Let’s be honest, calling the crop of Marvel cartoon in the the 1990s a shared universe isn’t quite accurate. The DC Animated Universe wasn’t all that tight a continuity, or even exist honestly, until Batman moved from Fox Kids to Kids WB to join Superman. From there a shared universe was formed along with Batman Beyond, Static Shock, and The Zeta Project, with Cartoon Network’s Justice League and Justice League Unlimited marking the end of the DCAU. Static and the residents of Dakota (the city, not the divided state) was a DC property only because of the publishing deal with Milestone Media and Zeta started off as part of a “backdoor pilot” where he met Terry’s Batman. One of the disappointing thing about the Teen Titans cartoon of that period is despite a line from Batman to Static the show we got was completely divorced from the DCAU but had the heart to win fans over anyway.
In contrast the so-called “Marvel Animated Universe” was not a shared universe at all. They shared some voice actors (and there were times when even that statement wasn’t true) but only in the same way that Transformers: Rescue Bots and Transformers: Cyberverse did, and they were two separate continuities. The closest we came is Tom Tataranowicz working on the Marvel Action Universe (the second time that was used for a syndicated programming block) and the first season of the UPN Incredible Hulk. There was no plan because Tataranowicz was the closest thing they had to Bruce Timm and he only worked on two shows, two of which were syndicated and the other on a network that wasn’t Fox Kids, who had the other Marvel shows and didn’t have Tataranowicz. (By the way, Tataranowicz has the best run on season two of Iron Man and Fantastic Four and while Incredible Hulk season two wasn’t the dumpster fire of the “Marvel Action Hour” season of Tony and the Four his absence did lead to a lesser show. Adding She-Hulk and occasionally referencing the first season was all they did right.) So can we please stop pretending there was a shared continuity in the same way the DC shows had?
That said, Fox Kids has X-Men, which was received well enough to give Marvel’s mascot flagship character at the time, Spider-Man, his own show, which was cut short thanks to the Sony deal and replaced with the sadly underappreciated Spider-Man Unlimited. They also had a Silver Surfer cartoon but I just couldn’t get into that one. They did have plans for another Marvel hero to get his own show, namely Captain America. However, after hearing Owen Likes Comics discuss what the network was going to do to the show, it might have been better off not being made…though with the current writing mentality in comics and animation it would have been the last chance to have a good Captain America show. I’ll let him explain the whole story so we’re on the same page and then go over why maybe it’s not so sad.
Before I start, let me drop a pet peeve on you. Some people do not understand the difference between syndication and network cartoons. Syndicated shows get called “Saturday morning” when they weren’t network shows and ran on different rules. If it was shown on Saturday in your area it might be Sunday somewhere else. Despite what Wikipedia will tell you, and this is one of the reasons I say “question the source” when it comes to its use, Dragonball Z was not a Fox Kids show. The local Fox affiliate who aired it may have kept the branding from the network but it wasn’t aired on Fox Kids proper. Challenge Of The GoBots and Wake, Rattle, And Roll were also not part of the “Funtastic World Of Hanna-Barbera” syndicated programming block, but simply had the branding because that’s what Hanna-Barbera was using. If it wasn’t hosted by people dressed up as Yogi Bear and friends it may be Hanna-Barbera but not part of the “Funtastic World” lineup, certainly not around me.
As it pertains to the Marvel shows, Marvel Action Hour and it’s superior redux, Marvel Action Universe mark 2 were syndicated. For the curious the first Marvel Action Universe of the late 1980s actually featured reruns of Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends with the Stan Lee narration removed, Dino Riders, and interrupted third show RoboCop for the final week with “Pryde Of The X-Men”, the original pilot for X-Men that would have aired with Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends and NBC’s version of The Incredible Hulk in the 1980s.) The Incredible Hulk and it’s Tataranowicz-missing continuation with She-Hulk were on UPN. Fox Kids only had X-Men, Spider-Man, and Silver Surfer, with Spider-Man replaced with Spider-Man Unlimited. Avengers: United They Stand did air on Fox but not at the same time as any of these shows.
