As a kid I can remember coming home from school to flip on WXON TV here in the Detroit area to watch my favorite comic book heroes every afternoon. In 1966, Marvel Comics, still a budding young company dipped their toes in the water of animation by bringing several of their most popular characters to the small screen in an animated anthology series known as Marvel Super Heroes. Each day featured an episode featuring a different Marvel character: Captain America (Mondays), The Hulk (Tuesdays), Iron Man (Wednesdays), The Sub-Mariner (Thursdays), and Thor (Fridays). 13 episodes were produced for each character and each of the episodes was broken down into 7 minute segments to give it a cliffhanger, comic book feel.
The show was produced by the Gantray-Lawrence Animation studio who would also produce the first season of the Spider-Man animated series in 1967. Now, calling Marvel Super Heroes “animation” is a bit of a stretch. The show was in reality an early motion comic. Panels were used from actual Marvel Comics and then given some limited movement such as throwing/punching motions, mouths moving, etc…But on the other hand the show provided an opportunity to see the artwork of Silver Age greats like Jack Kirby, Don Heck, and Steve Ditko brought to life. Even better, the show adapted stories directly from the comics, largely unchanged. The show usually even used the same story titles as the comics.
Captain America would battle against the Red Skull and his Sleeper Robots, taken directly from Tales of Suspense # 72 – 74. Thor would battle Hercules in “Who the Gods Would Destroy” an adaptation of Journey into Mystery # 126. The Hulk meets The Watcher in an adaptation from Tales to Astonish #74. One of the highlights of the show was that it featured numerous other heroes making guest-star appearances. When Baron Zemo firsts puts together his “Masters of Evil”, The Avengers including Thor, iron Man, The Wasp, and Giant Man come together to battle them in one of the Captain America episodes. Other Avengers like Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Swordsman, and The Scarlet Witch would also make appearances. On Iron Man, guests included The Black Widow, and the Black Knight as Iron Man faced off against his most lethal foes including The Mandarin, Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, and Ultimo.
The Sub-Mariner gets an assist from the X-Men to battle Dr. Doom in Episode 12 of his series: “Dr. Doom's Day, The Doomed Allegiance, Tug of Death” The Angel, the Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl take the place of the Fantastic Four from the original comic story since Gantray-Lawrence did not have the rights to the FF. Those rights were held by Hanna-Barbera who produced a Fantastic Four animated series from 1967 to 1970.
The voice cast featured an eclectic group of actors and personalities. The most famous was deep, gravelly-voiced John Vernon who provided the voices of Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, and Major Talbot. Vernon would go onto fame in such films as “Dirty Harry”, “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and perhaps most famously as Dean Wormer in “Animal House”.
Sandy Becker, who voiced Captain America, was a well-known TV personality in New York who hosted various children’s TV programs in the 1950s and 1960s.
Chris Wiggins, voiced Thor, Hawkeye, and several others. Wiggins is an veteran English actor of film and TV who lent his voice to numerous animated productions including Star Wars: Ewoks, Star Wars: Droids, Care Bare Movie II, ALF the animated series, Tales from the Cryptkeeper, Robocop The Series, and Sailor Moon. Wiggins might be most recognized from his role as occultist Jack Marshak from the 1987 – 1990 syndicated Friday the 13th TV series.
Paul Soles was a long-time voice actor and provided the voice of Bruce Banner, Hawkeye, and Rick Jones. Soles also provided the voice of Spider-Man/Peter Parker in the 1967 animated series as well as the voice of Hermey the Elf from the holiday classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
And I would be negligent if I did not make note of the catchy theme songs that each character had, especially the Hulk’s with the famously singable, “Doc Bruce Banner”.
Marvel Super Heroes was released on DVD by Disney several years ago and its availability is iffy. Hopefully with the wave of popularity of the Marvel Films we will see a re-release or a blu-ray release in the near future. The quality of the animation may not have been the best, but compared to the watered down simplistic stories of the DC Comics animated shows from Hanna Barbera or Filmation from the same time period, Marvel Super Heroes gave you the chance to re-live the glory of Marvel’s Silver Age with classic stories and artwork.
And I would be negligent if I did not make note of the catchy theme songs that each character had, especially the Hulk’s with the famously sing-able, "Doc Bruce Banner, belted by gamma rays, turned into the Hulk. Ain't he unglamo-rays! Wreckin' the town, with the power of a bull, ain't no monster clown, who is that lovable? It's ever lovin' Hulk! HULK!! HULK!!"
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