May 1 2012 1:00pm

Avengers, Disassemble! Cancelling a Really Good Avengers Show Right Before the Movie

Avengers: Earth’s Mightest Heroes

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (A:EMH) was one of the best incarnations of a comic franchise in recent memory. It was engaging for newcomers and longtime comic fans alike. In one season of 26 half-hour episodes the cartoon blitzed through the essential elements of the Avengers’ backstories, introducing us to Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Black Panther and Captain America. It also introduced the comics’ key villains and the other central forces in play in the Marvel universe (SHIELD, the Fantastic Four, etc.). The show then plunged into several meaty plot arcs, laying strong groundwork for future seasons, and an exciting, complex, high-stakes main plot, wherein an interesting villain brought about an enjoyably epic finale.

The show punched far above its weight in every respect. The world-building was skillful, thorough and incredibly efficient. In one series we learned an incredible amount about the story’s universe. A:EMH never asks us to endure the Plot Reveal Fan Dance, which substitutes a kind of sterile gamesmanship for more meaningful, genuine engagement with the audience and sometimes masquerades as subtlety in genre work. But the characters and their interactions were what was really worth watching for. The Black Panther and Hawkeye constantly wiped the floor with their shared superpower: simple, mundane competence. Ant-Man had a compelling conversation with Iron Man about corporate ethics. How many nominally adult programs actually go there? Ant-Man and Iron Man often serve as each other’s foil. They know one another relatively well, and both men are scientists, but scientists with different backgrounds and worldviews, who are willing to do different things in pursuit of their shared core goals. A:EMH’s jokes were many and frequently excellent. The Hulk waiting awkwardly outside a meeting-place with Pepper Potts, because they both believe in punctuality: classic.

If the show had any faults, these were:

a) The theme song, which was extraordinarily lame in a sort of Jimmy Eat World kind of way, but which was sort of sweet in its naffness.
b) The lack of core female characters who do not care about shopping (though I do like the Wasp, and there were many excellent one-off, reoccurring or familiar-from-comics ladies).
c) Some strangely organized intro/back story episodes I needed Wikipedia to help me navigate.
d) Sometimes the fight scenes dragged on for too long (never a problem with Avatar: The Last Airbender), though that might be a matter of personal taste, and a degree of “fights as filler” is somewhat understandable — A:EMH was no Pertwee-era Doctor Who, with its entire episodes of Driving Around/Escaping And Being Recaptured, over which you can still hear the ghostly whisper of a BBC executive — “We’re going to need this three-part episode to stretch to fill several weeks, weeks, weeks...,” and...
e) Because the show was so darn busy doing all of the aforementioned great things with plots and characters and its world, it didn’t have tons of time to develop the relationship of Iron Man and Captain America. Their epic manlove was one of the best things about the Avengers in the comics, and without it some arcs, such as “Civil War,” would lose much of their emotional relevance. For them to be just pals in a group of pals rather than BFFs feels like something of a loss.

The Marvel films that have come out in the past years have been rather uneven. Iron Man and its sequel: well-written and engaging. Thor: a movie with some strong elements and some serious flaws. Captain America: turgid and ill-conceived. Hulk, any of them: best left unmentioned. On a related note, X-Men First Class: nice bits studded in serious WTF script choices, like perfectly good nuts mired in weird stale nougaty crap. Coated in “X-Men”/Dark Chocolate so you’ll try it. In this chocolate-box of uncertainty, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was Your Favorite Candy: dependable, delicious, seeming to justify the whole damn box with its sheer goodness.

So it’s really too bad Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was canceled.

Wait, what?


That’s the Very Strong Rumor, according to sites like comicbookmovie.com, which say:

Fans of the successful ongoing Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes TV Series are about to be disappointed. As my sources have confirmed to me, Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel Animation studios, has cancelled the currently successful series in favor of a new Avengers Cartoon that will be produced by Marvel’s newly acquired studio (MAS) and will be inline with and in the same universe as the currently airing Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon.

My sources have also added that not to expect an official announcement until the fall, as Marvel does not want ratings to drop for the second season of Avengers Earth Mightiest Heroes which has just started on April 1st and is being met with a tremendous positive response.

In brief, not only is the fantastic show being axed to possibly somehow accord better with the uneven films, the new version will be dumbed-down. In restarting, Loeb will probably pull us right back to the origin-story rehashing that comic adaptors are so fond of. This tendency has always puzzled me, because Origin Stories aren’t necessarily something comics do particularly well, nor are they central to successful comic narratives, which generally get more play out of thoroughly-developed character and plot arcs, and the potentialities of established universes. That might seem more challenging to film than “boy meets radioactive spider,” but introducing an established team is by no means impossible. No one ran screaming from theaters showing The Expendables because they didn’t understaaaaand why these men had formed their merry band!!