And only on occasion did voice actors return for any of the other shows. For example, when Spider-Man had an episode with Iron Man and War Machine, James Avery did come is as War Machine but Robert Hayes was unavailable to come in for Iron Man. Hayes did show up for the Incredible Hulk episode where Tony protects an injured Bruce Banner from the military but Lou Ferrigno wasn’t even cast when the Hulk showed up in Iron Man and Fantastic Four. According to IMDB Neal McDonough played Bruce for UPN, but in the Marvel Action Hour episodes Ron Perlman played both forms because they had him. Fox Kids did use the X-Men cast for their Spider-Man crossover two-parter because they were on the same network, but recording studios were in two separate countries. (Storm’s voice actress lived closer to where they recorded for Spider-Man, which is why she appeared in the “Secret Wars” arc.) So even in that area there was no shared anything. It’s a bit different from replacing Superman’s voice actor due to scheduling or whatever reason Tim Daly was replaced with George Newbern. Like it or not, Marvelites, you’re “Marvel Animated Universe” is not the same shared universe that DC fans get to enjoy, and I don’t think the shows necessarily suffered for it. Saban Entertainment just didn’t have the same idea Warner Animation did. Saban couldn’t even keep their Japanese remakes in the same universe, and Kamen Rider literally debuted on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
As far as the two huge mistakes that canceled Captain America’s show before it began: understanding the first one doesn’t mean I agree with it. Saturday morning, and kids shows in general, really don’t like talking about Nazis. (Unlike some modern creators who will call you a Nazi if you don’t bow down and praise their story simply because they checked the “right” box.) I’m actually surprised we had a Nazi swastika show up in an episode of Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, an NBC Saturday morning show in the 1980s. When Justice League had a story where Vandal Savage goes back in time and takes over World War II, and thus the world, Nazis really weren’t mentioned despite being an homage to DC’s old war stories, which I imagine the Captain America cartoon would have done with Marvel’s old war stories, with Nick Fury probably having both eyes and leading the Howling Commandos. Again, a bit much but Fox already pushed a few envelopes with their shows, like when Batman: The Animated Series broke out guns that weren’t lasers. However, parent groups are a persistent brand of stupid so I can see that change being made. Wonder what they would have been called?
“Tommy Thompkins” has to be a reference to something I’m missing. I went looking through the comments to see if someone had some insightful trivia but I saw nothing, except a theory on giving Cap a proper secret identity in the present day. Maybe, but in the past nobody except his superiors and Bucky Barned knew who Captain America was. In the original comics Steve and Bucky hid out as regular soldiers, Bucky being a journalist and unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t know Steve until they met at camp. Steve and Bucky, who really could have used “Tommy Thompkins” more than Captain America given that his hero persona was at the time…Bucky, would get sent on missions as Captain America and…Bucky…in their hero identities so they–well, Steve–already had one. However, Thomas Deja has a rather fascinating comment about some backstage info he was a part of.
I think I have another little piece to the ‘Why Cap never got his 90’s cartoon’ puzzle.
I worked as one of the writers for the Byron Preiss Marvel Prose program in the 90’s, and contributed stories to THE ULTIMATE HULK and X-MEN LEGENDS. Originally, the next collection in the series, according to my editor at the time, Steve Roman, was THE ULTIMATE CAPTAIN AMERICA, which was to tie in with a potential new Tom Tanaranowicz [Yeah, I can’t spell his name right either–SWT] cartoon they were prepping for Fox….
However, at the time when the Cap cartoon was proposed, Marvel was still owned by Ron Perlman–and Ron made it VERY clear that he did not want Marvel comics to ‘glorify’ certain subjects including Nazism. I had already begun outlining my story for THE ULTIMATE CAPTAIN AMERICA, an Invaders story (I LOVE Golden Age comics and was looking forward to writing a period piece) when I was told Perlman put a halt to the project. We shrugged, went onto the next title in the program (FIVE DECADES OF THE X-MEN) and shelved those stories.
Later on, Marvel merged with Toy Biz…by that time, the ‘Marvel Animated Universe’ was dying out–as was the Byron Preiss Marvel Prose program–and I was instructed to work my Cap/Invaders idea into something for their next collection, FIVE DECADES OF THE AVENGERS…only that didn’t happen.
I hope you find this nugget useful.
I’m not sure why he keeps calling it “Ultimate” since this was well before the Ultimate Marvel Universe but that’s a story for another time I guess. I forgot Perlman owned Marvel, if I knew it at all. Explains his appearances in the show, though not having him return as the Hulk was the right idea. Ferrigno did such a good job it’s too bad he didn’t get to speak in the live-action series, a rare case of a gimmick hire working beautifully. At any rate, there’s another reason the Nazis weren’t allowed, though someone in the comments did suggest going with Hydra, which is a name change I’ve seen in the past.
As far as doing a modern Captain America story, with so many of his writers not really caring about the ideals Steve Rogers stood for I’d be surprised if they made a proper animated adaptation, and the MCU version probably clocked out at just the right time. Could the show have been good? Possibly, if Tataranowicz was involved as he did my favorites of the shows (he even got me to watch a Fantastic Four series and I’m not into the Fantastic Four). Sadly it’s a lost opportunity we may never properly get back.