Monday, March 8, 2010

SMCS Companion Piece #7: Avengers Week Day Three

Sorry. This should have been up earlier, but I was and still am but of town vising family. I was busy.

As we continue with Avengers Week we now have to come across the team’s underwhelming show at animation. This week on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show we watched The Avengers: United They Stand. Before we can talk about why this show sucked we have to look back to why it was made in the first place.

Beta on Avengers: United They Stand

It all started, as with all good things, with Batman. Specifically I’m referring to Batman: The Animated Series, the groundbreaking 1992 cartoon. After the success of Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, along with other factors that destroyed the notion that comic book characters were all campy affairs, Warner Bros. green lighted an animated series based on the character. While not based on the films it was thematically similar. Obviously as we now count the show as one of the best (If not the best) cartoons ever made so I’d say that it did very well.

Now that Batman had opened the door Marvel and DC began making plans to make more cartoons based on their characters. DC sort of took its time over the next ten years or so but Marvel began releasing a string of properties in animated form. First was X-Men: The Animated Series which was their answer to the Batman cartoon. Darker than anything Marvel had animated previously the cartoon became extremely popular despite noticeable dips in quality throughout the series. Soon afterwards Spider-Man: The Animated Series came out and similarly was very successful, despite it being a terrible cartoon (That is another blog, for sure). With X-Men and Spider-Man getting great numbers more Marvel properties were animated including The Fantastic Four, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk but none of them came close to the success of the first two.

"So, did you read the original comic?" "Meh, I glanced it"

Eventually it was decided to try making an Avengers cartoon. Now these days the Avengers are easily Marvels premier superhero team but in the 90s they were a bit below the radar of the Average Joe. In fact I do believe there had never been a straight Avengers cartoon before this so it would be the first chance many young cartoon fans would have to see Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. X-Men and Spider-Man had proven that the time was ripe for successful comic-based cartoons and surely both comic series benefitted greatly from the exposure. Avengers seed like a no-brainer. It did not go well.

Premiering in 1999 on Fox Kids Avengers: United They Stand lasted a mere 13 episodes before being canceled and promptly forgotten about. But why? Ratings, most likely. According to the rumor mill Fox hated the idea of having their highest rated series (Spider-Man and X-Men) be shows not done in-house and would have liked nothing more than to get rid of them, but couldn’t justify canceling such successful properties. If true it’s likely that after the Avengers didn’t gain the expected ratings Fox gleefully pulled the plug as fast as they could. Even if that’s true they show still kind of sucked and at least need some retooling.

What was wrong with it? Well I think there’s three main problems with it. The first one is a comic book nerd complaint but I was unhappy with the roster. It featured Ant-Man, the Wasp, the Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man, the Vision, Falcon (Presumably because he’s black), Tigra and Wolverine a Wolverine-like Hawkeye. Now people like Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch are fine, of course, as they’re mainstays of the team, but what were b and c-listers like Tigra and Falcon doing there? More importantly where were Captain America Iron Man, and Thor? Those are the “Big Three” of the team! As most of the Marvel cartoons existed in a shared universe it would have made sense for Iron Man from the earlier 90s cartoon to be on the team and bring fans of that show (Justice League did this not too long afterwards and everyone was better off by it). There was never a stated reason but some believe that the rights to use these characters were tied up due to forthcoming (Though ultimately never produced) films. Okay, I might buy that for two of them but not all three. Again, maybe it’s just my nerdy brain getting upset over nothing.

A bigger, non-dork complaint I have is with the show’s gimmick. Apparently someone during the production of the show decided that a cartoon about the Avengers was not strong enough by itself. Kids today (In 1999) would be uninterested in a hokey/boring show about super powered beings battling other super powered beings for the fate of the world. To spice things up it was decided that several of the characters, in addition to whatever superpowers or skills they already possessed, would wield high tech super armor that were summoned in similar fashion as “Morphin Time” from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. That’s right: Ant-Man, boring as he was already, now came with a transformation sequence as he “armored up”. This, mind you, was never in the comic; it’s something they added to the cartoon in the post-Power Rangers era of children’s television. Interestingly there were other shows that also had this type of sequence that had been popping up over the then-past few years (Including a show called Mummies Alive) and almost all of them were canceled after one season. I can see a pattern forming…

Big Bad Beetleborgs...ASSEMBLE!

Anyway the last problem I had with the show is basically how the show started. The premise of this show involved the Avengers having apparently been around for years prior to this (Founded by characters who aren’t even on the team anymore) and have had already been established in the world. Tons of back-story we never got to experience. The show would have benefitted from having an “Avenger Origin Tale” as its first episode rather than the “Just another day in the life of the Avengers” thing we saw this past weekend (You’ve heard the podcast, right?). Let’s compare to the far more successful X-Men and Justice League cartoons.

The first episode of X-Men: The Animated Series was a great two-part story. The young mutant Jubilee, acting as our point-of-view character, finding her normal life shattered by mutant hunting robots called Sentinels but is rescued by an unknown group of unknown mutants calling themselves the “X-Men” who are forced to prematurely reveal their existence to a hateful world in order to save the girl. As Jubilee is initiated into their world we are as well. Even though they existed as a group prior to the first episode it’s clear that what we are seeing is their debut in what seems like their most important adventure to date.

Gambit shamelessly hits on 14-year old girls

And yet his cartoon is still superior to this crap

Justice League starts out with Batman and Superman from their previous 90s shows on investigating what appears to be sabotage of defense satellites but turns out to be the beginning of a global alien invasion. After being unsuccessful in defeating the threat on their own they re summoned by a different alien, the Martian Manhunter, who has been captured by the enemy. At the same time he also summoned a small group of heroes and the group work together to save the Earth. Superman suggests they continue working together afterwards. It’s cliché, but like the X-Men you feel like this cartoon is for you and you haven’t missed anything because it’s literally a blank slate.

The Avengers first episode feels like it’s just another adventure, the only difference is that Wonder Man is put in a coma. It just doesn’t grab you as much.

Anyway truth be told the cartoon wasn’t the worst. It was more juvenile than Batman: The Animated Series and more dull than the early and excellent X-Men: The Animated Series episodes, but there have been a lot worse affairs for sure. But as it stands I doubt anyone shed a tear when this show got canned.

THIS JUST IN: I have just heard that a new Avenger cartoon is set to premier on XD Disney this fall called Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and it will apparently feature Thor in some capacity! Now that we live in a post-Justice League world I’m super excited to see how this show goes. Like it or hat eit you can be sure I’ll talk about it when it drops.

Now that's more like it!

For a less biased description of Avengers: United They Stand click here
For the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show blog click here

1 comment:

  1. Great writeup, though it should be noted that the reason for the cancellation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, as well as Spider-Man and Silver Surfer which were all canceled at the same time is due to Marvel filing for bankruptcy.

    Marvel was forced to terminate all of their animated projects, including a WWII themed Captain America series which was in pre-production at the time (which is why Cap wasn't a main character in EMH).