Howdy, folks! GhostAndy here. Y’know as I mentioned in previous blog posts, I’m a sucker for a good cartoon show. And on today’s article, I’m going to talk about one of my favorites of all time. Even though it was only on for two seasons (and trust me I’m going to bitch about that in a second), it was everything cartoons should be. Gripping, Stylish, Packed with both drama and excitement, the perfect mix of well plotted material and artistic vision. I’m talking about Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which ran on Disney XD for 52 solid episodes from 2010 to 2013.
Brainchild of Ciro Nieli, Joshua Fine, & Christopher Yost, it was the closest thing Marvel ever got to recreating the look and feel of DC’s Timmiverse, which for you that may not be familiar with that term included such cartoon favorites as Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond all which graced our TVs in the mid to late 90s. Let’s just say to be included with those series is a very high complement indeed.
It still boggles my mind how this show was unceremoniously cancelled and replaced by the much more inferior Avengers: Assemble which has ran for the past 5 years in its place. Trust me, that’s not just me being some typical fanboy showing some misplaced ire over something that really isn’t a big deal. The Avengers: Assemble show is a pandering overproduced poorly written piece of rubbish mainly meant to cash in the Avengers movie or whatever else Marvel wanted to indoctrinate young kids into accepting from this bit of the franchise. And oh God, that art. That terrible anime hyper-realistic style garbage art. I could just go on and on…
Long story short to save time, all you need to know is Earth’s Mightiest Heroes = Good. Avengers Assemble = Bad. And without further ado, I thought I’d name my top 5 favorite single episodes of the series. For those of you playing at home that also love this series, if you think I forgot about such great stories as the Kang arc or the Ultron arc from season 1, I didn’t. These are single stories, not arc stories. That’s also why I didn’t include a large majority of the beginning of season 2 because that was all that Secret Invasion story line, and I still didn’t think it counted.
5. Widow’s Sting
While still searching for Black Widow, Hawkeye stops a weapons deal between HYDRA and A.I.M. with the help of the Avengers. After being scolded by S.H.I.E.L.D. and Iron Man about leaving HYDRA to them, Hawkeye convinces Mockingbird, Captain America and Black Panther accompany him to secret HYDRA base where they think the villains fled after the blown deal. Along the way, Hawkeye and Mockingbird are captured by HYDRA and separated from Cap and Panther. While at the base, the two discover Baron Strucker, leader of HYDRA, is there overseeing things. They escape in hopes of using this as an opportunity to try to destroy HYDRA once and for all since so many of their rotten eggs are in one basket. Cap and Panther enter the battle just in time to assist, and after a huge battle, Black Widow manages to escape with Baron Strucker, leaving Hawkeye to contemplate whether his quest for vengeance is worth the high price.
Why it’s so good:
Hawkeye. Hawkeye. Hawkeye. There is no better character for most of this series than Hawkeye. Brash, cocky, nerves of steel with all the best one liners and quips. For the guy who is actually the weakest member in terms of power levels, he more than makes up for it with bravado, and that makes him incredibly interesting.
His story line from season 1 about tracking down Black Widow after she betrayed and framed him as a Hydra agent before turning out to be one herself is pitch perfect “boots on the ground” style Avengers filled with deadly espionage and intrigue. With a fantastic supporting cast of Mockingbird, Cap, and Black Panther that fits this story perfectly, Hawkeye’s relentless intensity in finding Black Widow and making her pay only to let her go at the last moment to save Bobbi Morse is powerful stuff. Plus, one of the coolest Avengers villains of all time in the Grim Reaper makes an appearance as one of Hydra’s chief enforcers which always takes the proceedings up a notch. And did I mention M.O.D.O.K!
This episode also set up this show’s version Secret Invasion in which the Skrulls are replacing key people on Earth by recreating the famous scene from the comics in which Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man discover Elektra is a Skrull on the autopsy table. Only in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, it was Nick Fury and Mockingbird who discover Madame Hydra is the Skrull in question.
4. New Avengers
An imprisoned Kang the Conqueror is assisted in escaping his cell by the inter-dimensional Council of Kangs who have grave fears about what this timestream’s Avengers might do to their plans. After an initial struggle with the Avengers, Kang successfully modifies Stark’s Arc Reactor into a semi functional time machine and makes the Avengers disappear into the time-stream. However before this happens, Iron Man activates The New Avengers protocol he developed which will assemble a new team to deal with threats in case the Avengers were destroyed.