Bad as it is, the cancellation of the show isn’t the most upsetting part of this news. The new series will consist of “self contained, standalone, episodes as opposed to story arcs, as Loeb has made it very clear that he dislikes TV show stories to run across several episodes.” This decision has also seriously impacted the currently-airing series. It’s yet unclear whether, at about episode 13, the overhanging story arcs will have to be shoddily wrapped with ruthless haste, or whether they’ll be abandoned full-stop. The twee theme tune is now obscured by a voice over giving the viewer pointless biographical information about the characters, like it’s the A Team. I find it difficult to understand how scrapping this series for a reboot could be financially productive. I find it impossible to understand how reimagining it mid-season, when they’re about to scrap it anyway, could be.

A:EMH episodes were almost universally stories that still had episodic completeness, despite their positioning within a larger arc. Creators and executives can talk about their fear that the audience won’t tune in or whatever (though in the era of streaming television, this mode of thinking about viewership is laughably out-moded), and they can bleat sadly about whether the widdle chiwldwen will be able to fowwow the stowwy (though children are voracious, savvy consumers of on-going stories: they always have been and always will be able to fill in blanks and catapult over obstacles between themselves and their beloved texts). Much like comic adaptors’ unwillingness to do anything but Tell Origin Stories, this lack of faith in the audience to keep up with, or even just tolerate, more complex, serialized, comic storytelling is really based on a lack of faith in the audience to interact with narratives, in themselves as creators to effectively convey narrative, in the narrative structures and possibilities inherent to comics, and in narrative itself.

While we can’t absolutely confirm the rumor, it seems that, like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Invader Zim before it, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes somehow pissed someone off by being well-constructed television that children and adults could enjoy. God forbid you market these shows to their snarky 20-something viewerships effectively (whoever didn’t sell reasonably-priced Zim replica PAK backpacks to Hot Topic when they carried show-related tat is a complete idiot). Unlike Avatar and Zim, A:EMH, rather than being starved out by endless game-playing schedule re-jigging, will be consumed from within by a horrible, deforming cancer.

Enjoy one or one-and-a-half seasons of delightful genre television if you’re not already doing so, and then have a good cry for the bewildering, infuriatingly wrong-headed financial and artistic decisions that befall fans like natural disasters. Hurricane Why Can’t You Manage Your God-Damn Creative Properties Effectively strikes again.

Erin Horáková is a southern American writer. She lives in London with her partner, and is working towards her PhD in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary. Erin blogs, cooks, and is active in fandom.

Zayne Forehand
1. ShiningArmor
I'm a little sad that this is being cancelled in favor of more drivel like Ultimate Spider-man. Avengers never gained my undying loyalty like Spectacular Spider-man (which in my mind will always be the pinnacle of Marvel animation) but it was entertaining. This is why, in the animation department, DC will always spank Marvel. Marvel can't seemed to grasp that their viewers, of all ages, are intelligent. Shows that try to treat viewers intelligently are cancelled way too soon, i.e. Spectacular Spider-man and Wolverine and the X-Men (though that show had its flaws, mainly making every other episode Wolverine-centric). Don't even get me started on Super Hero Squad.

For example, Young Justice just concluded their first season and has now started their 20 episode second season which is one giant story arc titled "Invasion". Each episode will have its own closure but still play as a piece of the bigger picture. What a novel idea!

One quick note, while Avatar was shuffled around and never given a consistent run of episodes, that was their complete story and they weren't cut short by an angry network. So I'm confused as to what comparison you're drawing. Plus, The Legend of Korra now being on just shows that Nickelodeon still backs Mike and Bryan.
David Stumme
2. grenadier
Can someone explain to me why there is not a marathon of this show on this weekend (or last weekend) to help promote the movie? Seems to me that that sort of corporate synergy should be easier now with Marvel under the Disney roof, but apparently not.
3. JeffR60
Erin, you're my hero.

A:EMH is very good. I watch it with my kids. It's a horrible decision to cancel it. If they do something goofy like the new Spiderman, it will be a definite downer.

Origin stories: yuck.

