As I’m sure many of you already know, Marvel and Disney have put together a new Avengers cartoon. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is another attempt to get the kid market into these long-running, canon-laden characters. We at Fantastic Fangirls have all gotten a look at the first few episodes and wanted to talk about it. Like book club, we’ll start out with our observations and thoughts, then open the comments up to your input. Have you been watching the new Avengers cartoon? Why or why not? What do you think of it so far? What would get you to watch it, if you’re not already?
Sigrid: I’ve been trying to watch it on the Disney Go website. I don’t have cable, and I have to say that the means of my viewing affected my sense of the show. The Disney Go site is painfully difficult to navigate. I tried watching the show there for three weeks. I ended up downloading copies of the episodes from other sources.
Disney. I TRIED. I tried to watch your show on your site, for three weeks. I could not find the episodes. When I found them, they would not stream. I sat through all your ads willingly. But when the show doesn’t run, only the ads work, I give up. Make your website easier and more functional and we’ll talk again.
But, barring the technical problems with the show, I am basically in favor of it. I found the origin episodes to be clear, I liked the set-up — “Breakout,” much like the first story of New Avengers — and I like the animation and voice acting. Nothing about the show has made me fall in love with it yet. But I like Marvel enough to keep watching — that is, as long as I can watch it, through whatever means.
What did you guy think of it? Do you have a favorite character so far? Any peeves or irritations?
Caroline: First of all, I am glad that I happen to have the Disney XD channel on my cable because, like Sigrid, I tried to look for the episodes on the website and was defeated. Worst set-up ever! Trying to follow the show as it aired on TV was hard, too, though, because, as far as I could figure out, they aired (1) “Breakout Parts 1 & 2,” the (2) all of the origin episodes that had previously aired in chunks on the web and gave you the background to actually understand what was going on in “Breakout Parts 1 & 2.” I mean, I like that they are taking advantage of the web to grab an audience for the show, but ideally, it would make sense to put together a narrative that would work equally well for web and TV audiences. And one that would be equally easy to watch for both! Neither is the case, here.
But! Once I actually figured out what I was supposed to watch and took it all in, I found myself liking it a lot. I didn’t love the Breakout two-parter to start with. Partly, this was because I hadn’t watched the origin episodes and didn’t know everything that was going on. Also, though, the opening episodes were heavy on fighting and had fewer of the slower character moments. I was relieved that this seemed to change pretty quickly. So far, honestly, I like all the major characters. I’m shocked and surprised that this includes Henry Pym, who I’ve never seen characterized as anything other than a jerk or, at best, a jerk looking for redemption. Here he’s a rather endearing, socially challenged scientist (more like the movie version of Reed Richards than the one in the comics), and he also is presented with a clear moral stance. He’s the guy who firmly (perhaps naively) believes villains can be rehabilitated. I’m sure that’s a trait that Pym has exhibited at some point over the years, but the hardest job of an ensemble show like this is to pick character threads to focus on and develop, and that seems like a promising one for him.
I’m enjoying Wasp, too — she’s the most fun, so far, and she provides estrogen to a cast that badly needs it — and I was especially impressed by the introduction of Steve Rogers. But I have a feeling somebody else wants to talk about that even more than I do.
Jennifer: Would that person be me?
I’m still trying to put together my thoughts on this show. My first instinct is to say that there’s just too much going on for a cartoon aimed at kids. I’m an adult who’s been reading Marvel comics for years, and even I had trouble disentangling all the different plot threads and keeping track of all the characters. If you don’t watch the mini/origin episodes first (and even they’re a bit confusing and overcrowded), you’re thrust into Breakout and meet Iron Man, Ant Man, Wasp, Thor, Hulk, Nick Fury, Doc Samson, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Maria Hill, Jimmy Woo, Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, Balder, and about five hundred gazillion villains, all of whom have their own stories and motivations. You get all of this, if you count both parts of Breakout, in a grand total of 45 minutes. Including extended fight scenes. That is INSANE.
