I'm not quite a fan of today's americanized animation styles which tend to rely on sharp, abstract lines to simplify the process. After watching season 1 of the Japanese Iron Man: Anime and seeing some truly fantastic artwork and detail in every cell, I was a bit hesitant when I noticed the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. If anything, this is proof that you should NEVER judge something based on first appearances.
I am absolutely floored by the Avengers. It's utterly fantastic. Its artwork style masks a collection of complex, addictive storylines and genuinely likable characters. For those who don't know, the Avengers is based on the Marvel comic book series of the same name about a team of superheroes who band together to take down massive world threats that none of them could handle on their own. The series begins literally at the start with Tony Stark fighting the sinister H.Y.D.R.A. organization as his alter-ego, Iron Man. After butting heads with S.H.I.E.L.D., Stark must contend with an armada of super-villains who break free from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s several different maximum security prisons and begin a rampage of terror. Stark joins forces with Dr. Henry Pym, better known as Ant-Man, a superhero who can change his size at the molecular level, and his sidekick Janet, otherwise known as Wasp. Along the way, they meet and join forces with the violent and irrational Hulk, the cunning Black Panther, the arrogant archer Hawkeye, Thor the Asgardian, and the legendary Captain America who has been frozen in the arctic ice for over 60 years. The heroes face difficult obstacles, including learning how to work as a team instead of on their own. As the Avengers make a name for themselves by putting down several major threats, they are unaware that a sinister plot is forming behind their backs, waiting for the moment to strike.
There are two great things about the Avengers. First, it's action-packed, and that action is fast-paced and exciting to watch. Marvel and Disney haven't shied away from being rough, either. The series is very violent, sometimes to the point of it being slightly inappropriate for young children. There are even a number of off-screen, suggested deaths, which is a far cry from the 1980s cartoons I grew up with which weren't allowed to show a sword being used unless it was for non-violent purposes. As a man who doesn't buy into the notion that violent media makes for violent kids, I really must commend the studios for being so true to their comic counterparts. That being said, much of the violence seems only to temporarily injure or incapacitate a character, but there are some episodes with suggested notions of violence that can be difficult for young kids to swallow, such as "The Ultron Imperative" which shows hundreds of nuclear warheads being launched at the same time to obliterate all life on Earth. The immediacy and scale of the threat is definitely not light watching!
The show is made by the characters, however. The Avengers are all voiced by some truly talented actors, and all of them sound like they're having a dynamite blast. It's infectious enough to pull you in and make you love these guys right from the start. Granted, characters like Captain America can be rather stoic and stone-like, but that's to be expected based on who they are. No two characters are alike, and this plays out in some riotously funny interaction between bickering heroes like the Hulk and Thor. The stories themselves are lifted mostly from the comic books and touch on familiar subjects such as the imminent Skrull invasion (to be expanded on in Season 2), and the rise of the nightmarish Ultron. It's great to see the writers refusing to go off the deep end and craft inappropriate directions. I loved the hints at apocalypse from the arrival of Kane the Conqueror, and the individual responsible for the destruction of the entire future timeline. Season 1 takes enough time to build the foundations for several different plotlines which will be examined in the future. That, I believe, is great writing, especially for a cartoon series. Not since the 1994 Spider-Man animated series have I been so entertained and impressed with the hard work of a crew, and a writing team that really cares about making something deep, interconnected and complex.
The worst thing you can do is to judge this series based on the artwork. Seriously. Even its irritating teen-rock theme song should be ignored in favor of what's really at stake: great storytelling. I am a massive fan of this series, and I'm counting down until April 2012 when Season 2 will really kick the Avengers into high gear.