Marvel Animated Universe: Then and Now

While many people remember the DC Animated Universe, some may not realize that Marvel had an animated universe of its own. The Marvel Animated Universe consisted of the following shows X-MEN, IRON MAN, FANTASTIC FOUR, SPIDER-MAN (1994), THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1996), SILVER SURFER, SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED, and THE AVENGERS: UNITED THEY STAND. Unlike their DC Counterpart, these shows were not created by one person or one group solely.

Different companies created each show with a different goal in mind. Since different companies created the shows, not everything fits together so smoothly. For example, SILVER SURFER never addresses the character’s time on FANTASTIC FOUR and what made him change his mind about being Galactus’s herald. Another example is Venom’s history throughout SPIDER-MAN and SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED.

Marvel Animated Universe

In SPIDER-MAN, Venom does not immediately attach to Spider-Man once he gets on John Jameson’s ship. Spider-Man falls into the river below and is then attached to it. In SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED, the symbiote attaches to Spider-Man immediately. It is seen that S.H.I.E.L.D. takes Venom away in SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED.

SPIDER-MAN only showed Eddie Brock being separated from the symbiote and then put in a regular jail cell. He only gets out through the help of Baron Mordo who also is responsible for the creation of Carnage.

READ: Want to learn more about SPIDER-MAN THE ANIMATED SERIES?

Despite the differences between shows, there are still many similarities that could possibly bind the universe together such as THE INCREDIBLE HULK crossing over with IRON MAN, Juggernaut appearing on FANTASTIC FOUR after appearing on X-MEN’s previous episode before, and Robert Hays reprising his role as Iron Man in SPIDER-MAN.

Marvel Productions

These shows were not Marvel’s first attempt at making a connected universe through animation. That honor belongs to Marvel Productions LTD., a television and motion picture studio division of Marvel Comics. They created a universe with SPIDER-MAN (1981), SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS, and THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1982).

The two Spider-Man shows did not connect well with THE INCREDIBLE HULK, but connected well with each other. The only major connection was when Doctor Octopus, voiced by the same actor from  SPIDER-MAN (1981), fought the Hulk. The two Spider-Man shows used similar animation and actually used clips from the first Spider-Man series and put it in SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS.

The Ultimates

Another attempt was made through animated movies ULTIMATE AVENGERS, ULTIMATE AVENGERS II, and NEXT AVENGERS: HEROES OF TOMORROW. ULTIMATE AVENGERS was an adaptation of Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. The Ultimates was an alternate version of the Avengers set in a more modern setting.

The other two movies continue the story set in the first one. The movies had developed and interesting characters. The stories were engaging and the animation was amazing. These movies honored the source material and truly made these characters three-dimensional.

Christopher Yost

Writer Christopher Yost created his own animated universe through multiple series as well. His was arguably one of the best-animated universes that Marvel had created. It comprised of WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, HULK VS WOLVERINE, HULK vs THOR, THOR: TALES OF ASGARD, and THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES.

READ: Want to know more about the future of SPIDER-MAN films?

These shows were loved by critics and fans alike. They told great stories with interesting characters and good character development. While HULK VS WOLVERINE, HULK VS THOR, and THOR: TALES OF ASGARD were movies, they still had connections to the tv shows. For instance, footage from HULK VS. WOLVERINE was shown in a WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN episode where Wolverine had to confront the Hulk again on behalf of S.H.E.I.L.D.


AVENGERS: EARTH MIGHTIEST HEROES was the greatest Avengers cartoon ever made. The only other Avengers show before this was AVENGERS: UNITED THEY STAND. AVENGERS: UNITED THEY STAND focused more on the West Coast Avengers and their adventures. While it did take inspiration from the comics, they focused on more obscure heroes that no one cared about.

Also, they gave everyone futuristic armor that made them look weirder than normal. THE AVENGERS: EARTH MIGHTIEST HEROES showed the original team including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk. The show gave audiences looks at different alien races and great storylines taken from the comics. They brought on obscure heroes and villains and made them look amazing.

The New Marvel Animated Universe

The New Marvel Animated Universe

Marvel Animation created their own universe with ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H., and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. These shows are spin out of each other. They are made to look similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts. Instead of good story and good character development, they use a lot of slapstick, cheap jokes, and try too hard to be similar to the movies.

Thanos became the villain for AVENGERS ASSEMBLE after being teased at the end of THE AVENGERS. That would have been fine, but they did not take the time to develop him or give him a reason for wanting to kill the Avengers. Thanos was slapped around by the Avengers once the Infinity Gauntlet was taken away from him.

