Marvel’s Future Avengers and Underutilized Characters

Or: Caroline Gushes About ANOTHER Favorite Anime.....

Having gushed about Marvel’s Avengers: DISK Wars in my previous post here, one must think I have similarly good things to say about the next Avengers anime to come from Japan: Marvel’s Future Avengers. While I do have praise for this series, I also must admit that I find it inferior to DISK Wars. It is nowhere near as poor a show as Avengers Assemble or whatever new animated series Marvel Studios and Disney are producing now, but it is less well presented than DISK Wars.

I say this because Future Avengers follows Marvel Comics’ current unfaithful presentation of its characters. One of the areas where this is most obvious is in the treatment of Hawkeye/Clint Barton. (Yes, I am a Hawkeye fan. Live with it.) Unlike many I find Matt Fraction’s run for Hawkeye to be atrocious as it reduces the archer – who was built up over decades in several solo series which are available here, here, and here at Read Comics Online – to a gag character rather than a hero. Granted, Future Avengers is less disrespectful than Assemble, but it is still not an excellent depiction of the World’s Greatest Marksman. DISK Wars’ handling of Hawkeye was much better, despite the fact that they made him somewhat stiffer than he was portrayed for many years.

This carries over to other parts of Future Avengers as well, including some of the characters. Loki is redeemed in this series, and while I understand Tom Hiddleston won over a lot of viewers, I prefer the straight-up villainy of the trickster god’s original portrayal in the comics. Redeeming Loki just feels disingenuous to this author, as though the writers are not being honest in their interpretation of this archetypical (and truly vile, in many ways) villain.

Adding Ares to the series also bothered me, as I have not seen the character much. I have very little investment in Marvel’s take on the Greek pantheon, since it was not shown in previous animated fare from the company. This version of Ares is also less appealing than that seen in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which to my dying day will probably be the defining depiction of the god of war for me. So his presence in the series simply falls flat and does little for this fan/viewer.

I also missed Pepper. While it would be difficult to pick up from or match her role in DISK Wars, I was hoping we would get to see more of her in this show, too. The general aesthetic for Future Avengers was also off-putting for me, given how imitative it was of Avengers Assemble’s animation style. I much preferred the manga/anime look of DISK Wars. In the end, I could only watch one season of the series.

That being said, Marvel’s Future Avengers shines in its handling of two truly underutilized Marvel heroes and one (at least) mishandled Marvel villain. For those who are curious here is a synopsis of the series:

The series follows Makoto, Adi, and Chloe, three teenagers who have been raised by Hydra to believe that they are being trained to become superheroes and that the Avengers are villains. The three have been genetically modified by Hydra, resulting in each gaining unique superhuman abilities. Upon being sent out on a mission for the first time, Adi and Chloe come to realize Hydra's evil intentions and decide to leave the organization, and get Makoto to join their escape attempt. Makoto becomes the only one who gets away, and he goes to Tony Stark seeking help to save Adi and Chloe. Tony brings in the other Avengers, and with Makoto's help, they succeed in defeating Hydra, liberating Adi and Chloe. Realizing the potential they have, the Avengers decide to take the three in and train them to become superheroes, dubbing the team the "Future Avengers". While training the new recruits, the Avengers also seek to learn more about the "Emerald Rain Project", a dangerous scheme being orchestrated by Hydra and the Masters of Evil, and what connection it has to Makoto. The matter becomes further complicated when Bruno, another genetically-modified teen and also Makoto's former training partner, is manipulated into joining the Masters of Evil's ranks.

One of the storylines I was desperate to see DISK Wars adapt was the Winter Soldier arc. Sadly, that never came to pass, though there were some cameos of a young Bucky Barnes in flashbacks for Cap during the series’ run. However, Ed Brubaker’s genius arc was never translated to the screen for this series.

Marvel’s Future Avengers, on the other hand, does a fantastic job of adapting the Winter Soldier storyline, though it follows the MCU’s lead and makes Barnes an adult rather than a teenager. Forced to be a villain in Avengers Assemble and sidelined in the MCU after Civil War, Bucky gets decent screentime in this anime series. At first a brainwashed and villainous assassin, his memories eventually return and his true personality resurfaces after he confronts Steve Rogers in a tense stand-off, where the captain throws down his weapons.

