The 2020s are truly the decade of reboots and revivals it seems. Jonas Brothers are back. Matrix is back. The Sex and the City is back. And that’s not even the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
Obviously, Marvel and DC couldn’t sidestep the trend and miss the chance to capitalize on old movie nostalgia. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield (apparently) both coming back to Spider-Man and Michael Keaton suiting up as Batman again.
The trend didn’t miss animated properties either. Hard to miss what an explosive success Young Justice came back to in 2019, after almost 7 years of hiatus. So it’s unsurprising that Marvel has decided to dip their toes in animation revivals as well.
When Young Justice came back, there were already whispers, that Disney+ was planning to revive Marvel’s most successful animated show. Lo, and behold – in November 2021 it was announced that X-Men ’97 would be hitting the streaming service in 2023.
So why not dream bold, while revivals and reboots still reign supreme. Why not talk about all the other potential comebacks that could happen? As we, the old fans, know well – there are plenty of comic-based animated shows that were gone too soon. It’s hard not to hope they too, might come back in not so distant a future.
1. The Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes (2010-2012)
If I were pressed to choose just one show from this list – it would be this one. Developed by Ciro Nieli, Joshua Fine, and veteran comic book writer Chris Yost, it took its inspiration from Stan Lee’s original Avengers run.
The initial team was comprised of Iron Man, Ant-Man/Giant-Man, Hulk, Thor, and Wasp comprising the initial team. Captain America, Black Panther, and Hawkeye rounded out the team later in the first season.
What made The Avengers: EMH truly special was just how careful the creators were to craft a narrative that was both respectful to the source material, fresh to satisfy modern sensibilities, and yet still found a way to add unexpected twists to keep both veteran fans and newbies on their toes.
The show was massively successful and dearly beloved, and its cancellation came as a big surprise. Disney was trying to set up a shared animated universe similar to MCU to draw in younger viewers. Instead of branching out from EMH, they decided to start anew and replace it with a more kid-friendly Avengers Assemble.
If there was ever a perfect candidate for revival it’s this one. It has a massive following and it’s already on Disney+, so all it would take is… just Disney giving it a green light.
2. The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-2009)
You’ve probably seen this one on every “Cartoons We Want Revived” list ever created on geek internet. There’s nothing new we can say, but skipping it would make this list feel incomplete.
It’s widely considered to be the best animated series about Spider-Man (and, more controversially, even the best Spider-Man adaptation altogether).
As with EMH, the creators – Victor Cook and Greg Weisman (yes, that Greg Weisman of Gargoyles’ fame, who went on to work on Young Justice) – were massive fanboys, who found their inspiration in classic Spidey stories. They did monumental work adapting it to the more modern premise, while keeping all the classic elements that made these stories beloved in the first place.
The Spectacular Spider-Man was supposed to have 5 seasons with 13 episodes each but only got to have 2. Yet, it was on long enough to accumulate a commendable cult following that keeps growing as new fans keep finding the show.
We’d love to see Cook & Weisman get the chance to tell the story they wanted to tell. Unfortunately, unlike EMH, reviving TSSM is a much more complicated affair due to – you guessed it – Sony and Marvel’s continuous duel over rights.
3. Green Lantern: The Animated Series (2012-2013)
When Green Lantern: The Animated Series premiered as part of DC Nation block on Cartoon Network, it was overshadowed by Young Justice. So when both got canceled, the outcry over Green Lantern wasn’t nearly as loud as with its more popular brother.
Which is a shame, since Green Lantern: TAS is quite possibly the best animated show DC has ever produced. It could contest even Bruce Timm’s Batman: TAS. And yes, I say that with a full understanding of how high praise that is.
The brainchild of Bruce Timm, Giancarlo Volpe, Jim Krieg, Green Lantern: TAS wasn’t an origin story (thank god, we’ve had more than enough of those), but dropped the viewers straight into the middle of the narrative, with characters already established.
Basically, it treated the viewer like a newbie comic book reader, picking up their first series. You learned who the characters were while they learned about each other, playing out a found family trope in the process.
The show was heavily drawing from Geoff Johns’s work on Green Lantern in all the best ways. Despite being short-lived, it managed to introduce almost the entire emotional spectrum, establish important canon relationships, while introducing and developing new ones.
I consider Razer to be the best set-up for an original DC animated character since Harley Quinn. I don’t know if the show would be able to deliver on that promise in the long run, but I do think it’s a shame he never got to live up to his full potential.
Unfortunately, poor toy sales, negative reviews of the movie, and admittedly wonky CGI animation killed the story before it could go truly deep. But the story itself definitely deserved to be told. And since CGI animation has gotten much better in the last 10 years – now would be a good time to give it another chance.
4. Spawn: The Animated Series (1997-1999)
Unfairly forgotten, the accolades speak loudly for this brilliant classic – it won an Emmy for Outstanding Animation Program in 1999.
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn – as it was also known – lived for 3 seasons of 6 episodes each. Each season was a somewhat contained storyline, not necessarily living the viewers handing, but planting seeds for potential continuation.
Does it necessarily need continuation? Yes, yes it does. With Spawn, the darker and weirder you get – the better the story. A new season of another 6 episodes could, at least, bring in new fans and bring Spawn the character into the mainstream again.
Spawn may be… an acquired taste, and he was never big outside the US, but the revival of an old classic could change that. Superhero comics have become a worldwide phenomenon instead of a US-centric one. Horror as a genre is at its peak popularity right now. Combining the two could spell success if done right.
And considering a massive Kickstarter campaign McFarlane run a couple of years back proves people already in the know are hungry for more Spawn. There’s already an audience waiting. Why not give them what they want?
5. Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994-1998)
And so we’ve come full circle. Yes, this is the second Spidey animated series on this list, but frankly speaking, considering 1) how many Spider-Man animated series there are; 2) how few of them got to end on their own terms instead of getting canceled, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
More than anything, this one was prompted by the revival of its sister show. For me, X-Men and Spidey of the ’90s are tied together, as they were the ones that dragged me into Marvel (which hasn’t released me of its clutches since). And with X-Men getting revived it’s hard not to think of Spidey getting similar treatment as well.
Of course, the chances of Spider-Man: TAS getting revived are minuscule if not non-existent. First of all, obviously, if a Spider-Man cartoon could ever be revived it would be TSSM. Spider-Man: TAS, while popular enough to warrant 5 seasons during its initial run, never left as big a cultural footprint as X-Men: TAS.
While newer fans keep flocking (and enjoying) to the latter, and I have no doubt its revival will be successful when it finally drops (I’m definitely going to get a front-row seat), the former exists in the mind of those of us who watched it back in the day. Not forgotten, but not a cultural juggernaut to amass newer fans either.
And yet, for a 90’s kid like me, it’s hard to wonder how the series would have ended. One short season to finally answer all the questions like they did with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, would both give long-time fans what they’ve wanted for years – and potentially up the series streaming appeal, bringing in new fans (and the thing the Mouse House loves the most – more money).