Saturday, December 17, 2011

Super Saturday: Avengers on XD

So just recently, the new cartoon that I've been watching is Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, which I've been viewing piecemeal on YouTube (apparently all of the episodes are available there). I've basically fallen in love with this cartoon, and it's quite rapidly catapulted itself into the league of my top-ever-favorites, like #1 X-Men Evolution, and #2 Justice League. The fact that it has "Disney XD" branding initially made me very skeptical (along with, I suppose, the art style), but it's turned out to be extraordinarily satisfying.

It's actually quite mature in terms of character, plot, and theme. Probably the strongest element is that it pictures a very large world (in fact, I'm becoming convinced that this is the single strongest advantage that Marvel has in any of its best incarnations), with lots of different characters and conflicting power-centers, many of whom are untrustworthy, shadowy, and ambiguous (especially SHIELD and the rest of the American industrial-military structure). It's honestly surprising who's allied with whom -- and sometimes who is disguised as what. I love the fact that the story starts in media res, with a legion of supervillains who obviously have their own pre-existing (but left offscreen) backgrounds, with the whole lot staging a massive super-prison breakout at the start of the series -- and thus setting up a totally compelling long-term plot for the show. The episodes are not self-contained, as this larger plot continues to drive the action forward. I adore the fact that there isn't just one, but a whole bevy of "mastermind" super-villains who are all around trying to hatch their own competing conspiracies.

I'm really impressed by the characterizations I've seen so far, particularly of the Hulk and Thor, my top-two favorites superheroes. Some pieces of business are delivered very crisply and tellingly. Example: In one episode, Thor tells Jane Foster about the Odinsleep, in which his father is helpless for a week each year in Asgard, and the ongoing argument over whether Thor should be there at that time. Jane asks why he doesn't go: "It is... complicated," says Thor. "Really?" says Jane, "Because it just sounds like you're mad at your dad. There's nothing less complicated than that." I think that's a surprisingly poignant line for a kid's cartoon.

Some other stuff: My girlfriend almost burst into tears at how they told the tale of Wonder Man in episode #10. After the "Gamma World" story (hey: RPG shout-out) in episodes #12-13, we were both so terrified, amazed, and jazzed up that we almost couldn't sleep that night. The show also uses a lot of unconventional (for a cartoon) storytelling techniques, like flashbacks, flash-forwards, parallel locations, unusual perspectives, and occasionally running part of the same story twice from a second character's point-of-view. It also seems like someone gets their face melted off about once an episode, yowch!

One downside is that the show started with 5 episodes which set up the main characters individually, and these are a bit slow-going. The real fireworks start when the top characters come together and start sparking off each other; but you will probably still want to watch the setup episodes, or else the "Breakout" story with about 500 different characters all running around may be overwhelming. (When consolidated for "Season 1", the setup stories are episodes 3-7, and the Breakout which happens chronologically later is shown as episode 1-2.)

I guess one other thing is near the end of Episode 2, where my #1 favorite hero does this in an attempt to take down the master villain:


Dude, you just blew up the entirety of Downtown Brooklyn! Oh well, I guess that would've gotten me out of jury duty the other week.


Anyway, for those of you still alive, if you like Marvel comics, then you should definitely watch Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Highly recommended (caution: very habit-forming!)

[Top picture by edwick under CC2.]


9 comments:

  1. I'd be curious to know what your thoughts are of the X-Men cartoon that was on Fox in the 90's. I would have expected that to be on a top supers cartoon list.

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  2. Hey Brandon -- Good question; I definitely enjoyed it at the time, but I don't think it's dated well since then. I feel like there were a lot of cartoons circa-2000 that really upped the quality to a different tier (incl. X-Men Evolution, Dini-DCU, plus stuff like The Tick and Freakazoid, etc.)

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  3. I have all five DVDs of he '90's X-Men cartoon. As awesome as it was in first run, saying it hasn't aged well is EXTREMELY kind. It has aged HORRIBLY, although part of that blame goes to DIni and the spectacular work he did with the DCU. I want to try and get my hands on the complete B:TAS to see how it has aged. As for Avengers, it is SPECTACULAR. I Have the first half of season oe on DVD, but haven't found if the second half is available yet. ANother one that I liked, and am happy to see is FINALLY on DVD in whole seasons, is BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, which is kind of like a bizarre corss bewtween B:TAS and Marvel's What If.

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  4. Badger King -- Agreed! The last time I was watching B:TAS, I thought it was holding up quite well (not quite as top-notch as Justice League, but quite satisfying). And recently I started watching B:BATB on YouTube, also got sucked into that pretty good (although when I tried watching it with g/f, picked a really lousy episode, and haven't been able to try again with her).

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  5. Man, late to the party, D. :) I can only agree the this Avengers is excellent, with really strong characterization. I love that they let Hank Pym be bad-ass in his first appearance; I've come to be an Ant-Man booster in my old age. And one of the best Hulk's ever.

    Maybe my favourite bit from the 1st series: Cap teaching Stark how to fight.

    Batman TAS has held-up very well indeed. Whereas the X-Men show from the same period was pretty damn awful to begin with.

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  6. I think Blogger ate a comment, hope if it's okay for me to recreate it:
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    Matthew Slepin has left a new comment on your post "Super Saturday: Avengers on XD":

    Man, late to the party, D. :) I can only agree the this Avengers is excellent, with really strong characterization. I love that they let Hank Pym be bad-ass in his first appearance; I've come to be an Ant-Man booster in my old age. And one of the best Hulk's ever.

    Maybe my favourite bit from the 1st series: Cap teaching Stark how to fight.

    Batman TAS has held-up very well indeed. Whereas the X-Men show from the same period was pretty damn awful to begin with.

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  7. Matthew -- Really glad you brought that up! I absolutely agree with all of that.

    In particular, if I were to add more bullet points, one would be this: I think that Hank Pym is the greatest improvement from comics to cartoon that I've ever seen. From my comics experience, Hank tends to be emo, whiny, and morose. In this cartoon he is not that: He's courageous, principled, determined, and tenacious in his desire to avoid violence while solving super-problems. That's a whole different deal IMO (in my g/f's words: "Hank is actually the reasonable one"), and I am really excited to see it. All of the characterizations are great, but Hank's is the biggest revelation to me. (More generally: They also use the shrinking characters in lots of novel, creative, and surprising ways.)

    We also adored the Cap-and-Tony practice sequence. One of my main compliments is how they simply took a lot of time for the character-development scene which didn't directly push a Hollywood plot forward. I was honestly surprised that no super-villain broke into the middle of the scene to break it off (which is what would normally happen, I think).

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  8. Hmn, clearly blogger tried to quash my Ant-Man boosterism. But the Man in the ant-hill won't be stopped!

    Hank wasn't always that unattractive in the comics; it sort of happened in the when he returned to the Avengers and then picked up steam. It was a potentially good idea, that got taken way too far (as in: why do I want to read about this guy?)

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  9. Very easy for me to believe. My reading experience with the Avengers didn't start until the mid-80's, so that's the only direct exposure I had to him in the books (and that was precisely my reaction).

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