At what point does corporate synergy start becoming ridiculous? I find myself wondering that question upon the announcement of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, the new animated series that will replace the current Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes series because… it’s closer to the movie, apparently? Maybe? But is that enough reason to kill a successful show?
That latter question may be something that only has an entirely subjective answer, of course, depending on just how much you loved either the Avengers movie or the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon. This isn’t the first time that a popular Marvel cartoon has met an untimely death after a couple of seasons – Greg Weisman’s Spectacular Spider-Man also disappeared after two years in order to make way for Marvel’s new Ultimate Spider-Man, but at least in that case there were operational considerations that made the switch slightly more understandable (For those with memories as short as mine, those were: Disney bought Marvel, the Spider-Man TV rights were reclaimed by Marvel from Sony, and Marvel TV was created as a division for the purpose of creating its own television programming as opposed to continuing to license its characters). Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, on the other hand, was already a fully-owned Marvel property, one of Marvel’s first such projects, and one that was already airing on Disney XD a la Ultimate Spider-Man (The two air in the same “Marvel Universe” Sunday morning block). So… what was wrong with it, exactly…?
The stated reason for the cancellation/new series move seems to be that Avengers Assemble will be closer to the amazingly successful movie in terms of tone and atmosphere. Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb described the new show as being “a brand new and really extraordinary looking animated series dealing with the Avengers in that same world [as the movie],” suggesting that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes just wasn’t the kind of thing that would hook in people who loved the movie… but, in the same interview, Loeb also teases Hulk and The Agents of SMASH, a Hulk team project that’s roughly a million miles from Mark Ruffalo’s angry alter ego, and Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t exactly step-by-step with next month’s Amazing Spider-Man. So, apparently, the need for cross-media synergy isn’t there for every project.
It might be easy to plump for the much-shared “Jeph Loeb didn’t like EMH because it was created before he got to the company” theory, but let’s be honest, that’s more than a little simplistic; shows are rarely cancelled on such personal whims, especially not when they’re doing well. Losing EMH is certainly a calculated risk on Marvel’s part, don’t get me wrong. After all, it’s not as if it was a failure as a series, either in terms of ratings or fan response, so killing the series only two years in with the hope that the next attempt will be even better feels either confident, optimistic or a quick way to piss off a number of fans (Already, the internet is filled with those declaring themselves “done” with Marvel as a result of the decision, with Marvel’s CCO Joe Quesada re-tweeting a former fan declaring that he hoped Quesada would die of AIDS as a result of the decision).
The bet, I’d guess, is that the Avengers movie has (out-)performed to such an extent that it’s coloring the way that Marvel considers the brand outside of the core comics audience (and even there, Avengers Assemble – there’s that title again – was created as a monthly title to focus on the team from the movie), creating a nervousness about how far other versions can stray from the movie without losing the intangible but clear appeal of the movie that will, at least temporarily, restrict anything that doesn’t have a core of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow for the foreseeable future. We know – and, more importantly, so do Marvel – that Spider-Man is a malleable character, who can appeal as long as the core characteristics are present; the same is true of the Hulk, to a lesser extent. But the Avengers…? No-one really has a grasp on why they work for mass audiences yet, and until they do, I think we’re going to see much less variation in their depiction.
Was it cowardice, then, that killed Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Not really; nervousness and a (perhaps well-placed) belief that, as successful as the show was, a different take on the same idea that follows the lead of the movie may be more of a success, perhaps, but making the decision to pull EMH, knowing the backlash such a decision would bring is anything but cowardly. Like I said, it’s a calculated risk. If only to reward them for not taking the easy route – Assemble will have to go far to win over those upset by the end of EMH, after all – I really hope it’s one that pays off.