But since that opening two-parter, the series has started to calm down and focus more clearly on the main team, which I appreciate. (I’ll admit — I’m not much of a cartoon person in general, and I get antsy waiting through fight scenes I would normally skim over in their comic form.) The character interactions have been a lot of fun, and I’m especially enjoying Tony and, like Caroline, Hank and Jan. The voice acting and animation are both pretty good (the only disappointment being Tony — sometimes he sounds like Robert Downey Jr., but sometimes he sounds like a 15-year-old boy, which is jarring), and I was quite impressed by the introduction of Captain America, which stayed remarkably true to the comics and hit all the right emotional beats, even the darker/more adult themes of his sense of loss and his feeling out of place.
I’m curious, though, about this show’s choices with regard to Marvel characters and continuity. My first instinct is to ask, “Why this team?” Hank and Jan aren’t going to be in the upcoming Avengers movie, so their inclusion is odd, especially with how problematic Hank’s character can be. It’s faithful to the comics, sure, but plenty of other things aren’t. Hydra, for some reason, has replaced Nazi Germany entirely in the history of this universe, despite World War II apparently being exactly the same. Nick Fury is an amalgamation of older 616 Nick Fury and Ultimate/movieverse Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury. Jane Foster is a paramedic instead of a nurse. Clearly, this isn’t your dad’s Avengers. And while I appreciate the inclusion of a black Fury (as well as Jimmy Woo, Rhodey, and the Black Panther) and the presence of Maria, Pepper, Black Widow, and Jane, it bothers me a bit that this core team is still so white and male, despite it not being 1964 anymore. They’re using the origin of the New Avengers team (and I understand why — Hulk-as-circus-clown isn’t going to fly on TV in 2010), so why not use more of those characters? Or any characters who aren’t this original lineup of white men?
I’m also curious what characters this show actually has the rights to — the Fantastic Four have been referenced, and we’ve seen a newspaper headline mentioning the Punisher, but it seems like Spider-Man and the X-Men are still tied up in other studios (though a mention of mutants did occur in one of the minis). How will this affect the huge Marvel Universe the cartoon is trying to create? It will seem almost bizarre to see the Warriors Three and Maria Hill on the screen, but not Peter Parker or Wolverine.
All of this is just musing, though — the best thing about the show so far has been the characterization and banter, and as long as that keeps up, I’ll keep watching.
Caroline Can I step in with a super-cynical theory? The reason to have this many characters in a cartoon for kids is that you can sell a lot of toys. The structure of this show reminds me less of something like the Justice League cartoon and more of the Transformers and G.I. Joe shows that I watched in the ‘80s. They threw a ton of characters and gadgets at the audience and didn’t put all that much stock in coherent world-building. Now somebody’s going to comment and tell me I’m wrong wrong wrong and I don’t appreciate the genius that went into Snake Eyes, or whatever, but most of us recognize that those were extended toy commericals.
Here, you’ve got that going on, and as a bonus, you can sell the show to fanpeople in their thirties (and thus deliver a desirable demographic to advertisers) because those grownup fans will get a kick out of seeing how many characters they can recognize.
If anything resembling an interesting narrative develops out of this, it will be because somebody decided to work harder than they needed to to make this show be good. But people usually don’t bother to make things any better than they need to be, and I expect that’s the case here as well.
End super-cynical theory.
But, hey, I’m still watching.
Jennifer: While I don’t think you’re necessarily wrong, I think there must be more going on than that. For one thing, this is airing on a cable channel specifically targeted at children — the advertisers on Disney XD (almost all toys, from what I’ve seen) aren’t seeking the 18-49 demo that network TV of the 80s wanted and needed, whatever the program. The people behind this cartoon have the privilege of being able to narrowcast, and they’re clearly taking advantage of it — this is a kids’ cartoon through and through, unlike the more adult-fan-oriented DC direct-to-DVD features of the recent past.
