While Batman and Wolverine got all the press, these comic toons ended up in the footnotes of animation history…
After decades of hokey tie-ins, goofy super friends, and hanging out with Scooby-Doo, Batman finally got cartoons worthy of The Dark Knight with the 1992 premiere of Batman: The Animated Series. Show masterminds Bruce Timm and Paul Dini imagined a world of dark tones, serious plots, and a Gotham stripped down to its most essential parts, and it all worked beautifully. Not only has the series defined Bats ever since and started an entire DC Animated Universe, but it also paved the way for many more comic cartoons – though not all were as memorable.
Sure, the X-Men and Spider-Man had long runs in their day, but they were hardly alone when jumping on the bandwagon, even if few recall these other shows ever existing. Not only did Marvel try to hit the big time with several other series, but many independent hits got the animation treatment. In fact, long before The Walking Dead, publishers like Image had a number of shows on TV, if ever so briefly. Do you remember any of these from Saturday mornings? And are they worth revisiting? You be the judge…
Malibu Comics is such an intriguing victim of the rise and fall of the ’90s comic industry. Just as Image was proving there was room for more than Marvel and DC, Malibu used cutting edge production and unprecedented contracts with top tier comic creators like George Perez and Norm Breyfogle to make waves. Extremely ’90s heroes like Prime and Topaz were just as interested in social issues as they were in saving folks, giving off an MTV Generation vibe. While never as huge as Spawn, Malibu and its Ultras (their code for super-powered folk) even got its own animated series in 1995. However few folks saw Malibu’s syndicated run.
In both comics and cartoon form, Ultraforce was Malibu’s answer to the Avengers or Justice League, though the opening seems to be 90% similar to X-Men’s animated series intro. Ultraforce was a cornball show, and by the time it arrived, Malibu was already on its way to being aquired by Marvel. Canadian voice actors and Galoob action figures couldn’t save Ultraforce’s home base, and while the show doesn’t warrant much love, give it credit for attempting some linearity and mature storytelling; it even killed off a regular character! Also, you’ll probably never get to see this officially released, because the legal status of all this is still very up in the air.
Jim Lee was the most popular X-Men artist of all time, with his X-Men #1 breaking records as the best-selling comic at one time. Soon after he struck out on his own with Image Comics and his imprint Wildstorm, premiering with the book Wild C.A.T.S. – which stands for “covert action team.” The team had a shadowy boss, a bland team leader, an amnesiac with knife-hands, a gruff guy in a trenchcoat, and a longhaired psychic in a skintight suit, but they were aliens, not mutants. Even with those similarities, Lee’s art was still strong enough to warrant high sales numbers and cartoon in 1994.
Premiering alongside Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and produced by the same folks as Care Bears, WildC.A.T.S. was a one season wonder as part of CBS’s short lived Action Block of Saturday morning cartoons. For all its similarities, WildC.A.T.S. actually had superior animation to X-Men most of the time, and who knows how much better it would’ve looked had it returned for a second season. Unfortunately, the comic boom had gone bust by 1995, meaning WildC.A.T.S. was just about finished before their show even premiered. Sure, the book kept going for years, but it wasn’t the blockbuster it began as in 1992.
By the time of WildC.A.T.S. TV premiere, Jim Lee and his pals were already pushing a new comic that was gaining even more steam with fans. Instead of building a book around X-Men clones, why not just fill it with angsty/sexy teens? Gen-13 was full of youngsters who were hip to the max, listening to Soundgarden while experimenting with bisexuality. One character is literally named Grunge. They were a popular group, but these teens were way too sexy for Saturday morning, leading to them heading straight to video in 1999.
Gen-13 got a fairly accurate origin story told in their feature-length first adventure that used the unrated format to fit in some shower scenes and swears fitting the book’s style. Not only that, Kevin Altieri was directing it fresh off his run on Batman: The Animated Series. So why didn’t you see this back in the day? Because Disney was going to release it, but backed off when Wildstorm was bought by corporate rival Warner Bros. It got limited release in Europe and now is mainly seen via bootlegs, while Gen-13 themselves are merely a dated afterthought.