Just as I did when I heard the Green Lantern oath spoken out loud on Justice League Unlimited, hearing the famous battle cry of Marvel’s Avengers sent a thrill down my spine.
The opening title sequence of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes not only incorporates “Avengers Assemble!” but combines it with a theme song that my youngest son, eleven, dubbed “very cool.”
I received a review copy of Volumes 1 and 2, the first fourteen episodes of the show and spent the last week catching up on all that I’d missed. I haven’t been fond of the cartoon incarnations of the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man so I wasn’t certain what to expect from the series. I was surprisingly impressed.
The cartoons have updated and changed a little bit of Marvel history but it all works together in a mostly seamless whole. The creators wanted to use the original, early Avengers, so the team includes Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp in the beginning. Captain America and Black Panther are added later in the season and there are some other recognizable guest-stars as well, including Hawkeye and the Black Widow.
The writers of the show have been paying attention to the movie versions of the characters. Iron Man is definitely the version played by Robert Downey Jr., complete with a voice by Eric Loomis that is similar in inflection and tone to Downey’s in the movies. Having read some of the plot summaries of the new Thor movie, it seems that the cartoon version is also somewhat close to this version given that Asgard is reached by a inter-dimensional warp in one of the episodes.
Similarly, back in an episode set in World War II, Captain America and Bucky not only face off against the Nazi Red Skull but the force really behind the invasion of Europe is revealed to be Marvel Universe’s Hydra. This lines up with what I’ve read of the upcoming live action Captain America: The First Avenger.
The writers also clearly had fun incorporating all the parts of Marvel’s long history, from Nick Fury & the Howling Commandoes to Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, to Hydra to the Enchantress and Kang the Conquerer. And there are cameos all over the place. (Look! Captain Stacy! Baldor! Maria Hill! Well, okay, not so thrilled about Maria Hill. Where’s Agent Thirteen?)
The show begins with a series of one-shot stories about each of the main characters. Iron Man’s episode is largely connected to SHIELD and Nick Fury. I’d have to say that the episode that introduces Thor was my favorite. If there ever was a character suited to big, insane action sequences, it’s Thor with villains like the Frost Giants and weapons like his Mjölnir and his lightning. Plus, my son thought he had the coolest catchphrases, such as “I say thee nay!” Hank Pym’s Ant-Man is also likable and engaging and the freedom of cartoon visuals help his shrinking and growing powers to shine.
The first episode with Captain America is a flashback to Cap and Bucky battling the Red Skull and the art style is a tribute to Cap’s co-creator, Joe Simon. There are similar art homages throughout the series, including the iconic panel of Thor swinging his hammer on the Rainbow Bridge and the faces of villains that look like they’re taken from a Jack Kirby splash-page.
It does take seven episodes for all the characters to form the team, which I thought was a bit long, but once they are together, the threats grow appropriately bigger as foes join forces and heavy hitters like Graviton and then the Leader show up. Though my oldest son, fifteen, pointed out that the Leader loses a lot of cool points with the big head.
The only character I didn’t enjoy was the Wasp. The idea was to use the original Avengers and Janet Van Dyne certainly was there at the beginning of Avengers history. Unfortunately, she received probably the most sexist portrayal in Marvel history. I’d hoped for an updated Wasp that kept much of her original airhead personality — as happened in the modern comics — but I was disappointed. Instead, she’s still dependent on her boyfriend/employer Hank for her powers, she doesn’t get a spotlight episode to nearly the degree that the other characters do, viewers are shown know nothing of her life beyond her connection to Hank and she’s clearly the least powerful member of the team. At times, she comes across as cheerleading sidekick.
I wanted much more from the only female member of the team. That Hawkeye, who has no powers either, owned her in his first big appearance bothered me. As did the fact that Hawkeye tied up the Black Widow twice in her guest-appearance. At the very least, those two should be equal fighters. Perhaps it will be revealed later that she was holding back. I certainly hope so.
Insult was added to injury when Hawkeye — again, with only his arrows as a power — saved the day from a foe the other Avengers couldn’t defeat. I’m not a big fan of the character and neither is my oldest son who called Hawkeye the Avenger “you don’t want to play in the video games.” I asked him why and he said “C’mon, Mom. He’s wearing purple. At least Green Arrow is wearing, you know, green. Not purple.” (Hawkeye fans will no doubt like his appearance, though.)
The teaser for season two in the DVD extras promises Ms. Marvel and more of the Black Widow so that is promising.
But I can’t help but be somewhat disappointed that this new, modern version of Avengers — mostly an enjoyable show — is still mostly a boy thing.