We all love seeing our favorite heroes on the big screen, but until the recent explosion of superhero movies, we had to be content with their exploits on the humble television screen, most often in the form of animation. While I would probably give the edge to DC in terms of overall quality, Marvel Comics has done really well to get their characters on screen to introduce them to the masses. I dunno about you, but when I saw these shows as a kid, and even now as an adult, a catchy theme or some sort of intro to the characters helped me to decide if I was going to watch said show, or go watch a rerun of Duck Tales instead. Of course, with so many shows over the years there are bound to be some amazing theme songs, and some well, not so great ones. On that note, here’s my entirely arbitrary and non-scientific list of the 10 best, 10 worst Marvel Animated theme songs of all time!
First, to get us started, I thought I’d just show the original intro the the Marvel Super-Heroes show from 1966. It’s very rarely been shown since then, and it’s a great opener, enjoy!
10. Black Panther
Now to be honest, I’ve only seen one episode of this show, and really, it’s just a glorified motion comic. That being said, the theme is pretty catchy, and actually fits with Black Panther’s Wakandan heritage. It’s based on Reginald Hudlin’s famous run of the comic, even. It’s the sort of thing that does make me want to check out the show more than I have. Hey, what do you know, I can do that right now.
9. Captain America 1966
This one always brings a smile to my face. The theme is upbeat and stays in your head, but is short enough that it does’t overstay its welcome. Not only that, in the 20-second runtime, The tune gives you a rough idea of what Cap is about. Although even a 6-year-old can make an educated guess as to what the deal is with a guy practically dressed in the American flag. The song is also pretty versatile. Comic artist Chris Giarusso did a nice remix of this song a while back featuring his favorite hero instead of Cap.
8. Incredible Hulk 1982
Watching this intro now, I am pretty much thinking to myself “The Hulk sure fights a a lot of aliens.” That weirdness aside, I like this instrumental theme because of the power it conveys, and as we all know, the Hulk is all about power. Even so, we see that the Hulk is a hero as well, saving a civilian from certain death even after taking a building to the face. Couple that with a quick gamma-fueled origin shot, and the ending with a true display of ‘ol greenskin’s power? Yeah, this one works for me.
7. Iron Man: Armored Adventures
Say what you will about the folly of introducing the mass audience to the horrors of Teen Tony, I sure like his theme song. I wouldn’t be opposed to listening to a full-length version of it, actually. The lyrics though? Yeah, those are kind of silly, hence it’s place at #7.
6. Iron Man Anime
Now this one I admittedly have not seen. I can tell you just from this, I’m not too keen on the armor design. His eyes are too far apart! I’m not even that fond of the music. Why is it on the “good” list then? Well, what it does right, it does very right. From the opening blueprint/schematic, the scene where Tony actually dons the armor, and especially the scene lifted from the first Iron Man movie, this is a show that says “Watch Me!” If I someone with no knowledge off Iron Man outside of the movies and saw this, it would get me interested for the desert scene alone, and that’s why it works.
5. Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends
Admittedly, this one is on here for purely nostalgic reasons. It’s pretty cheesy now, but back then, this was my gateway drug into comics in general. Barring that though, this theme does have some things going for it. First, the music is pretty catchy, second it introduces Iceman and Firestar in such a way, that you know what you need to know about them before the first line of dialog is even spoken. Of course the real kicker is the den/secret lab. I don’t think it actually ever gets used in the series, but to a young kid? It’s well, amazing.
4. X-Men 1991
Ah, X-Men. Also known as the first Marvel cartoon that catered to both newbies and longtime fans. This theme has it all. Great music, an introduction the the vast ensemble cast, complete with their names and power sets! Too bad the show itself didn’t always live up to the standards set by its theme song. I still cringe whenever I have to endure Storm’s melodramatic dialog.
3. Fantastic Four 1994
This theme is also known as “The one where Shaz loses all credibility”. Yeah, the theme song is incredibly silly. Still, it works for me quite a bit. I mean, it totally recounts the origin in a very memorable way. Not only that, but the second verse explains their powers succinctly (well kinda, they describe the Torch’s powers as “Johnny is the Human Torch”). I think part of the reason this is one of my favorite is because of the cheesiness. It was fun, and that’s all I want from my entertainment, to be you know, entertained.
2. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
This is, by default, the best Avengers cartoon ever (more on that later). It is also one the best Marvel cartoons ever. It made me think Ant-Man was cool. Ant-Man! The theme itself has a very contemporary vibe to it, and I’ve read that some people don’t like that. I you look under the surface and listen to the lyrics in tandem with what’s on screen though, there are somewhat subtle allusions to the characters on screen. For example:
Hulk: Torment and Upset — That’s the Hulk alright.
