Between "DC Nation" on Cartoon Network and "Marvel Universe" on Disney XD, it's a good time to be a fan of animated adaptations of comic books. It's also a good time to be a fan of blocked programming of cartoons, and though that may seem like an oddly specific thing to have affection for, who doesn't have fond nostalgic memories of USA's "Cartoon Express" or those Fox Kids bumpers that made it seems like Wolverine, Eek the Cat and young, animated Louie Anderson all existed in the same ecosystem?
Sunday saw the debut of the Marvel Universe block, and with it the hour-long series premiere of Ultimate Spider-Man (written by animation legend Paul Dini), the long-awaited second season premiere of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (written by show head writer/ scribe Chris Yost) and the debut of various shorts that help fill out the lineup.
Ultimate Spider-Man already seems destined to be a polarizing show among fans, similar to . The tone is different from any Spider-Man show that's come before, with frequent cutaways and dreams sequences interspersed with the action — think , or maybe even — and Peter Parker often talks directly to the viewer, usually when introducing new characters.
The content also makes it distinct; placing Spider-Man in a team setting with Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova, plus presenting several clear breaks from Spidey business as usual, including eventual Lizard Curt Connors having two arms (revealed after an amusing fake-out) and being a tech whiz rather than a biologist.
Rather than fighting a classic Spidey villain — though Norman Osborn is operated behind the scenes along with Dr. Octopus, who is even more behind the scenes — the two-part pilot makes good use of the Frightful Four, this iteration consisting of the Wizard, Trapster, Thundra and Klaw. In the first part, Spider-Man, who's been a hero for a year as the story picks up, fights the group at Midtown High, which leads to Nick Fury's intervention and the hook of the entire series — Peter training to become the "ultimate" Spider-Man under the auspices of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In the second half, the Frightful Four return, leading to a pretty scintillating battle sequence between them and Spidey's freshly introduced cohorts Despite being high-school age, Power Man and Iron Fist are roughly how you would expect them, though Nova — Sam Alexander, not Richard Rider — is clearly (and deliberately) established as the "annoying one." White Tiger, who made her first appearance in a few months back, is a little harder to figure out, other than being a bit more serious than the rest.
Agent Coulson, the subtle underpinning of Marvel's live-action productions, makes his animation debut in Ultimate Spider-Man, voiced by movie actor Clark Gregg. His role in the show looks to be a fun one — keeping an eye on Peter Parker's civilian life as acting principal of Midtown High, where Spidey's teen hero cohorts also attend — though his likeness, a little less cartoony than the rest of the show's characters, is a bit jarring at first.
Over on Avengers, Dr. Doom makes his first fully realized appearance in the series, which leads, naturally enough, to a guest spot from the Fantastic Four. Things start out quietly — Thing and Human Torch show up at Avengers Mansion for a card game, while Iron Man and Wasp pay Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman a visit — and turn into a full-scale team-up as the two teams take the fight to Dr. Doom.
The episode emphasized one of the most promising aspects of the series: the potential of getting a whole lot of Marvel characters involved. Based on the superhero-filled screenshot revealed last week, it looks like they might be fully embracing that element in the very near future. Things end with another Skrull reveal: Sue Storm, which explains why Reed Richards thought she had been acting distant (not simply because he's not enough man for her, as Tony Stark suggested).
It's easy to be a little letdown by the Marvel Universe shorts when comparing them to what DC Nation is producing — while they're focusing on original animated content, the Marvel Universe bits are mainly live-action and/or recaps. The first "Fury Files" is basically a synopsis of Hawkeye's character arc in the first season of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, interspersed with some glimpses of comic book art (heavily drawn from the 2003 series, proving that the "iconic images over storytelling covers" era is still paying dividends). Yet it's important to keep in mind that Disney XD's audience isn't existing comic book fans, but young kids, who very well might find such things downright informative.
"Marvel Mash Up" is the short aimed most at wider audiences, with a pair debuting on Sunday. It's the same formula as the recut PSAs that have been around the Internet for years, but PG-rated and using Marvel animated footage. The two aired were based around and ; both from the early '80s — whether or not they'll get to the much-maligned remains to be seen.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!