The '90s was a great era for superhero cartoons. After the success of Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series, networks like Fox Kids picked up a lot of superhero shows based on DC and Marvel comic characters. For the most part, the characters in these shows and their stories remained quite faithful to the comic book source material, albeit slightly more innocent than what comic fans were used to. Characters, like the Punisher for example, were toned down -- in Frank's case, he was was still violent, but he was a little more open to non-lethal weapons thanks to Microchip.
What does that mean for the villains? Most supervillains nowadays are relatively serious and are often relatable as characters, sometimes just as relatable to readers as the heroes. You can't really have that when the really violent and complex villains are adapted for kids shows, though, which is why they're at risk of being warped to the point that the character is just ruined. You also have to consider how strict the censors were at the time. Many shows were kept from depicting guns or even mentioning the word "death" or "kill," which made it harder (though not impossible) to properly adapt certain villains. We'll show you just what we mean with these 15 examples (in no particular order) of supervillains ruined by '90s cartoons.
First appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #101 (written by Roy Thomas, illustrated by Gil Kane and others), Spider-Man first encountered the living vampire in the middle of his six-arm crisis. Morbius was a Greek scientist searching for a cure to a debilitating disease. To that end, he experimented with vampire bats. The experiment went wrong and Morbius was turned into a so-called living vampire, since he wasn't undead.
In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Morbius (voiced by Nick Jameson) is introduced in the second season, and while there were a few alterations made to his character and his origin, he still works as a villain... for the most part. This adaptation was definitely ruined by censorship. Because no blood was allowed in the show, Morbius didn't exactly thirst for it, but instead for plasma. Despite having fangs, he fed through suckers on his palms. Those limits ruined a great, tragic character.
Much like Wolverine, Sabretooth is wild and ferocious. In the comics, he is depicted as being violent and unpredictable which is why, though he is often thought of as being part of Magneto's brotherhood, Sabretooth bears no real allegiance to anyone. It's what made the character interesting. Unfortunately, many of those qualities also kept the character from being properly adapted to the old '90s X-Men: The Animated Series.
In the show, Sabretooth (voiced by Don Francks) is depicted as just another one of Magneto's lackeys. He looks and often acts a lot like he does in the comics, but he's more animalistic; a wild dog rather than a ferocious monster. Fortunately, as a villain, he still works as Wolverine's nemesis, just not nearly as well as he does in the comics.
There have been several different versions of Bizarro, both in the comics and on-screen. The original first appeared in Superboy #68 (written by Otto Binder, artwork by George Papp) as a flawed clone of Superboy created by a duplicator ray. He was quickly destroyed by Kal-El. The second Bizarro was created by Lex Luthor but refused to do his bidding, opting to try his best to become another Superman! That didn't really work out for anyone.
That second Bizarro was the one adapted for Superman: The Animated Series. The problem with that adaptation was that it failed to truly depict him as a completely corrupted version of Superman, as in the comics. His powers, for example, are exactly the same in the animated series instead of being reversed versions of Kal-El's. Little details like that make the animated Bizarro (voiced by Tim Daly) seem more like a dumber Superman than a true corruption.
12 PURPLE MAN
Despite better known for being the archenemy of Jessica Jones, Zebediah Killgrave first appeared outside of comics in X-Men: The Animated Series, in the episode, "No Mutant is an Island" (written by Sandy Scesny). In the series, Zebediah (voiced by Cedric Smith) is a mutant with the ability to telepathically control others.
In the comics, the Purple Man's powers stem from a chemical he was accidentally doused with while working as a spy. He found that the chemical had turned his skin purple and also allowed his body to produce pheromones which compelled those caught within range to obey him, much like the version we got in Jessica Jones. There was no real reason he should have been used in the animated series, and it's clear that in order to get him to fit in with the rest of that world, they had to warp many of his features and qualities, effectively ruining a great villain.
