight and changed her name to Stargirl. Stargirl has appeared on both Smallville and Legends of Tomorrow, but she’s also had her fair share of animated appearances, three to be exact.
Courtney first appeared in animation alongside her stepdad, S.T.R.I.P.E. in Justice League Unlimited. The two have a couple of speaking roles — most notably the episode “Chaos at the Earth’s Core” — as well as a few cameo appearances. Stargirl also appeared in Batman: The Brave and the Bold in a teaser cameo. Most recently, Stargirl has a recurring role on Justice League Action, voiced by Natalie Lander.
Which other comic book characters surprised you with cartoon appearances? Let us know in the comments!
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