We love us some superhero cartoons.
Best ever: the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, of course, especially the middle two seasons. Classics to be revisited again and again. The animation, the voice acting, the characterization, the plots -- just perfect.
Runner up: the 1990s Batman, of course. Both were in the same universe and used many of the same animators and voice actors, but the "Timiverse" Batman had its own distinctive, gloomy aesthetic. Edged out only because the wide-screen Justice League was just so darn fun.
Honorable mention: Teen Titans Go. Pitched to a slightly younger audience, but that's fine. Got a bit repetitive over time, since the five personalities never evolved or changed much. On the other hand, some eps -- especially in the last two seasons -- were really astonishingly good. Still gets plenty of DVD time here in the house.
(The discerning, comics-aware critic will have noticed these are all DC cartoons. That's because the Marvel cartoons have just not been as good. Don't know why, but there it is.)
More recently, we have:
Legion of Super-Heroes -- decent kid's fare, sadly cancelled after just two seasons. Suffered from very uneven writing and animation that was, by today's standards, just okay. On the other hand, they were willing to kill off Ferro Lad and have a Legion of Substitute heroes ep. The second season isn't out on DVD and maybe never will be. I'm debating whether to spring for it on iTunes.
Batman, Brave and the Bold -- So much better than expected! The first few eps left me underwhelmed, but this has really grown on me. It's a callback to the campy Batman of the 1960s TV series, which sounds like it should be horrible but actually isn't bad at all. They're mixing retro versions of the DC heroes (clean-shaven Green Arrow) with modern ones (teenage Hispanic Blue Beetle); partly this is to make the ethnic mix a little less whitebread, but partly it seems like they're just cherrypicking. "Let's use the original Doom Patrol and, uh, Mad Mod!"
It's been picked up for another season, which is good. The boys love it.
Wolverine and the X-Men -- Well, this one gets a bit complicated. It's a sequel of sorts to the X-Men: Evolution series, which wasn't all that great. Wolverine got the marquee spot presumably because it was launched along with the movie -- remember the movie? -- but also because, hey, Wolverine.
It's... way uneven. Some eps are just stupid. Some are a confusing whirl of characters (there's a huge cast, as they keep throwing X-characters from the comics' forty-year history into the mix) and fight scenes. There are a lot of fight scenes, most of which seem to involve a lot of grunting. "Grrrr... Ungh... Arggh!!"
But just when you're ready to write it off, there'll be an ep that's just solid. The one where Wolverine fights the Hulk? Not only does that have about five different shout-outs to the comics (it takes place in Canada, with the Wendigo as the real monster), but it's got a lovely tangly double-cross plot involving SHIELD and Nick Fury. (Cartoon Nick Fury is black now. That's how cool Samuel L. Jackson is: he plays a character for ten seconds, and now everyone agrees that oh yeah, it's better if Nick Fury is black.)
It's damaged by the fact that Wolverine -- who stars in every ep -- is just not that impressive in terms of either animation or voice acting. In fact, the voice acting generally is weak. Kurt Wagner's fake German accent is awful, and Gambit's fake Creole accent is worse. On the other hand, Emma Frost is dead on -- so arrogant and snotty you want to slap her, yet oddly sympathetic. It's the whole series in cameo: uneven.
Anyway. The boys like it, grunting and all, and that's what counts.
Spectacular Spider-Man -- Now this is just wrong. Spectacular Spider-Man is the best superhero cartoon since Justice League... and it's been cancelled after just two seasons.
It's a damn shame. SSM had everything -- great animation, great voices, cool fight scenes. Excellent fight scenes -- the one with the Lizard at the end of the first plot arc is just damn fine animated action. But at the same time, it had a heart -- Peter Parker was a nerdy kid struggling to do right in a tough world, and the superhero battles were always build around that.
As I said earlier, Marvel superhero cartoons were always crappier than the DC versions. SSM was the exception: the first Marvel series that deserved to be on the same shelf as the great Timiverse DC cartoons from the 1990s and early 2000s. That it's been cancelled... well, TV is not fair.
-- 500 words on superhero cartoons. Well: I am an old comic book geek, and I have three little boys. We watch these. It's a thing that we do.