READ: SO MUCH SPIDEY, We Love Spidey Here At CV And Here Is Why!

At the end of the second season, Ultron came out of nowhere with no introduction and immediately challenged the Avengers. This was at the time that AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON was coming out so they had to put Ultron in. Ultron had not be seen prior to that moment but The Avengers seemed to already know who Ultron was.

This new Marvel Animated Universe does not put in the time to develop their characters. Instead, they try to appeal to kids that are fans of the movies and use that to get those kids to watch the shows. These shows appeal to little kids, but they don’t have any deep or complex stories that can appeal to older demographics as well. All these shows try to go for a comedic tone and it will only hurt them in the long run.


This summer, a new animated SPIDER-MAN series will air and a new season of AVENGERS ASSEMBLE has already premiered. Many fans are asking for THE AVENGERS: EARTH MIGHTIEST HEROES or THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN to come back. Though, there is a good chance that the new shows are going to be similar to ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN or AVENGERS ASSEMBLE.

If Marvel really wants to change their animation, then they need to honor the source material. They should stop trying to make every cartoon comedic. If they can let the writers actually decide the direction the storyline will go instead of the movies, then these shows will be loved better than they already are.

Comments 6

  1. There’s plenty of character development and complexity in the current animated shows.

    * Harry Osborn’s entire arc in Ultimate Spider-Man is his struggles with living with a neglectful father who exploits him for his own gain.
    * White Tiger overcoming her trauma after losing her dad, and having the fight the urge to murder.
    * Black Widow overcoming the guilt from her past, Tony Stark’s loss of the only thing his father had left to give him (Arsenal), and Bruce having to face his fear of losing himself to the monster.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that many characters you seen these shows, especially Ultimate Spider-Man, have never even been referenced in the MCU.

    So I don’t know where you’re coming from, but it sounds to me that part of the reason for why you’re giving the same, tired and incorrect ‘criticisms’ about the current MAU is just to say what the ‘people’ want to hear.

  2. How long did each of these arcs last though? Most of them were brought up and dealt with for about one episode.
    Ultimate Spider-Man was good for the first season. Paul Dini and Man of Action do know how to make great cartoons. The problem is after that season, no more development really happened.
    Bruce Banner within the new animated universe is stuck as Hulk. They never change him back.

  3. Much of the character development is alluded to through out the series, and eventually gets it’s own episode for resolution. Bruce Banner himself is prominent in several episodes of Assemble’s 3rd season and has some moments of development with Black Widow towards the end of the season.

    A lot of the new shows, aside from maybe Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t play out as dramatic as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes or Spectacular, and they don’t have to be. Kids can enjoy different styles of writing, even from super hero shows. The 90s shows like X-Men and Spider-Man were extremely overdramatic and silly looking them now, without nostalgic glasses. Those shows were good for their time. I don’t think they need to be held up on the same standard today.

    Even then, Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble still maintain development through nuances and character interaction. Yeah, they’re more light-hearted takes on the characters, but their backstories are still relatively the same. Even if they joke a little more, there’s nothing that should “disrespect” the fans IMO.

    1. It’s not a matter of different writing styles, it’s just bad writing. The fact that people still go back and watch the 90s shows as much as they do is a testament to how good they were (even though they were so cheesy). I guarantee that no one will be going back and watching Avengers Assemble in 20 years, it is truly awful writing.

  4. If you love Josh Keaton as spiderman then spread #Joshkeatonisspiderman and #drakebellisnotspiderman and tweet them at Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb so we can get the Josh Keaton Spider-Man episodes of avengers EMH and since we’re getting a new spiderman movie, cartoon, and video game and the fact that it’s the fifth anniversary of all three of Spider-Man’s appearances on EMH as well as the fifth anniversary of the second season of the show there is no better time than now to show your love for Keaton as spidey and for marvel to release the un dubbed versions of “along came a spider”, “new avengers”, and “avengers assemble”. #Joshkeatonisspiderman #drakebellisnotspiderman

  5. I don’t know if you emphasized quite enough how truly terrible the new movies have been. The Hulk Iron Man movie was so bad that I physically could not watch it after 10 minutes. And you hit the nail on the head with Avengers Assemble. It really felt like they existed solely as ads for the movies bit the effect was honestly counterproductive.

    There are SO MANY people at Marvel Animation that need to be shown the door.

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