On the latest installment of TV and Movie News (posted July 8th), Cubby emphasized that Marvel “has their movie stuff down.” He is absolutely right. Since the recent boom in superhero movies (which started with Marvel’s film X-Men), Marvel has put out many more quality live-action films than DC.
Cubby was also right to emphasize “movies.” As much as Marvel has left DC in the dust regarding high quality live-action films, DC has just as equally surpassed Marvel in the arena of animation – be it series or features – for over two decades. One reason that DC’s animated series have been superior to Marvel’s is because DC doesn’t get bogged down by continuing storylines. Easily the most annoying aspect of Marvel’s animated series was a Spider-man or Cyclops voiceover: “Previously on X-men…”
For example, while the 90s series of X-men was an excellent series, Batman the Animated Series exceeds it in storytelling, art, and voice acting. Why? Because the creators of BTAS were allowed the freedom to write stand alone stories, reinvent characters, and even create new ones.
To prove my point that DC is better at animation than Marvel, I’ve decided to list the best DC animated series and feature films in order of excellence.
Batman: The Animated Series – Bruce Timm and BTAS revolutionized superhero animated series (even cartoons as a whole). I could easily write 20 pages on this series alone, but let me mention two things that set it apart even from Bruce Timm’s subsequent projects. One, it has style. Before all these new-finagled computers took over animation, BTAS was drawn on black paper. The architecture, cars, and clothing of the show has even dubbed it’s own term: “Dark Deco.” Two, it has excellent writing. Batman is immersed in the realm of the psychological and BTAS takes full advantage of that, even tweaking the origins of villains like Mr. Freeze and Two-Face to emphasize their subconscious motivations.
Favorite episode: This is tough. “Heart of Ice” won an Emmy. “Heart of Steel” has awesome references to 2001, Bladerunner, and Terminator. But I have to go with “Almost Got ‘Im” because of the montage of villains: Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Killer Croc, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold – If BTAS is “Dark Deco,” Brave and the Bold is funky. It’s just campy enough to be nostalgic of the 70s comics, but action-packed enough not to be ridiculous. B3 is drawn in the style of the 1970s series and mixes 70s characters (Batmite, anyone?) with modern ones (Blue Beetle and OMAC).
This cartoon is great for family television while also thrilling to Batman fanboys. Each episode starts with a mini-caper in which Batman teams up with another hero (or a heroine) followed by a full-length episode with a different partner and adversary. The best part of this series is the unique superheroes and villains or unique 70s incarnations of the mainstream characters (i.e. Flash sporting the disc helmet and Catwoman in the purple dress). Where else could you see animated versions of Detective Chimp, B’Wana Beast, Crazy Quilt, and Kite Man?
Now I haven’t seen every episode of this series, but I doubt any episode would replace “Mayhem of the Music Meister” as my favorite. The uber-talented Neil Patrick Harris guest stars as the Music Meister. Unlike Spider-man 3, this episode takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to a Batman musical, not to be taken seriously and certainly not to Broadway. Check out the video below to see Gorilla Grodd unwillingly break into song.
Challenge of the Super Friends: This is the series that started it all. The only thing cooler than seeing your favorite superheroes all in one show was seeing your favorite villains as the Legion of Doom. I defy you to name one animated character who had a cooler voice and costume than Black Manta.
Favorite Episode: Like most episodes of this series, “Monolith of Evil” is simply fun. Plus it has a cool title.
Superman the Animated Series – This series did not have the same artistic style as the Batman series did, but the voice acting was right on the money. Plus STAS gives its audience a lot of The Man of Steel smashing into buildings, dismantling robots, and battling cool villains like Metallo, Bizarro, and Braniac. But I mostly enjoyed this series because it meant the creation of an animated DC universe and a Justice League series on the horizon. In this series we see Supes team up with Flash, Green Lantern, and of course Batman.
Favorite Episode: My biased choice is “World’s Finest.” Joker and Luthor vs. Superman and Batman. Harley vs. Mercy. I’m a sucker for anytime the Joker punks the big, blue boyscout.
Justice League Unlimited: This series took Justice League, which was exciting in its own right, and kicked it up a notch.
Favorite Episode: “Ultimatum” has reincarnated versions of Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and the Wonder Twins.
Justice League: The New Frontier: This animated feature does a fantastic job of adapting Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel DC: The New Frontier. No Kevin Conroy or Tim Daly, but NPH does voice the Flash.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm: I have seen every major superhero movie on opening night. This one opened on Christmas day. Right after I opened my presents, I chowed some popcorn and watched Mark Hamill at his best. Something HAS to be said for the only animated superhero movie to be released in movie theaters.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths: Owlman, Superwoman, Ultraman and all the Earth 2 doppelgangers make this movie fun. Plus the nihilistic Owlman is voiced by James Woods. I’m also a sucker for any story where Batman is the key to saving the rest of the Justice League.
Green Lantern: First Flight: I haven’t seen Emerald Knights yet because it hasn’t arrived on Netflix. But I enjoyed this retelling of GL’s origin. DC seems to release animated features like this as a sort of test market for their next live-action project (see also Gotham Knights and Wonder Woman). In fact, the live-action film should have employed Michael Madsen as Kilowog.
Which animated series or features do you think are the best? Did I miss anything from DC that you think should be on the list? Do you think Marvel is better? Use the comments section below to set me straight!