On the toy front, we’ll have to see what comes out of this. The Super Hero Squad cartoon came from a toy line, much like Transformers and GI Joe, but I saw relatively little merchandise directly connected to the last major Marvel cartoon effort, Wolverine and the X-Men, which was made by many of the same people and shared a similar animation style. While I certainly don’t mind Marvel profiting from this and wish them all the best, I’m not sure how much their merchandising will really match this cartoon’s potential reach.
Anyway, that’s my TV grad classes talking. Back to the story!
Well, there’s also the possibility that they just want to throw as many characters out there as they can for licensing reasons and don’t particularly care if the story is intelligible because hey, it’s for kids. Then again, I might revert to the even more cynical theory that one should never attribute sinister motives to things that can be explained by incompetence.
But yes, by all means, back to the story.
Sigrid: You know, I basically blew by all that sort of analysis. I’m glad you two did think of it, though! I was watching the show more-or-less waiting for the scenes with the characters I like, and sort of tuning out all the bits with characters I find uninteresting. Like, Thor. Never been a Thor fan. So I basically checked Twitter during Thor bits, and flipped back to the video when he was talking to Jane Foster. (Who I’ve never heard of, by the way. It’s amazing how many years a person can read comics and still not know everything.)
I initially tuned out the Hank and Jan parts because I have never liked them in the comics. Ever. Well, except for the recent miniseries that had Janet in high school with Jen Walters and Namora. Yet Hank and Jan have turned out to be my favorite parts of the show so far. Jan’s enthusiasm is great. And I am enjoying this version of Hank Pym as ethical in addition to being monomaniacal.
Anika: I only know who Jane Foster is because Natalie Portman in playing her in the movie. I’d say I agree she was the best part of any appearance by Thor but I have to mention the Rainbow Road. The fact that Thor travels by rainbow almost endears him to me and the fact that the rainbow comes out of Stark Tower in the opening — well, my five year old jumps up with an excited “Rainbow Road!” every time she sees it and that is very endearing.
My whole family watched the first seven episodes (the five origins and the two-part pilot in that order) on Disney XD when they aired the Saturday morning after the premiere. We watch a lot of Disney, a lot of Disney XD, and a lot of superhero shows so this was a given. I have to say I don’t have the same the criticisms you guys do. I do watch and love cartoons and what I liked best about this one was its scope. I loved seeing all those characters, even ones I only knew the name of, or didn’t recognize at all from the comics (which is, actually, a lot like my experience with Justice League: Unlimited).
Jen’s comment about this not being your dad’s Avengers made me think of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. That movie was successful because it paid homage to the original while presenting new ideas. I think that’s what this cartoon is trying to do, albeit on a smaller scale (but it gives me some hope that it will continue in the film series), by keeping the same line-up but tweaking the edges. So the core crew of five white guys plus Jan doesn’t overly bother me the way it doesn’t overly bother me that Uhura is the only woman and only black person in the core Star Trek crew. Because she’s not the only woman or the only black person in Star Trek. Star Trek spans six series (there is totally a cartoon) and eleven movies and there are thousands of characters of all shapes, colors, sizes and sexes. The same can be said for the Avengers and I don’t think they would introduce all these characters if they weren’t going to have some impact on the show. . .
What I love about the Avengers is that anyone in the Marvel universe can be one. Whoever you are, whatever you look like or act like, and whatever your particular power or skill or talent may be, if you are some kind of superhero, you can be an Avenger. So there is one for everyone to identify with and look up to. Or there is at least the possibility, the mechanism. I’m not saying we’ve arrived at blanket equality and inclusion, but maybe we’re not as far away. So, I’m an idealist. I’m okay with it.
And I haven’t seen any toys for this show yet but if they actually came out with a Jimmy Woo or a Maria Hill or a Bobbi Morse action figure that was targeted at children and not collectors I really do not see a problem with that.
