Welcome to Saturday Morning Cartoons, our ongoing column where we continue the animation-centric ritual of yesteryear. We may no longer schedule our lives around small screen programming, but that doesn’t mean we should forget the necessary sanctuary of Saturday ‘toons. In this entry, 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 smashed a home run with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, but the interconnected universe was far from a sure thing after the base hit and the bunt that were The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 (some may call them whiffs 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 side-eyeing Black Widow’s awkward franchise insertion.
However, if you were paying attention to Disney XD at the time, you were very aware of superhero cinema’s potential for delivering a wild and vast cosmic playground. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes launched as a 20-part micro-series similar to Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars. Eventually, Disney cobbled those early bursts into five episodes and used them to kickstart two jam-packed superhero seasons.
DC Animation tends to get the most love, while Marvel cartoon nostalgia is usually strictly reserved for the 90s X-Men animated series. Of course, I love me some marvelous merry mutants, but if we’re looking for a serious contender from across the aisle to go against Batman: The Animated Series, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is your best bet.
The initial first few episodes establish 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 tumbles into the fold as well as Black Panther, Vision, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain Marvel, Iron Fist, the Fantastic Four, and on and on and on. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes adapted the classic and the not-so-classic comic book storylines. Using a formula perfected by the MCU, the cartoon kept what they liked about the comics and adapted the tales to fit their purposes.
Countless times while watching the series, I would shout, “Do this. Make these ‘toons into movies.” And, apparently, Kevin Feige heard my screams. Soon Guardians of the Galaxy would arrive, and then Black Panther and Captain Marvel. Digging into The Avengers cartoon, you can see the skeletons of MCU events currently on the horizon. Kang the Conqueror is here. M.O.D.O.K. is here. The Multiverse is here. Secret Invasion is here.
The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is streaming on Disney+. Don’t let it sit there. Jump on your remote and bash that play button. And if you’re looking for a good place to start, well, don’t fret. That’s why you clicked the link. Below you’ll find the 10 best episodes from both seasons. You’ll recognize some storylines, and others will have your brain sizzling for what’s to come.
10. “Meet Captain America”
Kang the Conqueror observes from outside time and space. All of reality is starting to crumble, and he’s determined that this chronal apocalypse begins with Captain America. The time-traveling madman peers backward along the timestream, observing the earliest battles waged by Steve Rogers. We witness Captain America and Bucky Barnes leading a beachhead invasion against the Red Skull’s Hydra castle. Fighting alongside the Howling Commandos and the man who will one day become Wolverine, Cap and Bucky bring the pain to the Nazi scientist. In the process, the two soldiers fall into the ice, where they’ll be frozen for decades before remerging in the mid-aughts. It’s a rousing sacrifice, but one that troubles Kang profoundly. The Conqueror will have to intervene later on down the season.
9. “Hail, Hydra!”
Two terrorist organizations battle each other in a terrifying scramble to obtain the Cosmic Cube (known as the Tesseract, or Space Stone, in the MCU). While the Red Skull’s Hydra and M.O.D.O.K.’s A.I.M. trade shots with each other, the Black Widow sells them both out to the Avengers. Together, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes crush the two nefarious institutions. And the victory astonishes Captain America. He spent most of World War II trying to stamp out the Skull, and in one afternoon, the Avengers accomplish what he never could. Going forward, Steve Rogers swears allegiance to these strange heroes.
8. “Behold the Vision!”
The Avengers are in pieces. Their last mission nearly saw their defeat and the Earth imprisoned by an invading alien force. With most of the team not on speaking terms, an enraged Ultron attempts another strike against his makers. This time, he builds Vision as his surrogate weapon. On a mission to collect Vibranium, the Synthezoid man-child clashes with the Avengers in Wakanda. The episode is mostly brutal fisticuffs, punctuated by Thor smashing his hammer upon an unfeeling Vision. We know the robot will one day join the team, but spending so much time with Vision as the villain tightens the tragedy built into his creation. The version we got in Age of Ultron calculated “the right side” quickly, whereas this poor creature struggles to understand his purpose. His path is a long one strung together by multiple failures.
7. “Welcome to the Kree Empire”
The Kree lay claim on 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 last confrontation, and she walked away from the fight tougher than her opponent. She dubs herself “Ms. Marvel” and nearly decimates the interloping army. Inspired by her strength, Captain Marvel eventually sides with Carol aiding her brawl with Ronan the Accuser. They win, but the Kree will be back, and when they return, they will do so with a force ten times as massive as anything Earth can supply. And, um, yeah, the Skrulls are too happy to take advantage of this impending armageddon.
6. “The Private War of Doctor Doom”
While Tony Stark of the Avengers and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four scratch their heads regarding the strange temporal anomalies they detected during the first season, Doctor Doom launches an attack against both teams. This is another action-heavy episode, but its climax is an incredible reveal, showcasing Doom’s intelligence. Stark and Richards are two big brains, but they can’t see the trouble on the horizon. Kang, the Kree, the Skrulls – these baddies are not one-time threats. Their attacks did not cease when the episodes concluded. One invasion hides a much larger, secret invasion. Reed’s teammates are not actually his teammates. Skrulls slink in every shadow.