The Avengers In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four

With Batman: The Animated Seires relitazling the superhero cartoon market in the early 1990’s, Marvel realised they could make a lot of money from cartoons due to their deal with Toy Biz. Due to the string of cartoons that popped up in this decade, several of The Avengers got their own shows and many others appeared in various other cartoons. With the monster success of both Spider-Man and X-Men on FOX KIDS, Marvel decided to syndicate two of their biggest properties, The Fantastic Four and more to the point, Iron Man, and place them in a one hour block dubbed The Marvel Action Hour.

To be blunt, the results were diabolical. Poor designs, terrible animation and the most God-awful scripts of all time made this one of the most sorry comic adaptations ever. The series did animate several Avengers though, as the group that Iron Man hung around with, - Forceworks was mainly consisted of former Avengers. War Machine, Hawkeye, Spider-Woman (Julia Roberts, not ‘the hot one’ currently found in New Avengers) and The Scarlet Witch appeared in most of the episodes in this season, and not a single one of them did absolutely anything worth noting. They were horribly bland, two dimensional characters designed for the sole purpose of selling toys. Although this season did feature one or two episodes of interest, mainly the origin episodes of Iron Man, a two part story which actually took itself seriously before an utterly moronic ending, and a story in which MODOK pleas with Iron Man to stop The Mandarin from harming his former wife. The rest of it is sheer drivel, however.

Thank the Lord however, when Marvel realised the show sucked and replaced everyone involved in its production and gave the show a complete and utter revamp. Lumpy, inconsistent designs where replaced with slick models, high pitched, cackling voices were replaced with serious actors and one note; fluff stories were replaced with dynamic, exciting scripts. The season wouldn’t feature Forceworks in a prominent role, as much of Iron Man’s characterisation was based on him being a lone wolf in his battle and his insecurities about himself, often shielding himself from those around him in his suit of armour.

Among the many highlights, the ones worth noting are the two part Armour Wars storyline in which Iron Man goes mad after his designs are being used to ring misery to the world and The Beast Within, in which Forceworks disbands, and the memories of the utterly poor season one are soon forgotten. This particular episode was scripted by Ultimate Avengers scribe Greg Johnson, and is arguably one of the finest pieces of work in his career. The only real problem I’ve ever found with the show is that it all ended too soon. Thankfully, it wrapped everything up better than one had any right to expect.

The other half of The Marvel Action Hour, Fantastic Four, also received a similar revamp and became a much more enjoyable show for it. It’s generally not as highly regarded as Iron Man, but it’s enjoyable nevertheless. It’s now available on DVD in it’s entirety, and if you’re looking for Avengers, there’s a few bits worth your time here. The Mighty Thor is arguably the best of all the guest stars, thanks in no small part to his spectacular voice actor John Rhys Davies who simply shined in the role. Considering Thor’s dialogue was usually as corny as you can get, Davies pulled off a spectacular job. Cease thy savagery, brute!

Hulk also appeared here, and despite a spectacular fight with The Thing, he’s not up to much here, especially when compared to his other appearances around this time. If it’s the traditional Avengers you’re looking for here, the best you can hope to get is one of the numerous blink and you’ll miss them cameo appearances that were featured throughout the season.

Another Avenger would receive his solo animated series in the fall of 1996, as The Incredible Hulk returned to animation with an all new show on UPN. Beginning as a very dark animated series with fugitive Bruce Banner on the run whilst once again searching for his cure, the show featured an uncanny amount of guest stars in just 21 episodes. In the first season alone, The Hulk met Iron Man, Ghost Rider, Thor, She Hulk and The Thing. The show tended to focus a little more its guest stars than the majority of the other Marvel cartoons, resulting in very memorable guest appearances. The Iron Man episode “Helping Hand, Iron Fist” is probably the best episode of the series, with Mortal Bounds featuring The Mighty Thor straying not too far behind.

The series itself is very much the victim of a love/hate relationship with its fans, mainly due to it receiving an unnecessary and unwanted revamp in season two, and She Hulk playing a more prominent role, mainly to annoy the hell out of everyone, resulting in a season that turned out to be utterly poor, with very little reference to the excellent opening season. Dick Sebast, producer of the first season told Marvel Animation Age “Well, this cuts to the heart of a not uncommon problem in this business. The UPN executive assigned to the show really had no feeling for what the Hulk was about or what was most important to an action-adventure show in general, or to Marvel fans in particular. (There were a host of creative differences, but what I most remember of those network meetings was her obsession with fashion—she kept insisting that everyone look like they just-stepped out of a shop on Rodeo Drive—hardly a look that would fit any of the main characters.)… What happened to season 2? The network got its way” So, whilst The Incredible Hulk offered a very entertaining first season, the second season fell on it’s ass, leaving many threads from the first season resolved in am embarrassing fashion.