Saturday, May 28, 2011

Capes, Animated

We thought the time had come to gather and discuss the state of animated televised superheroes, a subject longtime readers know is close to our hearts.

By our count, there are four major animated shows currently running which focus on DC or Marvel characters, not counting Japanese re-imaginings.

We begin with an old staple, Batman: Brave and the Bold. In accordance with our agreed upon penance, we are obligated to remind our readers that, prior to its release, we'd expect this show to rank among the worst portrayals of Batman ever shown on TV. Of course, it's now clear this couldn't be farther from the truth.

Batman: Brave and the Bold is an intriguing and entertaining show, which - at times - approaches the brilliance of Batman: The Animated Series (though it's yet to actually reach that level, but then, what has?).

The series has evolved over time, playing with different tones and concepts. While remaining an all-ages show on the surface, it's achieved some jaw-dropping subversive turns. This season, an entire episode was dedicated to the "Super-dickery"website, while the sexual innuendo snuck into Gail Simone's Birds of Prey episode is unbelievable. Add in the "classic" Scooby Doo/Weird Al/Batman Crossover, and you've got an all around brilliant series.

On top of everything else, we're continuously impressed by the show's willingness to kill the occasional hero and touch on the consequences. For a show ostensibly aimed at young children, a shocking number of good guys make the ultimate sacrifice.

Next, we'd like to say a few words about Marvel's ongoing "Superhero Squad Show." Two words, in fact: it sucks.

To be fair, we've only seen a few episodes, and those were back in season 1. But those episodes were unfunny, uninteresting, and offensive. The fact this show remains on the air while Spectacular Spider-Man and Wolverine and the X-Men are gone is an outright tragedy.

Moving on, we come to the first of the two new additions: Young Justice. Produced by Greg Wiseman, who previously worked on the aforementioned Spectacular Spider-Man, as well as the legendary Gargoyles.

While Young Justice is a solid program, it's also a tad disappointing. The series accomplishes what it sets out to do well enough, but its goals feel off target. The show is ultimately using its characters to tell spy stories, rather than superhero ones, and the result seems off. It tries too hard to come off as gritty and realistic, and winds up losing the fun and adventure that traditionally make the Teen Titans so interesting.

To the series's credit, its portrayal of the Justice League is spot on, including some innovative twists on Batman and Superman which fit the characters' histories perfectly. On top of that, there have been some great action sequences: this is certainly well put together, and it has a lot of potential. We just hope the producers back off the tone and start treating their characters more like the Teen Titans and less like agents from the Impossible Missions Force.

Finally, we move on to Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Like Batman: Brave and the Bold, we'd originally approached this with trepidation. Something about the previews looked off to us. However, when we actually watched the show, we were pleasantly surprised. No, "surprised" isn't the word: we were floored.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes may be the most ambitious superhero cartoon series since JLU, and at times it's almost as good. Working off of an amalgamation of five decades of Marvel Comics, as well as the recent films, the show is an exciting and intriguing experience. The characters all feel spot-on, with Wasp and Hawkeye stealing the show.

Our only criticism lies with the pacing. If anything, the show has begun moving too fast, burning through major plot arcs and galactic-level threats without enough space between.

Nevertheless, we find ourselves eagerly anticipating the next season. While Brave and the Bold and Young Justice are certainly great shows, Avengers stands out as the best animated superhero show currently on television.

Except for WordGirl, of course.

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