Comic book Bane was born in a prison and grew up a hardened, incredibly intelligent man who learned to conquer fear. He first appeared in Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 (written by Chuck Dixon, illustrated by Graham Nolan and more) and has become a classic member of Batman's rogues gallery. Soon after his first comic book appearance, he appeared in Batman: The Animated Series, only he was somewhat different as a character.
He first appears in the episode "Bane" (written by Mitch Brian), in which Bane is hired by Rupert Thorne to assassinate Batman. This version of the character is nothing like the master planner and fearless villain of the comics. The only thing this Bane has in common with the source material is that he's incredibly strong and is one of Batman's adversaries. All the complexity and brutal growth is lost in this adaptation.
The Chameleon in the comics is the half-brother of Kraven the Hunter, and has a talent for impersonating and simulating anyone. Over the years he has acquired various pieces of tech that aid his superficial transformations somewhat, so it's understandable that in Spider-Man: The Animated Series, they simplified his abilities by giving him a belt.
The rest of his character, like his history with abuse, his complicated relationships and the resulting sadism and sociopathic tendencies, were all left behind, not adapted in any way. We're left with a hollow villain who appears to be there for the sake of variety and not substance of character. He doesn't even really have a voice actor and no link is ever created between him and Kraven, who also appears in the show. They took the character from the comics and needlessly ruined him.
Jonathan Crane is a master of fear. Using his specially developed fear gas, he has been able to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in Gotham. Aside from being a terrifying villain, he's also known throughout the DC comic book universe as a talented psychologist.
You don't really get that from his depiction in Batman: The Animated Series. In fact, the show seems unsure about how best to showcase Scarecrow. The character's backstory and villainous alter-ego are pretty faithful to the comic book source material, but after his first appearance in the episode, "Nothing to Fear" (written by Henry T. Gilroy and Sean Catherine Derek), Scarecrow begins to feel more like a cartoon villain than one adapted from engaging comic books. One large reason for this is the fact that the animated series, understandably, was not able to make Scarecrow as horrifying as he could have been. We weren't given the sociopath, we were given a mad psychologist out to make money.
8 LADY DEATHSTRIKE
Wolverine was the perfect killing machine even before adamantium was forcibly bonded to his skeleton. But then, Weapon X kidnapped Logan and turned him into a weapon, destroying his mind and making him all the more lethal. No one told Yuriko Oyama that it happened that way and she crossed paths with the X-man on several occasions, thinking that he had stolen her father's work.
In X-Men: The Animated Series, her motivations for hating Wolverine had changed. The series depicts her as one of Wolverine's former romantic partners, wrongfully blaming Logan for the death of her father. She only appears in the two-part episode, "Out of the Past" (written by Michael Edens), and the show fails to capture the complex, culture-driven motivations of the comic book villain. Instead, it throws her into quite a goofy plot. That's a shame because everything else about the character, such as her powers and her appearance, were pretty spot on.
After being betrayed by a business partner and friend, Adrian Toomes turned to a life of crime using tech he had developed. He is one of Spider-Man's oldest adversaries, in more ways than one. He was the first supervillain Spider-Man ever fought, first appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #2 (written by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, illustrated by Ditko) and has been a part of supervillain teams such as the Sinister Six.
His character in Spider-Man: The Animated Series was the head of a multi-million dollar company called Toomes Aerodynamics and used his tech to become a supervillain and steal Spider-Man's youth (something his comic book counterpart had also done). however, that's pretty much all he does throughout his appearances in the series, which makes him seem like a desperate old man as opposed to the sociopathic supervillain from the comics.
Created by Hank Pym, Ultron evolved, constantly developing and bettering himself so he could one day destroy the Avengers along with the rest of humanity. He typically appears as a humanoid robot, equipped with adamantium armor and various weaponry hidden away. Aside from his original appearance as the Crimson Cowl and his most recent appearance as a robotic Hank Pym, he has seldom deviated from that appearance.
