Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The State of the (Marvel Animated) Union

I have a long list of fond memories as a kid. By fond I mean some make me want to steal Doc Brown's time machine and get the hell out of this apocalyptic time bomb and some make me want to kille very last brain cell in my head with a blow torch. Among the nicer memories of my childhood are cartoons. I'm not talking about those pansy ass talking animal cartoons either. I'm talking about the golden age of superhero cartoons.

It was the 90s. Apple was a laughingstock, the Cold War was over, Bill Clinton was nailing secretaries in addition to fueling a historic economic boom, and Marvel and DC were making some damn fine cartoons. The big three were Batman the Animated Series, X-men: The Animated Series, and Spider-Man: The Animated Series. They were groundbreaking for their time, telling the kind of stories that weren't campy and corny. There wasn't Bat shark repellant or Wolverine lecuring on the importance of reading or Spider-Man teaching kids that it's a bad idea to make deals with the devil (okay, bad example). They were mature stories that closely followed the comics while making plenty of tweaks along the way (like NOT killing Jean Grey in the Phoenix Saga and NOT killing Gwen Stacy). They set the gold standard by which all future comic book cartoons would be judged. They lasted years and left many such as myself with fond memories, but since then it's been an endless search for a successor.

In the years since these cartoons ended, Marvel and DC have tried a number of new cartoons. Some were pretty damn good like The Batman and X-men Evolution, but they were far outweighed by the sheer fecal tsunami unleased by others such as the infamous Avengers cartoon that didn't have Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America or a shitty Spider-Man series on MTV. Even promising series like Wolverine and the X-men were aborted before they could make their mark. It's tragic in a way that makes Rick Santorum want to throw up.

But in recent times, Marvel and DC are making an effort to make better cartoons again. This time Marvel has an ace up their sleve. It comes in the form of a mouse with big ears and deep pockets. I'm talking about Disney if you're that ignorant about cartoons and because of Disney, Marvel has a media titan that they can utilize without having to perform oral sex on lawers for affiliated channels like Fox Kids or Nicktoons. It has already created an admirable series with Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Now Marvel is finally looking to expand with a new series, Ultimate Spider-Man.

For the first time since the heydey of the Fox series, two Marvel cartoons get to share the same channel and possibly the same universe for a new Marvel world. Now no one from Marvel has come out and said that Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man are in the same world, but they would have to be functionally retarded if the thought of cross-promotion and synergy in this era of "Avengers vs. X-men" crossovers didn't cross their mind. It's an exciting prospect, but how much awesome can we hope for?

I admit I'm very cynical about Spider-Man cartoons. Spectacular Spider-Man was a disappointing buchery of the series and it didn't help that every character had eyes that made them look like they had Down Syndrome. And the less said about the MTV series, the better. But Ultimate Spider-Man promises to be different. For one, it's not going to be restricted to characters strictly from the Spider-Man universe. That means Kingpin can actually show up after being benched due to lawyers bitch-slapping one another over the liscening for Spectacular Spider-Man. It also means other heroes like Iron Fist, Nova, and White Tiger can show up and they've never shown up in any cartoon before. It even means Agent Coulson, everyone's favorite SHIELD agent from the Avengers movies, is showing up as well. It's like trying to get the attention of fans by piling on different kinds of explosives on top of a barrel of TNT. It may be overkill, but I'm all for it!

More importantly, however, Ultimate Spider-Man will utilize a similar quality of animation set by Avengers. That means no Down Syndrome eyes and no bland colors that look like they've been air brushed by underpaid Korean kids in a sweatshop. It's definitely an upgrade when you go from the kind of googly eyed, poorly colored crap like this:

Help Spider-Man! My pupils have been stolen!

And get something like this:

Pupils. I got em, bitches!
 What a difference several failed series make, eh? Okay, maybe I'm making a big deal about eyes. But I've always pointed out that the little things are what sets apart the mediocre from the awesome. If someone is willing to make the extra effort to make sure these characters look awesome in animation, then that says to me as a customer that the people I trust to handle these characters give enough of a damn to make everything else awesome. That's a powerful message, even to a drunk.

