Superhero animation gets no respect on TV

If you’re a fan of “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” on Disney XD … well, let’s hope you didn’t get too invested in the show.

News began leaking out in recent days that Disney/Marvel has canceled the series – only part-way through its second season — and will replace it with a new series, “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” in 2013.

It’s not surprising, of course, that Disney/Marvel would like to have an animated series on the air that capitalize on the success of the big-screen “Avengers” movie. What’s confusing is that they already have that, with “A:EMH,” yet they’re flushing the show.

If you haven’t seen it — and I haven’t seen any of season two, not having Disney XD on my cable dial, but I’ve seen all the first-season episodes on DVD — “A:EMH” is a densely-plotted and populated take on the classic “Avengers” comics. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Panther and others take on bad guys ranging from Asgardians to home-grown baddies to invading aliens.

It’s a show that has been quite deliberate in its setting-up of its story arcs, taking several episodes to get all the characters together in NYC. It hasn’t been afraid to take its time with stories, devoting two or more episodes sometimes to a plot.

Which might be part of the problem.

Various websites have noted that Disney/Marvel want more accessible series with more jumping-in points. That might mean more standalone stories.

It definitely means a cast that is pattered after the one in Joss Whedon’s movie. So in the switch to a new series, Black Panther, Ant-Man and Wasp are gone, Black Widow is in and Hawkeye loses his classic purple mask.

This whole thing would be less frustrating to fans if it didn’t seem so familiar: After long runs on Warner Bros.-related TV networks, classic 1990s animated series like “Batman,” “Superman” and “Batman Beyond” were continued in the 2000s in “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” on Cartoon Network.

Yet the WB-owned Cartoon Network repeatedly started and stopped airing the two series. Months would go by without a new episode. “Justice League” ended abruptly, only to be replaced by the better, in my opinion, “Unlimited” series, but that one bounced around the Cartoon Network schedule, disappearing for weeks or months, before finally falling by the wayside.

There are a number of reasons for this, including regime changes at studios and the apparent belief on the part of executives that viewers (many of them young, but many of them older geeks thrilled to see faithful treatment of classic characters like Batman and Captain America as well as animated versions of obscure characters like Blue Beetle) are restless and crave change. That’s why “Justice League” was retooled and it’s probably why “Young Justice,” currently airing on Cartoon Network, looks so different (new cast members and an apparent time shift) in its second season. Heck, the show even has something of a new name, “Young Justice: Invasion.”

I’m convinced there’s an audience out there for a weekly animated series based on classic comic book characters and stories.

I’m equally convinced that once a show has hit its stride, viewers will embrace it rather than push it away.

If given the chance, that is.


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