DC Nation vs Marvel Universe
I might be diving into dangerous geek territory here by pitting DC and Marvel against each other in a new way. To start, I want to stipulate that I’m not much of a comic book fan. Rather, I’m an animation fan who feels that comic books are a tremendous source for good animated entertainment. Like many comic book geeks out there, I find Batman: The Animated Series to be one of the best drawn, animated, acted and written cartoon series to have ever existed, super hero based or otherwise. B:TAS set the bar for just about every animated show to come after it by appealing to a very wide audience in a highly stylized, high quality presentation. DC’s other animated properties in particular benefit from Batman’s success, all leading to Cartoon Network’s creation of the DC Nation block of shows.
Marvel (and Disney), not to be left behind, followed suit with a block of programming they call Marvel Universe (a universe is bigger and better than a nation, right?) on Disney’s XD network. Personally, I don’t feel Marvel’s success in animation comes remotely close to DC’s despite having been at it about as long (both premiered cartoons in 1966). Except for the newest few shows, Marvel’s television animation has largely been cookie-cutter, quick turnaround shows that demonstrated both a lack of substance and of pride in production. Even the much beloved X-Men series of the 90’s, though well drawn, suffered from low frame rates and lousy voice acting.
So this meteoric rise of comic book culture (largely due to recent films) has spawned these two blocks of programming. There’s really no reason to pick one over the other. They air at different times, several times a week and anyone with a DVR will have no problem picking up everything. Still, let’s break the blocks down into their 3 main components and see which comic book giant comes out on top.
DC’s headliner shows are Young Justice and Green Lantern. Marvel’s are The Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man. Young Justice breaks some new ground in that it gives the familiar sidekicks their own team and presents them with real issues of trust, teamwork and typical teen angst. The show is taken seriously, is brilliantly voice acted and gorgeously drawn to boot. Full time heroes are no strangers either, as many show up as mentors and trainers to the pubescent team or when needed during pivotal battles. Fans of the much loved Justice League and JLU series will find a perfect home here with slightly less mature themes.
Green Lantern is the only CG rendered show of the 4, and though decently written, visually it falls pretty flat. It teams up Hal Jordan with fellow corps member Killowag as they work to stop a growing threat of Red Lantern on their own out in deep space.
The Avengers is bright and chaotic. A lot of action and a lot of fun, but a little too candy-coated visually for my tastes. It’s like watching M&Ms on the disco floor. With explosions. It plays to its comic book origins pretty close to the vest and throws a lot of characters at the screen. At times, it can be a bit hard to keep up with, more so for young viewers.
Finally, Ultimate Spider-Man has a duller, but satisfying palette. It’s put out by a group of animators that call themselves The Man of Action and have created several great shows including the Ben 10 group of toons and Generator Rex. Like Young Justice, Ultimate Spider-Man puts a group of teenage heroes together, led by a high school-aged Spidey and groomed by agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., including Agent Coulson, voiced by his live action doppelganger, Clark Gregg. The show seems to try channeling the mixed eastern-western anime mix that DC’s own Teen Titans series brought to the table, but comes off being more goofy than anything else.
Winner: DC Nation. It’s a close one though. Green Lantern’s execution knocks DC’s offering down a few pegs, but Young Justice more than makes up for it. I really enjoy The Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man has really grown on me in just 3 short episodes, but Young Justice is the only show I would actually miss if they pulled it from the schedule.
Both programming blocks offer in-between content snippets, like those you would find in the bonus features on a DVD. I divide them up here as Shorts and Featurettes. Animated shorts give some of the lesser known heroes a chance to shine, not to mention the animators creating them.
DC Nation has already featured several minute or two minute long shorts, all of which have reached a sort of viral status on the net. Plastic-Man gets a few frenetic bits from the Warner studios. World renowned stop motion house Aardman has created some brilliant shorts in the same vein as their popular Creature Comforts (everyday people’s voices set to claymation characters) and the brilliant original Super Best Friends Forever, created by My Little Pony’s Lauren Faust, about teeny bopper Supergirl, Batgirl and Wondergirl taking on the forces of evil. It could very well be this generation’s Powerpuff Girls. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get its own show.
Marvel Universe takes a page from Cartoon Network’s playbook, albeit from many years back, with Marvel Mash-ups. Using footage from animated Marvel programming of decades past, creators dub in new voices to less-than-comedic effect. A recent clip had Dr. Doom talking about double rainbows, a meme that has seen its day come and gone. Unfortunately, that’s all they’ve got so far.
Winner: DC Nation by a landslide. Whether by number, variety or quality, DC’s original clips outshine Marvel’s attempts thus far. Additionally, Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. have a history of letting fledgling artists and animators have their shot with audiences and DC Nation could prove to be a perfect venue for showcasing new content. I don’t see Disney giving the same opportunities.
Finally, both blocks show off some of the more unique sides of the characters and shows they air. DC has aired interviews with show creators as well as weapon tests: recreating some of the tools of the trade found in the various utility belts and arsenals of their most famous heroes. So far Batman’s batarang has been thrown by a knife expert and Green Arrow’s boxing glove and gas pellet arrows have been fired by professional archers.
Marvel offers up several options here. “Master Class” gives viewers a chance to see the artists at work and give a brief history of characters like Thor and The Hulk. “Fury Files” are character bios that do little more than rehash a bunch of quick-hit clips from the feature shows you’ve just watched. “What Would It Take”, like its title suggests, applies real world science and technology to recreate their heroes’ weapons and abilities in real life. “Animated Reality” means to show stunt men and women showing off the moves of the heroes (as of this writing, none have aired).
Winner: Draw. Both have weapon recreations and both get behind the scenes. Fury Files ends up being a wash because it’s a glorified commercial; effectively useless filler, but the promise of the Animated Reality featurettes could give Marvel a bump in this department.
Overall Winner: DC Nation. It’s the more satisfying block of shows and seems to have more potential for future programming. I’m looking forward to a solid season of The Avengers and its interstitials, but for the time being, Cartoon Network’s DC Nation takes the top spot on my DVR priority list. To put it bluntly, DC Nation is just…cooler.