Captain America: Lost from when we wake -- Definitely an allusion to thawing out the Capsicle.
Thor: With no way to go back — Thor is stranded on Midgard in this show
Iron Man: I’m standing on my own — Tony’s not a team player… at first.
Then of course the call goes out, and the Avengers are, as they say, assembled. It just works.
1. Spider-Man 1967
No brainer. I mean come on, what other song on this list has been covered over 100 times by such musical talents as diverse as The Ramones and Michael Bublé? None, that’s what. It’s the strength of the theme song alone that drives the original Spidey cartoon to the top of the list. Though I will say, I don’t get why animators think it’s a good idea for Spider-Man to use two weblines in opposite directions. The guy’s gonna tear his arms off doing that!
10. Pryde of the X-Men
While never picked up as a series, this pilot episode has been seen quite often over the years, Australian Wolverine and all. While the song is kind of informative, the sheer 80′s-ness of it (not the good parts of the 80′s mind you) really hurt its standing. Comin’ your way!
9. Hulk 1966
This theme had the potential to be as good as the 60′s Captain America theme, but it falls flat on its face thanks to the lyrics and dubious rhyming scheme. It’s a bit too ambitious to rhyme Gamma Rays with Unglama-rays, after all. What the heck is a monster clown, anyway? Next, please.
8. Hulk 1994
I can’t quite put my finger on why I hate this theme song. It has a lot of the same things going for it as the 1982 version, but this time, it just doesn’t work for me. It may be the incessant chanting of “Hulk… Incredible Hulk” It may also have to do with the fact that this Hulk’s facial expression is actually a bit more sinister looking than I’m used to seeing the Jade Giant. Take your pick, no sir, I don’t like it.
7. Iron Man Season 2
A scene from the board meeting of Season two of this show:
“Hey I know! Let’s re-design Tony Stark for this season and give him a truly glorious mullet!”
“OK, done. What about the theme music? Black Sabbath won’t let us use their ‘Iron Man’ song.”
“Fine, use the ‘I am Iron Man’ phrase and get some poor schmo to do whatever guitar solo he wants on it!”
“Yes! Now we watch the money roll in!”
6. Fantastic Four 1978
The animation for this one kills me, from the weird zombie walk Reed makes out of the wreckage, to Ben Grimm’s drunken wobbling as he transforms into The Thing, just ugh. Couple that with the narration, come on “The now you see her, now you don’t Invisible Girl”? Is that really necessary? Adding to the mix the truly nonsensical introduction of H.E.R.B.I.E. The “New” Fantastic Four is thankfully just a memory.
5. Spider-Man 1994
This show is not nearly as good as I remember it being. Even so, the song has something going for it, right? “SPIDER BLOOD, SPIDER BLOOD, RADIOACTIVE SPIDER BLOOD” OK, guess not. Moving on…
4. Avengers: United They Stand
Not only do we get a montage of characters that doesn’t really even show what they can do, they show Hawkeye putting a belt on over a belt! Then, to add insult to injury, at the very end, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America show up pretty much to say. “Hey guys, we can’t really be associated with this turd of a show, but we’ll show up in the opening credits to dupe the youngsters”.
While technically a Malibu comic, Marvel purchased Malibu around the time this show aired, so I’m counting it. It is truly terrible. Not only does the music make my ears want to retreat into my skull, but it’s trying so hard to be the X-Men’s opening crawl it’s not even funny.
Solarman? Who the heck is Solarman? He is in fact, and incredibly obscure Marvel character that somehow got a but of a media push in the 80′s. I’d be willing to guess the reason it failed is because it is trying to be all of the 80′s shows at once. A space show, a superhero show, a potential toy tie-in. Heck, even his character design evoke Lion-O from the Thundercats. Is it any wonder that this didn’t get any farther than a pilot and a 2 issues comic series?
1. Fred & Barney Meet the Thing
I like the Thing, really I do. He’s one of my top 3 favorite Marvel characters, but this Does. Not. Work. Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew reduced to a straight man for the antics of the Flintstones? No, just no. The theme song only touches on this incarnation’s most egregious bit of crazy. The Thing is actually summoned by teen-aged Benjy Grimm who smacks a ring together and shouts “Thing Ring, do your thing!” It’s so bad, that the only copy in circulation is this terrible quality version.
This theme has the dubious honor of being both good and bad. The first 10 seconds are blissful. Great looking, and an incredibly succinct re-telling of Spider-Man origin. It all goes downhill with the nanite infused suit and refugees from The Island of Doctor Moreau. It could have been a contender though.
That’s the end! Don’t forget, we’re all a part of the Merry marvel Marching Society!