After TopTenz went to staff writers only, I had one list left to submit, but nowhere to submit it. Well, since I almost erased it yesterday, here it is....
Top 10 Comic Book Heroes Inside of a Cartoon Universe
One of the trademarks of a great cartoon series is to be able to teleport the viewer into a different world. Well universal themes seem to crop up in all cartoon series, as many writers seem to gravitate to the same experiences of their youth. A natural marriage between a kid’s love of comic books and the writer’s memories of the comic book shop. This list explores your favorite cartoon character’s favorite fictional Superheroes.
Note: Not included, Phineas and Ferb’s favorite superheroes from the Marvel Universe. Due to certain corporate synergies that other cartoons were unable to capitalize upon, this list is focused on characters created by their own shows.
10. Weird Man
Back in 2009 there was a short called Uncle Grandpa created by Peter Browngardt. Using the supporting characters from the pilot, Browngardt was greenlit for the series Secret Mountain Fort Awesome. Despite winning multiple international animation awards, Secret Mountain Fort Awesome was cancelled after only 26 episodes.
Luckily though, episode 16 of Secret Mountain Fort Awesome was Secret Mountain Uncle Grandpa, and the Uncle Grandpa character was basically life boated to his own series which started in 2013. More successful than his friends in the Disgustoids, in episode 23 of the Uncle Grandpa series we learned about Uncle Grandpa’s favorite comic book hero, Weird Man. Weird Man does have super powers, but his primary strength, well, seems to be being weird. Weird Man was voiced by Eric Bauza twice during the first season, which seems odd seeing that Weird Al Yankovic ended up being available in season 2 for the part of Weird Pal.
9. Powdered Toast Man
The original Ren & Stimpy show ran from 1991-1995. Ren & Stimpy first ran across Powdered Toast Man watching TV, for Powdered Toast Man was the Superhero spokesperson for Powdered Toast. Like Weird Man, Powdered Toast Man has vague superhero powers, but unlike other comic heroes, he possesses the ability of super flatulence and the ability to scrape toast shavings from his head.
Powdered Toast Man was quickly a fan favorite and by 1993 he had his own cross over comic book with Spiderman(!) Though mostly an oblivious character, his popularity continued as he made multiple appearances in the Ren and Stimpy comic book series which ran for 4 years. In case you’re wondering how Powdered Toast Man and Spiderman came to share a cover, I’m sure it’s due to both publications being published by Marvel Comics.
Voiced by the late Gary Owens, Powdered Toast Man’s smooth baritone gave him the false gravitas alluded to by the creator of Ren & Stimpy, John Kricfalusi. Rumor has it that the character of Powdered Toast Man is based off of the character of Studebacher Hoch from the 25 minute long Frank Zappa freak out, Billy the Mountain.
8. Jet Chicken
Form the disturbing universe of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Meatwad pens his own graphic novel, The Venturesome Ventures of Rocket Horse & Jet Chicken. Attempting to sum up the episode in a written description doesn’t quite do it justice, you just have to invest the 11 minutes to watch it. Jet Chicken’s superpowers seem to be the ability to navigate a motorized scooter, super irritable bowel syndrome, and the ability to not use his jet pack. To make a bizarre story short, Meatwad accidentally botches surgery and Jet Chicken dies on the operating table. Master Shake was so impressed with the originality of the concept, he stole the comic book and attempted to sell it to a publisher.
Aqua Teen Hunger Force only recently ceased production after 139 episodes over 15 years. The irony for the Rocket Horse and Jet Chicken episode is that crime fighters that don’t really do anything have to create their own superheroes. The characters of Jet Chicken and Rocket Horse disappeared, but their voices, David Cross and George Lowe were guest staples of the series throughout its run.
7. Commander Cool
The original Scooby-Doo series only ran for 2 seasons, just over a year total, between Sept. 1969 and Oct. 1970. Pure animated genius. Then every couple of years, someone tries to duplicate the magic of the original and fails. On the seventh attempt to re-create the Scooby Doo phenomenon, Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby are imagined as junior-high aged kids who go out and solve mysteries in the series A Pup Named Scooby-Doo which ran from 1988-1991.
So in episode #15, the Return of Captain Cool, Shag and Scoob jump on an official pair of Commander Cool Turbo Rocket Roller Skis and Shaggy jets across the room and bumps his head. When he wakes up, he actually thinks he has become his hero, Commander Cool, as comic hijinks ensue.
Excuse my disdain for Scooby-Doo, but in 2014 Warner Brothers Animation announced an 11th reboot of the series slated for 2015. Since 1970, there have also been 3 dozen animated films, 2 feature films, and a couple dozen video games. Some reboots have Velma, some don’t, some have Scrappy, some don’t, sometimes the characters are imagined as adults, sometimes kids, sometimes romantically involved…you get the idea. The Scooby Doo franchise is a cash machine, not somewhere to go for quality animation, with 45 years passing with anything but generic adventures.
In a blur of the lines between reality and animated mischief, in 2011 Cleveland Brown, the cartoon character, sat down with Entertainment Weekly, the real life magazine, to promote his TV show, the Cleveland Show, and to promote his new comic book, the fictional Waderman, before he went to the San Diego Comic Con, a very real event.
Let’s start with Waderman first. Waderman is a superhero created in the mind of a young Cleveland Brown that solves crimes in shallow water while wearing wading boots. Adult Cleveland Brown got Waderman published and was on his press junket for the EW interview.
Cleveland Brown existed in the Family Guy universe for its first seven seasons. In 2009, The Cleveland Show started as a spinoff and survived until 2013 when the show was cancelled. As a fan of the Cleveland Show, it seemed to have more heart and a little less mean-spiritedness than other Seth MacFarlane vehicles. After cancellation, Cleveland returned to Quahog to the howls of mockery from his animated friends.
