Marvel’s Avengers: DISK Wars and Boys’ Adventure

Or: Caroline Gushes About a Favorite Anime

I have not mentioned DISK Wars very often on my site, primarily because given half a chance, I will unapologetically gush about it. The series is good, though some Marvel fans may find it a touch over-the-top due to the fact that it follows the shonen storytelling format. For some, the style of animation may also be displeasing.

That being said, DISK Wars has much to offer aspiring writers as well as Marvel fans. For those who missed my mention of it on the Sunday Superversive Livestream with Anthony Marchetta, here is the blurb for the series:

With help from Japan's Dr. Nozomu Akatsuki, Iron Man develops a new device called the Digital Identity Securement Kit, known as DISKs for short, designed to help the cause of stopping and detaining villains. However, whilst presenting the DISK project on the Raft, the villainous Loki appears and uses the very same DISKs to launch a breakout of all the captured villains, trapping Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Wasp inside DISKs as well. Nozomu's sons, Akira and Hikaru, along with three other children, Edward, Chris, and Jessica, come to possess these DISKs and obtain biocodes, allowing them to bring out these superheroes for a short period of time. Teaming up with the Avengers, the group travel across the world to search for DISKs before they fall into the wrong hands.

Anime fans can see the shonen influence immediately: The children are roped into an adult battle by circumstance and begin a world-spanning adventure to save Earth. They have superheroes in their pockets, one might say, and must live something of a covert life in order to do their jobs. In this way, they are a little like superheroes themselves, which makes them akin to Western heroes in similar stories rather than straight-up shonen protagonists. Another oddity is that their “powers” are a combination of technology and biology, rather than pure magic abilities or technological gadgets.

For the curious, three of the children in this series are Westerners. Two of them – Chris and Ed – are named for actors who portrayed Captain America and the Hulk: Chris Evans and Edward Norton. Ed resembles Bruce Banner, being the youngest and weakest child on the team, as well as the most fearful. Meanwhile Chris is a more reluctant “bad boy” who puts on the appearance of not caring about the world because he hasn’t yet decided what he wants to do with his life. And he does not appreciate anyone pushing him to figure it out quickly.

Jessica is self-absorbed, naïve, and somewhat abrasive. A rich girl who doesn’t mind tossing her parents’ money around, her attitude scandalizes all four boys, who wonder how wealthy she must be to have such a blasé approach to finances. Although not humbled specifically in the course of the story, Jessica does learn her lessons and becomes less selfish as the series progresses.

Akira and his older brother Hikaru are Japanese and somewhat typical of shonen characters. The younger Akatsuki boy is hyperactive and tends to leap before he looks. He bulldozes through obstacles with sheer determination and a smile. Hikaru is quieter and more relaxed, acting as something of a foil for his baby brother, though he also mothers him quite a bit. If he thinks Akira is in danger Hikaru will move heaven and earth to keep him safe, but for the most part he is mild-mannered and calmer than the younger boy.

This combination of story tropes would not seem to fit well together. At least, if it were tried in the United States, it would be laden with clichés and unbearably heavy messaging. These would not be the types of messages which one found at the end of the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or the later Rescue Heroes series, either. The type of morality tale found in cartoons such as the original Thundercats and Transformers series, where the maxim was part of the story and became something that the characters discussed among themselves in order to move forward, has stopped being the fashion in the West at present.

DISK Wars is a breath of fresh air on that point. For those who are not familiar with the Japanese word shonen, it is the name for a genre of Japanese entertainment typically aimed at boys in the 12-18 age demographic. It is the Oriental equivalent of Boys’ Adventure Fiction, a genre that is all but dead here in the Occident. Modern Western tales today focus more on female empowerment, such as it is, and less on catering to their audience. I, for one, have not been able to find any recent Western cartoons or even books which oblige this demographic – and I have been looking.

Yes, I like men’s entertainment as much as (if not more than) that aimed at women. And that means I find most present-day Western stories – such as the latest He-Man reboots – utterly abominable. They treat men as if they were either bumbling idiots or criminals. Some portray them as both. All the while they “build up” the female characters by making them more manly than the actual male heroes. Strangely enough (my tongue is firmly in cheek) this does not succeed in making the characters interesting or even worth watching, as it forces both male and female members of the cast into false personas that do less than the fleshed-out archetypes of yore.

This is where we come to the truly gushy part of this post, readers. I love Marvel’s Avengers: DISK Wars because it is unabashedly a male-oriented series meant primarily for a male audience. This was Marvel’s original target demographic as well; Literature Devil has an entire video explaining that comics were intended for men, and why this is so. Men like action, and comics are a medium that portrays active characters well. Superheroes, likewise, are meant to take action. They are not meant to fumble around and behave like frat boys who are blowing off studying for their upcoming exams just to have a good time and “learn a life lesson” so they can ace the test at the last moment.

