Now that Harry Potter has presumably drawn to a close, new franchises have some room to breathe. It seems that Marvel Studios, with its grandiose Avengers project, is the biggest kid on the block now. With such high-profile entries as Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, along with less popular but still noteworthy fare like Thor and The Incredible Hulk, this new network of summer blockbusters arguably has no precedent among major feature films.
Marvel has been carefully stacking its cards for at least one grand-scale crossover movie, the likes of which is a matter of tradition in the long history of comic books, and which has long been prized by the video game industry. With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers and whatever future projects its success may justify, their ambition is to execute the same concept on a scale previously unseen at the movies. Will the public go for it? Well, I can’t say that I will not show up to see it. Can you?
Meanwhile, for those overloaded with 3D, CGI, and all-too-recognizable Hollywood faces, the Avengers are getting a trial run together in a less aggressive format. Marvel’s animation division, together with cartoon grand masters Film Roman, is on a roll with The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Currently broadcast by Disney XD for primetime audiences, this relatively new superhero cartoon may amaze you with its depth and maturity. It has the heavy-action appeal of Saturday morning classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles or The Real Ghostbusters and a strong sense of character that I last remember seeing in Batman: The Animated Series. Even compared to Marvel’s popular X-Men and Spider-Man shows, this new project is a cut above. A team of very talented writers have brought the Avengers, along with a huge cast of their friends and foes, together in the arena for all ages to enjoy. And all ages should.
Granted, comic book stories and characterizations are easier to swallow as cartoons, but the writers have not used this excuse to phone it in. The characters are on-the-nose enough for young kids to understand their fundamental conflicts, but the dialogue has enough wit (and occasionally a little subtle innuendo) that older audiences will have the patience to watch the larger plot arcs unfold over the course of multiple episodes.
The live-action Avengers is a bold but uncertain venture. Questions of casting, canon, and creative vision will continue to polarize fans as long as the franchise fights on. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes does an exceptional job of condensing decades of well-established mythology into thoroughly entertaining television, without many of the pitfalls its big-screen cousins must inevitably face. As the show’s first anniversary rolls around, keep your eyes out for Season 2.
The first season of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is currently available on Netflix Instant, and Walt Disney Home Entertainment is also releasing a series of DVD collections through October 2011.
In the meantime, series creator Joshua Fine (Twitter @Josh_Fine) is as good a source as any for up to date information on future episodes.
Special thanks to Dana Silver.