Welcome to Saturday morning cartoons, our ongoing column where we continue yesterday’s animation-centric ritual. We may no longer plan our lives with 35mm programs, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about the necessary sanctuary of the Saturday toons. In this post, we rank the 10 best episodes of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
In 2010, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still working on its sea legs. Marvel Studios hit a home run with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, but the connected universe was far from safe after the base hit and motley that were The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 (some might call them puffs or even strikes, but not this Marvel zombie). Avengers: Endgame’s global domination seemed like a fantasy, or maybe not even a possibility, to those eyeing Black Widow’s awkward franchise insertions sideways.
However, if you were paying attention to Disney XD at the time, you were very much aware of the potential of superhero cinema for a wild and huge cosmic playground. The Avengers: The most powerful heroes on earth started as a 20-part micro-series similar to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars. After all, Disney paved those early breakouts into five episodes and used them to start two jam-packed superhero seasons.
DC Animation is usually the most loved, while Marvel cartoon nostalgia is usually reserved exclusively for the X-Men animated series of the ’90s. Sure, I love some wonderful, happy mutants, but if we’re looking for a serious contender across the aisle to take on Batman: The Animated Series, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is your best bet.
The first early episodes make up the original team as they appeared in Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s The Avengers # 1: Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Wasp. From there, Captain America rushes into its lap, as does Black Panther, Vision, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain Marvel, Iron Fist, the Fantastic Four and so on and on and on. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes adapted the classic and the less classic comic book stories. Using a formula perfected by the MCU, the cartoon kept what they liked about the comics and adapted the stories to suit their purposes.
While watching the show, I shouted countless times, “Do this. Make these toons films.” And apparently Kevin Feige heard my screams. Guardians of the Galaxy would arrive soon, then Black Panther and Captain Marvel. If you delve into The Avengers Cartoon, you can see the skeletons of the MCU events that are currently on the horizon. Kang the Conqueror is here. MODOK is here. The multiverse is here. Secret invasion is here.
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is streamed on Disney +. Don’t let it sit there. Jump on your remote and hit the play button. And if you’re looking for a good place to start, don’t worry. That’s why you clicked the link. Below are the 10 best episodes from both seasons. You will recognize some storylines and others will sizzle your brain for what is to come.
10. “Meet Captain America”
Kang the Conqueror observes from outside time and space. All of reality is beginning to crumble and he firmly believes that this chronic apocalypse begins with Captain America. The time-traveling madman looks down the stream of time and observes the earliest battles of Steve Rogers. We see Captain America and Bucky Barnes lead a beachhead invasion against Red Skull’s Hydra Castle. Cap and Bucky fight alongside the Howling Commandos and the man who will one day become Wolverine, bringing pain to the Nazi scientist. The two soldiers fall into the ice, where they are frozen for decades before they reappear in the middle of the night. It’s a rousing sacrifice, but one that Kang is deeply concerned about. The Conqueror must intervene later in the season.
9. “Hail, Hydra!”
Two terrorist organizations fight each other in a terrifying scramble to obtain the Cosmic Cube (known in the MCU as Tesseract or Space Stone). While Red Skull’s Hydra and MODOK’s AIM exchange shots, the Black Widow sells them both to the Avengers. Together the most powerful heroes on earth destroy the two shameful institutions. And the victory amazes Captain America. He spent most of World War II stamping out the skull, and one afternoon the Avengers did what he never could. In the future, Steve Rogers swears allegiance to these strange heroes.
8. “See the vision!”
The Avengers are dismantled. Her last mission almost saw her defeat and Earth from an invading alien force. With most of the team not talking to each other, an angry Ultron tries another blow against its makers. This time he’s building Vision as his spare weapon. On a mission to collect Vibranium, the Synthezoid Man child clashes with the Avengers in Wakanda. The episode consists mostly of brutal punches, interrupted by Thor striking his hammer on a callous vision. We know the robot will one day join the team, but as much time is spent visioning as the villain aggravates the tragedy built into his creation. The version we got in Age of Ultron quickly calculated “the right side” while this poor creature has trouble understanding its purpose. His path is a long one, strung together by several failures.
7. “Welcome to the Kree Empire”
The Kree lay claim to Earth space and Carol Danvers is the only one who can challenge their greatest champion, Captain Marvel. Marvel and Carol exchanged energy signatures during their final confrontation, and she walked out of the fight tougher than her opponent. She calls herself “Ms. Marvel ”and nearly decimates the invading army. Inspired by her strength, Captain Marvel eventually allies with Carol, who helps her in her brawl with Ronan the Prosecutor. You win, but the Kree will be back, and when they return they will do so with a force ten times as great as anything the earth can supply. And, um, yes, the Skrulls are too lucky to take advantage of this upcoming Armageddon.
6. “Doctor Doom’s Private War”
While Tony Stark of the Avengers and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four scratch their heads over the strange timing anomalies they discovered in season one, Doctor Doom launches an attack on both teams. This is another action-packed episode, but its climax is an incredible reveal that shows Doom’s intelligence. Stark and Richards are two big brains, but they can’t see the problem on the horizon. Kang, the Kree, the Skrulls – these villains aren’t one-time threats. Their attacks didn’t stop when the episodes ended. One invasion hides a much bigger, secret invasion. Reed’s teammates aren’t really his teammates. Skrulls sneak in every shadow.