Before the rise of shared cinematic and TV universes, the superhero genre flourished in animation. Many factors contributed to these ensemble animated projects, but easily the most influential was its casting. The performances left behind by these voice actors successfully raised the bar for making superheroes feel like well-rounded characters. As hard as it is to remember a pre-MCU/Nolan landscape, these voices were all we really had.

Thus, without further ado, here is my top ten list for the best-animated superhero performances. Because this is my personal opinion, please don’t worry if a character you love didn’t make the list. I will also be focusing on Western animation heroes, the list will not include anime characters. And trust me, there were many choices I tearfully had to remove.

10. “Steve Blum — Wolverine (WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN)”

Animation
WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, Courtesy of Marvel Animation

It’s no secret that Hugh Jackman was the definitive physical version of Wolverine for seventeen years. Yet within the recording studio, it was legendary voice actor Steve Blum that embodied the character’s gruffness. Originally voicing Wolverine in 2004’s X-MEN LEGENDS, Blum goes on to play the adamantium mutant on multiple occasions. This included two big animation breaks for the character in 2009: HULK VS, and WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN.

While the former provided an epic crossover with Hulk voice actor Fred Tatasciore, the TV series really let Blum shine. After all, WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN put Wolverine into a situation he was not accustomed to being a leader. While Blum has played many versions of Wolverine, this remains the best for making him more than an animalistic killer. He’s the reluctant loner whose personal stakes drive him to be a hero, mostly by snktting adversaries with his claws.

But, if you just want to see him growl and fly into a berserker rage, Steve Blum has you covered there in other Wolverine adaptations.

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9. “Keith David — Spawn (SPAWN HBO)”

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Spawn, Courtesy of HBO Animation

Premiering in 1997, the same year as the ill-fated Spawn movie starring Michael Jai White, HBO Spawn wins by default. It’s just an all-around better interpretation of Todd McFarlane’s character, right down to the gritty and macabre animation design. Yet Spawn is not a show for kids, touching on themes like murder, rape, pedophilia, and government corruption. It is dark in the “successful Image Comics” mold.

These themes are explored by the tragic crusade of the titular Spawn, voiced by Keith David. David successfully portrays Spawn as something once human but twisted into a monster driven entirely by pain and rage. Having been left for dead, sent to Hell and reborn as a demon, all he can is fight against those who manipulated him. He might be a brooding loner, but you can’t help but pity his predicament.

Also, Keith David’s voice is naturally compelling and grandiose. Just watch GARGOYLES if you don’t believe me.

8. “Townsend Coleman — The Tick (THE TICK)”

Animation
THE TICK, Courtesy of Fox

If Spawn reflects one end of the emotional hero spectrum, the Tick represents his polar opposite. A nigh-invulnerable, slightly scatterbrained do-gooder, the Tick took great pride in defending his city from villainous evildoers. And nowhere was this parody of the superhero genre better portrayed than the 90’s animated series starring Townsend Coleman.

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Loud, ditsy, but completely endearing, Coleman’s tone successfully matched up with THE TICK’s smart writing. Every positive message that comic books tried to convey, this character took it to the logical extreme. Think Adam West’s Batman, but with the camp cranked up beyond even that show’s imagination.

Coleman delightfully played the Tick as an uber-optimistic man-child, spouting absurd monologues and being unreasonably devoted to justice. He probably cared more about fighting evil than ridding the world of it, but that positivity shines in his personality. He could say anything, no matter how cheesy or absurd, and truly believe that it inspires heroism in others. Or, he could deliver his trademark battle cry: Spoooooon!

7. “John DiMaggio — Aquaman (BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD)”

Animation
Aquaman, Courtesy of Cartoon Network

No matter how many badass moments he has, a large portion of the public will still perceive Aquaman as the butt of SUPERFRIENDS jokes. He’s the king of the sea, wields a trident and can manipulate water, but all people remember is “he talks to fish.” While Jason Momoa was charming in JUSTICE LEAGUE, it’s John DiMaggio’s vocal portrayal of Aquaman that’s truly…. outrageous.

With all the Silver Age absurdity displayed in BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, Aquaman proved its breakout star. A bombastic, yet lovable adventurer, Aquaman was always up for being a hero or telling an empowering story. Much like the Tick, he’s one of those characters who feel the most alive when using his abilities to fight crime.

This Aquaman worked on two fronts. This character took so much pride in his heroism and that it proved Aquaman was far from “useless.” Yet his antics were so insane that they proved incredibly comedic, especially with Dietrich Bader’s Batman as the straight man. In other words, John DiMaggio made people want to see more Aquaman, and that’s an outrageous feat to pull off.

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6. “Maria Canals-Barrera — Hawkgirl (JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED)”

Animation
Hawkgirl, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

The biggest tragedy of Hawkgirl’s DCAU characterization was that it was never adapted into the comics. At first glance, her presence might feel tacked on compared to the other six members of the League. Yet, it was JUSTICE LEAGUE’s continuation series UNLIMITED that gave her character’s outsider status a greater sense of pathos. Thanks in part to Maria Canals-Barrera’s vocal performance

Having revealed her status as a Thanigarian spy in LEAGUE’s Season 2 finale, Hawkgirl found herself torn between loyalty to her friends and her planet. The resulting conflict resulted in Hawkgirl not only leaving the team but rejecting her title and armor in the process. Her path of self-discovery created many great character moments, most notably with John Stewart and Solomon Grundy.

