Cartoons have long been an ally of comic books. Many of us got our first taste of superheroes through the television before we ever picked up a comic book and continue to pass on the tradition with our own children through programming like Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Marvel’s Super Hero Squad.
As anyone who has ever watched a superhero cartoon or movie knows, music plays an important role in setting the mood and can tell you as much about the hero as plot or dialogue. From Danny Elfman’s Batman theme to John Williams iconic Superman score, music can make a good superhero movie great.
With both of these things in mind, today’s Comicscape takes a look at some of our favorite superhero cartoon intros. Not necessarily our favorite shows and not necessarily the best; but the opening credits that set the tone and let you know that some serious truth and justice was about to be served.
The X-Men cartoon from the ‘90s was known for bringing a new level of storytelling to Saturday morning cartoons. It featured ambitious storylines that may not have been exact reproductions of the ones we saw in the comics, but definitely took a lot of inspiration from them. It also featured some of the most boring, lackluster animation since the days of Clutch Cargo. It just looked terrible.
However, in the Land of the Rising Sun, animators created their own intro for the X-Men cartoon and it is nothing short of breathtaking! Can you imagine if we were treated to a show that looked like this?
Wow. That intro actually manages to make me think Jubilee is cool. On the flipside, there’s the Pryde of the X-Men, which was an attempt to get an X-Men cartoon going just a few years earlier. It’s got an animation style reminiscent of G.I. Joe and a theme song that’s … well, it’s of its era. Here’s a link.
Speaking of theme songs that are of their era, we have to mention Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. The cartoon only lasted one year and by now has been largely forgotten, but we’ve been singing the theme song ever since.
Hey, it was 1994 – does it come as any surprise that it sounds like Jim Lee hired C & C Music Factory to write the theme song? In this case, the C’s stand for “cheesy” and “catchy”. $20 says you’ll be humming that one all day.
Recent animated incarnations of the Justice League have yielded some pretty sweet music that perfectly captures the majesty of these godlike beings, but none have come close to matching the bombastic intros of the Superfriends. Pick one. Pick any of the Superfriends series’ and you’re guaranteed to get a fantastic theme song. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one.
The original Superfriends cartoon began airing in 1973. If you were a villain in the ‘70s and heard the familiar ‘duhn-duhn-DUHN duhn-duhn-DUHN DUHN’ opening notes of the theme song, you knew it meant your ass. Couple that with Ted Knight talking about “the cosmic legends of the universe” and it was all over.
But it also featured Wendy, Marvin and Wonder Dog: junior heroes so lame, they made the Wonder Twins look like Wolverine and Sabretooth. So as awesome as those first few seconds might be, should it really make the cut?
Later incarnations of the Superfriends hit a little closer to the mark, with an intro that dropped the zeroes for some better heroes – and some fantastic still shots that appear to be Neal Adams Batman artwork.
This was one of the more famous intros and was even parodied by The Family Guy with uncanny accuracy. But all of these theme songs pale in comparison to the greatest. The one that really got your blood pumping when you were a kid: The Challenge of the Superfriends.
Now that is what we’re talking about. It gets no better than the Legion of Doom vs. the Justice League of America. The most dastardly collection of criminals and evildoers ever assembled! And when you saw that lineup of heroes walking toward the camera with a glint in their eye… oh you knew it was ON! Nothing would escape their homogenized brand of non-violent justice! Nothing!
It might not have been the highest quality program on television but in 1967, Spider-Man finally burst out of comic book pages and onto TV sets everywhere. True, the animators didn’t even bother to put all of the webs on Spidey’s costume, but they more than made up for it in the theme song department. The highly quotable and oft-referenced song by Academy Award winner Paul Francis Webster and Robert “Bob” Harris ranks as the greatest superhero song this side of Batdance.
It’s the show that slapped us all in the face, made our jaws hit the ground and showed that an intelligently written and beautifully animated superhero program really could exist. It proved that it was possible to create an animated series that respected its audience, whether the viewer was 7 or 75. It paved the way for… well, we kinda think it paved the way for everything good that’s come since.
And even if Batman: The Animated Series had never existed and all we had was this 1 minute intro, it would still be one of the coolest animated expressions of superheroism that we’ve ever seen.
There are a few others we would’ve liked to include on this list, such as the 1982 Incredible Hulk series and of course, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. If we branched out a bit, we’d include Dungeons & Dragons and Thundarr the Barbarian, which weren’t really comic book cartoons but kinda felt like it. But alas, time and space take their toll and we must cut our conversation short.
So we pose the question to you, dear readers – what animated introductions set your blood a’boilin’? What have we left off our list? Sound off in the comments section and we’ll see you in next week’s Comicscape!