Ink & Paint: Is This the Final Countdown for Ben 10?

So, even though I'm mostly a lapsed viewer, I still follow the Ben 10 franchise and want it to do well.  I may have lost interest with Ultimate Alien's mix of pandering to the whinier fans of the original series who miss the flat characterizations & accidental incestuous flirting and threats that are nakedly obvious but treated as though they're terribly nebulous; but the franchise as a whole is likable enough that  wouldn't like to see it end.  It's Dial H for Hero without some of the ickier baggage that franchise gained in the 80s & has never been able to shake, and while the audience participation angle is cute, the alien forms Ben can assume are just so, so much more interesting.  Behind each of those is a whole planet, species, and culture that can be explored, and it opens up a lot of possibility that has occassionally been addressed.

But did you know that there was a new episode today?  And that they'll be another next week?  You might have missed it, since CN gave its prime time slot on Fridays to a Lego tie-in and thinks that aggravatingly mediocre jerk carnivals like Young Justice and Generator Rex are worth more to them than their first original successful action series.  And I'm pretty sure that this past fall skipped the usual marathon on October 10th as well.  Thus, I have been getting the feeling lately that Cartoon Network wants to quickly & quietly wrap up the Ben 10 franchise and consign it to the same oblivion as TRAJQ.  I have a few reasons why, too:

1. The Exile from Prime Time:  This is a big deal.  Fridays have, as of late, become action show night for Cartoon Network.  Taking what had been one of the main Friday series and exiling it to debuting new episodes on early Saturday mornings (which have become a ghost town ratings-wise for any network) is a serious vote of no confidence.  Remember the last series to go from Friday night debuts to random weekend debuts?  Secret Saturdays, what was originally planned to be the cash cow successor to Ben 10; while it had some serious pacing issues, it was not a bad show, but its last season was buried unnannounced on Saturdays and burnt off.  Since we're into the last few episodes of the season, just like Saturdays, I get the feeling that we're seeing a similar burn-off.  CN doesn't believe in giving shows a big send-off, even if they're ones like this that helped shape their identity, so don't be surprised if this is the prelude to a vanishing.

2. No Indication of a Strong Creator Behind the Series Anymore:  When Man of Action introduced the series, they chose action show specialists like Marty Isenberg and Greg Weisman (back before he was replaced by the pod person behind his season of W.I.T.C.H. and Young Justice); when they did the five-year-skip, they gave it to Dwayne McDuffie, hot on the heels of his wonderful animated Justice League run.  There were strong creators with a set idea of what they wanted to do with the Ben 10 universe & how to get there.  Now?  It's been nearly a year since McDuffie died entirely too young, Weisman has been replaced by the evil twin behind YJ, & Isenberg's just kind of vanished (although I'd be surprised if Nick didn't tap him to do their new TMNT series).  I can't think of anyone who could be tapped to replace the Maestro, and while some would push for Peter David, I'd prefer it if the series didn't turn into a sitcom where Gwen's a humorless twat again & Ben's a Ritalin-starved doofus again.  I just don't think he "gets" the series or particularly wants to, but that's his approach to damn near everything & one of the reasons I have a hard time warming to his work.  So there's no one in the wings to keep it focused.

3. Hey, Everyone, We're Out of Good Ideas, So Here's Vilgax Again:  You can only build so much of a superhero's rogues gallery around one central nemesis before he wears out his welcome, no matter what the loud & proud morons in the fandom say.  Not every Batman story should be built around the Joker, not every Spidey story should go back to fighting the Green Goblin on the Brooklyn Bridge, and not every Ben 10 series has to involve Vilgax.  But here he is again, impersonating Cthulu and turning Ben's girlfriend into a shill for a cult built around him.  Blech.  Ghostfreak was a great threat, since he was so ruthless & was an enemy from within; the Hybreed had that great 'master race' dogma and were run by a hideous gaggle of inbred elders, and the fact that they had to be defeated with mercy & kindness instead of a punch in the face was awesome.  The Forever Knights were supposedly building a vast conspiracy around discrediting & destroying Ben, but they seemed to have vanished... except that they have the one weapon that can kill Vilgax forever or something.  It feels like an attempt to bring some closure by bringing him back - that or naked desperation to bring back the "real" villain & cater to the fandom's dimmer quarters yet again (which is how some of the comic examples I gave feel) instead of a legit creative decision.

Cartoon Network is not above screwing over a series that has served it well - there was no send-off for Powerpuff Girls or the Toonami block that was more than a title card, and even current highly acclaimed series like the new Thundercats are shuffled away until (hopefully) the next season.  But the Ben 10 franchise proved that they could make their own action series that weren't revivals of older concepts or translated from other media.  I'd like it to continue, but I get the weirdest feeling that it'll be gone within the next year and a half.  The current Ultimate Alien series has been decidedly hit or miss, but to dismiss a series that helped your network forge its identity without giving it a chance to adapt is incredibly short-sighted - it'd be like Comedy Central dropping The Daily Show after Kilborne left instead of letting it continue & evolve.  But CN is the master of short-term planning when it comes to their network philosophy, and I have the nagging feeling that they'll be killing Ben 10 in the near future without a second thought.

EDIT 4/26/12:  Okay, so this is a classic case of an archetypical fan-geek jumping the gun.  It's not that CN is ending the Ben 10 franchise as that they are ending the current continuity (which, rather nicely, closed out with a dedication to Dwayne McDuffie).  The new series is supposed to start in the fall, supposed to jump between young Ben & teenaged Ben, and supposed to have the original voice cast (which is blighted only by the presence of Meagan "Migraine Helper" Smith & her nasal obnoxiousness).  What worries me are two things: One, it's from the same people behind Scooby Doo Mystery Inc, a show I am apparently alone in finding appalling; if you've decided that the world wants Velma as a thoroughly unpleasant jerk to let the slow kids know she's smart and Shaggy & Scooby as an incredibly dysfunctional gay couple, then I blame you for my suffering.  If you thought Gwen was obnoxious in the original series in their efforts to show she was the smart one, these hacks will make it 100 times worse.  Two, Jesus Christ, look at the art.  The original series had a cute style, the sequel was a bit too stiff, but this is just... gah.  The clips I've seen haven't subjected it to the "cartoon art works better in motion" like other examples (my favorite, the Legion cartoon's promo art was dreadful but worked fine for it once in motion).  Plus, the only "OMG new aliens!" preview we got was something that looked like the designer's kid made a lizard out of Legos.  I want to reserve judgement, but given these factors, I'm not sure the finished product will be the entry in the franchise that helps it realize its potential; if anything, I'm afraid it'll set it back.  And if it were attached to any company other than Cartoon Network, I'd be optimistic about it getting back on track, but I'm really not.


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