Animation Wednesday: The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
This post is part of the Animation Wednesday series, a weekly column which looks at animated TV series and movies of the past, present and future.
Marvel has a somewhat shaky track record in animation. Unlike DC Comics, who have the might of the Warner Bros. Animation Studios on their side, Marvel has struggled with adapting their characters in animated form, and for every hit (like X-Men: Evolution or the criminally underappreciated Spectacular Spider-Man) there’s a list of misses (Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes or frankly anything they put out in the 90s). However, they seem to be turning things around lately, and their recent acquisition by Disney probably won’t hurt their cash flow for project development either. One of their more recent examples of doing it (mostly) right is The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which is currently in its second season on Disney XD.
Avengers is an origin story, showing the founding of the team and their first adventures together. It has the feel and some of the plot points of classic Avengers comics, but it’s also a synthesis of other takes, particularly the Cinematic Universe Marvel’s working on, and by extension the Ultimate Universe. The movie buzzword “Avengers Initiative” is thrown around a bit, and while the team isn’t an official government organization like in Ultimates, S.H.I.E.L.D. still plays a prominent role. Similarly, the stories are a mix of classics, like The Casket of Ancient Winters or the Kree-Skrull War, and modern events, as hinted by the rumblings of a Superhuman Registration Act or [SPOILERS] the reappearance of Captain America’s old sidekick Bucky.
The show includes a large roster of classic Avengers. The big guns of the films, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor are all here, along with less-exposed characters like Black Panther and Hawkeye. The character designs are up and down. Wasp has obviously be selected as the kid appeal character, and her youngish look and perky, juvenile charm make her tensions with Hank Pym a bit more uncomfortable than intended. On the other hand, their Pym costume is great. It seamlessly moves between Ant-Man and Giant-Man identities with clever detail changes. Their Hulk is interesting as well. He’s not the raging beast of most recent incarnations, but rather a selfish, aggressive, but ultimately good-hearted brute. The rest of the Avengers fare pretty well, though Tony Stark’s voice sounds a bit too much like Fred Jones from a Scooby-Doo cartoon.
The show’s main flaw is that it tries to juggle too many elements at once. The Avengers are brought together by a series of breakouts at the world’s supervillain prisons, a la the first arc of New Avengers. While one would think recapturing the escaped villains would make up the bulk of the plot, it’s pushed aside somewhat for conflicts with AIM, Hydra, the Masters of Evil, and numerous villains of the week. Avengers does a good job of balancing standalone episodes and arc elements, but they’re unclear on what the overall conflict of the show should be. The writing also has a distinct “kid show” feel. While this makes sense, seeing as it is a kids’ show, shows like Batman: The Animated Series have shown that it’s possible to balance lighter and darker elements and make a show appealing to all audiences. [Editor’s Note: I consider the DC Animated Universe from the works of Bruce Timm to be the gold standard of animated adaptations, and it’s what I compare most superhero cartoons to.]
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a nice adaptation of Avengers mythos as an accessible cartoon. It’s not perfect, but it’s head and shoulders above any previous Avengers cartoons and hopefully a sign of more good things to come. It airs Sundays at 10:00 AM on Disney XD.