Tue
Oct 15 2013 11:30am

Marvel’s Cartoons Are Better Than You Think

Agent Coulson and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may be getting all the attention lately, but they aren’t the only Marvel products bringing superhero fun to television audiences. Marvel Television producer Jeff Loeb showcased the best and brightest of their cartoon division at New York Comic Con this weekend and reminded audiences that Marvel Television is where comic book adventures thrive.

Marvel cartoons have been a staple of television since the 1960s. Perhaps most well-known are the multiple Spider-Man series, from 1967’s Spider-Man, through Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in the 1980s, to the 1990s Spider-Man. The latter, alongside a truly stellar X-Men cartoon, was a staple for many comic geek childhoods of my generation. But interest interest seemed to wane by the early 2000s, and great shows like X-Men Evolution and the more recent Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were canceled in mid-stream.

Enter the age of the Marvel films craze and, more importantly, the Marvel team-up with Disney. With a new platform for their cartoons, Marvel has launched a killer line-up that is fun for kids and still slick enough to be engaging for adults. Ultimate Spider-Man led the way in 2012 and became popular enough for Marvel to expand into two brand new titles this year. The audience at Comic Con was treated to clips and previews of episodes ahead of their premiere on Sunday, all under the watchful eye of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who kept anyone from recording the content. All three shows provided the zany, out-there spirit that makes kids love comics and felt perfectly authentic to the madness of the Marvel comic book universe. Let’s take a look at the line-up:

 

Avengers Assemble

If you want to continue the adventures of your favorite team of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, look no further than Avengers Assemble. This cartoon picks up after the blockbuster film ends, with Tony Stark calling the Avengers back together in the first episodeto help him deal with the Red Skull. From there it’s new adventures every week, all kept really close to the movie continuity. The series has also added Falcon to the cast as a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who gives up the job for the life of a superhero, fueling rumors that the character will be included in the next film. The show is fast-paced and kid-friendly, pulling in great villains and storylines that make fans love this team while still keeping true to the movie portrayals of the Avengers. The show also has a unique blend of cartoon humor and great stories that can subtly teach great lessons to kids without falling into the trap of being preachy or too overt. The episode at the convention gave the audience a glimpse into the life of the Hulk. Special guests in the episode included The Thing (the Hulk’s bowling partner) and Spider-Man, who helps the big-guy talk out his feelings over hot-dogs. What makes this show perfect is the production team knows how to tap into the spirit of the comics and smash it together with the movie world, which has brought more fans into the fold.

And speaking of smashing....

 

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.

That’s right, Hulk has his own show! It’s about a team of Hulks all brought together to, er, smash things for Nick Fury. This isn’t the monosyllabic Hulk of The Avengers film but a big green Hulk-Banner fusion who rages just as hard but leads his team as a thinking emerald giant. He leads a team of other gamma-infused heroes, including She-Hulk, Red Hulk, Skarr, and A-Bomb. If that makes you wince as a Hulk comic continuity fan, just throw those worries out the window and enjoy the hokey fun. In the episode that was shown at Comic Con, the Hulks had to fight their own Jump-Jet, which came alive with the help of the villainous Leader and takes revenge for all the times they trashed it on earlier missions. Laced with multiple references to the evil computer HAL, this episode managed to teach the important lesson of appreciating those that help you and how to make sacrifices as a hero. You know, in between a lot of ‘Hulk Smash!’ and Red Hulk punching the Watcher in the face. Don’t ask, just go watch the fun. I would just remind any parents to tell kids to SMASH carefully, as the show has some serious “hit things and ask questions later” vibes.

 

Ultimate Spider-Man

For a better kids’ role model and some serious fun, Ultimate Spider-Man might be more your speed. Ultimate follows a young Peter Parker as he goes through his adventures, trying to figure out where he fits in with the rest of the super-hero world. The show definitely leaves out all the grit and serious sacrifice that became the hallmark of the Ultimate world. Instead, the show brims with Spidey-humor, including little daydreams starring a MiniSpidey. Another great feature of the show is how it features so many of the Marvel Universe’s other heroes. Spider-Man teams up with Nova, White Tiger, Iron Fist, and Power Man to take on their villains, and each season has added new heroes to guest star. Jeff Loeb announced that the show will be going into a fourth season, making it the longest running Marvel cartoon to date. It also achieved another milestone recently when a two-part episode entitled “Blade and the Howling Commandos” featured in a Sunday prime-time slot on the Disney channel for their Halloween programming. The episode was so popular, it will be re-airing as part of the regular time-slot season.

 

From what Marvel showed the New York Comic Con audience, it’s obvious that the Marvel animated projects are doing their best to keep in touch with their youngest generation of fans. What’s incredibly surprising is how fun these shows can be for their adult audience too. Each of the shows never forgets that it’s telling you the stories of comic book heroes and dive head-first into the crazy adventures that have made Marvel great for decades. While the impulse from some comic fans might be to turn up their nose at a show aimed at kids, the writing on all three is so fun and classically Marvel that it’s got enough for all ages to be engaged. After all, you can’t let the kids have all the fun.


Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.

6 comments
Christopher Bennett
1. ChristopherLBennett
Sorry, but the current Marvel animated shows are a serious step down in quality from the shows that were cancelled to make way for them. The Spectacular Spider-Man and The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes were inspired, intelligent, and engaging, while their successors are rather more simplistic and superficial. Avengers Assemble suffers from trying to be a generic Avengers show, one that tries to trick audiences into thinking it's a continuation of both the live-action movie and EMH, and thus is far more lifeless and boring than either. Ultimate Spider-Man is just too goofy and superficial. Agents of SMASH has its moments, but the Hulks are too domesticated and too depowered. I saw one episode where at one point a group of the Hulks were running from a bad guy (the Collector, I think), and I had to wonder -- why are they running? Between them, these few individuals have the power to destroy a whole civilization if they wanted to.

I've been a regular watcher of most of the Marvel animated series since the '90s. But currently there isn't a single Marvel cartoon on the air that I care enough about to watch.
rob mcCathy
2. roblewmac
well now we know why there ARE so many Hulks in the comics. They wanted these charcters to have a fanbase of parents before lauching the Cartoon. Hulk is the very worst character to get this treatment. "Hulk is the strongest one there is...cept' you guys"
Alan Brown
3. AlanBrown
Ultimate Spiderman may be hokey to grownup eyes, but the kids I know really enjoy the show. I haven't seen all the episodes, but I would say the Avengers show is on par with the previous Avengers cartoon. Can't comment on the Hulk show because I haven't seen it.
And they are all better than some of the schlocky cartoons that appeared under the Marvel banner in decades gone by.
Christopher Bennett
4. ChristopherLBennett
The moment that decisively soured me on Avengers Assemble was a scene in an early episode featuring the Avengers going about their ordinary daily routine (in full costume for no good reason) and we saw Captain America punching his way through a succession of heavy bags just like he did in the movie. That annoyed me no end. In The Avengers, the punching-bag scene was a meaningful character moment, efficiently demonstrating Steve's frustration and isolation as a man out of time. But by copying it in the show, they stripped it of its character significance and just reduced it to "that thing Cap does." It was shallow and empty, copying the superficial form of something familiar with no respect or understanding for its underlying meaning. That told me that this show was a hollow, mercenary exercise, more about trying to pander to the movie fanbase than about trying to tell intelligent, character-driven stories the way A:EMH did. To be sure, it wasn't the first or only moment where AA just slavishly copied a line or beat from the movie, but it was the moment that drove home to me just how mercenary an exercise the show was. To be sure, plenty of animated tie-ins to movies have tried to draw on elements of those movies and ride on their coattails, but I've rarely seen it done so slavishly and emptily.
Zayne Forehand
5. ShiningArmor
Could not disagree more with this article. The current slate of Marvel cartoons is an embarrament to the quality of the previous shows. Cancelling Spectacular Spider-man and then immediately airing USM is a freaking joke. USM may be great for kids, but Spectacular had mass appeal. I understand it's a whole rights thing as to why that got cancelled but they could have tried to keep the spirit of that show alive. Instead we get Spider-man imitating Deadpool and to much more idiotic effect. Also, Spider-Ham. Nuff Said.

Avengers Assemble was just recently deleted from my DVR for good. I tried really hard to like it because I generally enjoyed EMH. However, the childish humor, the movie ripoffs, and the poor characterization was just too much for me to handle.

I haven't watched Agents of Smash so I can't speak specifically to it but it looks pretty bad and that is a moronic show title.

Previous Marvel shows include:
Spectacular Spider-man, the best, most accurate depiction of Spidey ever put on screen. Great humor, clean animation, and spectacular (no pun intended) fight sequences.
Wolverine and the X-Men, a little inconsistent with it's alternating focus of team episode, Wolverine episode (I hate Wolverine), team episode, etc. However, the overall quality was great. The animation was crazy good and the setup for its aborted season 2 had me foaming at the mouth with excitement.
X-Men Evolution, Very rough first season but really found it's footing in season 2 and became amazing in season 3. Main reason behind the improvement is it started taking itself more seriously and making the characters real.
Avengers: EMH, The animation took a little while to grow on me but the characters were solid and the action sequences were fun to watch and the show's faithfulness to the comics, even when it was confusing, was admirable.

I really dislike this new direction of Marvel animation. Especially when the immediate DC counterpart to it was the face-melting awesome that was Young Justice. Unfortunately, CN is made up of crack-using assclowns and they cancelled that show and Green Lantern and put on Beware the Batman and Teen Titans Go!.

I don't know why the trend in animation is to treat kids like they are increasingly stupid but it makes it a lot less appealing for those of us that want and deserve intelligent representations of our childhood heroes that we could be proud to show our children.
James Felling
6. Maltheos
I too will beg to disagree. Both of the Marvel Animation shows currently on are pale shadows of what was on before. If you get a chance, check out The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes on Netflix. Compare it with the current show and decide.

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