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Cartoons On British Television Redux

Just over 2 years ago, I wrote about the meagre offering of regular animated superhero series on free-to-view television in this country. With the recent the school summer holiday, where cartoons are used to pacify the kids for a while in the morning, I thought it was time for a revisit to the theme (although I did talk about Batman: The Brave And The Bold earlier this year, so it’s practically a regular feature).

The PVR was working overtime because CITV had a three-cartoon slot, which featured four series: Fantastic Four, which was replaced by The Batman, Justice League, and The Legion of Super Heroes (why don’t they use the hyphen that the comic book does? Do they think kids can’t handle it?). The Fantastic Four is something I watched solely for the more obscure corners of the Marvel universe they included in it, because it’s certainly not for the pointy-chinned antics of main characters – I’m amazed Johnny and Sue haven’t punctured themselves with their spikes where most people have a jaw.

The Batman is better drawn than Fantastic Four but it would seem that they haven’t bought the later series because they only showed the episodes BEFORE the arrival of the Justice League (they appear in the final moments of the two-parter where the Martian Manhunter helps Batman stop an alien invasion, which made me think it was a particularly harsh test to allow Batman in: why the hell didn’t the Flash and Green Lantern help out with an alien invasion that was looking like it was going to destroy the world? No, leave it to the non-powered human. Don’t join, Batman – they sound like a bunch of dicks). I’d really like to see those episodes without having to resort to YouTube.

The Justice League suffers from a similar problem in that ITV has only purchased the rights to show the first season – I’d love to see Justice League Unlimited, but that doesn’t seem to be on the cards. But Justice League was hampered even more by the fact that it was only one season over and over again, and they messed up the showing it: the first episode of the three-part opening story (based on the invasion by the White Martians storyline by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter) was on one day and then the next was five episodes into the series, and they never showed the remaining two episodes in that story. CITV obviously think that kids don’t notice such jumps in logic …

The best part of this mini-festival of superhero cartoons was seeing The Legion of Super Heroes on television rather than a computer screen. I have the fondness for the Legion, so it was a very pleasant surprise to see them animated, which is probably the best medium for them. The strange choice was the characters they decided upon to be the regular cast: Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Triplicate Girl, Brainiac 5 (who is a robot for some reason), Phantom Girl, Timber Wolf and, most bizarrely, Bouncing Boy, who is the comic relief. Cosmic Boy shows up later on, Chameleon Boy becomes a regular in the second series, and there are small appearances from the likes of Colossal Boy, Karate Kid, Ferro Lad, Shrinking Violet and Dream Girl, and cameos from the likes of Sun Boy, Element Lad, Tyroc, Blok and Ultra Boy. There was even an entire episode devoted to the Legion of Substitute Heroes. This was one of the pleasures of the series – the huge cast of the comic book turning up in various disguises. I liked the animation style, even though it had flashes of manga tics in the first series.

It wasn’t all enjoyment, however; the novice Superboy of the first series was a little tiring (although he wasn’t Superboy in the second series, perhaps due to legal reasons). The trouble of having a large cast in a cartoon meant that most of them were fairly one-dimensional. These niggles were small in comparison to the two main problems with the second series: Superman X (or Kell-El) and Imperiex. The ‘crap’ Superman as I dubbed him (or the ‘evil’ Superman as my girlfriend dubbed him) was just plain annoying – a clone of Superman who was immune to kryptonite from the 41st century who was trying to save his time from the villain Imperiex and ended up coming back with the Legion to the 31st century to stop him. Every time he was on screen was pretty painful and his character was just a depressing irritant. But he was a joy compared to the villain of the second season, Imperiex. A bluff, loud, stupid, pointless character with a generic ‘I must take over the universe because that is what I do’ raison d’être, he was the main source of stories and so you couldn’t avoid him. I thought he was an embarrassing and silly villain who made no sense for the series; it was only when I used the power of Wikipedia that I discovered that Imperiex had been created by Jeph Loeb in the Superman comic books, and suddenly everything was made clear.

Despite this abundance of awfulness, I was sad to learn that there were only two seasons of 13 episodes each – the breadth of stories that could be told with the Legion means that we’re missing out on some good cartoons. But I’m used to that living in the UK …

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