Monday, 22 November 2010

Marvel cartoons. Pining for glory through the bars of a Pennine cage.

The 1960s' Amazing Spider-Man cartoon, trapped by Dr Octopus
"I don't care if you do do Saturday Night Fever
impressions. You're still barred."
Look at that picture hard. In so many ways it sums up my childhood. I was Spider-Man, those bars were the Pennines, and Dr Octopus was the people of Lancashire.

Growing up in Yorkshire, I knew one thing - that we had the dullest TV station in history. A quick glance at the TV schedules told me that people in neighbouring Lancashire's Granada TV region seemed to be getting a virtually non-stop diet of Marvel super-hero cartoons and old Gerry Anderson shows. Well, when it came to Yorkshire, Gerry Anderson was often a rare treat to be slotted unannounced into the Sunday afternoon schedule when, for whatever reason, they had nothing else to show. And as for the Marvel cartoons? We didn't get them at all.

It rankled mightily that, probably no more than twenty miles away from my house, audiences were being treated to super-powered derring-do of a style guaranteed to blow the mightiest of minds, while we were watching Richard Whitely interviewing a ferret.

Of course, later, thanks the wonders of YouTube, I could at last see all those cartoons Yorkshire TV'd so cruelly denied us, and discovered I hadn't exactly missed the finest animation known to man.

But I'm sad.


I'm very sad.

And so, despite their total uselessness, I get a strange pleasure from watching those cartoons. Their oddly inanimate animation and often hopeless miscasting of voice-artists holds a strange allure. Why, for instance, did Peter Parker have the voice of a middle-aged man in a hat?

But of course, the real gift those cartoons gave us had nothing to do with animation, writing or acting.

It was music.

When it comes to the matter of which is my favourite theme tune from those shows, it's a hard one to go for. There's always the inappropriate Americanness of the Thor theme, the weirdly 1940s Hollywood corniness of the Sub-Mariner song and the good old back-alley wildness of Spider-Man. Meanwhile, the admirable idiocy of the Hulk theme trying to rhyme "Gamma Rays" with "unglamorous" is a work of near genius. The worst was the Fantastic Four theme, an aimless piece of jazz that seemed to have been randomly acquired from some unmade Irwin Allen production.

But in the end I'd have to say my favourite's the Captain America theme, mostly because the air of gung ho,  Mom's Apple Pie squareness suits the cartoon's protagonist down to the ground.

For those who need reminding of the magic of the Captain America theme, here it is. Altogether now; "When Captain America throws his mighty shield..."


Anonymous said...

The situation was actually somewhat similar here in the US. Fantastic Four and Spider-Man were on a national network (ABC-TV) in 1967, but those other Marvel cartoons (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk) were in syndication, so their distribution was limited. I saw them while growing up in the suburbs of a major city, but my relatives who lived on a farm in the countryside had never heard of them. The same with the Gerry Anderson shows. Fireball XL5 was broadcast on a nation-wide network (NBC-TV) sometime around 1964. The others were syndicated, so it was kind of scatter shot. You hear Americans say things like, "I remember Spider Man, but I didn't know there was a Thor cartoon." Or, "I saw Thunderbirds, but our local TV station didn't carry Stingray."

Anonymous said...

Those Marvel Super Heroes cartoons did bring a whole new meaning to the phrase, "limited animation."

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