In Avengers: United They Stand, his characterization has all the essentials but falls flat with the design of the character. Ultron hounds the Avengers with purple armor and what looks like a larger array of weaponry than his form can handle. It detracts from the complexity of the character and just makes him look like a cartoon evil robot from a kid show, which, admittedly, he was.
5 ABSORBING MAN
One of the Hulk's (and Thor's) classic villains is the Absorbing Man. Once a boxer by the name of Carl Creel, thanks to Loki, he was given the power to absorb the properties of any material he touched. His character is violent and has done frighteningly great things like help Loki conquer Asgard.
He was adapted for The Incredible Hulk, but of course he was toned down a bit for the sake of the kids. This version of the Absorbing Man (voiced by Jim Cummings) was pretty much just a superpowered thug for Miss Allure, who had hypnotized him into submission. He breaks free and has his revenge but never gets to develop as a villain. His powers aren't ever even fully explained, he simply is what he is in the show. We can understand that they couldn't include Thor, but there was no real reason why they had to ruin the character by including him at all.
In the comics, Jax-Ur is a Kryptonian scientist exiled to the Phantom Zone for the destruction of one of Krypton's moons, once inhabited by 500 souls. He escaped his imprisonment a couple of times and while he did acquire superpowers, he has never been a match for Superman. In fact, he pretty much always finds himself back in the Phantom Zone, scheming with the likes of more powerful villains like General Zod.
Superman: The Animated Series never included Superman's classic arch-nemesis, but it did include Jax-Ur (voiced by Ron Perlman), or a version of him. It meshed the characters of Jax-Ur and General Zod together and the result was a character bearing Jax-Ur's name but a history and drive that seemed to resemble Zod, but without the genocidal tendencies. This was an attempt at getting Zod in the series without using the character; consequently, it was a complete evisceration of Jax-Ur.
A lot of classic villains from Spidey's rogues' gallery were adapted for Spider-Man: The Animated Series but there were still quite a few that were left out. For the majority of the series, it seemed audiences wouldn't see Electro in the series, but that changed in the fifth season when he appeared in the episode "Six Forgotten Warriors" (written by John Semper Jr.). However, while he had the costume and powers of Electro, his character was completely different and far from the supervillain comic books fans had come to know.
Unlike Max Dillon the electrical engineer, the animated Electro (voiced by Philip Proctor) is the son of the Red Skull and named, Rheinholt Schmidt. He acquired his powers from the Red Skull, who used his doomsday device to create the ultimate weapon. It began as an interesting take but ultimately, it ruined the character completely.
2 HUGO STRANGE
Comic fans will know Hugo Strange as the brilliant psychiatrist who was able to deduce Batman's secret identity and became so obsessed with the dark knight that at one point he attempted to replace him. Strange's twisted experiments also created cannibalistic monster men who he would use to steal money and fight Batman. He only ever appeared once in Batman: The Animated Series, in the episode "The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne" (written by David Wise).
Instead of deducing anything or using his brilliant intellect, he uses a machine that allows him to read thoughts in order to discover Bruce Wayne's alter-ego. Wayne is able to stop anyone from believing Strange's claim and Strange never appears in another episode. They took away pretty much everything that made the character memorable in the comics and clearly had no idea what else to do with him.
1 MR. MXYZPTLK
This funny little imp was first introduced in the comics in Superman #30 (written by Don Cameron, art by Ira Yarbrough and more) as a powerful being from the fifth dimension, capable of warping the very fabric of reality. His only weakness was being tricked into saying his own name backwards, which would send him back to his home dimension.
That might work for a great one-off appearance, but Superman: The Animated Series included the character twice. Both times, he managed to somehow get Mr. Mxyzptlk to say his own name backwards. It was funny the first time and annoying the second, especially after he used Bizarro to basically annoy Superman in "Little Big Head Man" (written by Paul Dini and Robert Goodman). We're not going to lie, another huge reason why we thought this villain was ruined was because, to add insult to injury, Gilbert Gottfried provided the voice.
What other characters do you think '90s cartoons ruined? Let us know in the comments!