The resulting protocol brings together Spider-man, The Thing, Wolverine, War Machine, and the duo of Luke Cage & Iron Fist. The heroes have to set aside their differences and learn to work as a unit to fight off invaders from other parts of time including dinosaurs, ninjas, and robots on their way to stop Kang who is attempting to bring his armada from the future into the present. With the help of this teammates in distracting Kang long enough, Spidey manages to bring back the real Avengers from Limbo, and the combined might overwhelms Kang. After the dust settles, the Avengers make Spider-man a reserve member of the team along with all the rest.
Why it’s so good:
There are so many fantastic parts of this episode from Spider-man fighting dinosaurs, the inclusion of Council of Kangs idea from the Roger Stern run of Avengers, and just overall how bad ass Kang can be as a villain when he’s running on all cylinders. I mean the guy does single handedly beat the Avengers, and if that doesn’t make him a credible threat I don’t know what does.
However, c’mon, you know why the episode is good. In bringing in the New Avengers, you expanded the universe and the Avengers reach in it. Now they are not just an isolated club of superheroes, but they are taking their place as the defacto team in the Marvel universe, which brings the the best and brightest from all corners of the hero community together to face common threats. Plus, this episode sets the stage for probably the best single episode of all time which we’ll get to later in this article.
In the comics, other than War Machine, nearly all of the characters in this story were actually on a team called “The New Avengers” which was being written by Brian Michael Bendis for Marvel around the time this show was being produced. In the comics though, Luke Cage is the leader of this squad unlike on the cartoon where it’s Spider-Man.
3. Meet Captain America
From his mother ship far in the future, Kang begins to review Captain America’s time-stream, leading to the night he disappeared for several decades. On that night Cap, Bucky and Howling Commandos are making an ambitious raid on a castle where the Red Skull has set up a HYDRA headquarters. As the Howlers fight Hydra troopers outside, Captain America and Bucky fight past an enormous cyclopean troll is guarding the castle entrance, and despite defeating it, they are eventually captured by HYDRA. The two are brought to the basement scientific lab, where they confront the Red Skull who is using technology to open a dimensional portal to Asgard, and has begun to capture some of the monsters that dwell there to pump up HYDRA’s forces.
Captain America and Bucky break free and begin to battle both the HYDRA guards and the Norse monsters Red Skull has already enslaved. As the tide of battle begins to turn in Cap’s favor, Red Skull tries to escape in a rocket disguised as a castle turret. Cap and Bucky try to stop him but the rocket explodes allegedly killing both Bucky and Skull, and sending Captain America into the icy waters to begin his famous 70+ year long sleep.
Why it’s so good:
This retelling of the fateful evening when Captain America lost Bucky and ended up taking his decades long ice bath is just one of 5 stories originally told in micro episodes that were released prior to the start of Season 1 to help hype the show. However, it’s also the best. I mentioned before that Earth’s Mightiest was the closest in my opinion Marvel ever got to recreating the feel of DC’s famous Timmiverse, and this particular episode was the closest any individual show ever got.
There’s just something pitch perfect about the manner in which this story is told: from the newsreel footage, to the mysterious castle, the ancient monsters being awakened by Nazi scientists in one of those old fashioned laboratories complete with the Tesla coils. And in the middle of it all is Captain America, crusader for justice, ready to stop the forces of evil from marching across the globe and enslaving every man, woman, and child. But it’s not only that but through his interactions with Bucky and the Commandos, you get a real sense of the nobility and compassion of the character, and how the loss of Bucky and all those many years after this night, forged a different person. A true man out of time, isolated from those he knew before with only that truth of his character to guide him. Powerful stuff.
One of the soldiers in Fury’s Howling Commandos that are supporting Cap and Bucky on this mission is none other than James Howlett aka Logan aka Wolverine. It’s a nice little nod to the fact that even before he was a superhero, the immortal bub himself was still in the thick of the action!
2. Emperor Stark
After taking damage in a recent battle with Ultron, The Vision awakens after a month of repairs only to find that Iron Man and the Avengers have taken over the Earth! It turns out Kilgrave aka the Purple Man has used his mind control powers to manipulate Iron Man into sending a satellite up into orbit to help project his powers throughout the globe instead of just those in his immediate vicinity. From there Iron Man was voted Emperor of the World and now uses both the Avengers and an army of giant robots to not only eliminate all crime but also control everyone’s actions. The Vision slowly frees the minds of many of the Avengers to help stop Iron Man and restore the previous status quo of the world. However should they? Iron Man and the Purple Man have created a utopia of sorts, is that necessarily a bad thing?
