4. Savage Dragon
Sometimes it pays to keep your expectations very low. While Jim Lee focused on CBS and direct to video, Eric Larsen’s series got to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond on cable. The Savage Dragon is a joyously ridiculous book, that included Dragon battling God and the devil, aging in real time, and living the life of a Chicago cop (though with more blood and puss-covered foes than most policemen face). While toned down for USA’s kids programming, most of those extreme elements were still present in the animated series of 1995 and ’96.
The show lasted one more season than WildC.A.T.S., which is sad because it wasn’t even half as good. The main problems; painfully cheap animation, laughable writing, and lame fights that would have been left on the editing floor of shlock like the Street Fighter cartoon. The only plus it has was a stellar set of voice actors. Savage Dragon was played by Jim Cummings (best known Darkwing Duck and Tigger). Other talent included Mark Hamill, Tony Jay, and Star Trek’s Michael Dorn. Casting will only take you so far though, and after 26 episodes, the series was done – though Larsen is still dedicated to the comic which recently passed its 200th issue.
3. Silver Surfer
The Silver Surfer is one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes, but even his fans will admit he can be a total bore. He’s a Christ figure who flies through space, meets random aliens, and then solves their problems using his nigh infinite power. And all that happens as Surfer constantly pontificates about existential questions on the nature of existence. Shockingly, that spirit was channeled a little too well for his ’90s Saturday morning cartoon.
After Fox Kids’ mid-90s success with X-Men and Spider-Man, the Saturday morning juggernaut was looking for another Marvel hit in 1998, and in retrospect it’s nuts that they chose Surfer over Captain America or Thor. The CG-heavy show stuck very closely to Jack Kirby’s dream of cosmic adventures, with a focus on lesser known characters like Adam Warlock, Thanos, and The Watcher. After the first season was done, the show was cancelled during production on the next batch of episodes. Some said because Surver was so odd, but the producers insist it was due to contract disputes with Marvel.
2. The Mask: The Animated Series
Though most may think the subject of this cartoon got its start with the Jim Carrey film, it really got its start in Dark Horse Comics in 1989. The comics were super violent and his madcap action had gory real-world results. The movie toned that down considerably and also spared Stanley Ipkiss’ life (which didn’t happen in the comic). Carey never appeared in the horrendous sequel, nor did he appear in the CBS cartoon, though the animated series fared far better than Jamie Kennedy’s live-action revival.
The show ran for three years, with voice acting vet Rob Paulsen doing a more-than-decent job of recreating Jim Carrey’s performance with a number of jokes that likely wouldn’t fly on network TV today. And the show ended with a bang by featuring a crossover with the awful Ace Ventura cartoon, uniting Jim Carrey-actures into one butt-obsessed two parter. There are worse ways for a show to end.
1. Swamp Thing
Thanks to Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and other comic creators of the 1980s, Swamp Thing became one of the most important figures in mainstream comics. His stories brought new maturity and nuanced storytelling to a mossy creature created for cheap horror books. At the same time all that was happening, Swamp Thing also starred in multiple films and TV shows that did far less artful things. Swampy’s very brief animated run has to be the furthest thing from Moore’s vision, as the show basically reached the campl level of the later Ninja Turtles seasons.
The original opening (a parody of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing”) was cornball wonderfulness, but was gone by the second episode, perhaps due to legal action of some kind. Swampy still had very eco-friendly adventures, but his reflective journeys beyond consciousness were replaced with fistfights against characters designed to be toys first and characters second. Swamp Thing even got a couple vehicles, because you gotta sell accessories with the toys. Shockingly, the series only lasted five episodes as part of an anthology series, and despite the many DC animated shows and films since, Swamp Thing has yet to appear in any of them. C’mon, the show wasn’t that bad.