WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Season 1 of Hit-Monkey, now streaming on Hulu.
A series called Hit-Monkey is bound to be unique, and what the Hulu series presents is what it says right on the tin. The Marvel show depicts a monkey's journey to becoming a hitman in an animated action-comedy with a setup unlike any show before. And yet even still, the series has further surprises for viewers who delve into it. But what proves to be most surprising of all is Hit-Monkey's sense of style and aesthetic that far exceeds any Marvel show before.
Hit-Monkey is so stylish that it almost does not feel like a Marvel production, as the shows and movies adapting the expansive stable of superheroic characters rarely needs to experiment in order to draw viewers into its premise. With a few exceptions, Marvel rarely produces stylish adaptations at all, and Hit-Monkey comes as a refreshing change of pace that could have a brilliant domino effect.
From its premise to its execution, Hit-Monkey feels unique and inventive. Certain stylistic aspects are a necessity of its setup, as the use of ghosts and communication among animals presents creative boundaries that creators instead utilize as opportunities. When the hitman Bryce dies and returns as a ghost, the animators give him a greenish hue, and each time the "rules" of his supernatural existence are presented he flashes red and shutters out of existence for a moment, providing visual cues to the significance of his "leash" to Hit-Monkey or how salt affects him. Rather than merely using subtitles whenever animals speak, the animators maintain the comic book roots of the series by using stylized caption boxes and colored fonts to communicate the emotion behind the dialogue.
These are small, but immediately apparent and consistent examples of what the show does to elevate its material beyond the bare necessities of telling its story. There are even bolder choices the animation utilizes as the series unfolds. Shifts in color through a filter communicate flashbacks and emotional tones valuable to understanding the thoughts and feelings of a protagonist who seldom speaks, stylized montages of silhouettes punctuate action to give certain beats extra emphasis, and occasionally whole sequences will roll by with a shift in animated style that turns even mundane story progression into an engaging visual. In this way, just beating a bad guy at a hand of poker becomes both singular and efficient in getting Hit-Monkey's story across. Few Marvel shows do this.
In terms of animated adaptations, Marvel has a long history of cartoons that are amazing in their own right, but none ever pushed the boundaries of their animation's creativity like Hit-Monkey. Early installments like The Marvel Super Heroes did little more than make pages from the comics move, and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends set the standard for putting the focus on basically everything else about the show besides the animation. Even the 1990s' X-Men and Spider-Man toed the line of their stylistic precedent, and as amazing as The Spectacular Spider-Man or Earth's Mightiest Heroes were, there are few who exalt the animation as groundbreaking.
The same lack of emphasis stays true even in live-action, where the titanic success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe manages to produce high-quality content that nevertheless plays it safe where style and aesthetic are concerned. Forays into experimental style like Doctor Strange often earn acclaim, and more recently WandaVision proved that MCU projects could span a range of imaginative aesthetic blends to tremendous reception. And yet, at the same time, these instances prove to be the exception rather than the rule. The Disney+ series that followed, Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki, were returns to the standard formula that looked much the same as their predecessors. The success of Hit-Monkey may not only prove Marvel should take more risks, but that such risks are even more perfect in an animated project targeted at adult audiences.
The safe and familiar stop-motion of Hulu's M.O.D.O.K. and the head-scratching bloodlessness of What If...? -- even in spite of zombies and bisections -- both lack in the boundary-pushing boldness of Hit-Monkey. The show's violence and language place it firmly in the adult demographic, and the inventive animation seems to reflect just how seriously the creators are willing to take their audience as a result. Marvel would do well to target future animated projects at mature audiences, but the lessons in style the Hulu series offers is one that should carry over across the board.
In order for the MCU to feel as fresh now as it did over a decade ago, it needs to continue giving audiences a unique experience. From top to bottom, Hit-Monkey represents uniqueness at its best. The monkey bar has never been set so high.
To see more of Hit-Monkey's connections to the larger Marvel Universe, the first season is now streaming on Hulu.
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