No Assembly Required: Andy Burns on Marvel’s Greatest Animated Series

When it comes to animated tv shows, the last twenty ears have really spoiled comic book fans. Along the time that Batman: The Animated Series made its debut on FOX (back in 1992 if my memory serves me well), the majority of shows rooted in comic lore have managed to combine the best stories from their histories alongside some great animation. The animated X-Men series was the first series to bring our favourite mutants to life (I am consciously discounting the failed X-Men pilot from the 80’s, Pryde of The X-Men) and did an admirable job of capturing decades worth of lore. The mid-90’s Spider-Man series, also on FOX, was, at the time, the most faithful to Spidey’s roots, giving Peter Parker a fairly tortured soul that was always trying to do the right thing. As a Marvel Zombie, I was a pretty happy camper back in the day watching those series.

However, it’s the DC fans who I think have been really well-served over the past two decades when it comes to classic animated series. Besides the aforementioned Batman: The Animated Series, not only a classic animated series but an all around brilliant episodic television show, the same creators gave fans Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and the beloved Justice League and it’s follow-up, Justice League Unlimited, which featured almost every character from the League’s roster at one time or another. Now, neither of the latter two shows ever quite resonated with me the way it did with my friends and DC fanatics, but I can tell you us Marvel fans never got as quality a show as Justice League. We never had a series that left our mouths open or craving the next episode. I’d suggest the closest we ever got was the recent Wolverine and The X-Men, with it’s season long storyline and gorgeous animation. However, some fans had a hard time buying into Wolverine as the leader of the group, which is a fair enough criticism. So really, though both companies have had strong animated showings, the general consensus has been no Marvel series has matched the acclaim that so many offerings from the Distinguished Competition have received.

Until now. Well, make that a few months ago, but I’m playing catch-up.

Over the last few days I’ve been watching Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which airs in the U.S. on Disney XD and in Canada on Teletoon. It’s the first series to feature one of comicdom’s most beloved teams, with the majority of heavy hitters accounted for in the first two episodes, including Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The Wasp, Giant Man, Hawkeye, Nick Fury and Maria Hill (the newest character on the series, having made her debut in the Brian Michael Bendis series New Avengers, which demonstrates her popularity and why Jose Whedon is featuring her in the upcoming Avengers film). As for the characters MIA, most notably Captain America, you know he’s coming in a future episode.

For those of you who have been watching the series since its debut last fall, I’m not telling you anything new. You already know how entertaining it is. But, if like me, you’ve never caught an episode of the series and you love the Avengers, I think you’ll be blown away by what’s made it onto the show. The animation and the voice work are both solid, but the real selling point of the series is the brilliant storytelling. The season begins with a two-part episode, Breakout, that finds many of the Marvel U’s biggest baddies breaking out of 4 select prisons overseen by S.H.I.E.L.D. This leads to a team-up by our illustrious group of heroes and then the promise of working together in the future. It also leaves us with the question of who masterminded the breakout and a task for The Avengers – recapture all of the escaped prisoners.

However, rather jump immediately into villain recovery mode with episode three, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes instead goes into a series of backstory episodes on Iron Man, Thor and Hulk, tracing their experiences almost up to the moment that the first episode begins. By doing this, we get a deeper look into the psyche of each character, while also receiving answers to some of the questions the first two episodes left us with (just why was Bruce Banner imprisoned in The Cube?). I really wasn’t expecting this level of character development or attention to story detail, so all credit to show creator Joshua Fine and writer Christopher Yost for running a series that carefully honours its source material.

I still have a ways to go with Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I’m only 5 episodes in, 19 have been broadcast and more are on the way in April. But unlike all the DC animated series, I’m totally invested in the characters I’m watching. That’s not meant to be a slight – I just grew up with more of a love for Marvel and the Avengers than I did for the Justice League. And I want to see what happens next.

You can catch up on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes online at Marvel’s official website or in Canada at Teletoon or Rogers On Demand Online.

Now get assembling!

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