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DC Nation and Marvel Universe: Animation Domination?

by on February 26, 2012

It was inevitable. With the demise of Kids’ WB, the only place left for DC Comics characters to appear in animation was the Warner-affiliated Cartoon Network. After Disney purchased Marvel, Marvel no longer needed investors and pitches to networks to get cartoons on TV. Now all Marvel needs is Disney approval and all of a sudden, you have a new Marvel show on a Disney network. It’s an old battle, Warner Bros. versus Disney, only being fought by proxy via another age-old rivalry: DC vs. Marvel. With the upcoming DC Nation and Marvel Universe, we have two hour-long programming blocks with new episodes of two cartoons, as well as short interstitials. It seems like another phase of this war is here. Or is it? Let’s break the blocks down. 

DC Nation was first announced back in 2011 and premiered on March 3rd on Cartoon Network. Details about the block were steadily revealed as the launch date approached, although Cartoon Network was unusually slow to promote it and gave off a sense of apathy about the initiative. The first program on this block is Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the first cartoon solely about this well-known superhero. The pilot was shown in November of last year, and it got good ratings and mixed-to-good reviews. This CGI production is backed by some serious talent, including the great Bruce Timm as an executive producer. Serving as producers are Jim Kreig and Giancarlo Volpe, who showed great understanding of the Green Lantern and his expectations for this series in his interview with Toon Zone. This cartoon stands to give a unique perspective on the DC Universe as DC seeks to push Green Lantern into the upper echelon of its heroes, putting him alongside the “Big Three” of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The question is whether people will tune in for the animated version; the live-action movie of last year did not meet expectations, so that’s somewhat of a bad omen. 
Taking up the second half of DC Nation is a known entity: Young Justice, which was created by Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman. The show has had a rather odd history on Cartoon Network, as it only made it to eight episodes before going into reruns since it premiered so early in the production cycle. Its airings have been riddled with lengthy breaks, and only now are we going to witness the end of the first season and see the culmination of The Light’s true plot. The show is animated beautifully by MOI Animation (the same studio that worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender) and it has a stellar voice cast and first-rate writers. As the first season finally concludes the second season, subtitled “Invasion”, should begin right away as multiple episodes of that season are also completed. But after so many long breaks and the demise of action premieres on Friday nights, can Young Justice regain its momentum?

DC Nation has been surprisingly open about the many short interstitials that will be populating the block. We will be getting exclusive interviews with DC Comics writers and artists. Aardman is making stop-motion shorts. Former My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic showrunner Lauren Faust is doing a series of shorts centered around Supergirl and Batgirl. And the Teen Titans return in chibi-fied form, with the same cast and writers as the full-length show years before. All of this hints at a hugely entertaining block, though with possible moments of mood whiplash since the shorts look to be out to make people laugh while the action shows seem to be more serious affairs. Heck, Young Justice’s mood can even turn outright dour
There is one show likely coming to the block in the future: Beware the Batman, which is looking to be due in 2013. It seems to have an edgier motif than Batman: The Brave and the Bold, as shown by the concept art that portrays trusty butler Alfred with a shotgun.

