Generally speaking, my main focus of Super Saturday is on shows that actually aired on Saturday mornings, but as I plan to cover more Marvel shows, I figured I should start from the very beginning, and it just so happens that the first Marvel cartoon aired on weekday afternoons. (Actually, I have already covered on Marvel series, ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’.)
Many fans have fond recollections of various Marvel Superhero cartoons from when they were growing up– ‘X-Men’, ‘Spider-Man’, even ‘The Silver Surfer’ has his own series for a while. But the first excursion of Marvel champions into animation was a truly bizarre footnote.
In 1966, Grantray-Lawrence Animation delivered the syndicated package ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’, which aired on weekday afternoons in select cities. However to call these cartoons “animated” is using the term at its loosest. The art was xeroxed directly from comic books, just as the scripts were lifted from the word bubbles. The resulting episodes featured a slap-dash of pencils by the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Don Heck among others. And while the characters mouths moved and their eyes blinked, there was very little movement otherwise. An arm here. A leg there. Generally, movement was achieved by panning or jostling the camera, while comic book sound effects– “Pow!”, “Bang!”, “Whoosh!”– popped up onscreen.
On the positive side, this technique resulted in perhaps the most faithful adaptations of these stories. On the other, once again, this hardly qualifies as an “animated” series. Nowadays, this series is best remembered for its bouncy theme songs. The show itself had an opening theme, but each individual hero had his own jingle as well. Jack Urbont composed these, and I will discuss him more at the end.
Below is the general opening for each episode:
“Captain America” aired on Mondays, “The Incredible Hulk” on Tuesdays, “The Invincible Iron Man” on Wednesdays, “The Mighty Thor” on Thursdays, and “Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner” on Fridays. Each daily episode was made up of three shorter segments (about 7 minutes long), which all tied together into one larger story. There were a total of 13 30-minute episodes made for each individual hero.
The “Captain America” segments were pulled from both the World War II-era and the Silver Age. Sandy Becker, a regional TV announcer, and host of ‘The Sandy Becker Show’, voiced Cap/Steve Rogers, while radio DJ Carl Banas voiced Bucky in the WWII episodes. Later episodes showed Cap being thawed out by the Avengers– Iron Man, Giant-Man, The Wasp, and Thor. Still later, Cap led a newer lineup of Avengers, made up of Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
In his episodes, Cap faced off against the Red Skull, Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil, The Super-Adaptoid, The Swordsman, and others.
Here is the “Captain America” theme:
“The Incredible Hulk” featured Max Ferguson as the voice of the Green Goliath, and Paul Soles as his alter ego Bruce Banner, as well as sidekick Rick Jones. Soles would go on to voice Spider-Man/Peter Parker on the ‘Spider-Man’ cartoon, which arrived the following year.
While ‘The Marvel Super Heroes” in general was not widely distributed over the years, “The Incredible Hulk” segments were the least seen. In the ’80s, when episodes of ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’ were released sporadically on VHS, a newer, better ‘Hulk’ cartoon had been made, so that was issued instead.
Among the villains the Hulk battled on ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’ were The Leader, the Toad Men, The Chameleon, The Space Phantom, and The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime.
Here is the intro to “The Incredible Hulk”:
Actor John Vernon provided the voice for Iron Man/Tony Stark, as well as Namor the Sub-Mariner. Vernon is probably best known for playing Dean Wormer in ‘Animal House’, the Mayor in ‘Dirty Harry’, or Fletcher in ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’.
Among his foes on this series were The Mandarin, Ultimo, Crimson Dynamo, Hawkeye (who also appeared as a hero in the “Captain America” segments), The Black Widow, The Moleman, and the Black Knight.
Here is his swingin’ opening theme song:
Thor’s episodes aired on Thursday, the day whose name is derived from “Thor.”
Thor/Dr. Donald Blake was voiced by Chris Wiggins, who portrayed the father Johann Robinson in ‘Swiss Family Robinson’, and would later portray Jack Marshak on ‘Friday the 13th: The Series’ which aired in the late ’80s-early ’90s.
Among the villains featured on “The Mighty Thor” were Loki, Sandu, The Enchantress & the Executioner, The Grey Gargoyle, Mr. Hyde, The Tomorrow Man, Pluto, and Molto the Lava Man. He also squared off against his fellow god, Hercules.
You can check out his theme song below:
And winding up the week came “Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.” As mentioned, his voice was provided by John Vernon, who also voiced Iron Man.
