“The Avengers” (due out on Blu-ray/DVD Sept. 25) and “The Dark Knight Rises” are fine examples of what can be done within the superhero genre provided you have the right script, cast and budget. Even “The Amazing Spider-Man” fared well, as far as audiences (and the box office) were concerned.
But a strong case can be made that the best superhero tales are on TV, not the big screen. And it usually comes in the form of animation.
A live action adaptation of a comic book has to go through quite a few iterations before it’s actually ready for prime time. Makeup, wardrobe, casting, and budgetary concerns, make live action superhero movies rather complicated, at least from a production standpoint.
Animation is driven by pure imagination and stellar voice acting. There’s no worrying about the right cloth or making something look “realistic.” Animation can be as cartoony as the subject needs, realistic, or somewhere in between. And thanks to 3D animation, the field is expanding.
Too often, many critics are using the phrase “a comic book come to life,” in reference to big screen adaptations, but animation is the true heir apparent to comics. They are, of course, distant cousins.
Following is a list of must-see animation that rivals the live action tales of our favorite superheroes.
DC Nation and beyond
When it comes to cinema, Marvel is the behemoth to beat, but in animation, DC Comics characters are more fully realized and better suited to the medium. The list starts with “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Justice League,” “Justice League Unlimited,” “Batman Beyond,” and continues today with “Young Justice” and the DC Nation shorts on Cartoon Network. DC Animation’s direct-to-DVD superhero films are not only feature length, but as impressive as any live action production.
They’ve had some good ones, such as the ’90s “X-Men,” “Spider-Man,” and “The Incredible Hulk,” but the real standouts from Marvel animation doesn’t even originate from America: it’s made in Japan. The Anime inspired remixes airing on G4 network took the original Marvel concepts and ramped them up – very loud. “Marvel Anime: X-Men,” “Marvel Anime: Blade” and “Marvel Anime: Wolverine” are wonderfully imaginative tone poems to these familiar Marvel superheroes. In fact, this was just what Marvel needed on the animation front. Anime is as close to live action as you can get, so it blended quite well despite the “Americana” of the source material. In addition, animation companies in Singapore also believe that Marvel has a lot of potential films for animation. With all the amazing storyline, characters, settings, concepts, everything is perfect for animation.
Ben 10: Alien Force and Ultimate Alien
Let’s exclude the latest incarnation, “Ben 10: Omniverse,” which seems to have shifted artistic direction, and focus on the best of the series, “Ben 10: Alien Force” and “Ben 10: Ultimate Alien.” Both shows followed the exploits of Ben Tennyson, Gwen Tennyson and Kevin Levin as they fought all manner of intergalactic terror on and off-world. Ben, the typical teenager, with all the problems of a teenage boy, but with the responsibility of defending the universe, is one of most charismatic characters in American animation. Cartoon Network attempted several live action “Ben 10” movies that were actually true to the character, though lacked that wow factor, given a made-for-TV budget.