Now Ultimate Spider-Man may look awesome, but can it deliever? Well, that remains to be scene. Looking pretty doesn't mean shit if the story you convey is complete shit. The clips offered by Spinoff and USA Today show promise, but they also show a different tone. This show doesn't seem to have the same serious undertones as Avengers EMH. It's about a high school kid, that I get. But crap like breaking the 4th wall and little anime moments that don't involve women's panties is pushing it. So I'm not going to come out and say that I'm certain that this cartoon will be awesome, but for the first time since Monica Lewinsky was learning new ways to use cigars, I'm optimistic.

But what about other Marvel properties? What about X-men? Marvel had some damn good shit going with Wolverine and the X-men, but someone decided that shit wasn't worth financing and it was cut. From Nicktoons of all place. I mean really? A show that looked good, told a great story, and ended on a cliff-hanger wasn't good enough? I call bullshit on a stick, but seeing as how Marvel seems to be building up a more cohesive animated world it may only be a matter of time before others like the X-men, Daredevil, or the Fantastic Four show up. Wolverine already showed up in Avengers EMH so Marvel just needs the time and balls to do it. They would be idiots as well as assholes if they didn't at least consider it.

So things look good for Marvel, but what about DC? Well aside from their awesome Direct-to-DVD movie releases like Justice League Doom, they don't have much in the form of animated potential. Their last big world was Justice League Unlimited, but that show ended when Bush was still in office. They have shows like Young Justice, but that's not nearly as extensive as Justice Leage Unlimited and on Cartoon Network it seems limited by what it can do and still be on the same level as an Ed, Edd, n' Eddy rerun. The only other mature option DC has going at the moment is a new Green Lantern series. Given how popular Green Lantern has become over the past few years (Ryan Reynolds not withstanding), it's understandable. But so far, it's appeal hasn't been all that great. Going back to animation, this thing looks like a pre-rendered screen test from Justice League. Hell, it's a huge downgrade compared to Young Justice.

The best CGI from 1997.
 I'm sorry, but I just can't get too excited when it looks like DC is getting cheap on me. I'm still willing to give it a chance, but come on DC! Marvel is making a big animation push with their new sugar daddies in Disney. At least try to show that you care about matching their awesome. You're the guys who made Batman and Justice League. You have no excuse.

So in conclusion to this drunken rant, what's the overall state of the animated union? Well, I think it's safe to say it's strong on Marvel's end. They're setting up a brand new world with Disney that has the potential to do in 2012 what they did in the 90s. They still have to put in the necessary work to make it awesome, but they have all the tools they need to make it happen. DC is in another boat. They seem a little lost in terms of matching the scale Marvel is utilizing. They still have potential with cartoons like Young Justice, but for the moment they're tripping over their own feet while Marvel is running full speed towards the peak of Mt. Awesome. It's a great time to be a comic fan and a couch potatoe. Since TV shows are being canceled and/or ended left and right and there's no football on for another four months, we need something to fill the void and there's only so much booze can do. Nuff said!


  1. I love the original X-Men Fox series. In fact it was my introduction to the franchise and probably why so many of its characters became my favorites.

    X-Men Evolution I thought was worthy follow-up and re-imagining of the concept (especially since Jean Grey got to be a lot more substantial and kick more ass than in the Fox show).

    Wolverine and the X-Men was an interesting idea, and many of the aspects of the show were quite good. It's a shame it was pulled.

  2. The Fox cartoon brought many into the world of comics. It's probably done the best job bringing the Phoenix Force to life of any medium. But no cartoon has had that same impact to date. I certainly hope Marvel will try another X-men cartoon at some point, especially if both Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man are successful. They would be foolish not to add more synergy to the mix because this shit sells. And their Disney overlords may demand it! So let's hope that Gordon Gecko was right about greed being good.


  3. My mind can't really proccess that since last year they killed Ultimate Spider-Man and then replaced him with someone else that no one recognize and ISN'T Peter and now that a movie based in Ultimate Spider-Man and a cartoon self-titled Ultimate Spider-Man that is featuring Peter Parker is coming out this year and can't really understand why they killed him in first place??? That something that people that aren't fine of his mind do it...

  4. The Ultimate comics have become so fucked up that it's hard to tell which hole is the ass and which hole is the gaping wound opened by Ultimatum. I don't think Marvel is really expecting the cartoon to help the actual Ultimate comics. I think they see animation as just another way to get their material out there and so long as they don't butcher it the same way they butchered Ultimate, I'm okay with that.