Reviews: “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!”
“Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!”
Channel: Disney XD
Last night, Marvel Comics fans were tuning into the premiere of the newest Marvel Entertainment animated series, “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!” Was the pilot worth an hour of our time? Does the series have the potential to contend with previous shows (like the recently cancelled but greatly written “Spectacular Spider-man”)? Or–more importantly– does the show contend with rival company DC’s longlasting and much beloved series “Justice League”?
The premise of the show is a simple one. Very simple.
The plot, one that has been used in various ways in the past, goes a little something like this: there are 3–no wait, scratch that, 4 huge Marvel prisons (the last one is super secret!) that house the most dangerous super beings on the planet. Someone let’s them out, and now it’s up to SHIELD and some of Earth’s mightiest heroes, to try and collect them all.
We’ve seen this set-up before: It’s been used in TV shows like “Brimstone” (a personal old favorite of mine), to “the 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo”(I miss the animated Vincent Price). But nevertheless, it’s a direction that works for this show, and definitely works as a palpable threat for the heroes to unite.
In “Breakout”, one of these villains is not only horrifically powerful, but also a result of Nick Fury–director of SHEILD–and his mysterious past.
Here’s the truth at hand: at best, “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” is an amalgam of various ideas on how to tackle Marvel ‘s characters. But to its credit, it chooses some of the better ideas, creating something fun, familiar and easy to follow, if not entirely unique.
For example, the premise of the show is a nod to Brian Michael Bendis’ opening run on “New Avengers”, where superpowered villains are broken out of prison, and the gathered heroes band together as, well, a New Avengers group, to hunt them down and stop them. Another example is Nick Fury and SHEILD, who are shown in a flashback attempting to create supersoldiers as a successor to the program that created Captain America in WWII, a concept borrowed from Mark Millar’s “Ultimates” volumes. One last example, in a smaller sense, is the use of longtime Ironman supporting character, Jarvis, as an AI inside Tony Stark’s suit, identical to the movie, instead of being Tony’s butler.
But in all cases these are good choices: Bendis’ New Avengers concept gave it an otherwise motley crew an immediate cohesion and simple idea; Millar’s idea unified not only the creation of many superheroes in a realistic and believeable way, but later was used to unite the conception of every superpowered person in the Ultimate Universe; and really, would a modern multi-billionaire inventor have a old, fat butler? In this day and age, with fans like us, it was either going to be AI Jarvis or monkey butler Jarvis. And, thankfully, more times than not the show takes its largest influence from the comics, the only true source material for most comics loyalists.
This is where the pilot truly shines: the fan-service in delivering characters. Marvel was smart in seeing perhaps what DC did with “Justice League” (and more specifically what DC did with the later seasons, in “Justice League Unlimited”) in staying true to the comics lore, or at least staying in tune with the mythos. Pepper Potts and Jane Foster (Ironman and Thor’s love interests, respectively) make appearances; Doc Samson makes an appearance, later gamma irradiated and even sporting his current comics symbol; SHEILD’s operatives include not only Fury but Maria Hill, among others (though I’m a little disappointed that Dum Dum Dugan wasn’t around). Prison inmates included everyone from the Red Ghost to the Abomination, from Crimson Dynamo to even Hawkeye (perhaps the best nod to the comics continuity). Best of all, other things come into play too, like a very old school Nick Fury tactic that made me smile when I saw it.
But what importance do any of these elements have if the main characters, the Avengers, aren’t engaging? It’s not like they could do an hour of a montage or slideshow of fan-favorite Marvel characters. True viewers want a good story and intrguing characters–and this is where “Avengers” has its biggest obstacle–the main characters.
The Main Characters:
Understandably, this is the pilot and pilots often only show the potential of the show, not the full polished experience. But sometimes it shows what could be a possible problem very early on, something that needs to be weeded out–before the entire garden gets spoiled. While it was amazing to see so many characters at once, ultimately it gives less screentime to the priority characters to be focused on, causing the creators to rely on bland, 2-dimensional caricatures to try and flesh them out, making comic characters as flat as the page they were originally drawn on.
Take the episode’s main villain, for example. Graviton breaks loose, and before long viewers find out that he has connections to SHEILD, and blames them for his condition. And this is what doesn’t make sense: he’s angry, he’s furious, he’s causing a ruckus, because’s he’s upset about his condition. And what is his condition? He has awesome super powers. He controls gravity and he’s immensely powerful. Worse, the flashbacks that detail his change do not depict him going through any huge trauma, being scarred, or anything: he goes into a light coma, wakes up, and has superpowers. Then he goes on a rampage.
Perhaps he slept through his best friend’s wedding. Perhaps he missed the superbowl. Perhaps he’s mad because McDonalds brought back the McRib sandwich and now it’s gone again. Whatever his problem is, it isn’t properly addressed, and instead viewers are left to see a whiny kid in a supervillain’s body going through a power trip and declaring how he wants to get revenge by ruling the world… and reminding us every 5 minutes that he has “the power of the universe”.
If I had those powers… well, let’s not go there.
