MARVEL SUPERHEROES – A Look Back at the 1966 Cartoon
The astronomical success of THE AVENGERS and its $200 Million worth of state-of-the-art CGI effects shows how far the Marvel Universe has evolved. Marvel Comics first foray into film was a 1966 syndicated package of cartoons called Marvel Superheroes that ran on local TV stations. Marvel comics announced the upcoming series in the “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins” of the November 1966 issues, stating “It won’t be long before our swingin’ super-heroes make their star-studded debut on TV, appearing five nights a week – that’s right, five – count ‘em -five nights a week, for a half-hour each night. So you’ve just got time to make sure your set’s in good working order – check your local paper for time and station – and prepare to have a ball!”
Featured in Marvel Superheroes were Iron Man, The Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Captain America, and Thor. The show was a collaboration between two TV companies: Krantz Films was the producer and the Grantry-Lawrence animation studio, which consisted of three men; Grant Simmons, Ray Patterson, and Robert Lawrence, was the production house. A year later, Grantry-Lawrence would produce the first season of The Amazing Spider-Man cartoon with improved animation while Krantz Films would go on to produce the X-rated animated hit FRITZ THE CAT in 1972. Marvel Superheroes was composed of 195 six-minute segments, three of which combined to make a complete story arc/show. There were 13 complete shows (39 segments) for each hero. It initially ran from September 1, 1966 to December 1, 1966.
The color series had extremely limited animation that was produced by a process they called xerography, consisting of photocopied images taken directly from the comic books themselves and manipulated to minimize the need for animation production (not to be confused with “Synchro-vox” the style used on the Clutch Cargo show where real human lips were creepily superimposed over equally static animation). Marvel Superheroes took the term limited animation literally. In fact, in a creative cost-cutting measure, there was almost no real animation at all, the animators simply clipped the drawings of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko straight out of the comic book, and animated one or two parts of the character, or in some cases they crudely moved a static picture of the hero across the background to simulate walking, or moved the camera around to give the illusion of motion, which of course saved a lot of time and money. This gave the cartoon a very stiff and cheesy look not only relative to cartoons of today, but even their 1966 counterparts. Even in an era of low production values, Marvel Superheroes stood out from the crowd in terms of crudeness. The animation, if you’re generous enough to call it that, was so limited, that for many, the amazing spectacle of it seems to have blotted out every other aspect of the show. But one strength Marvel Superheroes had, and it’s the reason that hard-core Marvel comics fans still defend the show to this day, was its willingness to convert plots almost verbatim from the comic book pages. They were indeed faithful to their source stories, perhaps more than any other media. Another highlight of the show was the individual theme songs. The Hulk’s theme had the lyrics “Wreckin’ the town with the power of a bull. Ain’t no monster, clown, who is as lovable as ever-lovin’ Hulk! – Hulk! Hulk!” They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore. Iron Man (and a few other characters) was voiced by John Vernon who would go on to star as Dean Wormer in ANIMAL HOUSE as well as the warden in the Linda Blair classic CHAINED HEAT.
Marvel Superheroes was popular enough to spawn a series of Marvel Superhero trading cards (which also included images of Spidey and Daredevil), the backs of which formed together to make a puzzle. A box of 24 unopened gum card packs recently sold at auction for $2,200. Super-8 sound (and silent) films of Marvel Superheroes were sold for the home market and three of those, IRON MAN “Vs. Ultimo”, THE HULK “The Power of Dr. Banner”, and THOR “Battles the Evil Destroyer”, will be screened next Tuesday, June 5th as part of the monthly Super-8 Movie Madness Show in St. Louis at The Way Out Club. Other Super-8 films scheduled for that night are THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, THE WIZARD OF OZ, Christopher Lee in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, IT’S NOT THE SIZE THAT COUNTS, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN, THE WASP WOMAN, TORA TORA TORA, a James Bond 007 Trailer Reel, The Who’s TOMMY, The Guinness Book of World Records Volume 2, and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL ! The Way Out Club is located at 2525 Jefferson Avenue in South St. Louis (corner of Jefferson and Gravois) and the show begins at 8pm.
Here’s the animated opening to Marvel Superheroes (which actually had relatively decent animation)