The best episodes come when the Winter Guard, Russia’s superhero team, takes the Winter Soldier into custody after his memories come back and he truly is Bucky Barnes again. The leader of the Winter Guard, Red Guardian, is ordered by the government to kill the Winter Soldier. Red Guardian is reluctant to murder someone, even a “criminal” like Bucky, but can’t find it within himself to disobey his orders, either. He is prepared to do his duty no matter how distasteful.

Luckily, Steve Rogers intervenes. This is a stroke of fortune for Red Guardian, because there are elements in the Russian government that want the Winter Guard dead as well. With Bucky’s help, the Avengers put a stop to this and the ex-assassin leaves to begin atoning for his past. It’s a beautiful pair of back-to-back episodes and I highly recommend it for Winter Soldier fans.

A word on the Winter Guard is also needed here. Assemble gave Russia’s premiere superheroes some screen time, but it was brief and did little for their characters. Future Avengers developed Red Guardian well, showing his struggle between conscience and duty, as well as his concern for his team. Darkstar, Crimson Dynamo, and Ursa Major were given moments to shine, too.

Of particular note, to this writer, is a scene where Crimson Dynamo and Ursa Major attack a base full of criminals. Ursa Major is called a “stupid bear” by one of the goons, who quickly regrets his thoughtless statement when the angry mutant attacks him. But his words hit a nerve, and Ursa Major falls into a crisis of confidence. “Am I a stupid bear?” he asks Crimson Dynamo.

“Of course not!” the armored Russian hero retorts, a smile in his voice. “You are very smart – like circus bear!”

“You mean it?!” Ursa Major asks, eyes widening hopefully.

I admit, I laughed out loud at that piece of dialogue. It has been a long, long time since I witnessed honest byplay like this in almost any kind of media, readers. If nothing else I have said or will say will convince you to look up the series, that scene should. It is an excellent one to deconstruct, study, learn from, then reconstruct and emulate.

The second character Future Avengers handles well is the Leader. Outside of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and perhaps the 1990s Hulk series, the Leader is treated rather poorly in modern animated series. Hulk’s nemesis tends to be subtle and serious, comically so on occasion. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes made him a credible threat despite his horribly disfigured head and outsized ego, but Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. made him a bit more of a joke than was necessary or proper, given his history.

While he isn’t as convincing in Future Avengers as he is in Heroes, the Leader in this anime is far more plausible as a villain than his counterpart in S.M.A.S.H. His scene in the finale for the first season is truly excellent and lends extra weight to an emotionally resonant climax. All in all, his portrayal here was one of the highlights in the series.

But by far the most astounding utilization of an underused (and presently underwhelming) character is the series’ depiction of Carol Danvers. My jaw hit the floor and stayed there during her first appearance, readers. I only managed to pick it up and put it back in place roughly five episodes later. That is how impressive this revamped version of the character is; the meme below does not lie. In Future Avengers Carol Danvers is pleasant and polite. She smiles frequently during the course of the story, and she does not showboat or browbeat anyone at all in the first season.

Heck, when we first meet her, Carol Danvers is supervising a preschool class. She is mothering a bunch of little kids who can barely write their names and who initially want to hide from the child protégés of the Avengers. Later on in the season, when an old man is knocked down in the mad rush to escape a villain, she helps him up and smiles at him. Then she turns to frown over her shoulder and throw a fireball at the man who sent the elderly gentleman sprawling.

This has to be the best representation of Carol Danvers I have seen yet. Much as I prefer her Ms. Marvel identity to the Captain Marvel one, the fact is that Future Avengers did a stunning job of making her likeable. The difference between her portrayal there and in Assemble is vast, and it is absolutely stark compared to her film debut. If you want to see just what can be done with this presently disagreeable and unlikeable character, you have to check out Future Avengers, readers.

Although Marvel’s Future Avengers is inferior in comparison to its predecessor anime, it is far and away more entertaining than recent Western animated series set in the Marvel multi-verse. I have no qualms whatsoever about recommending this series to fans of the franchise as well as to writers looking to improve their craft. Both will be quite satisfied with the characterization and the story contained herein, I can assure you!

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