Back To The Drawing Board With Eric: The 1st Marvel Connected Universe
“X-Men” is probably the most-loved of all, and with good reason. It was a really good show. It’s no “Batman: The Animated Series,” but like that it did do a good job capturing the comics and actually treating the subject with some intelligence. Yes, the designs of the characters were highly detailed which caused the animation to be kinda jerky looking and rough, but the characters were done right and the atmosphere was fun and exciting. From its famous opening theme (if the movies ever put an orchestrated version I’ll give it an automatic perfect rating), to the fact they never shied away from darker moments of prejudice, to exploring all the characters at different times with their own episodes, it was excellent. To give one example, the episode that still shocks me today revolves around the Nightcrawler. Unlike in the comics, Nightcrawler never became a part of the team. Instead the azure teleported just guest starred all throughout the episode. The episode mentions God again and again. Nightcrawler’s religion is a big part of the character and something you’d expect them to delete for a children’s show, but they don’t and I really respect them for that. I still wonder why they could get away with this but “Spider-Man” got so censored. We’ll get more into that on the next one. Now the next X-Men movie, “X-Men Apocalypse has a lot to live up to. In the show Apocalypse was one of the coolest villains ever. I really hope Oscar Isaac has lines as badass sounding as “I am the rocks of the eternal shore, crash upon me and be broken.” I could go on and on about this show and how good it was for its time, but I’ll save that for another day.
How it was connected: Much like the comics and even now the film series, this rarely connected to the other shows. Honestly, for the X-men it actually makes more sense. There are certainly enough characters for them to have their own universe, and the general concept and tone doesn’t always gel perfectly with the rest of the Marvel universe. It’s main crossover EVERYONE who watched these shows remembered was when they guest starred in a two parter on “Spider-Man.” At the time, Spider-Man was dealing with his mutation going out of whack and having the constant threat of turning into a monster. He goes to Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters thinking Prof. X cures mutants. When he gets there we kids were delighted to not only see all the X-Men characters from the show, voiced by all of the same actors and the same designs (though a lot of them were recolored for some reason), but this really felt like a true meeting of the two shows. They even could actually use the awesome 90’s X-Men theme. As expected Wolverine is used the most, but they also give some good development to Beast. I really can’t overstate how mind-blowing this was as a kid, our two favorite shows coming together. Although Fun Fact, Spider-Man did make one other cameo early in the series even before he got his own show. Well his hand did anyways, see if you can spot it the next time you re-watch the show (especially the Dark Phoenix Saga, hint-hint).
Not the most loved, not the worse just a solid series that sometimes gets a bum rap from certain people. There were some issues, as mentioned above this show was heavily censored. Spider-Man, a superhero who fights crime, wasn’t allowed to punch on the show. The words “death” and “kill” had to always be changed to “destroy” or something like that. It reused footage all the time. A number of episodes felt really rushed, like they could easily have gotten multiple episodes out of it. Meanwhile, other storylines would stretch on for whole seasons when they could have wrapped up so much faster. Vampire characters came to suck your… plasma. The Coup de grâce being that there was a specific rule that Spider-Man must not squash on or hit any pigeons when he landed on a rooftop. I have no words for that one…
However with all of those issues aside, it was a pretty good show. I know I complained about the pacing, but there were also plenty of times when the show was really good about it. It almost always did a good job of introducing major characters before becoming their famous comic book character. Due to different creators being involved with the creation of the show and the person who would end up actually making the show (John Semper), they often had weird things like the Hobgoblin being created BEFORE the Green Goblin. In the comics it’s kinda important that it’s the other way around, but they managed to make it work for the most part. The Kingpin was a great example of the dichotomy of the series. On the one hand he was used way too much. Probably after Spider-Man himself, he was the most recurring character on the show. Almost every crime or villain related back to him in some way. On the other hand, they really nailed his character and had a fantastic voice actor (Roscoe Lee Browne). Also, I’ll just say I like how they handled his origin more than in the recent Netflix “Daredevil” show. Never quite as heavy as “X-Men” but just a solid series with an impressive voice cast and some amazing animation from TMS. My only real problem with the show was how it was canceled on a cliffhanger of Spider-Man trying to find Mary Jane, and this was right after he had met Stan “the man” Lee in the real world.
How it was connected: Well at this point of the list, I think I’ve covered most of the other crossovers except for Secret Wars, which I’ve only been teasing so let’s get into it. For those who don’t know, Secret Wars was a famous Marvel comic book universe wide event. Much has been made about it originally being created to promote a line of action figures, but the comics themselves have become classics in their own right. So “Spider-Man” knew it had to do something special for its final season making the last episode arc before the finale was an adaption of Secret Wars. A lot of changes in the story were needed for obvious reasons, but it was really cool as a kid to see multiple shows crossing over at once. You just didn’t see stuff like this at that time. Heck, Bruce Timm’s “Justice League” wouldn’t happen until a couple years later. This was the closest we kids had to an Avengers show on TV, and it was awesome. Better shows have come along (ex: “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”) and better ones were on at the time on other networks, but hey, things had to start somewhere.