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Cartoon Renaissance?

By Bert Ehrmann
January 7, 2011

Justice LeagueThe action/adventure TV cartoon once typified by the likes of G.I. Joe and Transformers in the 1980s became something fresh and new with the premiere of Batman: The Animated Series in 1992. That series was followed by one based in the character Superman in 1996, a future version of Batman with Batman Beyond in 1999 and a series based on the Justice League characters in 2001.

Lasting nearly a decade, this series of cartoons would redefine the what was possible with what was once thought of as medium strictly for kids. When the finale of Justice League, since retitled Justice League Unlimited, aired in 2006 I was all but certain there would be some sort of interesting cartoon series that would shortly come along to fill the void.

Except that didn't quite happen as quickly as I thought it would.

To be sure, in the years since the end of Justice League Warner Brothers, who had produced those cartoons, released a series of direct to DVD movies based the characters of DC Comics. Still, no matter how good these movies might have been they could never explore characters like a long running TV series can.

Sym-Bionic Titan

It took a while but seems as if my prayers for a new quality cartoon series had been answered since last year saw the debut of not one but three interesting TV cartoons, the first being Sym-Bionic Titan on Cartoon Network.

Sym-Bionic TitanTitan follows two teens Lance and Ilana and robot Octus who arrive on Earth and on the run from evil General Mondula who has taken over their home planet. The three must face gigantic beasts sent to the Earth by Mondula as well as a secret government agency that's hunting these aliens hiding out in America. But, worst of all, the teens must suffer through the rigors of high school as they hide out in suburbia.

Utilizing their advanced technology Lance, Ilana and Octus have the ability to form together into the gigantic robot "Titan" when doing battle with Mondula's beasts. Think Star Wars mixed with old-school Voltron meets Sixteen Candles and you're close to what makes Titan great.

Young Justice

Another series I'm excited about on Cartoon Network is Young Justice. Premiering as a movie of the week last November and set to launch as a full series this month, Young Justice follows the exploits of a group of sidekick characters to other major characters; Robin to Batman, Kid Flash to Flash, and Aqualad to Aquaman and follows them as they tire of being in the shadow of their more famous counterparts and want to move out on their own.

The Young Justice movie never portrayed the sidekicks as kids but instead placed them in the interesting netherworld of being teens who are still dependent on adults but who are slowly becoming independent. Throw in a cloned and younger version of Superman, Superboy, who doesn't have the experience, powers or even-tempered patience of his more famous gene donor and Young Justice has got one of the best premises on TV.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, on Disney XD, is a series that's more directed at kids than either Titan or Young Justice but is still very entertaining. Based on the Marvel Comics characters of the same name, The Avengers follows the core group of the team; namely Iron Man, The Wasp, Thor, Ant Man, Captain America and the Hulk and their exploits in trying to round up a mass of super-villains recently escaped from several prisons.

From what I've seen, The Avengers is updating the original comic stories a bit but is actually quite close in tone and nature of the original stories. While it could be argued that The Avengers cartoon is little more than an extended commercial to the upcoming The Avengers, Captain America, Thor and Iron Man live action films, I'd argue that The Avengers is actually a different thing entirely with more story and characterization than a movie could fit into its relatively short running time.

Sym-Bionic Titan airs Friday nights at 9:30 and The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes Sunday mornings at 10. The Young Justice series premiers this Friday night (1/7) at 7.