The Modern Age – AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES Adapts Famous And Not-So-Famous Stories

In June, it was officially announced that the animated series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which airs on Disney XD, would be cancelled. The show will, however, live on when it turns into an animated series called Avengers Assemble in 2013. That’s good news for fans because A: EMH has been, over its two seasons, one of the best animated television programs based on Marvel’s characters. I might even argue that the show has been THE BEST animated Marvel show ever. The irony is that although Marvel has been much more successful than DC Comics in the movie industry, DC’s animated shows have generally been much better than Marvel’s, mainly thanks to the work done by Bruce Timm and team in creating the classic series Batman, Superman and Justice League. In a lot of ways, A:EMH, thanks in large part to writer Chris Yost, has used a number of the elements that made Timm’s shows so successful: attractive but simple animation style, strong character development, intricate, serialized storylines and a heavy dose of inspiration from the comic book source material.

Especially in the second season, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has taken a number of plots and storylines from the comics and adapted them to fit the show. The series has used the recent “Secret Invasion” story about Skulls forming sleeper cells on Earth, disguised as heroes and villains. Additionally, the show has mined older stories from Avengers history, such as the origin of the Vision, the “Kovacs” saga and Henry Pym’s unstable transition from Ant-Man to Yellowjacket. One of the most curious adaptations done by A: EMH was the recent episode “Emperor Stark,” which is based on the somewhat obscure 1987 graphic novel Avengers: Emperor Doom.

In the 1980s, Marvel introduced a number of larger-format self-contained stories called “Marvel Graphic Novels.” Unlike contemporary trade paperbacks, these were not issues collected from the main series. Rather, they were separate, isolated stories that fit into the Marvel Universe but did not link into ongoing storylines of the time. The most well-known of this series are probably The Amazing Spider-Man: Parallel Lives (which was recently reissued by Marvel in regular comic-book size) and X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. Avengers: Emperor Doom, which was written by David Micheline (based on a concept, the credits state, by Micheline, Mark Gruenwald and Jim Shooter) and drawn by Bob Hall, takes place during the period of Avengers history when there were two teams. The regular Avengers team consisted of Captain America, Wasp, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Starfox (you might need to Google him if you haven’t read old Avengers). There was also, at the time, the West Coast Avengers, led by Hawkeye and featuring Iron Man, Mockingbird, Wonder Man and Tigra. Early in the story, Tony Stark has Wonder Man enter a sensory deprivation tank for a month so that they can learn more about his powers. During this time, Doctor Doom manages to capture Zebediah Kilgrave, the Purple Man, a villain who has the power of mind control. Using a hair from the Purple Man, Doom builds an object he calls the psychic prism that allows him to start controlling heroes, and eventually the world. However, once Wonder Man emerges from his experiment and finds this changed world, he does not fall under the mind control because he does not have a human physiology. He is, without getting lost in details, a being of energy. Wonder Man confronts Captain America, forcing him to watch footage of Doctor Doom battling heroes in the past, which eventually causes Cap to snap out of the mind control. Quickly, the other Avengers are brought out of the mind control, and they eventually, with the aid of Namor, who had been Doom’s unwilling accomplish, destroy the mind control device.

Apparently, someone producing Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes really liked that story because they have adapted that central conflict in “Emperor Stark,” although with some major alterations. In the episode, it is the Vision, recently accepted to the team after first emerging as an enemy, who is put into repair stasis for thirty days. In that time, it is the Purple Man himself who decides to take over the world. He discreetly starts controlling Tony Stark, after Kilgrave feels that Iron Man made a mockery of him. Through Stark’s tech, a satellite is sent into space amplifying the Purple Man’s power over all of the earth. In this case, it is The Vision who confronts Captain America and eventually – after battling, of course – gets him to snap out of the mind control. The two manage to fix Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel and other team members, and eventually destroy the Purple Man’s mind-control device.

While this episode uses the basic storyline of Emperor Doom (and they’re clearly doing it as a homage, going so far as to indicate the link in the episode title), it actually doesn’t tell the part of the Emperor Doom story that’s the most interesting: Doom’s psychology and philosophical struggles in ruling. In the book, since Doom controls everyone, he actually manages to get all the world’s powers to stop fighting. There is no crime and no disagreement. Wealth and technology are used so that impoverished nations are healthy. Even though he is doing it for selfish and egotistical reasons, Doom establishes a utopia on Earth. It might be a mind-controlled utopia, but it is in many ways a better world than what existed before and after. However, the mundane logistics of ruling the world, which requires constant bureaucratic decision making, bore Doom. He actually becomes excited when Wonder Man emerges as a resistance figure. It’s the thrill of the chase and conflict that Doom craves, not the realities of ruling. He has an opportunity to stop the Avengers from destroying his psychic prism but withholds his weapons. In other words, Doom abstains from defeating the Avengers simply because he is tired of ruling the world. It’s a really clever use of the “Be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it” idea by Micheline. In A: EMH, the Purple Man shows no such ambivalence. He is defeated by the Avengers in a traditional hero versus villain confrontation. To be fair, a 22-minute TV show has to move at a much quicker pace than a graphic novel, and there are interesting psychological elements in the episode for Stark. Also, I would rather a TV show or movie use and change a story from the comics rather than simply making an exact motion-based replica of the comic.

All in all, it is refreshing to see a medium adapting comic book characters that decides to value the source material. There are almost fifty years of comic book stories to tell from the Avengers series, and some of them are very good. It seems that the next version of the series, Avengers Assemble, will bear a closer resemblance to the Avengers movie (the current cast of A:EMH, in addition to the regulars, features Ms. Marvel, Vision, Black Panther, Wasp and Yellowjacket, so it’s not exactly the same team as in the movie). Hopefully, when Avengers Assemble debuts, the creators will continue what Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes began: incorporating some of the great stories that Marvel Comics has already produced and adding fresh interpretations and plots of their own.