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:
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.
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.