DC and Marvel Superhero Cartoon Report Card, Fall 2013 Edition
Last fall, I did a report card post about the DC and Marvel superhero cartoons on Cartoon Network and Disney XD. Since almost all of the cartoons from last year have been replaced with new cartoons (Ultimate Spider-Man is the only one that's still on the air), I think that now would be a good time to take a look at where things stand for animated DC and Marvel titles and how they reflect larger expansion plans to push both classic and obscure superhero characters from the comics onto multiple media platforms. Read on ...
Comic Book Company: DC
Channel: Cartoon Network
Cartoon Series: Beware the Batman, Teen Titans Go
Considering what has come before on Cartoon Network's DC Nation block, the CGI animated Beware the Batman and the revamped Teen Titans Go feel like significant steps downward in terms of quality. Of the two shows, Beware the Batman is the better cartoon and it has come a long way since its stiff first episode. Once Batman accepted the character of Katana as his partner in crime fighting, the show's narrative pace has improved; in fact, the banter between Batman and Katana keeps the show interesting even when the episodes themselves are not.
Despite its flashy look and fluid animation, the new Batman cartoon doesn't come near the same level of quality as previous cartoons such as Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: Brave and the Bold. The overarching plot thread that ties the episodes together isn't engaging, and the villains are either uninspired retreads of classic Batman villains or just simply bland in their own right. Take Lady Shiva and her League of Assassins, for example: They could be pulled from Gotham City and dropped into any Z grade kung fu movie without missing a beat, which just goes to show how much personality they lack.
I think that the current programming selection in the DC Nation block reflects Time Warner's current strategy of playing it safe with its DC properties. The previous attempt to make Green Lantern a blockbuster character through a live-action movie and a CGI animated series didn't work out the way it was planned, so it seems that Time Warner would rather stick with bankable characters (such as Batman) and previously successful cartoons (such as Teen Titans) instead of focusing time and resources on exploring and adapting other characters and stories within the vast DC universe. Furthermore, with the current buzz over the next Superman movie being devoted to who will play Batman next--not which Superman villain or supporting character will appear next or who will play them--I don't have much faith in future DC media projects.
Overall Grade: C+, for average to below average programming and heavy dependency on characters that we've seen too many times before.
Comic Book Company: Marvel
Channel: Disney XD
Cartoon Series: Avengers Assemble, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, Ultimate Spider-Man
In comparison to what DC is doing, Marvel has a much better and more comprehensive media plan, a plan to produce a series of movies, cartoons and live-action TV shows that can build upon each other and thus help grow the Marvel fan base. That said, it seems that the cartoons in this plan got the short end of the deal. Sure, Avengers Assemble and Ultimate Spider-Man have gotten better over time, but they still lack multi-episode story arcs, character development, and plot contributions from the original comic books; in other words, the current Marvel cartoons don't measure up to other Marvel cartoons that have come before them (i.e., The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Spectacular Spider-Man). The latest member of the Disney XD Marvel lineup, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H, is currently going through the same growing pains that the other two Marvel cartoons did and I also expect it to become better but not great, for the exact same reasons why the other two cartoons are above average but little more.
I grew up with superhero cartoons such as Super Friends and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, so I understand what kind of superhero cartoons that Marvel wants to make now: the kind that provide to young viewers a basic introduction to a selection of superheroes and their universe in the hopes that these impressionable media consumers will become avid fans who compulsively buy superhero merchandise and loyally read superhero comic books. In that regard, the Disney XD Marvel cartoons are quite good at doing what they do (heck, they're much better than the superhero cartoons that I grew up with during the 70s and 80s). Unfortunately, if you're a long-time Marvel fan who is looking for faithful animated adaptations of classic characters and stories from the comic books, the current Disney XD cartoons will leave you underwhelmed.
Overall Grade: B+, for Marvel character diversity and opportunities for media growth.