Disney’s Avengers Assemble cartoon filled the secondary role more than the first. It had the Avengers behaving out of their traditional parameters; for instance, Captain America was stereotypically stiff and full of platitudes (not to mention the butt of bad old fogey jokes). Hawkeye was a goofy frat boy rather than a jerk with a heart of gold. Iron Man was the true hero and leader of the Avengers who somehow never could stop being arrogant for more than an episode or two. Hulk was a big green teddy bear, and one too many cracks about royalty and protocol were made about, by, and for Thor – who was also portrayed as a bumbling idiot incapable of navigating the modern world. Falcon probably received the worst treatment as he was turned into a seventeen-year-old prodigy who was Iron Man’s protégé rather than Cap’s, a reversal from the comics which should not have occurred.

Granted, no transliteration of any written or illustrated story to film will ever be perfect. And Marvel has, throughout its history, tweaked its universe or characters to better fit into a new television series. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends introduced Angelica Jones/Firestar to the franchise, but the only model the animators had for her was one of Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man’s love interest. This made it a little confusing when she first appeared and it is an oddity fans still comment upon. X-Men: Evolution made several famous alterations to the X-Men canon to tell its story. These were either effective changes that helped the story, or they were harmless modifications to the characters and their environment.

From this it should be clear that the fact that there were alterations made to the characters in Assemble is not the problem. The problem is the types of alterations and how they were made. They were not respectful to the audience, whether those viewers were new to the Marvel multi-verse or old hands searching for another venue in which to enjoy their favorite characters. Marvel fans came to Assemble expecting a fresh look at favorite characters that respected the material built up by those who had come before them, something we received with Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, X-Men: Evolution, and – more recently at the time – Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Although some episodes in Assemble were good, they were not as good as they could have been if the writers had taken the material seriously. To date, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes remains the best animated appearance of the Avengers on the small screen.

DISK Wars did not have that issue. Yes, the series made changes – Hawkeye was a young Falcon’s mentor rather than Cap. The Avengers were all trapped in DISKs and needed kids to help them fight. They were based out of Japan rather than New York City due to the Superhero Registration Act. Cap was still a touch too stiff – and so on and so forth.

In the end, though, these changes matter little. They even enhance the story, giving fans familiar with the Marvel multi-verse a view of a recognizable landscape through a new lens. Despite the alterations, the Avengers are still the Avengers. Hulk is the not-so-Jolly Green Giant who needs time to warm up to his weak charge. Cap is haunted by the loss of his previous young partner, Bucky, and must learn to see the differences between him and Chris. Iron Man has to learn responsibility caring for his hot-headed shonen partner, while Thor possesses the inherent dignity and gravity of a prince and heir to the throne, making him a perfect partner for the mild-mannered Hikaru.

Wasp, who began her career as an Avenger in a position similar to Jessica, has by this time gained the wisdom and experience to guide her young compatriot to a better understanding of life. Black Panther, Power Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Wolverine, Doctor Strange, and many other Marvel heroes are given their day in the sun as well. They are the heroes we have known and loved since Stan Lee and his fellow writers introduced them to us in the 1960s, with a few modifications to better fit the narrative told from the position of a culture different from our own.

Likewise, the villains are the villains we have come to enjoy despising over the years. DISK Wars’ Loki is the Loki of myth and of the comics; an irredeemable prince of lies and deception. The Red Skull is the embodiment of the worst humanity has to offer, while MODOK remains dangerous despite being utterly ridiculous. (One of the lesser villains refers to him as a “pumpkin chariot” after the one seen in Cinderella, to which the obviously pumpkin-shaped MODOK screams: “I am not a pumpkin!”) Ronan the Accuser, although he only appears briefly, is a credible threat who cannot be defeated by a simple dance-off. Minor villains such as Crossbones and Mystique also make appearances in keeping with their traditional portrayals.

I cannot end this post without adding a word regarding Pepper Potts. Sold short in the MCU due to Gwyneth Paltrow leaving the films after her contract expired, necessitating (for some reason) her removal from Avengers Assemble, Pepper is given ample room to shine once more in DISK Wars. The series plays to the full scope of her talents as the CEO/head of Stark Industries without skimping on or sacrificing her romance with Tony Stark. It also allows her to become a more interesting character by giving her the role of mother to the five children partnered with the Avengers, a job at which she excels and is far more memorable than her position as a businesswoman or Tony’s long-suffering girlfriend. I cannot think of a better depiction of the character in modern media, and hers has to be one of my favorite portrayals in this series.

That, too, is another area where DISK Wars shines. Like any Boys’ Adventure story, shonen manga and anime are meant to follow the transition from boyhood to manhood and to encourage the target audience to become respectable young men. This aim of the genre dovetails neatly with Marvel Comics, which had as its original main goal the entertainment of young male readers they hoped to inspire to be worthy men. The natural give-and-take, the familiar back-and-forth, between the Avengers and their partners in this series speaks to the transmission of wisdom and love that passes from an older generation to the younger one. And it does so in a poignant manner which few Western series of the last two decades (at least) can boast of doing.

I hope you enjoyed this post, readers. If you did, then be sure to subscribe to my Substack and/or my blog, www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com, for more. Be sure to check out my published stories through this Amazon Affiliate link as well, and stay tuned for more to come. There is a lot more in the works, and you do not want to miss it! :D