Truth: "it seems that, like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Invader Zim before it, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes somehow pissed someone off by being well-constructed television that children and adults could enjoy."
Chuk Goodin
4. Chuk
That would suck. At least I still have several episodes left to watch.
(And at least there's another season of Young Justice coming out!)
Evan Langlinais
5. Skwid
Wait, wait...there's an Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon! Why did no one tell me this!!! AAAAH! Must watch!
6. Needle King
So Jeph Loeb is at it again, ruining superhero comics for everyone. Is the guy just clueless or what?
Zayne Forehand
7. ShiningArmor
@5 You're missing absolutely nothing by not watching Ultimate Spider-man. It's one or two IQ points above Super Hero Squad. The fact that Spectacular Spider-man was cancelled for that garbage makes me nauseous. The only good thing out of that was Greg Weisman getting hired to Young Justice and making that show non-stop amazing.

@6 I really don't know when Jeph Loeb became so awful. I actually enjoyed his work on season 2 of Smallville. It's like that just tapped him out creatively and it's been garbage ever since. I realize that comic fanboys can be crazy but it seems even crazier to seemingly ignore fan input 100%. That's the vibe I get from Marvel with their decision making. We think this is better so you should too.
Troy Lissoway
8. Troylis
The kids and I have been burning through these on Netflix.ca (ready to watch the Kang arc when we resume our Netflix sub). I agree that this is as good a super-hero cartoon as I've ever seen. Felt very much like they had the whole Marvel universe to play with — even without the X-Men, FF or Spider-Man.

I have to say that I wasn't even sure if there was a second season — a lot of stuff we watch on NF is already wrapped up — so we were watching it as kind of a stand-alone thing. I guess that's one difference between watching it broadcast or by subscription. On TV, it feels more like something that continues through time. On Netflix, it's like a complete work ready to be watched and then set aside.
9. AlBrown
I very much like the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heros show the way it is. I certainly hope it is not rebooted to be like the new Ultimate Spiderman cartoon. That show seems to be trying to reach a very young demographic with a very short attention span, but not only does it not appeal to me, I am not sure how much the target audience will enjoy it.
Erin Horakova
10. ErinHoráková
@ShiningArmor: mostly my issue was that Avatar and Zim had friction between their creative teams and their production mechanisms as a result of being the sort of programming they were. While the circumstances and effects are of course different in all three cases, for me there's a uniting thread in their transmission to audiences being impeded or garbled as a result of this friction.
11. Gene P.
Aww man. That sucks.

I DON'T DVR the current spider man show. It sucks. I DO DVR and religiously watch Avengers. It is good.

Uuugh. It's like the same garbage that's being done to Star Trek.
12. justins
I too agree that the current Avengers animated is far better then the new U-Spidey. I think whoever is writing it has missed what made the comic run of U-Spidey work, which is that it is about Peter Parker, who's life is complicated by being spider man, not the other way around.

I find the actual spiderman to be rather unlikeable.
13. Karl A.
Yes the new Ultimate Spider-Man is really bad....I already took it off my DVR programming after two episodes its really just 1 step above Superhero Squad. Young Justice sets the standard that we the viewers want to see Adults and Kids love it and understand it its a shame Disney/Marvel think so little of its viewers and think we just want mindless silly stuff instead of substance.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heros is great and I hate this guy for canceling it someone should cancel him. Hire someone from Japan that has experience at managing successful long continuous animated series. It is really sad we have never had a truly epic cartoon that has like 300+ episodes the Japanese get it right so many times Look at Naruto-Naruto Shipudden, DragonBall-DragonBall Z-Dragonball GT, Bleach! all of these shows were and are truly epic. There is so much content available from DC an MARVEL that we could have a series that lasts long heck if they stick with Young Justice eventually it can evolve with its characters like Naruto did....he actually aged and got older along with his series.
14. SeanD
If they cancel A:EMH, I will be sorely dissapointed? Never watched that new spiderman show, it looked more for kids. A:EMH has been great to watch, good voice acting, well written storylines, good action. I don't know why they would let this one go! Pretty silly corporate decision if they do. I was so dissapointed when they cancelled Wolverine and the X-Men as well. /sigh
Virginia O'Connor
15. Tialin
Good grief. Finally find some shows I look forward to watching and the idiots cancel it. A:EMH is great. I'm not sorry to be leaving this world soon. Too much stuff just sucks, like this show getting cancelled. Agree with someone above - Loeb ought to be cancelled. What a jerk.
16. lapapesse
Good points, all, but what are you talking about with Avatar? It ran the three seasons it was supposed to and completed its storyline while remaining pretty successful throughout. Now it has the sequel series Korra which is doing very well and is even more adult-aimed. It wasn't cancelled because it pissed someone off - it ended like good stories should. No studio mismanagment as far as I can tell (did it ever get shuffled around in the schedule even? I think it was pretty regularly on on Friday or Saturday nights), unless you count the film which didn't hurt the show during its original run.
Erin Horakova
17. ErinHoráková
@lapapesse While the story ran to its conclusion, there were issues like the third series being split in two and episodes being shown out of order (a common Nickelodeon practice at the time: http://s4.invisionfree.com/DannyPhantom/ar/t7870.htm) that fans felt impeded the initial transmission of the program. Industry gossip referenced tensions between production and creative teams.

