Recently I had a chance to check out the The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (Here by shortened to Avengers:EMH) mini-series, a 20 part series that provides the back stories for each member of the line up and the creation of the super team. The Avengers is a pretty well established team, existing as the analog for DC's Justice League (and vise-versa). As the animated series Justice League and it's continuation into Justice League:Unlimited are two of my favourite cartoons (especially the latter Unlimited series) I thought I owed it to myself to try out the mini-series so I could decide if I wanted to plunge into the complete show when it starts airing.
The Avengers is (as I'm sure most people will know) the big boy league for Marvel, containing all of the greatest heroes from the Marvel universe of comics. Avengers:EHM is set up with the classic line-up for the team - containing Thor, The Hulk, Iron-Man, Wasp, Ant-man/Giant-man, Hawkeye, Black Panther and Captain America. The mini-series provides an episode for each of these, but The Hulk shares his with Hawkeye and Ant-man shares his with Wasp and Black Panther.
The Avengers are formed when a series of simultaneous prison breaks occur in the four S.H.I.E.L.D. prisons for super heroes, this frees a whole host of top level villains (and other minor ones), including one particularly dangerous master of gravity named Graviton. SHIELD themselves play a major part in the series, especially Nick Fury, often interacting in antagonistic ways with the various members of The Avengers.
At this point comparisons to the Justice League cartoon are inevitable, the two shows share a very similar art style and they're both about the same core concept, albeit with different brands. The art style in particular is a surprise, it is animated by Marvel Animation, but at times it's almost indistinguishable from Justice League. This is actually a bonus; because Justice League's art style, while exceptionally stylised, is without a doubt fantastic. So Avengers:EMH is an exciting and beautiful show to watch, I don't completely appreciate Wasp's look, there's a little bit too much of the Wapanese anime style creeping in where she is concerned but look of The Hulk, Thor and Captain America more than make up for any shortcomings elsewhere.
One of the areas I felt that Justice League came up short in the first two seasons, was the way that the show felt like it took place in isolation from the rest of the DC mythos. Many different villains made an appearance but on the whole the show felt like it was about the Justice League and almost every other superhero in the DC universe just didn't exist. This was addressed with Justice League:Unlimited and the added weight of all those extra heroes helped make the show feel more weighty and interesting. Characters like Green Arrow, Booster Gold, The Question and Doctor Fate were superb additions to the rotating roster and in many cases more interesting than some members of the original line up (although Hawkgirl was made far less one dimensional once JL:U started, which helped).
Avengers:EMH takes on the the entire weight of the Marvel universe from the very start, and it achieves it in quite a subtle fashion. Much exposition and explanation of who the various heroes/villains are is passed over, if you happen to recognise people like Constrictor, Blizzard and Wonder-man then fantastic, but if you don't it's not spelt out who they are. This even applies to more prominent characters from the Marvel universe; Wolverine makes an appearance that's wonderfully understated and references to characters like The Punisher are genuine Easter Egg 'blink-and-you'll-miss-them' affairs. It's this acknowledgement that there is a larger world beyond just the immediate characters and their own stories that helps cement the realism.
Avengers:EMH has also decided to make an exceptionally bold move by introducing multiple, long-term and over arcing villain plots; HYDRA, The Masters of Evil, Loki and Kang are all present and each one seems to have a long game scheme in mind. I for one always applaud serialisation of TV shows, I think the mix of stand-alone episodes and long term stories is a great compromise for viewers. I prefer shows that tell long, involved stories that draw you in and hold you (like that perennial classic The Wire), but I do appreciate that shows need to be 'dippable' in order to catch and hold the attention of the attention span deprived channel swapper that has become an ever increasing issue. Standalone episodes, which can be picked up and then discarded, combined with multiple episode (or even season) arcs is a good compromise and one that might perk up the interest of the casual viewer enough to get them to want to watch the next episode.
Ultimately Avengers:EMH is a children's show, it's aimed at kids and comic book fans (big kids!) primarily, but for someone like myself, who has a moderate to passing interest in superheroes there's plenty of good characterisation, fun moments and solid dialog to keep you interested. The action in the show in particular is building shattering in it's scale, the fights really do feel quite epic (even if a little ridiculous at times) and this makes every action moment great fun to watch. When Graviton makes the erroneous error of claiming to be 'The strongest one there is', even a layman like myself can't help but perk up and think 'You've made a mistake now sir!'
As a consequence the mini-series was a complete success for myself, it's drummed up enough interest that I want to watch the upcoming episodes and see where this show goes, because if it carries on as it's started then it'll become one of my favourite cartoons alongside other greats like Justice League, Frisky Dingo, TMNT 2K3 and Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.
A promising start for the Earth's Mightiest Heroes.