The first new block to premiere on Cartoon Network in a long time did so on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012. Unlike previous blocks, the programming centers exclusively around DC Comics superheroes. The block is meant to introduce a younger generation to some of the most famous superheroes of all time, or, rather, to elevate lesser-known heroes and villains to household names.
The format of DC Nation seems to be this: Green Lantern, with an interstitial airing somewhere in there, and then Young Justice, with another interstitial airing somewhere in the Young Justice timeslot. Then rushed, cramped credits for both shows and then we’re done.
But how well does it all come together?
Unfortunately, not all that well yet. DC Nation doesn’t have a unique set of bumpers or anything. It uses a different “cool-voiced” promo announcer than the rest of Cartoon Network, and the DC Nation logo is displayed on the introduction to the block. But other than that it is the exact same look and feel of the rest of the network. This is not Toonami or Jetix or even You Are Here in the way the block tries to make you feel like you’re watching something exclusive or different. DC Nation is a block in name only.
That is the kicker right there. A block needs its own set of bumpers, a sense of being different and exclusive, to succeed as a block. DC Nation doesn’t have that. It’s barely distinguishable from the rest of Cartoon Network’s branding. It has a DC banner slapped on it here and there. There’s nothing cool about the presentation. There’s nothing in the presentation that hooks you. They even found a way to make introducing the interstitials flat and uninspired. It’s normal Cartoon Network and nothing more.
That being said, how does the programming hold up?
Green Lantern: The Animated Series has some fair moments but it’s not my cup of tea. I really don’t like the visual appearance of the show, in all honesty it looks blockier and older than Beast Wars at times. It definitely does not hold a candle to Star Wars: The Clone Wars visually and even the visuals of recent 2D shows like Young Justice and Thundercats blows it away. The visuals send a message of being made on the cheap, which is a major drawback when doing CGI and part of the reason why I don’t think CGI is always a good idea. It’s a lot easier to hide (and fix) flaws in 2D than it is in 3D.
That being said, the writing is just fine, and so is the voice talent. Josh Keaton does a great job making Hal Jordan sound a lot different from his previous superhero portrayal, Peter Parker, but still sound appealing. The rest of the cast holds up as well, doing capable, professional work. At times things feel a little flat but that’s the case for many pilots because the writers, animators, and voice talent are still working their way through the show and figuring out how to do things correctly. All in all I’m not hooked yet, but I’ll give GL a little bit of time to win me over.
The return of Young Justice does a new spin on an old trope: all of the adults vanish suddenly, leaving a world full of kids behind. What makes this redux of an ancient concept different is that we get the adults’ perspective too, because in their eyes, the kids have vanished. So we are not only playing on children’s fear, the show straight-up charges into adult fear as well. In the end, the shape-and-age-shifting Captain Marvel is the only one who can travel between the two new dimensions and help coordinate an attack to defeat the chaotic, evil-personified Klarion and merge the two dimensions back together. But it comes at a truly vicious cost . . .
Yeah, Zatanna has finally joined the team, but in a way she never wanted to. In the beginning, she wanted her father to give her space, and now she will have plenty of it… forever, thanks to Doctor Fate. And the supervillain group The Light (which Klarion is part of) have won yet another trophy thanks to their manipulations. It’s clear the show is building up to something, and there aren’t many episodes left in the first season. We will find out what that is very soon.
The two interstitials were a very random Aardman clay-mation short and a different, comedic short set around Plastic Man.
The Aardman one made very little sense and if there was a joke, I didn’t get it. Aardman is capable of producing some hilarious stuff but I just plain didn’t get the humor of their contribution. The Plastic Man short was based around Plastic Man’s shapeshifting abilities (and his total inability to understand the description of a person), which was more amusing. It was also helped by Tom Kenny’s superb delivery. He has Plastic Man nailed.
However, the shorts seemed inserted into the block at random (the Aardman short didn’t run until after Green Lantern was over, and Plastic Man interrupted Young Justice halfway through at a highly inappropriate time). A permanent spot to run shorts needs to be found. If I were to choose I would prefer either before or after the shows. Young Justice in particular is seriously dark and a light-hearted short just kills the momentum no matter how funny it is.
In short, the good-to-great programming is marred by very bland packaging. The credits for both Green Lantern and Young Justice have been practically obliterated by grouping them together and accelerating them enough to squeeze both sets in 25 seconds. Young Justice‘s pathetically short intro has been cut even further, to the point where it’s scarcely a couple of seconds. Anyone missing Toonami intros yet?
In other words, DC Nation just feels like a spot to throw the DC Comics shows and interstitials, more than a dedicated, cared-for block. The apathy shown by Cartoon Network and their reluctance to even mention DC Nation as a block shows that DC Nation has basically been thrown to the wolves. The time and care hasn’t been taken to distinguish the block from the rest of the network. The block is being set up for failure.
However, the quality of the two shows may be enough to keep the block going until the block has a chance to estanblish itself. Neither show is bad, and Young Justice in particular remains a exemplary example of animated action. If the shows themselves keep kids watching, that will keep DC Nation in existence. But it is clear that the branding of the block itself hasn’t been developed to keep audiences glued to the television the way past blocks such as Toonami and Miguzi once did.
This means Marvel Universe has a very low bar to clear in the block branding department. Even if Marvel tries and looks ridiculous, that’s better than not trying (or caring) at all.
That’s the impression I’m left from DC Nation. Like the powers that be just plain don’t care. It is up to us to care, and that doesn’t bode well for any program or block.