Back To The Drawing Board With Eric: The 1st Marvel Connected Universe
A lot of people still marvel at what Marvel films has done with their Cinematic Universe (ya there’s a pun there and I regret nothing). So much so that it seems like every other studio is trying to replicate Marvel’s formula, or at least has plans to.
No matter how excited I get for the upcoming slate of Marvel Films, I can never forget that this the second time I’ve seen something like this. No I’m not talking about the comic books (they of course are obviously built for that), I’m talking about the 90s cartoon shows from UPN and Fox Kids (separate networks, impressive). As a kid in the 90s I too had a connected Marvel universe to watch and enjoy. So, I’d just like to honor it.
Fantastic Four (1994-1996)
Let’s start off with probably the worst of these shows. I’m not going to have much to say as it wasn’t a series I watched a lot. I haven’t even tried to re-watch it because I can only barely make it through the cheesy intro. Like the movies, it’s a shame that the show isn’t especially good since the comics were great. The main thing I remember is this show introduced me to the character of the Silver Surfer… who I originally thought was Iceman. Honestly I remember the “Fred and Barney Meet The Thing” show more. No, the Flintstones don’t interact with good old Ben Grimm as the title would suggest. It was just “Flintstones” shorts airing with “Thing” shorts where he was a teenager who used a magic ring to transform into the Thing to do hero stuff. Well I’m beginning to ramble, so let’s examine its place in the Marvel Animated Universe.
How it was connected: This one is somewhat more debatable than other shows. While it did introduce many Marvel characters, they often only appeared on “Fantastic Four” and nothing else. Also the showrunner (basically the guy who runs the show’s day-to-day creative decisions) of “Spider-Man” HATED this show. In fact, he hated it so much that when the Fantastic Four would later appear during a crossover they completely recast the all of the roles (except for Quinton Flynn as the Human Torch). Unlike all of the other crossover roles, they didn’t even try to follow their designs from said show. However what definitely makes this a part of this animated universe is the crossover it had with “The Incredible Hulk” – A cartoon which was undeniably connected.
Incredible Hulk (1996-1997)
Most of the time in TV, the first season is so-so then the next season gets more serious and better. This show somehow managed to not only do the opposite, but be better for it. The first season was fairly dark in theme and visuals. However, it apparently wasn’t getting the viewership they were hoping for. So, for the second season they decided they wanted to go with more comedy and added She-Hulk as a regular character. She-Hulk is one of my favorite comic book characters, so this was a plus as they got her down pretty perfectly. Also, they followed Peter David’s run from the comics with Bruce Banner’s broken psyche producing two different Hulks. The regular green one (“Hulk smash!” and such) who was voiced by Lou Ferrigno. At other times Banner would instead change into the Grey Hulk, which is my favorite version of the Hulk. He’s not as strong as the green Hulk but he’s smarter, as in he can talk coherently and has quite the ego on him. Basically he is Banner’s id. So even though the show didn’t take itself as seriously as it’s 1st season, the show expanded the Marvel world and introduced the young me to, what are in my opinion, the best parts of the Hulk franchise. Seriously, I really hope they make the jump to the films.
How it was connected: This show was somehow very connected, yet not connected at all. On one hand, It did have crossovers with “Iron Man” and “Fantastic Four” with their proper voice actors. In fact, the “Iron Man” crossover went both ways. He was meant to appear in “Spider-Man” for their Secret Wars arc, but was prevented for legal reasons and replaced with the Lizard. He also cameoed in an episode of the “X-Men” in Juggernaut’s dream sequence. Like “Spider-Man” this was a FOX show where as “Hulk” and the rest on this list were UPN. I assume this was because the X-men episode in question aired a couple of years before the “Hulk” show came into being. By the time the Secret War arc aired on “Spider-Man,” Hulk already had his own show.
Iron Man (1994-1996)
Can I just say how weird it is to think of Iron Man as THE mainstream Marvel character. I never would have called it from what I saw and understood of the character as a kid. Like the “Fantastic Four” section this will be a little light ,as I can’t remember a lot about the show. Unlike that series, I actually do recall liking “Iron Man” as a kid. Although, I remember his crossovers more than his actual show. As I read other people’s recollections on the show during the second season, it seems that it got retooled to have a darker and more serious tone. I honestly can’t remember a big difference. Iron Man, for me as a kid, was probably the least interesting character. I didn’t care for the show, but the “Fantastic Four” had 4 main characters I liked and wanted to learn more about. The main thing I can remember about the old “Iron Man” show was Tony Stark’s amazing 90s mullet. Seriously I think “Iron Man 3” missed out on the early flashback scenes by not putting Robert Downey Jr. in a wig to reference this point of Iron Man’s history.
How it was connected: As mentioned before “Iron Man” had crossovers with “The Incredible Hulk,” and it also crossed over with “Spider-Man.” However, this wasn’t a one-and-done sort of thing. He did it three times. Of course in the Secret Wars arc that I mentioned earlier, but even before that Iron Man was firmly established as being a figure in Spider-Man’s universe. First, in the Venom and Carnage episodes; which was an odd adaptation to say the least. “Spider-Man” was heavily censored so Carnage’s Cletus Kasady couldn’t be identified as a serial killer, nor could Carnage be his normal totally chaotic evil force of nature. You know, killing anyone he comes across… just cause. No, they had to add in tie in with Dr. Strange’s to justify Carnage’s motives of stealing people’s life forces. You may be wondering what this has to do with Iron Man and War Machine, but that’s about as random as their purpose in the crossover is. They’re just kind of there helping out… because. It’s the same voice actors and design so it’s nice, but still weird. Then a few episodes later, Tony Stark appears in the beginning of a story to cut the funding to the antagonist of the episode’s project, thus giving the villain his motivation. And that is all Stark does in that episode. Again, I assume the reason this UPN show and FOX show able to do these crossovers was due to the “Iron Man” show being canceled by the time of these episodes.