Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hero Up!

I have been a big supporter of Hasbro's Super Hero Squad toy line since it launched. An extension of the super-cute Star Wars Galactic Heroes figures and the gateway to additional expansions in the same style featuring assorted awesome from my childhood--Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe, Transformers--conveniently being reintroduced to a new generation's childhood, the Squad figures have been a hit, wave after wave for what seems to be at least a dozen waves now.

My daughter only just reached the age where I can give her little figurines like these, so the target of my geeky good will has been my nephew, for whom I've been buying Squad figures since the first set. He's swayed a little more toward the Star Wars set, but the kid has definitely got a little Marvel running through his veins thanks to Uncle Matt. Here he is with my girl Alexa to prove the point:

And here's a sampling of his collection of "guys"--an admittedly mixed lot, featuring more than just Squad toys, but still, you get it:

So I was excited for Mason as much as for myself when I heard that Marvel was putting together an animated series featuring the Super Hero Squad, and the show premiered last night on the Cartoon Network!

Of course, going into the show, I was worried. Marvel's attempt at a Squad comic book has been pretty miserable...a brutish, low brow version of the super cute characters, not particularly clever in the comedy and actually a little less adorable as a result. And the little bit I've seen about the upcoming Squad video game looks like it's just a lot of punching and shooting. Clearly, where I thought Marvel was hoping to appeal to toddler boys and girls who prefer soft and cuddly, the House of Ideas had the idea to focus solely on luring hyperactive, bratty boys away from pulling the heads off of their sisters' Barbies and gnawing the fur off of their Elmo dolls. My expectations for the cartoon were not high at all.

But as usual, lowering the bar allowed me to enjoy the show for what it was--a noisy mess about toys for boys. The show is definitely in line with the punch-em kick-em aesthetic of the comic and game, with a relentless packing of action into every possible second of the show. Hyperkinetic is an understatement for this show. BUT if you roll with it, give in to the mayhem--which I'd imagine would be easy for the average prepubescent boy wired on a bowl of Saturday morning cereal or a weeknight after dinner snack--there IS fun to be had. The writers manage to play just the right notes with characters ripe for comedy like Captain America (played as an over eager pit boss/excitable grampa), Silver Surfer (played as a new age surfer dude), and Thor (played as classic 80s Thor to the mosteth ridiculouseth of thine extremes). The Hulk stuff is predictable and tired for the most part, but even he earns a chuckle or two.

If my brother and sister-in-law think they can keep him in line afterward, I think my nephew would eat this show up. He'll probably try to run through his bedroom wall after watching, though, because the show will fill his brain with crazy--it's like cartoon crack.

I wish there were more about this show that might appeal to girls in a positive, productive way, mainly for the sake of my daughter, but also because it seems like a wasted opportunity for Marvel to reach a wider audience. The only female character of note in the series so far (they showed two full episodes) is Ms. Marvel, who is portrayed as a shrill, bossy, nagging buzzkill. If they can bring in Kitty Pryde or Rogue or Spider-Woman into the fold and strike a better balance between the chaos and the comedy, the show will have a better chance of succeeding with the My Little Pony crowd (or a better chance of being watched by me and my girl, at least).

There's room for improvement--a lot of room--but there's no denying the show is fun. Big, dumb, noisy fun. For now, I'm willing to give it another try next week, but I'm not convinced it needs to be added to the DVR queue just yet.

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