On his cartoon, Namor battled Dr. Doom, Warlord Krang, and Attuma among others.
The most notable appearance on “Sub-Mariner” was the first animated version of the X-Men. Of course, this was the original X-Men, Professor X, Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl. They appeared in Episode 12 which was comprised of the shorts: “Dr. Doom’s Day,” “The Doomed Allegiance,” and Tug of Death.”
Interestingly, this story adapted ‘Fantastic Four Annual’ #3 (1965), but the Fantastic Four were unavailable because Hanna Barbera was in the process of creating their own cartoon series, which would debut the next year. So the X-Men were used in their place– particularly the Angel who subbed in for Human Torch in this episode. For whatever reason, they weren’t called the “X-Men” but the “Allies for Freedom.” Also, presumably, because there wasn’t a female voice actor available, Marvel Girl didn’t speak.
In the ’90s, after the ‘X-Men’ animated series became a huge hit, these episodes of “Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner” were released on a VHS tape, deceptively touting that the X-Men were included, with a picture of Wolverine on the cover. (Which was an outright LIE!) Pity the poor ’90s child who bought this thinking they were going to see Wolvie, Storm, Gambit, and Rogue, only to be met with this crude, barely-moving series of shorts, showcasing the Silver Age X-Men… who weren’t even called the “X-Men!”
*Sigh* At any rate, here is the theme song to “Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner”:
Chris Wiggins, who voiced Thor, also supplied the voices for Hawkeye, Kraven, Grey Gargoyle, Professor X, Count Nefaria and more. Bernard Cowan served as the narrator of all the segments, and also voiced Odin, The Melter, Captain Torak, The Ringmaster, and others.
Other notable actors who contributed to this series included Len Carlson who voiced Quicksilver, Loki, the Mad Thinker, and the Black Knight; Vern Chapman – Edwin Jarvis, Super-Adaptoid; Gillie Fenwick – Baron Heinrich Zemo, Radioactive Man, Leader, Batroc the Leaper, Space Phantom, Mister Hyde, and others; Tom Harvey – Happy Hogan, Giant-Man, Iceman, Chameleon, Super-Skrull, Crimson Dynamo, and more; Paul Kligman – Thunderbolt Ross, Red Skull, Warlord Krang, Mole Man, Metal Master, and Power Man; and Ed McNamara – Swordsman, Titanium Man, Boomerang, and Mad Thinker.
There were only two female voice actors credited. Margaret Griffin voiced Pepper Potts, Black Widow, and Countess de la Spirosa. Vita Linder supplied the voices for Betty Ross, Lady Dorma, Jane Foster, Enchantress, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Sharon Carter, Peggy Carter, Lorelei, and others. Apparently neither was on hand when Marvel Girl made her appearance on “Sub-Mariner.”
‘The Marvel Super Heroes’ only aired in big cities. For WNAC-TV in Boston, Arthur Pierce portrayed a live-action Captain America who hosted the show, with other actors portraying Dr. Doom, Hulk, and Bucky. The scripts were provided by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. As far as I know, there is no surviving footage of this, but I’d kill to see it!
Not only was the show not shown everywhere originally, it hasn’t been seen much since. In the ’80s, some episodes were released on VHS. A few episodes have also been released on various DVD collections, and a lot of it can be found on Youtube.
I’m not sure what the rights situation is regarding this series, but it is not available on Disney+, like the majority of Marvel ‘toons.
As previously mentioned, perhaps the most notable thing about this show was the theme songs, penned by Jack Urbont. Below is an interview with the songwriter, where he recalls the process of creating these peppy jingles. It’s pretty fascinating! Enjoy!
Grantray-Lawrence Animation did not have a long life. After ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’, the studio delivered ‘Max, the 2000-Year-Old Mouse ‘ and ‘Rocket Robin Hood’, before releasing its final project, ‘Spider-Man’ in 1967. That was a marked improvement over ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’ and featured full animation. The legendary theme song was also composed by Urbont. Presumably, like ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’, the rights to ‘Spider-Man’ are tied up, as it is not currently available on home video or on Disney+.
But, like I said in the beginning, despite this being a significant part of Marvel history, this series is very crude and hard to watch nowadays.
Look for profiles on subsequent Marvel cartoons in future Super Saturdays. But for now, what do you think of this early attempt at Marvel animation?