Today sees the second week of Cartoon Network's DC Nation programming block, and we're just three weeks away from the launch of Disney XD's competing Marvel Universe block (which includes the debut of Ultimate Spider-Man). But are either of these blocks exploring and exploiting their roots as well as they could?
I'll admit that I was left a little flat by DC Nation's first outing; it wasn't that the two core shows were bad, as such - Although I was particularly disappointed by Green Lantern's animation, which felt like it was shown before final rendering had taken place considering the lack of texture on… well, everything, really, but that might just be me - but as a "block" of programming, it felt particularly slim. In addition to the two full-length shows, all we had were two one-minute shorts that had already been released online weeks ago to advertise the block, and the surreal sight of a real-life archer firing a boxing glove arrow. The problem was that all three of those felt more like ad-break filler than added content; instead of being events in and of themselves, they were broadcast in commercial breaks for the main shows, and without any particular fanfare of teasing (As much as I hate the animated bumpers that run along the bottom of screens during shows, I can't help but feel that could've been used to tell viewers to pay attention during the next commercial break because Plastic Man was coming, or something similar), as if they were afterthoughts or filler.
We've still to see how Marvel Universe handles its schedule (The first week, at least, has two episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man back-to-back, which suggests that the Universe running time will be longer than Nation's one hour), but I'm hoping that Disney doesn't treat its own shorts - Said to include masterclasses in how to draw the Marvel characters from Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada, as well as looks into how the stunts and science of the Marvel Universe would work in real life - in a similarly dismissive way. And yet, I find myself worried at the lack of additional animated content that Marvel Universe is offering (Outside of its full-length shows, the only animated content seems to be Marvel Mash-Up, which re-edits and re-voices old cartoons for comedic effect); real-life documentaries feel like fun enough ideas to an extent, but also a way of short-changing the Marvel characters that aren't already household names. For all DC Nation's schedule shoddiness, there's something to be said for the idea of essentially launching all number of short pilots for new series in stealth mode (Its shorts include Doom Patrol and Super Best Friends Forever, as well as new mini-episodes of Teen Titans, any of which could easily be expanded to full-length shows if the demand is there), expanding the universe and establishing more of a presence in kids' minds (and displaying diversity for the line, as well). Marvel's Universe, in contrast, seems suspiciously smaller than the Nation, something that feels like a missed opportunity.
In the end, both blocks seem to be missing opportunities (Nation by not emphasizing the additional content, Universe by not using its own additional content to introduce new characters), but that almost feels like ungrateful nitpicking. Just think about how exciting it would've been, when you were a kid, to have something like DC Nation or Marvel Universe to look forward to at the end of the week? Never mind both, and on different days so you don't have to choose. When it comes down to it, even in their current flawed states, both blocks add up to the kind of thing we could've only wished for when we were the target audience.