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.
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.