Why it’s so good:
Good writing makes you think. It’s often not black and white, but more gray, in that the moral dilemmas and outcome of the action are not always cut and dry. This episode is a adaption of the classic David Micheline story I covered on the blog a couple months ago called Emperor Doom. Of course, that story is a little less complicated from a moral perspective because Doom has been always cast as a “bad guy” unlike Iron Man, but still at the heart of it beats this notion of what is the cost of perfection? If you want a utopia on Earth, but you have to rob people of free will, is it worth the cost?
What’s more interesting in the fact that they used Iron Man instead of Doom in this story is that you can instantly say that Iron Man is much more benevolent than Doom, so he truly could have everyone’s best intentions at heart. That he’s so tired of fighting evil that he has taken drastic steps to eliminate it completely. Can you fault him for that? For deciding to cut out the cancer instead of treat it, even if it means lobotomizing the patient.
I mean when I say it that way it still sounds inhuman, but for those of you that are Iron Man fans from the MCU movies or comics, can see that Tony Stark is always just one step away from pushing that final envelope, and this What If story allows us to see what would happen if he did. You can even make the case that Tony really wasn’t being controlled by the Purple Man, but finally acting out his true heart’s desire, that subconscious need to fix everything with the only way he knows how: invasive technology.
In the Emperor Doom story this episode is somewhat based on, it’s actually Simon Williams aka Wonder-Man who emerges from a suspended animation of sorts to find the world enslaved by the Purple Man’s powers and then has to fight to save it. It’s fitting that The Vision’s is picked to replace Wonder-Man role in the cartoon adaptation since he is the “brother” of Simon Williams in the comics given they share the same brain waves.
1. Avengers Assemble!
In the series finale, the Avengers face their greatest challenge ever when Galactus comes knocking ready to Nom his way through Earth. Captain America puts out the call and every single hero introduced in the series shows up to answer it. The heroes are split up into teams with their missions to destroy 4 machines being built by Galactus’ awe-inspiring heralds which will help convert the planet into antimatter. Meanwhile, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Hank Pym, and some of the other big brains sneak onboard Galactus’ ship to see if they can figure out how to permanently remove the threat.
Unlike in the real Marvel comic universe, they succeed by transporting Galactus to the antimatter dimension where he can feast on the natural background energy of that universe at his leisure. The Avengers celebrate their victory while awaiting the eventual pink slip they will receive from Marvel as their show is canned for good. God Damn stupid Avengers Assemble…WHY?!?
Why it’s so good:
I mean it’s obvious, right? Do I have to spell it out? It’s the Marvel Universe vs. Galactus. And for once the Marvel Universe actually wins. They don’t just shuffle off Galactus on to the next poor shlub of a planet. Nope, they actually deal with the threat and win. That’s what you call Earth’s Mightiest. The episode is incredibly dense with action and adventure and with a who’s who of heroes all united for against a common bad guy with each a part to play which they do perfectly. It’s a treat for Marvel fans young and old, and I will say it’s not only my favorite episode, but it’s my young children’s favorite as well. They especially love when Spidey webs Terrax in his ugly mug and quips “You got a little something on your face!”
3 of Galactus’ heralds from the show are actual previous heralds from the comics as well including Terrax, Air Walker, and Firelord. In the comics, however, most were not constructs, but real people like Terrax was the former despoic ruler of an entire planet and Firelord was a former member of the Nova Corps from Xandar. Air Walker for most of his history was in fact an android created by Galactus, so his association with being a mere construct is not as far fetched.
And that’s it, folks! I mean I could go on as I actually think there are very few episodes of this series I don’t care about. In the end, I was extremely depressed when they cancelled this show, especially now that I have kids as they too have fallen in love with this interpretation of the Avengers. They got it right on so many levels. It’s a shame it’s gone now. However, you should do yourself a favor and pick some of these episodes up if you can if you have never watched the series.
Whether you are an Avengers fan, a comics fan, or just a fan of well done cartooning, you can’t miss with Earth’s Mightiest.