DC and Marvel Superhero Cartoon Report Card, Fall 2012 Edition

News has been circulating around the Internet this week about Cartoon Network's sudden and unexpected decision to halt the airing of new episodes of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Young Justice until January 2013. While the exact reasons behind this decision remain unclear, I think that now is a good time for me to weigh in on how good each of the DC and Marvel superhero cartoons are doing on their respective homes of Cartoon Network and Disney XD. Read on ...

Title: The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

Opinion: As current superhero cartoons go, Disney XD's The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has been the most consistent. It has done a fantastic job at translating characters and story arcs from the comics into an animated format, and it has expanded the Avengers' roster to include new characters such as Ms. Marvel and Vision without ignoring the original Avenger team members. My only complaints about this show are its uneven animation and Disney XD's decision to replace it soon with Avengers Assemble, a cartoon that looks to have more in common with the recent live-action Avengers movie than the Avengers comic book.

Grade: A-

Title: Green Lantern: The Animated Series

Opinion: Of the cartoons listed here, Green Lantern: The Animated Series has grown on me the most. It began as an average superhero cartoon about Hal Jordan and Kilowog fighting an enemy army known as the Red Lanterns, but it grew into something much more engaging with the inclusion of interesting supporting characters (such as the android Aya and the renegade Red Lantern Razer), multi-episode story arcs, and appearances of other DC universe residents such as the Star Sapphires and the Thanagarians. The new story arc about the Manhunters looks promising, so I'm looking forward to seeing what this series takes us next in Hal Jordan's corner of DC mythology. That said, I'm hoping that future episodes will take some time to develop Hal Jordan's character outside of his duties as a Green Lantern.

Grade: B+

Title: Young Justice

Opinion: The first season episodes of Young Justice rivaled the Avengers cartoon in terms of quality, and it would often edge out its Marvel counterpart due to its superior animation. What made Young Justice work so well is that it knew how to balance the components that have become essential in producing a top-notch superhero team cartoon: a solid cast of main characters, a compelling season-long story arc, well-written stand-alone episodes and subplots, and frequent guest appearances of other DC characters that fit the situations in which they appeared.

Unfortunately, the balance that made Young Justice a success in its first season has been lost in its second season, which takes place five years later and has greatly expanded the team's member roster. Such changes have resulted in a show with plenty of characters, action and subplots, but sparse character development and uneven narrative focus; in fact, I think that a few of the subplots are much more interesting than--and independent of--the second season's main story arc. These changes are further complicated by some baffling character decisions (such as the superhero-led intervention for Red Arrow in the episode "Salvage", an intervention that was obviously five years too late) and the inexplicable time jump between the seasons, which leaves many questions unanswered and plot points unresolved.

Grade: B-

Title: Ultimate Spider-Man

Opinion: This cartoon simply doesn't know what it wants to be. Some episodes are superhero team episodes, others are solo Spider-Man adventure episodes, and yet others still are Spider-Man team-up episodes. The only consistency within the series is its style of humor, which fits Spider-Man's wise-cracking, self-deprecating attitude but it's not enough to compensate for the show's chronic lack of focus. Until Ultimate Spider-Man decides what it wants to be as a series, Spider-Man fans will be left with a handful of good episodes amid a bunch of mediocre ones.

Grade: C+


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