Tuesday, May 08, 2012

An open letter to Marvel Animation

Still jazzed about the excellent Avengers movie which I saw this weekend with the family (twice!), both me and the younger boys delved into the Marvel Animation collection that I've gathered over the last few years (or which I can stream on Netflix) to get a continued fix of superheroes.  In this regard, I have to strongly compliment the team at Marvel Animation. 

I grew up watching superhero cartoons.  In fact, my love of superheroes (and my love of Marvel superheroes in particular) was founded less on reading comic books as a kid and more on watching animated shows--both new and syndicated--which were fairly prevalent in the 70s and 80s dedicated to Marvel characters, including Spiderman, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and most of the characters associated with the Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, etc.)  Sadly, neither my kids nor I have any interest in revisiting those; back in those days, since the paradigm was to present animation that was specifically geared towards kids (or what studios thought kids would want to watch and what their parents would allow them to watch), those shows feel incredibly dated, dull, and banal in the extreme.  So my great congratulations on producing a number of shows in recent years that manage to treat kids like they're intelligent and can handle more sophisticated plot, characters, and action/choreography.  Kids don't like to be treated like they're kids, and the recent crop of Marvel shows definitely gets that.  Anyone in the post Star Wars world who doesn't understand this has been willfully obtuse for years, yet it seems that the animation industry in America has largely been exactly that for most of that time.  And as a father and fan of superheroes myself, I'm glad to say that the shows are good enough that I happily watch them for myself, and would do so even if I didn't have kids.

In particular, I'm referring to The Spectacular Spiderman, Wolverine and the X-Men and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  Sadly, of the three, only one of them is still running (the other two casualties, I presume, of business decisions made in the wake of the acquisition of Marvel by Disney) but at least the final is an excellent, excellent piece of entertainment.  That said, since it's the only one of the trinity to remain current, I naturally have a wish-list of things I'd love to see.  Sure, I'm just some random guy out there who watches these shows (usually with my two younger boys) but heck; if I don't make any effort to speak, I can hardly complain that I wasn't heard, can I?

1) In the past, Marvel entertainment offerings have often felt fairly "chimney" like, and although some recent efforts over the last few years have helped to better integrate the entire "superhero community" within the Marvel Universe and weakened the chimney walls, it's still a significant problem.  Especially since the X-men show didn't get it's second season after all, it's especially galling to see that the mutant community and the rest of the superhero community seem to operate in different spheres altogether most of the time.  It would be great to see the X-men feature in the Avengers cartoon somewhat.  In fact, if I can offer a suggestion of a storyline to adapt, the Ultimate War seems like a great place to start.  Following devastation after an attack by Magneto, which the X-men thwart, SHIELD believes it needs to bring the X-men in for questioning and/or containment.  While the Avengers might initially be reluctant, they can be convinced to do so, initiating a fun fight in which the various team members manage to fight each other to a nice standstill.

2) Speaking of the involvement of mutant book elements, if we're going to have the Kree and the Skrulls play a major role in Season 2, why is it that the Shi'ar are always relegated to the mutant storylines?  I'd love to see the Avengers take on the Shi'ar too.  In the cosmic scheme of things, they're as big a deal as the Kree or Skrulls, right?  The shunting of Shi'ar concerns to mutants every time seems to strain credulity after a while.  Plus, I'd love to see the Starjammers or the Imperial Guard take on the Avengers!

3) And in terms of cosmic elements: GALACTUS!  Although he's often considered a Fantastic Four villain, one of the most iconic Galactus stories is from 1979 or 1980 or so when the FF teamed up with the Avengers to take on Terrax and Galactus.  Plus, we've already established that the Avengers and the FF "hang out" from time to time, and it's always seemed to me that the FF and Avengers are fairly neatly integrated--so much so that it's not unusual to kind of forget that some of the most iconic antagonists in all of Marveldom (Galactus, Doctor Doom, the skrulls, the Kree, Namor, etc.) weren't always associated with the Avengers anyway.

4) Some other interesting crossover potential could get more characters on the screen (while still focusing the story and development on more important/familiar ones).  I'm thinking here: Squadron Supreme!  The Supreme Power storyline, where Reed Richards was captured and taken back to the "Supremeverse" for trial, SHIELD, the Avengers, and the rest of the FF go to rescue him, and have a smackdown drag-out fight with the Squadron--only to discover that Doctor Doom was ultimately behind the whole thing--would be a great two or even three part story arc.  Don't use the older Squadron visuals; they look a little corny now.

5) And of course one of the ultimate possibilities for crossover using a relatively recent storyline would be Ultimatum.  I mean, don't kill off characters like that story did (what was Jeph Loeb thinking, anyway?  Did the Ultimate Universe really need to commit hara-kiri?) but otherwise the premise of that is colossal, and would be fascinating to see on the screen.

6) This may be too complicated to pull off in this kind of show (in fact, I'm sure that it is, but this is a wish-list, right?) but it would be really fun to see different away teams amongst Avengers--a New Avengers, a Secret Avengers, etc. Plus, the idea of putting your best foot forward with the Avengers--putting the most popular characters in the Marvel U on the team, including Spider-man and Wolverine, who aren't traditionally associated with them--brilliant.  And Jessica Drew is fantastic.  Way to turn a bench-warmer into a real star there.

7) What are the chances you could build off momentum generated by the Avengers movie to create a SHIELD animated show?  Considering that GI Joe and Cobra were initially repurposed ideas that Larry Hama had for SHIELD and HYDRA, it seems like you've got a great model on how a show like that could look; a modernized GI Joe (with different characters) and without the cheesiness and public service announcements.  Featuring Samuel Jackson look-alike version of Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Black Widow and Hawkeye (maybe get him out of the classic purple togs and into a movie-like or Ultimates like outfit), throw in Jessica Drew, and you've got a potential hit, I think.  Use the same animation style as Avengers and heck; it'll be like what SHIELD does when they're not showing up in episodes of the Avengers.  Given his relatively modest power-set, maybe Captain America could be a semi-regular guest star.  By the way, loving the Ultimates looking outfit on Cap in season 2.  I hope when the real Cap comes back and replaces that filthy skrull imposter he keeps the modernized uniform.  Either that or gets a bare-headed Captain Steve Rogers style uniform.  Actually, yeah... use that one.

8) And finally--does the show always have to adapt existing comic book stories?  It'd be really fun to see something really unique or original that really goes somewhere a bit unexpected and surprising.  Bringing in a character that's completely unexpected, or a storyline that is really different (what about--Nightcrawler and Bettsy Braddock as Avengers, for example?  Hah?)  That was one of the biggest potential promises of the Ultimate universe--and for a number of years, a big part of its attraction.  Too bad the magazine side of the business went and blew it all up so the potential isn't there anymore.  It's nice to tell some different stories, but if you kill off most of the main characters, then  you might as well have just had a completely different continuity altogether anyway.  But some of the more subtle things were brilliant.  How awesome was teenaged Kitty Pryde and Peter Parker together, for example?  Or Aunt May's house as a little mini Avenger's Mansion in Queens?  As you can see from my suggestions of story-lines to adapt, the promise of the Ultimate line--lost though it may yet be--was a huge attraction, and I can see it glimmering still in the various animated series--if you're willing to step a little outside of the box.

Once again, I mostly want to congratulate Chris Yost and Joshua Fine for the fine (no pun intended) job on a number of spectacular animated shows lately.  My family and I have been very grateful for their presence.  My kids would almost certainly have become Marvel characters fans anyway--thanks to the movies--but the animated shows are really instrumental in making real life-time fans out of them, just as they were for me back in the 70s and early 80s.



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