5 Ways DC's Animated Shows In The '90s Were Better (& 5 Marvel's Were) – CBR – Comic Book Resources

The 1990s were a golden era for animated series adaptations of comic franchises, but who did it better: Marvel or DC?
The ’90s were a complicated time for the comic industry, as it hit its highest sales and then cratered hard. Superheroes were big but it was different than it is now. The main way that non-comic readers got their superhero fix during that era was from animated series. Marvel and DC both put out some great animated series during this time, with the DCAU’s output considered some of the best animated content ever.
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That doesn’t mean that Marvel’s shows were chopped liver, though. Both companies had their triumphs in the ’90s and each could make the argument for having the best animated comic adaptations of the decade.
Marvel actually had more animated series in the ’90s than DC did but the only ones that are fondly remembered are X-Men: The Animated Series and Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Fantastic Four and Iron Man also got animated series in the ’90s but they each only lasted for one season and are both widely panned. The two shows had their moments but neither was very good.
The fact that half of Marvel’s ’90s animated output is generally considered terrible while none of DC’s are easily puts DC’s animated shows over the top as a whole.
The X-Men were huge in the ’90s, ruling the comic industry with an iron fist. The comics were remarkably opaque for new fans, taking a lot of reading for them to understand what was going on. The ’90s weren’t a time of comics being reprinted much, so many fans never had a way to re-read old X-Men stories beyond the undisputed classics.
X-Men: The Animated Series adapted a lot of X-Men stories, giving fans a chance to understand X-Men continuity that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. It did something that not even the MCU has done as well, which is to inspire people to go back and check out the source material.
In the ’90s, Marvel was eventually bought by Toy Biz, who had been making the comic company’s toys for years. While there were X-Men and Spider-Man toys based on those animated series, they weren’t nearly as good as the ones based on Batman: The Animated Series. Not only were there multiple Batman figures to buy but also all of the villains.
Toy Biz action figures were okay but not nearly as well made as the Batman: The Animated Series ones. There were also vehicles and playsets for kids to buy and everything about the line was better than the Marvel toys.
Spider-Man comics were always a big seller and the character is one of the most well known superheroes of all time. ’90s Marvel decided to test that theory with the Clone Saga, a story that would drive readers away in droves. Spider-Man: The Animated Series didn’t have that problem.
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While the show wasn’t perfect, it did a better job than that era’s comics of presenting Spider-Man stories to the general public. It showcased all of the classic villains and supporting characters, showing off exactly what made Spider-Man great. It gave Spider-Man fans a place to go that wasn’t the Clone Saga, which made everyone happy.
There are lots of amazing things about what would eventually be known as the Timmverse but one of the biggest factors in its success is the amazing voice talent within the shows. Voice actors like Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin, Tim Daly, Dana Delany, and Clancy Brown made Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series amazing.
Marvel’s animated shows had great voice talent but they really can’t stand up to the voice actors of DC shows. They inhabited their roles to such an extent that even today, many consider those performances to be the best versions of the characters.
While shows like Fantastic Four and Iron Man weren’t exactly well loved or even well done, they did something very interesting that DC’s animated shows didn’t. The DC shows were largely Batman- and Superman-based, even Batman Beyond. This was a very limited view of the DC Universe, even though both did branch out a bit.
The Marvel shows did a much better job of showing off the Marvel Universe. Fantastic Four showed off portions of the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe and Iron Man brought the members of Force Works— the “extreme” ’90s version of the West Coast Avengers— into the show. This let fans see sides of Marvel they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Superman was another comics character that went through a lot of strangeness in the ’90s and most of it wasn’t good. DC took a lot of chances with their iconic characters in the ’90s. Sometimes, those changes landed— but other times they didn’t, and Superman was an example of when they didn’t. Luckily, the animated series took a back-to-basics approach.
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Superman: The Animated Series did an amazing job of showcasing the kind of stories that make Superman so great. It was a classic look at the character, divorced from the changes of the ’90s, and made a whole generation of fans love the character.
While Marvel would have a precipitous fall in the latter years of the ’90s, for a long time the publisher was on top and selling millions of comics a month. Spider-Man and the X-Men were huge and Marvel putting them front and center in animated shows helped make them even bigger with ’90s kids. This helped Marvel’s presence in the minds of millennials, which would pay off when Marvel movies started coming out.
Marvel’s animated shows allowed the publisher to keep a toehold on consumer’s minds even after the comic bubble burst in the mid-’90s. This gave these viewers a positive image of the company which would pay dividends in the future.
Batman: The Animated Series started the comic character animated show craze of the ’90s and arguably did it better than any of them. The show is often considered the best Batman content of all time and captures everything that made Batman and his world so great. It was not only action packed but full of pitch perfect characterization and put on full display the pathos at the center of Batman characters.
Batman: The Animated Series pushed the children’s superhero cartoon to new places. It didn’t talk down to its audience and told great stories that fans of all ages could love. It introduced fans to classic Batman stories and characters, and also introduced Harley Quinn to the world.
1991’s X-Men #1 sold eight million copies and the ’90s were the decade of the X-Men. X-Men: The Animated Series was a huge part of that. The show came after the massive comic successes and reached an even bigger audience, going down as one of the best animated shows of all time. Even today, it’s fondly remembered by its fans and it being added to Disney+ was a cause for celebration.
X-Men: The Animated Series may not get the plaudits of Batman: The Animated Series but it’s extremely similar in a lot of ways. It took classic stories and characters, repackaging for a new audience and sacrificed little of the nuance or complexity. It remains some of the best X-Men multimedia content ever and made the team even bigger than before.
NEXT: The 6 Best Animated X-Men Shows, Ranked According To IMDb
David Harth has been reading comics for close to 30 years. He writes for several websites, makes killer pizza, goes to Disney World more than his budget allows, and has the cutest daughter in the world. He can prove it. Follow him on Twitter- https://www.twitter.com/harth_david.


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