Earlier this year Marvel announced their Marvel Universe block for Disney XD, which will air on Sundays and premiere on April 1st.
The first show is Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, beloved by many comic book fans and finished with its first season. Season two looks to pick up where the previous one left off, charging right into the famous (infamous?) Secret Invasion storyline from the comics. Fan-favorites The Vision and Ms. Marvel have already been announced as joining the team, and the season will kick off with a team-up with the Fantastic Four. However, showrunners Joshua Fine and Christopher Yost reduced their involvement in the show after episode 39, as Fine left Marvel while Yost was transferred to Marvel’s film division. Taking their places will be Jeph Loeb (he of many infamous recent comics), and Man of Action (of Ben 10 and Generator Rex fame, as well as the new Nicktoons cartoon Monsuno). Though Fine and Yost still had some involvement in episodes 40-52 of the upcoming season there will be changes to the show, including an increased focus on the “Big Four” of the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man. Coupled with the fact that no third season has even been hinted at yet, the future is uncertain. For now however, fans can look forward to the popcorn flick-worthy, world-saving adventures that this show has done very, very well. 
The second show is Ultimate Spider-Man and we know more about what it won’t be than what it will be. It is not an adaptation of the long-running alternate universe comic, the only thing they seem to have in common is how the Green Goblin is being portrayed. It is not going to be exclusive to Spidey characters, it is going to contain heroes and villains from all over the Marvel Universe. It is not going to be a Spider-Man solo show. Instead Spidey will be teamed up with several other Marvel characters re-imagined as teenagers, including Luke Cage and Iron Fist. It is not going to be as serious-minded as Spectacular Spider-Man, as the trailers hint at a Teen Titans level of whimsy. With only a month to go before airdate, all Marvel has released from the series is a brief one-minute of footage, and there was a leaked five-minute animation test (with audio from the voice cast) that was swiftly taken down. Both were met with mixed reactions. Marvel will be releasing a longer look late in March, but for now the show remains an unknown entity. The showrunners, Paul Dini and Man of Action, are both experienced, which should be a good sign. USM has also been guaranteed to have 52 episodes, so it will last awhile. 
Like USM, the interstitials for Marvel Universe are also unknown. We have no idea what the interstitials are going to entail. We just know that there will be some. 
Like DC Nation Marvel Universe also has a show on the horizon, which is seemingly ready to air by the fall: Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. Like USM and the interstitials, this show is, also an unknown entity. We just know it’ll be Hulk, paired up with his cousin She-Hulk and recent comic stars Red Hulk, A-Bomb, and Skaar (who’s also the Hulk’s son…don’t ask). This show is the brainchild of Paul Dini and Jeph Loeb, and it remains to be seen what niche the show carves out for itself.
So is there a winner? Is there a loser? Is there even a fight at all? The answer is no. Both blocks, despite their similar contents, are too different in what they’re aiming for. 
DC Nation looks to have more room for edgier content. Both Green Lantern and Young Justice have TV-PG ratings, and Beware the Batman could also get a similar rating if it’s going to have actual gunfire. For now, Marvel Universe looks to be sticking with TV-Y7FV ratings for its block. This may enhance DC Nation’s appeal towards teens, while Marvel Universe may have the advantage among kids (and their parents) because Marvel isn’t trying to be as edgy. 
Marvel Universe in particular has a bad opening hand. Sundays, especially Sunday mornings if it winds up there, aren’t the best time to premiere new programming. Furthermore, Disney XD is hardly a blip on the ratings radar compared to Cartoon Network. Disney’s goal is to make Marvel Universe demanded enough to increase the amount of homes who have Disney XD. It is much different than DC Nation’s goal, which is simply get good ratings period
What we have here are two blocks attempting to provide cohesive, all-around entertainment for children. Both companies know that they need young readers to start reading comic books in order for Marvel and DC’s brands to not dilute in the next century. They are both hoping that these animation blocks will be the gateway to reading the many, many comic books in both stables. This need to attract new readers even spurred DC to reboot its entire line of comics with the “New 52”. Marvel is taking a similar tack by relaunching its all-ages line, titling it “Marvel Universe” to tie into the block.

Yeah, sure, if nerds like us enjoy the shows too that’s gravy. But we are not the target audience here. It’s the kids. 

Both Cartoon Network and Disney XD are networks relying almost entirely on comedic programming. The last action block to truly have traction was You Are Here on Cartoon Network, after both Toonami and Jetix perished in years past. And YAH only lasted two-odd years. 
Will kids be willing to tune into blocks again, to devote their time not just to programs but to the appeal of the block and the block’s culture? They bought into Toonami, and they also bought into Jetix, but both brands were very different from what Marvel and DC are offering. 
Superheroes were just part of the show on both Toonami and Jetix. Now they are the show.

Will that work? 

The only way to find out is whether DC Nation and Marvel Universe successfully take off.

And if they don’t, that could spell dire consequences for both Marvel and DC in the future, as well as prospective action programming on both Cartoon Network and Disney XD.

Perhaps, for the good of action animation and superheroes, we should not want a winner or a loser or even a brawl at all.

We should want both blocks to succeed, so we can keep getting action animation for years to come and so superheroes will continue their burgeoning popularity. 

In other words, we should want a superhero team-up to conquer the Neilsen reports. Wouldn’t that be fun?

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