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Marvel Cartoons: Ultimate Spider-Man, Avengers Assemble, Hulk and Agents of SMASH
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, @revolutionsf, © 2014

Format: TV
By:   Marvel, Jeph Loeb, Man of Action
Genre:   Superheroes
Review Date:   January 19, 2014

Marvel Studios cartoon division has done the excellent thing of whipping up three Marvel superhero cartoons and putting them all on a TV network (Disney XD) at once. But they have a corporate sameness that makes them not as fun as I wish they were.

Allow me to fanboy-splain. I know these cartoons are not supposed to be for me and my ilk. They’re for young’uns, not trivia-engorged veterans who have read Marvel Comics for decades. But good cartoons are good regardless of who watches them. These shows could be this generation’s Batman: The Animated Series. Paul Dini works on them, and he worked on that very show. Marvel has the capacity to make these cartoons awesome, because I’ve seen moments of brilliance in these episodes, but then they dial it down

Here’s an example. J.K. Simmons plays J. Jonah Jameson in these cartoons, just like in the Spider-Man movies. That is terrific. Jameson's news channel has a news crawl with funny Marvel Universe Easter eggs in the first few episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man. Then they stopped that. Now it’s the same generic news messages (bridge out, zoo panda gives birth) on every Marvel cartoon. Dudes. That is just lazy.

These are official Marvel movie people-approved shows. My problem is that I am spoiled rotten by Marvel movies. These shows have corporate synergy with those movies. I want these shows to be can't-miss TV, but I can miss most of them. I want them more awesome. Now! Now now now!

That’s my only complaint. But they started it.

Ultimate Spider-Man

This show gets the most love from Marvel Studios. I can tell from story quality. I suspect it's because the studio can’t do Spider-Man in movies, so this is their only chance. Spidey has a different status quo; he’s in SHIELD training, not the hard-luck hero just scraping by. Changing up the standard Spider-plot of all other Spider-cartoons (and comics) is a good thing. The show accentuates the positive: Spidey doesn’t have girl troubles. Aunt May is not a sickly geezer.

Episodes where he meets other Marvel heroes are the best ones. A fun episode that translates Deadpool to G-rated Disney TV. A A season 2 episode had Werewolf by Night, Blade and Man-Thing. That episode worked in a “giant-size Man-Thing” joke on a Disney cartoon.

2014’s Halloween episode guest-stars the characters from the Disney sitcom Jessie. It’s like the classic Scooby-Doo Movies series where they met cartoon versions of Sonny and Cher. This is the best thing the Jessie cast has ever done. I have a child. I have seen the actual Jessie show. Trust me on this one.

Most episodes contain regular old Spider-villains. Venom, Doc Ock and Electro are on every Spidey cartoon. I found them eminently skippable on my way to Netflixing other episodes, such as when Thor turns into Thunder Frog, like he did in 1980s Thor comics.

Marvel's Avengers Assemble

I had the highest hopes for this series because I wrote parts of a book about them. It's also because the previous Avengers cartoon Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes set the bar so high. It adapted the white-bread superhero format to cartoon form with style.

So they took all that out.

The show is a gateway drug for Avengers movie fans to consume. Every week the heroes banter, fight a bad guy, then at the end they laugh.

Black Widow is not in every episode. I’m not sure why. The Avengers should have more girls, not cameos by their only one.

Hulk wears ripped pants, not Capri jeans like on his own show. Does that mean Avengers takes place before Agents of SMASH? After? Nope. Not trying to figure it out. Nope. Nope. Talking myself out of it. Nope.

The best episode is “Hulk’s Day Out,” in which an obscure Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe cosmic being has comedy hijinks with Hulk. It’s silly and fun, and I want that kind of thing from the rest of the show.

The show serves a corporate function. The Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange have been guest stars. It’s pre-introducing Marvel movie characters to future audiences. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble is a placeholder, a corporate requirement, instead of a fun superhero cartoon.

Hulk and the Agents of SMASH

I love the Hulk. I was down with Hulk before he was funny in the Avengers movie. I am tickled that he's in two cartoons at the same time. But this one is not very Hulk-like, even though it has lots of Hulks.

It stars a smart Hulk and a gaggle of Hulks from recent Marvel comics as a bickering, bantering super-group. A few episodes in, Jack Kirby’s legendary Devil Dinosaur joins the cast.

Like Ultimate Spider-Man it abandons the Hulk tropes. He’s smart and doesn’t change back to Bruce Banner. Hulk has no ripped jeans. Hulk wears capri pants. It's true. Look at the picture below. Capri pants. No shoes. Everyone else wears boots, but Hulk, their leader, has naked feet.

Everyone’s power is super-strength. They’re all Hulks. So the first thing I thought was that the show would contain heroes destroying bad guys on a supermassive scale.

So they don’t do that.

Instead they fly spaceships and shoot guns that make pew-pew sounds.

It’s not a violence issue. Today cartoon heroes punch things all the tim. I’m afraid kids will see the Avengers movie and see how cool Hulk is. Then they’ll want to play him. And then they'll watch this. And then, surely, they will play Hulk with their buddies and say “I call dibs on the smart, calm Hulk who wears pants like my mom.”

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