Comic books and cartoons are like peanut butter and jelly — an irresistible combination. And while cartoons based on comic book stories and characters have been around for decades, there was never a better time for comic cartoons than the 1990s.
The genre experienced a true renaissance in the ’90s. A plethora of comic characters got their own animated series throughout the decade, and they introduced the iconic characters to a new audience in the same way that the movies are doing now. But what made them so great? Let’s take a look at some of the best examples below.
We need to start with Batman: The Animated Series, as it is the Holy Grail of comic cartoons and explains why this period worked so well. The show is not only considered one of the best Batman adaptations outside of the comics themselves, but many declare it to be one of the all-around greatest animated series ever made. The cartoon actually won four Emmy Awards during its run between 1992 and 1995. Its voice actors also served us what is considered by many to be the definitive voices of both Batman (Kevin Conroy) and the Joker (Mark Hamill).
But perhaps most importantly, the animated series helped shape future iterations of the Batman franchise, including introducing the insanely popular character Harley Quinn into the mythology. She first popped up as the Joker’s henchwoman, girlfriend, and former psychiatrist in an episode titled “Joker’s Favor” and instantly became a favorite among fans. Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley in Suicide Squad was considered many people’s favorite part of the film.
But aside from Batman: The Animated Series, there were other cartoons in the ’90s that showed the comic book universe how it’s done. While there was a cartoon version of Marvel’s Spider-Man in every decade since it was created in 1962, it was the ’90s version that had kids glued to their TV screens. The animated series had many of its episodes written by comic book vets and did a great job highlighting Spider-Man’s rich rogues’ gallery.
Those colors! Those stories! Those characters! The cartoon version of Marvel’s X-Men in the ’90s was about as compelling as cartoons get. The series pulled storylines straight from the comics, including the Dark Phoenix Saga, and dealt with some serious topics. The struggle of the mutants has always been considered a metaphor for racism, and the series even had storylines that paralleled things like the Holocaust and the AIDS epidemic. Frankly, some of the plots were so mature that our baby brains had a hard time keeping up as kids, but the vibrant characters and over-the-top action sequences definitely kept us hooked.
The series was so successful that it actually inspired a comic book spin-off, X-Men Adventures. At first, the comic was just an adaptation of the show’s first three seasons but it started creating original stories in 1996 when its name was changed to Adventures of the X-Men.
While the previous examples featured superheroes often dealing with serious subject matters, there were a few comic cartoons from the ’90s that placed an emphasis on making us laugh. The Tick, for example, first popped up as a parody of traditional superheroes in his 1988 comic book series. But the unlikely hero gained way more popularity after landing his own animated series on Fox in 1994. The Tick didn’t die there, however. The success of the cartoon inspired a live-action series in 2001 and was just revived as a comedy on Amazon in 2016.
The Mask: Animated Series was also a comedic cartoon hit in the ’90s, and while it closely mirrored the tone of the 1994 Jim Carrey live-action movie, did you know the story actually originated as a comic book? The Mask was first born in the late ’80s as a Dark Horse comic originally written by Mike Richardson before eventually being taken over by writer John Arcudi.
While those are some of the classic comic cartoons that captured our attention in the ’90s, there are still so many more. From The Incredible Hulk to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sabrina: The Animated Series to The Adventures of Tin Tin, there’s a seemingly never-ending list of comic-cartoon fun. But tell us, kids of the ’90s, which comic book turned cartoon was your favorite?