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The 10 Best Comic Homages in Marvel Cartoons

Thanos in Super Hero Squad Show, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Ultimate Spider-Man Wolverine

Marvel Comics may not have invented the superhero, but they became a dynamo of creativity in the Silver Age. The House of Ideas created their most popular characters during that age, and some of the most iconic and genre defining moments sprang out of that era.

The decades that followed produced loads of cartoons based on the characters created in the 1960’s. Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Avengers, and The Fantastic Four have waxed and waned in popularity over the years, but they have starred in numerous cartoons. No matter what kind of take each different cartoon may have, they never forget what made those characters popular in the first place. Naturally, these cartoons pay tribute to their greatest moments in the form of visual homages.

10. Amazing Spider-Man #39 (seen in Spider-Man The Animated Series “Sins of the Fathers Chapter XIV: The Turning Point”)

Green Goblin ties up Peter Parker

The Green Goblin made his mark early on as the most dangerous Spider-Man villain had to face. While other villains may have been more powerful than him, the Green Goblin was more clever. He found out that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, dulled his spider-sense, and ambushed him in his secret identity.

The Green Goblin debuted so late in Spider-Man the Animated Series that he appeared after the Hobgoblin, but his impact was just as huge as his comic book counterpart’s. He spied on Spider-Man with a teleportation device and found out that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. As Norman Osborn, he baited Peter and all but said he knows that he’s Spider-Man. Once he had significantly messed with Peter’s head, Norman became the Green Goblin and attacked Peter directly. He tied him up, hooked him to the goblin glider, and flew him around the city just like in Amazing Spider-Man #39.

9. The Infinity Gauntlet #1 (seen in the season 2 intro to The Super Hero Squad Show)

Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet

Thanos was a threat of cosmic proportions in the comics. The Infinity Gauntlet, one of Marvel’s earliest crossovers, was driven by Thanos’ quest to bring all the Infinity Gems together and become the most powerful being in the universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe used Thanos and the Infinity Stones to connect its movies together on a large scale.

Before The MCU got there, The Super Hero Squad tackled The Infinity Gauntlet. While the show was a goofier version of the Marvel Universe with kid-friendly designs, the first season used the concept off Infinity Fractals before Thanos made his splash in season two. The intro is updated with Thanos brandishing the gauntlet in an homage to the cover of The Infinity Gauntlet #1.

8. Tales of Suspense #74 (as seen in What If…Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?)

Happy Hogan becomes the Freak

What If..?. is the first, and so far only, animated series that directly sprang from the MCU. Its episodes are based directly on events that happened in the movies, and all the episodes are callbacks to those events. However, the Christmas episode was a throwback to an old Iron Man adventure.

In Tales of Suspense #74, Happy Hogan undergoes experimental surgery and becomes a mindless brute called the Freak. While paying a visual homage to the comic transformation, What If…? changed up how Happy became the Freak and made him purple-skinned and more grotesque.

7. Silver Surfer #1 (seen in the intro to Silver Surfer)

Galactus empowers the Silver Surfer

Marvel loves its human heroes, but it has also gone cosmic on more than one occasion. The Silver Surfer was herald to the world devourer Galactus, but his conscience and love for humanity made him rebel against his master to save the Earth. He was given his own series in 1968 to explore the alien’s struggle.

Silver Surfer’s full origin as a man who sacrificed himself to Galactus to save his planet was told in Silver Surfer #1. When Norrin Radd was transformed into the Silver Surfer, Galactus’ open palm crackling with power births him like a cosmic, mythic figure. This image is homaged in the introduction to the Silver Surfer cartoon.

6. Uncanny X-Men #142 (seen in Ultimate Spider-Man “Game Over”)

Sentinel blasts Wolverine

“Days of Future Past” was the ultimate bad future story for the X-Men. It was first adapted in X-Men: The Animated Series, in which Bishop travels back from a future where all the X-Men are dead to prevent a single event and change history.

