Original blog post available here.
Let me set the stage for this by reminding you of my feelings on comic books:
Incidentally, I’m starting to sour on the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the same reasons.
Granted, maybe this is a ridiculous criticism for a series based on comic books, but the Marvel movies are starting too feel too much like comic books.
I’ve rewritten this section of the post a couple times now trying to figure out how I make the point I’m trying to make here without going into
a novel-length screed decrying the comic book industry too much detail.
So, let me explain it this way.
There are comic book characters who are still some of my favourite fictional characters ever: Gambit, Thor, Nightcrawler, Aquaman from about any point after the 90s, Flash.
I just feel like they’re at their best outside their original medium.
Which brings me to my latest recommendation: Disney XD‘s early 2010s series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Featuring, as you might infer for the title, some of the Marvel’s greatest heroes.
Now, it is a cartoon aimed at kid/preteen audience, so there’s always a certain level of, well, cartoonishness to the series, but within the context of a kids’ show, it can be pretty unflinching in its depiction of violence.
Though, on the flip side, there is plenty of slapstick, people getting hurt in funny ways violence, too.
It can also get pretty heavy, mature and/or dark in its subject matter: torture, genocide, total nuclear annihilation, planets getting wiped out, the goals of the criminal justice system, the ends justifying the means and good people doing bad things for good reasons.
The scary stuff is not necessarily traumatising, but it has the potential be pretty startling and upsetting.
Sidebar: like I mentioned when talking about the use of real guns in Gargoyles, Cap‘s World War II flashblacks are one of the few cartoons I can recall where the characters are using real guns rather than lasers. But the present-day scenes, everyone, up to and including random beat cops is using lasers.
Apparently, the choice given by the Disney censors was Cap fighting Hydra with real guns, or having Cap fight real Nazis with lasers.
As a consequence, there are no mentions of the actual Nazis (perhaps not unreasonable for a kids’ show), which means that it was Hydra as a political/military faction in its own right (rather than, as in the comics, a Nazi sub-organisation) that the Allies were fighting against.
Notably, the fact that the show was more popular with an adult audience than its intended audience apparently contributed by its cancellation.
Also, the camera seems to spend a lot of time pointed at Black Widow‘s backside for a kids’ show.
Not that I was, you know, really paying attention to that sort of thing, or anything.
Because that would be ungentlemanly and so forth…
Moving on, in a lot of ways, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes feels in a lot of ways like a dress rehearsal for the MCU movies.
I know that after a decade and a new movie released approximately every 43 seconds, it can be hard to recall that there was, in fact, a time before the MCU.
And yet, when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes debuted (Fall 2010), the only MCU movies that had released were The Incredible Hulk and the first two Iron Mans; Thor would be released about half a year later in the spring of 2011.
For the most part, the aesthetics of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is based on the comic books: the characters all have exaggerated, comic book physiques (Cap and Thor are both basically upside-down triangles), Hawkeye’s costume is purple rather than non-existent, Wasp‘s is yellow and black, Thor’s speech patterns are lot more overtly overwrought and old-timey than in the movies.
Similarly, a lot of the characters themselves are more in line with the comic book versions than the MCU versions, because the MCU versions hadn’t been established (or at least known to anyone outside of high-level Marvel Studios execs) yet.
Ant-Man is Hank Pym (who is not an old man), not Scott Lang (though Scott Lang does feature in the series later on) and Ultron is his creation, rather than Iron Man’s, Thor is presented a lot more unironically as a Space Viking Fantasy-y hero than the version in the MCU, Jane Foster is a paramedic rather than an astrophysicist, Heimdall is white, rather than Idris Elba (who, incidentally, is awesome in basically every role he’s ever played).
Notably, Black Panther plays a pretty major role in the series, despite the character not being introduced into the MCU for another four years or getting his own movie for another six. Though, as I recall, Marvel was making a push to elevate Black Panther in the comics at around this time (don’t quote me on that; I may be misremembering things).
And, for what it’s worth, I think I enjoyed this version of Black Panther himself and Wakanda as a whole much more than the MCU versions…
For the most part, there’s more of an influence from the mainline Marvel universe than the Ultimate Marvel universe, though there are some touches from Ultimate Marvel. For example, Nick Fury is black, but not overtly based on Samuel L. Jackson (at least initially; he gets a makeover in the second season). Ultimate Marvel’s Nick Fury has always been black and based on Samuel L. Jackson, predating the MCU by about a decade.
The original Nick Fury in the mainline Marvel universe is white, but has since been replaced by his son, Nick Fury Jr., who resembles both the Ultimate Marvel and MCU versions of the character.
So, all in all, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes really feels like Disney practicing for the MCU and trying to figure out what characters would work on film and what aspects of those characters would or wouldn’t work.
All that being said, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is still enough of a post-MCU product that certain influences of the MCU are obvious. Jarvis is a robot, rather than a butler, Abomination is British (he’s a Croatian-born KGB agent in the comics). Most obviously, Iron Man is clearly supposed to be a cartoon version of Robert Downey Jr, to the point that voice actor Eric Loomis is clearly playing Robert Downey Jr.
I could go on about everything Earth’s Mightiest Heroes does or doesn’t do to cleave closely to the comic books, but we’d be here for a while.
Suffice it to say that it’s much more of a direction translation of the source material to animation than the MCU is to film. That’s not necessarily a shortcoming for the MCU. Things that work in still images or animation have the potential to very much not work in live action.
However, one advantage Earth’s Mightiest Heroes does have over the MCU is that the character rights are clearly less of a mess for animated TV than they are for animation.
At the time (20th Century) Fox owned the film rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, that part of Fox (not to be confused with the Fox that still exists as a distinct entity) of course, now being owned by Disney.
And Sony owned the rights to Spider-Man (and as far as I’m aware, still does), which means that it took some legal wrangling to introduce Spider-Man into the MCU and that the X-Men have never been introduced into the MCU (yet).
Clearly, there was no such issue with cartoons, because Earth’s Mightiest Heroes features appearances from Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Fantastic Four, Dr. Doom (which I believe is properly spelled ‘Dr. Doom‘) and Galactus.
Potential rights issues aside, the series also makes the most of the opportunity to feature some lesser-known heroes and villains. I’m pretty well-read on comic book characters, but even I’m not particularly familiar with characters like Doc Samson, Beta Ray Bill, Living Laser, and Mandrill.
Earth’s Mightiest Heroes got two seasons, ending up with a run of 52 episodes. It’s a fairly easy watch (especially since the whole thing’s up on Disney Plus). It’s mostly episodic and standalone, but each season does have a few multi-episode plot lines and a season-long arc that ties the seasons together.
And, yes, Hawkeye is still the lamest Avenger.
Copyright 2021 J.B. Norman
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