5. Really Really Big Man
The star of Rocko’s Modern Life was a mild mannered wallaby who worked at Kind of a Lot O’ Comics. As the center of the Modern Life universe, zaniness rotated around Rocko from 1993-1996.
Really Really Big Man was Rocko’s hero. In addition to the traditional super powers of strength and flight, he also has magic chest hairs to make rapscallions see the past and nipples that allow people to see their future.
The real superhero behind Really Really Big Man is his human voice actor, Tom Kenny. For those unfamiliar with Tom Kenny’s work, Kenny is the voice behind SpongeBob Squarepants. If SpongeBob isn’t your cup of tea, Kenny has voiced a couple HUNDRED other characters in dozens of other shows and his voice can be heard in seemingly every animated film over the past 20 years.
The superhero crush of pre-teens Fanboy and Chum Chum, you can tell Man-Arctica was created totally tongue in cheek when you read his origin story. From the Planet Hasselhoth, Man-Arctica resides in the Igloo of Ice-olation….
Okay, back to semi-reality. Fanboy and Chum Chum was a Nickelodeon production that ran from 2009-2014 about 2 kids and their adventures at the Frosty Mart and at Oz Comics. The Man-Arctica presence was felt throughout the series, with dialogue, references, or visual props in nearly half the episodes. It was the first episode of the second season (I’m Man-Arctica!) where Fanboy and Chum Chum were watching the Man-Arctica Movie when the real Man-Arctica showed up to meet them. Of course the kids don’t recognize him, assuming it’s just another fanboy dressed up as their hero. This interaction underscores Man-Arctica’s slight disdain for humanity. The voice of Man-Arctica is another pillar of modern voice acting, Jeff Bennett. With over a hundred voice credits in movies alone, his signature voice is probably defined by the lead character in the TV series Johnny Bravo.
3. Crimson Chin
Timmy Turner is the rambunctious, animated child star of the Nickelodeon production the Fairly OddParents. Voiced by Tara Strong, whom you may not recognize in person, but you would definitely recognize by her voice, having voiced over a hundred male and female animated characters over the past 20 years, the whole OddParents concept revolves around Turner.
Timmy Turner’s comic superhero is the Crimson Chin. The Chin employs a multiple array of superpowers, but his claim to fame is his primary weapon, an oversized chin, which is hard as steel. In a stroke of casting genius, THE Jay Leno voices the Crimson Chin. Because Timmy Turner has fairies that grant his every wish, the Crimson Chin is able to be wished out of the comic books and into real life, and, inversely, Timmy Turner can be wished into the comic book world. Besides the Crimson Chin, other superheroes in the Fairly OddParents Universe include Catman, Crash Nebula, and Cleft-Boy Chin Wonder
2. Mermaid Man
A young Mermaid Man was the comic book hero of SpongeBob Squarepants. With superpowers very, very similar to Aquaman, it is an, ahem, older, more filled out version of Mermaid Man that appears in the SpongeBob cartoon series.
Mermaid Man and his sidekick Barnacle Boy are sought out at the Shady Shoals Retirement Home by SpongeBob and Patrick to ask them to come out of retirement. The first appearance of the retired duo appears in Season 1 back in 1999. The animated superheroes were so popular, they became recurring characters. One of the reasons for Mermaid Man’s popularity was due his voice actor Ernest Borgnine. Borgnine voiced Mermaid Man from the age of 82 to his death at 95 in the year 2012. Borgnine was true Hollywood royalty, first starting in films in 1951 and then earning his first Academy Award in 1955 for his lead in the movie Marty. Besides being an accomplished film actor, he was also beloved as one of the leads in the 1960’s comedy McHale’s Navy.
Despite his advanced age Mermaid Man did retain some weaker versions of his undersea powers and Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy did enjoy some superhero perks inside of the SpongeBob series such as comic book glory, a movie remake, and being the toys in the Krusty Krab Kid’s Meal.
I would be remiss to mention one of Mermaid Man’s nemeses was the Dirty Bubble, voiced by Charles Nelson Reilly until his death in 2007. It was Charles Nelson Reilly as Horatio J. HooDoo that created a soft spot in my heart for the over-the-top comic villain.
1. Radioactive Man
Radioactive Man is the comic book hero of Bart Simpson. The Simpsons, which will have over 600 episodes when it finally ends, introduced the character of Radioactive Man way back in 1991, when Bart, Milhouse, and Martin all tried to pool their money to buy the original comic book issue of Radioactive Man.
Since then, the popularity of the Simpsons gave life to Radioactive Man outside of the cartoon series for in 1993 Bongo Comics started a real comic book series based on the character while expanding his list of superpowers from Batman-esque to Superman-esque. On the TV series, Radioactive Man is also well represented in the merchandising side, though not as well as Krusty the Clown, and even spurned a cheap knockoff, Radiation Dude. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) Milhouse needs an explanation as to why popular comics often spawn cheap rip-offs. Interestingly enough, the Simpsons Comic Book Series continues today with spinoffs and limited runs such as Comic Book Guy: The Comic Book, The Simpsons-Futurama Crossover Crisis (10 years before Fox televised a similar concept), and the short lived Itchy & Scratchy Comics.
With the number of references to Radioactive Man limited to a dozen or so throughout the entire series of the Simpsons, in pop culture his sidekick Fallout Boy seems to have left a more lasting footprint. Legend has it that as a group of Chicago teenagers were playing an early rock gig without the guise of a moniker when a drunk fan screamed out “No, you’re Fall Out Boy.” The name stuck and since then Fall Out Boy, the band, went on to become one of the most popular musical artists of the Aughts.