While Marvel Comics has dabbled in animation since the mid-60s, it wasn’t until 1999, when they joined forces with Saban International and 20th Century Fox, that the publisher offered up its first animated series based on The Avengers. The series, “The Avengers: United They Stand,” was heavily promoted and much hyped among Marvel and comic based publications. The collective fan response upon its debut on FOX Kids, however, was less than enthusiastic, and even to this day, there’s a relatively middling response to “United They Stand” especially in the face of superior fare like “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”
“The Avengers” (as it was also called) mainly stunk due to two really jarring and obvious drawbacks: the animation was flimsy and licensing issues kept the series from truly embracing its premise. Instead of featuring mainstays like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor or Hulk the show focused on The West Coast Avengers. It was like going to a Beatles reunion and only getting to see Ringo Starr and few of his golfing buddies performing. Sure, it has its appeal, but it’s not the real thing. While we should have gotten a series with the titans of Marvel Comics, we got stuck with Cheetah, Wonder Man and Falcon.
Surely, these characters are all excellent in their own right, but if you’re going to launch a series about The Avengers you begin with the core team that started it all. Much in the way that Bruce Timm accomplished “Justice League” only a year later. Of course there were reasons behind Captain America and the others not appearing in this series, aside from a one episode guest star role. It would seem that, during the late 90s, Marvel was heavily developing their three core characters into their own franchises which all got trapped in development hell for a very long time. The core Avengers that fans actually wanted to see in action were all stuck in limbo for years.
Captain America was being developed in to an animated series that never got off the ground, all the while Thor and Iron Man were gradually being primed for their own films. Ultimately this deadlock culminated with Marvel going bankrupt at the end of the decade and almost closing its doors. To help increase the financial potential of the series a toy line immediately followed, but it only served to further irk longtime fans since the team were outfitted in unnecessary armor during the course of the show. In fact, the armor often served no purpose except to make the toys more appealing. Ant Man’s sleek minimal suit, for example, was layered with shoulder pads, and a large helmet.
Meanwhile Hawkeye was given a confining body suit and a face mask that really contradicted the sleeker more refined archer we were used to. The show may have been a big gamble for Marvel during their brutal financial struggle and their tinkering with (arguably) their greatest superhero team proves it. Creatively and conceptually, “The Avengers: United They Stand” was a bust, at times brutally boring and often appearing haphazardly slapped together. Despite being endorsed by the now defunct Wizard Magazine, and receiving a hard push with merchandising, The Avengers barely lasted a season before fading into obscurity.
Indeed the 90s were a dark time for Marvel, but their regaining of creative control on their intellectual properties helped fuel them in to the blockbuster arena, pegging Marvel superheroes as cultural icons once again.