Caroline: Well, since I’ve had some caffeine today, I’ll come back with my totally uncynical theory: There are so many characters in this because the people behind it are so excited about all the awesome characters and concepts that there are to play with. The more they throw out in the early episodes, the more possibilities there will be to work with. I think the proof of that is really in whether those characters come back and are used well. I mean, I squealed like crazy to see Jimmy Woo in “Breakout” as a SHIELD agent, but I haven’t noticed him since. As for Bobbi Morse, I don’t remember noticing her at all, but sure, it will be great if she’s around more.
I do wonder if Anika was the only one to watch the origin episodes BEFORE “Breakout”? Because I think if I had, my experience would have been different. I worked my way slowly through the episodes (it’s a lot to presume of the audience that we have 3 hours on a single day to devote to watching a bunch of cartoons in a row! I’ve DVR’ed them and been watching them slowly and I imagine a lot of people did the same). If I’d seen it all together, the story might have come together for me a lot better out of the starting gate.
I swear I’m done talking about the format, though! Let me get back to how I love what they are doing with all the characters (oddly, maybe Iron Man less than the others because his stuff all feels like a ‘light’ version of the movie). The Steve Rogers characterization, particularly, really reminds me of what Steve is like in those early Lee/Kirby Avengers comics. He’s not a Hawkeye-style smart ass, but he’s a little emo and a little ornery. It’s a non-Boy Scout characterization, without being the self-parodying jingoist from the Ultimate universe. Also, can I admit I kind of like the Thor stuff? Not just Jane and the Rainbow Bridge but the way they’re playing out the tension between his two worlds. Plus he flies by swinging his hammer around. That both cracks me up and is awesome, every time.
Anika: It is a case of wait and see, I grant you. But I’m going to bring up Justice League: Unlimited again, because it came after there were three seasons of Justice League with just Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkgirl, and showcased a bazillion characters (as if 7 leads isn’t already a large cast!). So maybe my hopeful attitude comes out of that experience.
But speaking of admissions, to answer Sigrid’s first question about favorite characters, I have oddly gravitated to Hulk. He’s being portrayed the way I like — as a tragedy instead of just a smashing machine. I sort of want Hulk and Jan to end up besties. And I want Hawkeye (and Mockingbird, who was very briefly in “Hulk versus the World,” a micro-episode) to show up again soon. Which is all kinda odd if you know me, but then, other than Tony and Pepper, my most favorites haven’t been introduced (yet).
Sigrid: You know, I hadn’t thought about the Justice League comparison — because, I liked Justice League just fine, but I LOVED Justice League: Unlimited. For pretty much the reason you mention, Anika — the scope widened enough to include the characters in the DCU that I actually care about.
I think that’s how I’m feeling about this Avengers. I think it has room to grow, room for more scope, room to include all the things that make the Marvel Universe so interesting to me. I’m not that invested in the core Avengers team, but I am very invested in the wider Avengers’ world.
And, here’s the thing — if the show never gets to be the show I want? Well, I’m actually okay with that. Because it will mean that this Avengers will become someone else’s Avengers that they love and hold to. I mean, I already HAVE my team, it’s Bendis’s New Avengers. And this Earth’s Mightiest Heroes version isn’t a bad one. It does have women on the show, it does have people of color who have names and faces and are more than background scenery. The show is well-written, the dialogue is snappy, I agree with the characterizations, and I like the opening theme music without any irony whatsoever.
Seriously, I do. I mean, I’m a person who loves the Pat Benatar song “Invincible”and thinks it should be the Xavier school fight song.
Jennifer: Is there a place to download that theme song? Because I’ve also grown to unironically love it. And as long as this cartoon keeps giving me Tony Stark trying to buy himself friends and lounging around in a red dress shirt while having meaningful conversations with Steve Rogers, well — who am I to complain? I may not always love the show, but I love the Avengers and I love the Marvel U, and I’m in for the long-haul.
We’ve said our piece. So what about you, loyal readers? Share your thoughts on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the comments!