AV Club

Captain America crouching in front of oddly positioned Thor and Iron Man

Just few years after the team’s 1963 debut on newsstands, the Avengers leapt from comic books to television in episodes of The Marvel Super-Heroes — a syndicated block of five rotating features produced by Grantray-Lawrence, 13 three-part episodes apiece, that aired in various US markets either on its own or within a locally hosted children’s program.

While not among those features as a group, the Avengers did appear in select Captain America stories and one installment of The Incredible Hulk. Hulk was a founding but fleeting Avengers member, absent from the comic-book lineup for nearly 50 years; his departure in Avengers #2 following a battle with the Space Phantom was adapted for a trio of 7-minute MSH segments, as was Cap’s post-War revival in 1964’s Avengers #4 by Iron Man, Thor, Wasp, and Giant-Man. The new lineup of Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver known colloquially as “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” also popped up with their fearless leader in Captain America, and Hawkeye’s earlier introduction was adapted for The Invincible Iron Man. Rounding out the five character features were The Mighty Thor and, curiously, Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner. Although he was a mainstay of Marvel’s Golden Age incarnation, Timely, Namor had so few contemporarily published solo adventures when work began on The Marvel Super-Heroes in 1966 that original stories had to be written for the series based as much around extant artwork as possible.

I watched repeats of the show in the 1970s and loved it despite its hokey voice performances and extremely limited animation. One reason why is that its faithfulness to the source material made it as fascinating as it was awkward: Episodes closely reflected the comic-book stories they were based upon because the art on screen was lifted and retouched from the page, which meant even less fluidity and motion than in cartoons from the Hanna-Barbera and Filmation houses but more areas of black and feathering on figures than usual, all in the recognizable style of such artists as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Another reason is that, well, it existed. Kids of the 21st century will never really appreciate how rare it used to be to see the Avengers’ ilk come to life, nor how ephemeral. Today it’s possible via the Internet to not only access everything that’s on TV now but great heapin’ gobs of everything that once was — and the culture is rife with comic-book content.

Plus? You can’t beat those gloriously goofy theme songs.

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