How did Superhero Animated Shows Go So Wrong So Fast?

So I’ve been a fan of comic book based television since I was a kid.  Many people who grew up in my era felt the same way.  And who could blame them?  In the 90s, we had the good shows, primarily in the form of the classic Batman and Superman cartoons as well the X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons that populated the airwaves around the same time.  Over the past decade, we recently saw a new surge of great, new TV shows that eventually got cancelled for one reason or another.  Shows like the Spectacular Spider-Man, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Young Justice were all pretty well regarded and had growing fanbases.  When these shows were getting cancelled, I was upset, but still hopeful because if these shows managed to surprise me in the way that they did, maybe the new shows that would replace them would be able to do the same thing.  Did that happen?  Not even close.

Now let’s start with the worst offender in this list, The Spectacular Spider-Man.  I have nothing but good things to say about this show.  It great voice acting, great characters, a story that built upon itself, and some of the best action sequences not just in animation, but in television in general.  Every week this show would come on, I was stoked, but after two seasons, the show got tangled up in copyright issues between Marvel and Sony and was unceremoniously cancelled when Marvel immediately announced the replacement series, The Ultimate Spider-Man.  “Okay,” I thought to myself, “Maybe this won’t be that bad.  Maybe they’ll pull off a show that’s just as great, if not better than this one.”

But then The Ultimate Spider-Man was released and it was so bad I couldn’t get past ten minutes of the first episode.  From the painful writing that wants to be Deadpool (but never will be), making Spider-Man a member of what I can only assume they wanted to be the Young Avengers (but never will be), and drawing up the strangest most illogical comparisons to the point where it become patronizing (comparing wearing the Venom symbiote to fighting with a cold, seriously?), The Ultimate Spider-Man has failed in practically every conceivable way to match up to the show that came before it.  Now, I understand this show has developed a certain following as well, and if you’re one of those people, all I can say is that you clearly see something here that I don’t.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if this was an isolated incident, but almost the exact same thing happened just a couple years later with another Marvel show, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

This was another Marvel creation that exceeded expectation and became another beloved show that I watch religiously around the time season 2 came out.  It took chances, it played with classic stories in new and interesting ways, it had fun characters and actually took time to develop them, and it was always trying new things, but rarely felt forced or condescending about it.  But just when it was building up suspense and a pretty big fanbase, guess what happens?  Cancellation.  I don’t even know why it was cancelled, it was just cancelled and immediately replaced with another Avengers series, this one trying to play off the massive success of the movie.  And guess what?  That was underwhelming too!  Not quite in the same way that Ultimate Spider-Man was, but still in a way that is inferior to what came before, mostly because these new series feel much patronizing and condescending to the audience rather than treating us like intelligent human beings.  Marvel is also releasing a new show called Hulk: Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and despite the terrible name, at least it has Paul Dini attached to it, but if these other two Marvel shows are any indication, my hopes aren’t exactly high.

But don’t think I’m just picking on Marvel.  DC does it too.  Ironically also made by the same people behind Spectacular Spider-Man, Young Justice was another hit superhero show that featured a team made up of the sidekicks of the classic heroes we know and love.  The show, much like the others listed above, too chances, tried to tell a compelling story with compelling characters, had great animation and fight sequences, and overall was just a ton of fun to watch.  Although, personally, I always thought Spectacular Spider-Man was better overall.  But once again, once the second season came about, the show was cancelled and replaced by weaker shows that pandered to the audience.  Now, granted, as far as replacements go, Teen Titans Go! isn’t what I would call a bad show, per say, but it’s clearly meant as a much more kid-friendly show in comparison to what came before.

And in there lies the problem.  The main thing that these three shows have in common is that they could be watched by kids and adults in equal measure.  It didn’t pander to one or the other, it just focused on making an entertaining show with a good story and good characters, but somewhere down the line, the people at Marvel and DC thought that, for some reason, this was a bad thing and replaced it with much more kid-friendly shows, which are fun for little kids, but close to insufferable for everybody else.

I guess that’s what really bothers me with this recent trend in Superhero cartoons is that, for all intents and purposes, the people making this show think their audience is really stupid, that we can’t handle more serious subject matter or that we don’t want to.  It’s a general theme I’ve noticed a lot in pretty much every entertainment medium is that the makers seriously underestimate what the audience can take or actually want to see, but I personally believe that kids in general are much smarter than these makers give them credit for, and they can absorb much more than they think they can.  It’s this belief that makes me feel so insulted when these new shows come out that clearly have no intention of taking their audience seriously and simply pandering to what they believe to be a weak-minded demographic.

Until this mindset changes, we will continue to see this frustrating trend of seeing genuinely good or even great tv shows pushed to the side to make room for what we all know is a far weaker replacement shamelessly pandering to the seriously underestimated new generation.