Here, from the depths of the toonzone.net forums, is a fair example of some of the mallarky:

"The reason for the falling ratings is actually more straightforward than that...Nick dragged its feet for 3 months before renewing Avatar for a third season back in mid-2006, ensuring that only 2 or 3 episodes were completed by the end of the following spring. Without a slate of 6 episodes they couldn't broadcast the show, and Nick has a policy against premiering episodes during the summer ('movie events' notwithstanding) which meant that the premiere was pushed back to September. 10 months passed between Books 2 and 3, thanks to that 3 month hiccup back in 2006. To add insult to injury, the premiere was advertised all of 2 weeks before it was broadcast. The 10 month gap did more harm to the ratings than anything else, and the lack of advertising compounded the difficulty. Incidentally, The Day of Black Sun did very well in the ratings, due to the gradual ratcheting-up of interest over the course of 10 weeks. This massive gap now is not only inexplicable (all the episodes have been in the can since January) but has probably undone whatever progress the show clawed back over its 10 week run."

And here: http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Avatar-Airbender/7629 is some discussion of Nick announcing and promoting the DVD sale of series 3 before they'd even released an air date for any of the episodes. They also published the tie-in novelization before the finale aired.

As is referenced at points herein, some fans were upset that there'd been little publicity for the new season. Coupled with the aforementioned issues, they felt Nickelodeon's handling of matters seriously cut into the show's popularity, and thus its commercial viability. Additionally, many were angry about spoilers being rife due to the novelization's premature availability (http://katara-zuko.livejournal.com/1076446.html). Part of the issue was, it seems, Nickelodeon's lack of experience promoting serial 'anime' style programming effectively. Even Kat Bakonyi, who generally praises Nickeloden's 'Japanese-style' commercial handling of Avatar in her academic paper "The Influence of Japanese Animation on Avatar: The Last Airbender", notes that "the fact that Nickelodeon failed to release a soundtrack during the height of the show’s popularity was a definite miscalculation." (http://srsartistkat.bravesites.com/files/documents/avatarresearchpaper-pdf2.pdf)

I'm finding it pretty difficult to locate more extensive evidence of this original wank under the pile of film wank, unfortunately. Part of the issue in finding more information is that this was roughly four to six years ago. While that seems but an eye-blink, the architecture of the internet has changed significantly, and it's difficult to find a lot of the places having those unofficial discussions because the forums, lj communities and suchlike are often now defunct, or have slipped in the google ratings, etc.
treebee72 _
18. treebee72
@17. ErinHoráková - Oh! I had forgotten about some of the season 3 eps being released on DVD before they even aired! That was even how my brother & I first watched those ones. Major fail on Nick's part.

They also messed up on releasing action figures - there was never a Katara or Toph despite repeated fan requests (checking the google, there's a freaking Jet figure, but no Katara or Toph!). Then when promotion gears shifted to the movie, all production on show figures stopped. It also took them forever to release a plush Appa (I remember reps from Nick being surprised when interest was expressed by the audience at a comic-con panel - WTH?!). Then once it was released, it was constantly on backorder. Actually they pretty much dropped the ball on all merchandise opportunities.
Erin Horakova
19. ErinHoráková
@treebee72 Oh, I didn't know that about merchandising! Yeah, that is really odd. Who wants Jet when you could have Toph, and cuddly!Momo and Appa are just obvious. Hell you could make a bed-sized cuddly!Appa and I would be pretty tempted.
20. Kat Bakonyi
Hey Erin, thanks for citing my paper in your article - just FYI, I've moved websites, and that link won't work anymore. A current, working link is: http://media.wix.com/ugd/dc45f1_ae59cb6a976a4508a4ead74598d6c4c5.pdf

The new website is here: http://kbakonyi.wix.com/gallery

And yeah, though I think Nickelodeon did a few good things promoting Avatar - I've seen them do a lot more bad than good since I published that paper! I think most of the good things they did were happy accidents, hah.

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