Out of the heroes, not much of them truly stand out, although Tony Stark is definitely the lead hero we follow for most of the episode. Tony is partially true to comics form: he has tensions with SHEILD, who want to use his technology for weapons creation, and he’s responsible. But the most important part–fun part of Tony– is gone. He’s not the charming, rich, super intelligent alcholic that Robert Downey Jr. has made us love the last few years. Instead, he’s a pale looking man with an annoying voice, completely devoid of any real allure besides a few jokes and quips delivered haphazardly during the show. Perhaps the producers wanted to stray away from the movie universe, but Downey’s portrayal is something that works. Otherwise, who would care about going to the movies to see Ironman? Before his current run in the comics, no one really cared about him anyway.
Thor is typical Thor, with some good typical fight scenes and with some actual character development being set up. The aforementioned Jane Foster and he have a scene where they talk about their connection, and, as Jane puts it, Thor’s “daddy issues, thus reverting Thor to the equivalent of an angsty and rebellious teenager, yet at least creating some kind of dynamic. It gives Thor a reason to be away from Asgard and the episode sets up the inevitably possibility of an attack on his home.
Ant-Man/Giant Man and the Wasp are… well, pretty much the bottom rung of the group, but who didn’t expect that? Ant-Man proved to be pretty useless for much of the show, and really didn’t have any awe-inspiring scenes. The Wasp, on the other hand, was the more fun of the two, being spunky and doing more damage in the later Graviton fight with her “stingers” (though along with annoying sound effect) than Ant-Man and his incredibly boring power to shrink and sometimes–only sometimes–get big.
Nick Fury was how he should be. Don’t get me wrong: not much new done with him yet, but something the writers did great was make he and Maria Hill have this unspoken tension that was neither sexual or necessarily competitive, but just a “two people who don’t get along but do have the best intentions for their work and must get along to do it” kind of thing, and I can’t wait to see that get stronger as time goes on, hopefully culminating in an uneasy but mutual trust after some particular threat that forces them to work closely together. In fact, you read it here, I predict that will happen eventually, probably in the latter parts of Season 1 or in Season 2 (if I win, you all owe me 50 bucks).
This brings us to the Hulk. Out of all of the characters, I am surprised to say that the Hulk had the best writing, and that to me he easily stole the show at certain times. He isn’t the really, really stupid savage Hulk, or ridiculously smart professor Hulk, but rather the original Hulk we see in the first Avengers tale, who can actually make a sentence (granted, not anything an English professor would approve of) and who can talk smack when necessary, with a well timed retort. A great example is when the Hulk comes in directly after Graviton uses one of his famous lines, and leads to an epic battle.
Speaking of epic battles, his action scenes were pretty great. There is a particular part where Graviton is really pouring on some powerful gravity mojo, and really tearing the place up. But the Hulk resists and continues to battle on in a spectacular fight that really makes the Hulk the number one hero to care about by the end. Along with a scene that uses a well-worn but appropriate device to show the inner conflict between the Hulk and Banner personalities, and the conclusion that we get from that scene, I’m really curious as to how well he will be handled in future installments.
One thing–noticeably absent is Captain America, though there is an allusion to him. I’m surprised they didn’t try to squeeze him in, but they wisely chose to put him off for a later episode, which is not only smart but accurate to the comics continuity.
The Final Word:
Despite all that I criticized, this was still a great premiere. The threat is real, is substantial, and we can see it. Villains working together is a popular idea being used a lot lately. In Marvel comics there has been a lot of focus on the Hood and his crew, and Osborn’s use of HAMMER to legally oppose heroes. In DC the Secret Society have been a big threat, and for many years now the Rogues (villains of the Flash) have been working together cohesively for many plans. I mean, if the heroes can do it, why can’t they? “Avengers” shows that none of the heroes could singlehandedly take on a group of villains. Graviton actually boasts about how great his power is at making things go up and down, and he actually proceeds to do both. With these kind of enemies, the heroes need some kind of help to make it through, be it a green fist, a mystic hammer, or even a purple arrow…
And while having so many characters in a small arc may have been detrimental for character development, we can be comfortable with the idea that the series–with its premise now established–can spread out the 74 remainingvillains that are on the loose, allowing some to be your typical “monster of the week” variety, providing a shallow threat for the heroes to face week to week, while the other villains (like perhaps the Leader and Baron Zemo) make bigger plans that effect not just an episode, but an entire season. Plus, while we’ve seen many similarities to other properties or media, it’s reassuring to see deviations, like SHEILD not being a uniting factor for the heroes (as it is becoming in the movies) but rather the heroes using their own drive and passion for duty and heroism to band themselves together.
This series is off to a good start, and I cannot wait to see how deep this show can go.
See you next time, Marvel fans.
A typical, rehashed premise, but one carried out pretty well in execution.
Character Development: 2.5/5
Some moments here and there, but nothing overly dramatic or engaging. Lots of potential, though.
Great art for an animated series that will definitely appeal to comic fans. Costumes and tone are reminiscent of classic Marvel but touched up enough for modern fans. Animation is fluid and easy to follow.
Every voiceover actor seemed to have the right voice for each character, except, in my opinion, Tony Stark, who made my ears bleed everytime he spoke.
Lasting Appeal: 4/5
The amount of cameos and fan-service provided in this episode alone will have any Marvel fan coming back. Even if not thoroughly impressed with this pilot, viewers have a lot to look forward to.
Overall Rating: 3.6/5