If anything, it’s a more compelling version of the character than what we got in LEGENDS OF TOMORROW.

5. “Phil LaMarr — John Stewart (JUSTICE LEAGUE/UNLIMITED)”

Animation
Green Lantern John Stewart, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

There’s a very good chance that John Stewart’s expansive role the GREEN LANTERN franchise is due to JUSTICE LEAGUE. Phil LaMarr brought so much to this character that made him feel like more than just an extra. Stewart was a no-nonsense military man whose responsibility to Sector 2814 was always unwavering. This made for a nice buddy dynamic with Flash, as the pair’s opposing personalities made for some great comedic moments

Yet it was Stewart’s relationship with Hawkgirl that really stood out. Their romantic relationship felt earnest and compassionate, yet was severely strained by the revelations of Hawkgirl’s past. And there were a number of moments where you couldn’t help but go “awwww.” Example A: their Christmas date together.

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To this day, I haven’t heard people complain about the lack of Hal Jordan or Guy Gardner in the DCAU. LaMarr was just that good.

4. “Tara Strong — Raven (TEEN TITANS)”

Animation
Raven, Courtesy of Cartoon Network

The 2003 TEEN TITANS cartoon, for many people, was their first introduction to the Titans as a character. It was a weird blend of action, comedy, character drama and narrative wrapped in a very anime-inspired art design. And yet what won the attention of viewers was how it the developed the Titans individually and as team members. Yet, of the five, Raven has always stood out for the contrast between her emotional baggage and non-expressive demeanor.

Having Tara Strong on this list seems inevitable, given the extent of her prolific voice acting career. Compared to Bubbles, Twilight Sparkle and Batgirl, however, Raven remains Strong’s most unique voice yet. The half-demon daughter of Trigon, Raven’s deadpan reactions provided a sharp contrast from the likes of Cyborg and Beast Boy. Not only was restraining her emotions tied to Raven’s supernatural abilities, but also an extension of her supposed cursed destiny.

Strong always excelled at showcasing Raven’s desire to emotionally interact with her friends, despite fearing the consequences. She cares for them deeply, but could never get too close lest her powers becoming unstable. The result is a character that manages to say a lot by showing very little on the surface.

3. “Tim Daly/George Newbern — Superman (DCAU)”

Animation
Superman, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

Cheating here? Possibly, but given that Daly and Newbern played the same character, I’ll make an exception. Building upon the template set by Christopher Reeve, Daly and Newbern created a Superman that best reflected his comic book roots.

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Rejecting the notion that Superman is too “perfect” to be interesting, DCAU Superman is powerful but incredibly flawed. He’s kind, humble and openly uses his powers to help others, albeit with the knowledge that he can’t do everything. There are moments when this character is challenged, beaten and downright humiliated by antagonists, both on and off world. Yet, despite all that, he remains a beacon of hope and optimism for the characters of this universe.

While there are moments in JUSTICE LEAGUE where Superman goes down too easy, strength has never been his defining feature. What matters is that people look at the emblem on his chest and see the best type of individual humanity can offer. And, hearing both Daily and Newbern voice the Man of Steel, you honestly the values they stand for.

2. “Josh Keaton — Spider-Man (THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN)”

Animation
Spectacular Spider-Man, Courtesy of Marvel Animation

Debates on the best Spider-Man voice come down to a generational divide between Josh Keaton and Christopher Daniel Barnes. Personally, I’ll side with Keaton because he successfully made the lives of both Spider-Man and Peter Parker worth investing in. This is mostly due to SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN’s quality writing, yet Keaton’s voice reinforces the importance of these two selves.

Keaton’s Spider-Man strikes the right chord between dramatic figure and a silly wisecracker. He takes his fights seriously when necessary, but taunts them as a means of getting under the villain’s skin. Yet this lifestyle is balanced alongside Peter’s friends and family, all of which are affected by his heroism. This dynamic is what makes Spider-Man a great character, constantly deciding between two roles at the risk of disappointing them both.

Listening to Keaton, you can easily hear his voice leaping off of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s comic panels. Whether it’s Peter’s easygoing voice, quippy Spidey, sinister Symbiote Spidey or a pained inner monologue, he can do it all. For a character like Spider-Man, whose biggest personality trait is his non-stop quipping, that’s a definite plus.

Honorable Superhero Voice Mentions:

  1. “Fred Tatasciore- The Hulk (THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES)”
  2. “Susan Eisenberg- Wonder Woman (JUSTICE LEAGUE/JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED)”
  3. “Khary Payton- Cyborg (TEEN TITANS)”
  4. “Jason Spisak- Kid Flash (YOUNG JUSTICE)”

The Ultimate Number One Animation Spot Goes To…

1. “Kevin Conroy — Batman (DCAU)”

Animation
Batman, Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

He is vengeance. He is the night. Kevin Conroy is the definitive Batman voice, period.

There’s a reason Conroy has continuously agreed to play this character for over twenty-five years. Beginning with BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, Conroy created separate voices for Bruce Wayne and Batman that felt genuinely distinct. He was gruff, intimidating, and mysterious on one side and playfully laid back on the other. Both halves proved better with audiences than anyone else could have imagined.

Following BATMAN, Conroy would go on to voice the caped crusader for an entire generation of fans. He has since starred in every DCAU show, numerous animated movies, as well as the ARKHAM and INJUSTICE video games. And, so long as he can still use that voice, there’s little chance Conroy will be stopping anytime soon.

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