What the Marvel Super-Heroes looked like on Saturday mornings

Every Marvel Comics fan is probably salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at the upcoming May release of the new Avengers movie, as well as some standalone films that will be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Yeah, and I’m also waiting for the new Fantastic Four reboot and hoping it’ll be better than the last two FF movies.  That, and the upcoming Spider-Man movie, which may or may not be part of Sony’s upcoming schedule.  But that’s just me.

Anyways, today’s blog features something special.  These are clips of Marvel’s superheroes in action on television, way back in the 1960’s.  Some of these cartoons were done by the top animators of the day; others were done with serious budgetary constrictions in mind.

Take, for starters, these cartoons featuring Captain America.  This was part of a syndicated “Marvel Super Heroes” series; it featured three five-minute clips that could be shown as its own stand-alone episode; it could be shown as part of a “Cartoon Character And His Friends” collage of cartoons; or it could be aired with a live host and a bunch of kids in the studio audience.

Does that animation seem a bit … stiff to you?

Well, the same company also did an Iron Man cartoon at the same time, here’s what that looks like.

Yeah, if you can get past the corny theme song, then the storyline is pretty impressive by 1960’s standards.

In addition to Iron Man and Captain America, that studio also crafted a Hulk cartoon, a Thor cartoon and a Sub-Mariner cartoon, all of which could be shown throughout the week. Here’s a Hulk episode.

Remember what I said about the animation in these cartoons being totally stiff? Well, this studio took the concept of televised “limited animation” to its extreme, to the point where they just traced the action right out of the comics pages. Notice how everybody’s standing completely still, and motion for any character is barely a few frames here and there.

The Marvel Super Heroes did have a nice animated intro if you wanted to air the shows five days a week…

And I’m not sure if this was Marvel’s first fan club or not (as opposed to FOOM, Friends of Ol’ Marvel), but the five-episodes-per-week format featured a sing-along song about joining the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

The studio that produced these clips? A small company called Grantray-Lawrence. Now here’s the interesting point. This studio also created a half-hour show featuring another Marvel superhero, and it looks as if they spent more money on that show – better animation, and a cooler theme song.

Oh yeah. Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can… damn it, now that song’s stuck in my head. Ha.

Of course, there’s one set of Marvel super-heroes that weren’t part of the Grantray-Lawrence animation factory. That would be Reed Richards, his girlfriend Susan Storm, her brother Johnny Storm, and the big bad Benjamin J. Grimm. Yep. While the rest of the Marvel superhero conglomerate were being painfully xerographed at Grantray-Lawrence, the Fantastic Four were enjoying action and adventure (and a Hoyt Curtin theme song) over at Hanna-Barbera.

Eventually these shows would disappear into the mists of time; some episodes would appear on DVD releases, others as part of a syndicated rerun package (the Fantastic Four episodes, for example, were part of a “Hanna-Barbera’s World of Super Adventure” syndicated series that included Space Ghost, the Herculoids and the Impossibles).

By the 1970’s, the Fantastic Four came back for another Saturday morning run – well, it was more like the Fantastic Three, plus some robot called Herbie… there are several theories as to why the Human Torch wasn’t included on this show; either the Torch was supposed to have his own television show, or the network didn’t want kids imitating the Human Torch by trying to light themselves on fire.

Meanwhile, an early 1980’s iteration of Spider-Man featured his own superpowered team-up group, as he became buddy-buddies with a pair of mutants – Iceman (from the X-Men) and Firestar (a new character created specifically for the series, but now part of Marvel canon). Hey wait a minute, Spider-Man can have a friend who can turn into a flying fire, but the Fantastic Four can’t? Hmm…

And of course, you can see all the tropes of 1970’s / 1980’s Saturday morning animation – the goofy disco-inspired theme music, the toning down of any abject violence, all of that.

And today, we get billion-dollar theatrical blockbusters on the big screen. We wait for the latest teasers of trailers for these movies. This is exciting.

And as far as I’m concerned, it’s just as exciting as waking up before everybody else on Saturday morning, running downstairs, grabbing a bowl of Froot Loops or Apple Jacks, and turning on the television and watching as many Saturday morning cartoons as I can before some adult figure wakes up, shows up in the living room and tells me to turn the damn TV off and go outside and play quietly.

Ah, memories.