The Marvel Action Hour!
If there’s anything I love as much as I love comics, it’s cartoons based on comics. Like many of you, my first exposure to characters like Batman, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and many others was through their Saturday morning adaptations. The early 90s was when many characters were at their peak for cartoons. We had the stellar Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men, Spider-man, and of course, the “Marvel Action Hour” which consisted of episodes of Iron Man and Fantastic Four. All of these cartoons either told original or adapted storylines from the comics, as well as some iconic theme songs. Tell me that you weren’t disappointed when you learned the first X-Men film wasn’t going to have the cartoon theme.
While this was a golden time for budding comic book nerds, it was about to change very quickly. Both Spider-man and X-Men concluded their runs, and after an ill-fated Avengers cartoon without the big three of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, comic fans were stuck with straight to video Batman titles. Sure, Sub-zero is awesome, but The Mystery Of Batwoman? Yikes. And don’t get me started on Fox’s The Batman, with its crappy soundtrack and Joker that was more Blanka from Street Fighter than clown prince of crime. With the exception of the Justice League and Batman Beyond cartoons on Cartoon Network, things were getting bleak for animation fans.
But, a few years ago, things started to change. Marvel started releasing good animated films based on everything from The Ultimates to “Planet Hulk”, and DC started up an animation division that has been firing on all cylinders since its first film, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. The Disney XD channel started airing reruns of X-Men and Batman, as well as debuted The Spectacular Spider-man, which despite its awful theme song was even better than the 90s’ cartoon. Coupled with the phenomenal Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, it became a one-two punch that brought back fond memories for this comic book nerd. I’m not saying I sat cross-legged two inches from my TV, but I was pretty damn close. Hell, I even enjoyed Batman: The Brave and the Bold when it was on.
So why have I rambled for three paragraphs about comic book cartoons? Easy. This year is going to see the release of Ultimate Spider-man as part of Disney XD’s new “Marvel Universe” programming block. Based on the titular comic from Marvel’s Ultimate line, Ultimate Spider-man is overseen by not only Brian Michael Bendis, the series’ writer, but Paul Dini as well. Those of you who read last week’s column know why I love Dini, and if he can bring a fraction of the magic he brought to Batman: The Animated Series to this then the show’s going to be a must watch.
The premise follows Peter Parker, still in high school, engaging in his usual web-swinging antics while also working under S.H.I.E.L.D. Not only will Nick Fury look similar to his movie counterpart, but Clark Gregg is also going to be voicing Agent Coulson from the Marvel studios films, undercover as Peter’s high school principle. We may not get to see Spider-man team up with the Avengers on the big screen anytime soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Iron Man or Cap make a cameo on the cartoon. Oh, there’s also some guy named J.K. Simmons voicing J. Jonah Jameson.
Hopefully Ultimate Spider-man doesn’t fall into the “5 episodes and a 3 month break” trap that seems to be affecting most of the cartoons that are released this generation. It’s very annoying, and to be honest, kills any interest I have in the shows. The worst offender of this is Cartoon Network’s Young Justice. Once I started to get into the groove of the show, it suddenly disappeared. In fact, this is the case with a lot of CN shows. While I understand that they have to fill an entire day and season for shows, would it kill them to bank 12 episodes before airing them? At least then we could get a full story without having to remember what happened months ago.
While I’m excited for the “Marvel Universe” programming, and the new Spider-man cartoon, I’m more excited for the possibilities it will bring for new readers. While not every kid has a comic book store near them, there’s a greater chance of them having Disney XD and seeing Spider-man and the Avengers, some for the first time. Knowing this, it makes me extremely hopeful for the future of comics, and the new possibilities being shown to these viewers. My only regret is that I won’t be seeing these adventures for the first time, like they will.