In a time of sophisticated special effects being used on almost every TV show that there is, it is easy to overlook the animated series. There was a time in my life where it seemed like everything any geek wanted to watch was a cartoon. I was spoiled by Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman: the Animated Series, The Tick, and countless MARVEL cartoons. Yet somehow, it seemed that the art of entertaining nerds became just video games, live action shows like Buffy and Star Trek, and comic books. Long gone are the days of the Saturday morning cartoon and the afternoon animated block. DVDs became prevalent. DVRs changed how we watch TV. The internet made all of geekdom more accessible. Somehow the combination of these elements destroyed the world of nerd cartoons. The people who made Batman: the Animated Series never stopped making shows. Batman became a Superman cartoon, which became Batman Beyond, which became Justice League, etc. Eventually shows like these were forced into being run at 7PM on Saturday evenings and were not heavily advertised. Over the last few years, Cartoon Network has done about all it could do to revitalize the genera of the action based, well written, half hour cartoon. Now they have a powerful line-up of superheroes and sci-fi shows on the most unlikely of time slots, Friday evening.
Young Justice is a show about famous DC sidekicks and the training they must endure. They are constantly tested by the Justice League and usually end up uncovering some greater diabolical plot. The group is led by a revamped Aqualad named Calder who tends to use water powered holo-whips instead of merely talking to fish. Conner Kent is Superboy, the emo kid in the bunch. He hates the lack of attention from Superman and generally acts like a moody teen. This does not stop him from having a relationship with M’gann M’orzz, Miss Martian and the niece of Martian Manhunter. Robin and Kid Flash are also there as well as Artimis, a green archer who claims to be Green arrow’s niece. The group is supervised by JL alums like Red Tornado and Black Canary. This show kicks ass. The animation and storytelling are next level. Do not expect anything like Teen Titans. The show is gritty and carries a very serious tone the entire time. Recent episodes find the group dealing with a virtual reality training session gone wrong, where the group had to live through the entire JL getting destroyed. Meanwhile, Red Tornado has been destroyed and villains continue to elude both the Justice League and their protégés.
In contrast to Young Justice, There is Batman: The Brave and the Bold. This show is like a cross between the Batman animated series from the early 90’s crossed with the live action Batman series from the 60’s. I must admit that I hated this show right off. I hated the 60’s show for being ridiculous and I hated this show for trying to bring some of it back. I was wrong. It’s a delightful homage to all things batman executed with the experience of people who have worked on Batman cartoons since the 90’s series. This show stars Diedrich Bader (Office Space, The Drew Carey Show, Outsourced, and countless other roles) as the Dark Knight, bringing a gravelly but whimsical voice to Batman. Every show starts out with a small independent adventure before the credits followed by the longer story for the rest of the show. The short intro segments usually couple batman with some other Justice Leaguer like Booster Gold or Blue Beetle. The main segments vary from putting Batman into a parallel universe or having him meet the Green Lantern Corps or some other epic plot. He travels all around the planet as well as space, instead of being only located in Gotham. He is frequently teamed up with Aquaman, (Voiced by John Dimaggio, Bender from Futurama and Jake from Adventure Time) who is purposefully cheesy and narcissistically over heroic. He likes to give every adventure a title as if he thinks he is the world’s best comic hero. There is no discernible timeline continuity on the show, which gives the writers freedom to write it like a comic book. It is truly a delightful program and really encapsulates the spirit of Batman over the last fifty years.
The candied plum in this line up is Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I could write volumes about this show. I truly believe that this is the best thing Star wars related made since The Return of the Jedi. It always starts out with some Jedi quote and followed by a 40’s style movietone news reel to catch viewers up to speed on the plot. This gives the series a very WWII feel as well as the interactions between the clones Band of Brothers style. This show seems to be made to correct many of the problems that fans had from the new movies. There are even episodes that make Jar Jar Binks look like a pretty cool character…almost. The plots vary completely from episode to episode. Some revolve around the clones themselves, while other follow Anakin and his padawan, Ahsoka. Some follow Padme in plots of senatorial malevolence, and others focus on 3PO and R2. The writing on this show is galactic in nature. Some episodes are part of three or four episode arcs while others stand alone. There have been episodes that concern Chewbacca, young Boba Fett, Admiral Ackbar, and even minor characters like Jabba’s band leader Sy Snoodles. Katie Lucas, George’s daughter, has been writing for this show as well and doing a great job at it. Last year, she wrote a three part story about Darth Maul’s brother Savage Opress and they have announced that they will bring Darth Maul back this spring! My favorite thing about this show is the body count. People die left and right. When I was a kid, every time a Cobra plane got shot down by the Joes, you could always see the pilots parachuting off to safety. Even as a child, I thought that was a bit unrealistic. Not here. I’ve seen aliens, people, and droids run through with lightsabers and blasted away with no though of this being a children’s show. The clones themselves steal the show with their individual personalities. Heroic Captian Rex and stoic Commander Cody are some of the few individual clones. There are many more like Echo and Ghost. They all seem to have different haircuts and tattoos as well as individual armor paint. There are super professional and deadly, unlike their stormtrooper replacement to come. This show is remarkably popular and the longest running of the ones mentioned. The whole Friday night line-up seems to revolve around its success.
Finally, we come to the new Thundercats. This series in in its first season and already has fans wanting more. The original was made by Rakin Bass who made The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn, and all the stop motion Christmas specials. This new version is anime, and although it does not concern the same character, it really encompasses what I loved about the original. It takes place hundreds to thousands of years after the first show. It would seem that the first Thundercats were successful in developing Third earth into New Thundera and abolishing Mum-Ra for good. Now there is a rich Thundercats culture is not as technologically advanced like the first group, but almost medieval in nature. The interesting thing about this show is that there are characters named after the original Thundercats that effectively replace those characters. In this time, Lion-o is the young prince who grew up with his half-brother, Tygra. He still has Snarf, who thankfully does not talk at all, and the rest of the cast slowly shows up as well. In the first episode, the cats’ city is destroyed upon Mum-Ra’s resurrection, leaving the cats to wander New Thundera and trying to find their place. Lion-O trains to become the new Lord of the Thundercats while avoiding the technology driven Lizard army, led by this timeline’s Slythe. It seems like some episodes are geared to bring back the elements we remember like Robo Bill and the Burbils, and some seem to establish new elements like plant people who live their entire lives in one day. The new show does a fantastic job updating and recreating the look and feel of the 80’s show and certainly leaves much for fans to look forward to.
There are two other shows I did not mention in this review. They are Generator Rex and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. I purposefully left them out because they are original characters to Cartoon Network, and frankly I’ve never seen an episode of either. Neither deals with characters I grew up with. This past Friday, Cartoon network did premier a sneak peek of a computer animated Green Lantern show that may be added to the line-up. Until then, there is plenty of nerdy fun to be had on Friday night to hold us over.