X-Men: The Animated Series used many horrific visuals to depict how awful Bishop’s future was, but it wasn’t until an episode of Ultimate Spider-Man when the cover of Uncanny X-Men #142 of a sentinel vaporizing Wolverine was translated into animated form. Luckily for Wolverine, this wasn’t a real sentinel and the blast merely shot him to the ground rather than incinerate the skin off his bones.

5. Amazing Spider-Man #50 (seen in Ultimate Spider-Man “Nightmare on Christmas” and Marvel’s Spider-Man “Spider-Island Part One”)

Peter throws out his costume in "Spider-Man No More"

Spider-Man is famous for being a hero with no expectation of a reward. He’s often punished for his good intentions, but he never quits. Except sometimes he does. Peter famously quit being Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #50 by tossing his costume in a trash can and solemnly walking away with slumped shoulders.

The powerful image of “Spider-Man No More” was not forgotten by Spider-Man cartoons. In an It’s a Wonderful Life-style Christmas episode of Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter abandons his identity and tosses his costume in the trash. On Marvel’s Spider-Man, it’s “Stealth Suit No More” as he throws a new costume away. Remembering how much time and expense went into the costume, he quickly recovers it.

4. Fantastic Four #1 (seen in the intro to season two of Fantastic Four: The Animated Series)

The Fantastic Four fight monster

Fantastic Four #1 kicked off Marvel’s Silver Age in 1961. Books featuring monsters were on the decline while superheroes were on the rise, and it was embodied by the first issue of Fantastic Four where the team faces off against a subterranean menace.

While the 90’s Fantastic Four cartoon was heavily influenced by the John Byrne run on the book, the title sequence paid homage to issues from the era of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The covers of Fantastic Four #1, #16, and #47 are all animated to a jaunty theme.

3. Avengers #4 (seen in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes “Living Legend”)

Avengers watch sleeping Captain America

Another important bridge from the Golden Age to the Silver Age was the figurative and literal reviving of Captain America. Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Ant-Man, and Wasp founded the Avengers, but it wasn’t until issue #4 when Captain America joined.

Much like the comics, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes featured the same founders with Captain America joining in the fourth episode (not counting the mini-episodes). In both the comic and the show, Captain America is found in an iceberg. He is laid on a bed, torn costume and with his shield over his chest, while the Avengers watch over him.

2. Uncanny X-Men #137 (seen in X-Men: The Animated Series “The Dark Phoenix Saga Part 4: The Fate of the Phoenix” and X-Men: Evolution “Fun and Games”)

Cyclops and Jean Grey fend off attackers

The Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Sagas of X-Men: The Animated Series are perhaps the most faithful adaptations of any Marvel cartoon to the point comic book writer Chris Claremont is given a “Based On” credit for the episodes. In episode four of “The Dark Phoenix Saga”, the X-Men battle the Imperial Guard on the moon. It is a close adaptation of Uncanny X-Men #137, where many of the battles play out the same way with Rogue and Gambit taking the place of Colossus and Nightcrawler.

The fight ends with a desperate Cyclops and Jean Grey standing alone on defense against the Imperial Guard. The image of X-Men power couple Cyclops and Jean Grey fighting side-by-side is so iconic that X-Men: Evolution paid homage to it as well.

1. Amazing Spider-Man #33 (seen in The Spectacular Spider-Man “Shear Strength”)

Spider-Man lifts heavy debris off himself

Amazing Spider-Man #33 is often considered Spider-Man’s finest hour. With Aunt May’s life hanging in the balance, Spider-Man has to fight through Dr. Octopus’ men to bring her medicine. He gets trapped under heavy machinery with water pouring over him, and thoughts of Uncle Ben and Aunt May give him the strength to push past his limits and save himself.

Artist Steve Ditko illustrated several panels of a trapped Spider-Man in a truly tense moment. The Spectacular Spider-Man, a cartoon that adapted a lot of those early Spider-Man comics, had the same moment in “Shear Strength”. In the episode, Spider-Man finds his strength when he needs to save Gwen Stacy.

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