In recent years, both Marvel and DC have been searching for ways to reach out to a younger audience. As the teenagers from the ‘80s held on to their hobby (thus increasing the average age of comic book readers), and the number of new readers who discovered comics at a young age relatively dwindled, the companies have launched initiative after initiative over the years to lure in younger readers.At Marvel, this has taken the form the Marvel Adventures line which feature more simplified and streamlined stories, the New X-Men, Franklin Richards starring in his own Calvin-esque adventures, and many more, each working with varying levels of success. Next week, animation takes the lead on attracting a younger audience. To be honest though, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is not only the best animated Marvel project to date, but probably the Marvel’s best attempt to appeal to youngsters in ages. Yes, series writers Craig Kyle and Chris Yost (both also prolific comic writers at Marvel) must be given their props for the initial concept, but when push comes to shove the real credit has to be given to supervising director Gary Hartle. The reason for this is Hartle’s background. The hardcore Marvel-ites have worked extensively with the more grim-faced, gritted-teeth and generally more pained adult members of the Marvel Universe. Hartle’s primary experience was on series like Tazmania, Johnny Bravo and Mighty Max. This gives him the background to aim an action-adventure for a target market previously only achieved by Glen Murakami’s Teen Titans and Man of Action/CN’s Ben 10. Turning back the clock, when this project was initially announced, the banshee-like screams from Marvel Old Guard types could be heard anywhere from the deepest swamps of Florida to the coldest climbs of Alaska. How dare Marvel Animation kill off just about all of the World’s Mightiest Heroes and replace them with their wide-eyed spawn? Would anyone follow the son of Captain America and Black Widow? Thor has a daughter? Who’s the mom? T’Challa and “she who can not be named” got real busy real fast, didn’t they? The thing is, this project isn’t aimed for long-time Marvel fans who can quote Avengers continuity chapter and verse. It’s not meant to be an animated version of Marvel’s Young Avengers by any means. It’s aimed at kids and a younger audience, and needs to be viewed in that light. When you stack up Next Avengers to other entertainment that’s appropriate for kids, it’s truly a solid piece of work. Hartle takes a particularly far-fetched situation and manages to ground it well enough that one’s sense of disbelief is properly suspended. He did it through solid character design and bright, dramatic backgrounds, superlative voice acting from a proper mix of seasoned pros and newbies, and enough action to keep one’s attention for nearly 90 minutes. There are even some very nice bones and easter eggs thrown in the mix for old timers (like a few of the other surviving Marvel original characters besides Tony Stark and Bruce Banner). The extra content includes a pretty run-of-the-mill “Making of” doc, a history of Marvel’s recent attempts to appeal to younger demographics and sneak previews of Frank Paur’s upcoming Hulk Vs two-fer. From the looks of these extensive previews, the old schoolers will soon have something for them to hoot and holler with joy. Lotsa dark, gritty violence for those who may turn their nose up at something that features kids as its heroes. In a recently posted interview, Hartle hinted that this D2D might be the launch point for a new Marvel franchise. Based on this release, keep your fingers crossed. While there may be some old timers screaming and howling about the youth-enizing of the World’s Mightiest, Next Avengers has to be the best original Marvel DVD to be released. Personally, I know I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these young heroes - a whole lot more. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is due in stores on September 2nd
The cover to the Marvel Animation direct-to-DVD feature 'Next Avengers'
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