The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
DVD Volume 1
DVD Volume 2
DVD Volume 3
DVD Volume 4
Directed by Vinton Heuck and Sebastian Montes
Starring Brian Bloom, Chris Cox, Mark Hamill, Lance Henriksen, Phil LaMarr, Eric Loomis, Gabriel Mann, James C. Mathis III, Colleen O’Shaughnessey, Fred Tatasciore, Rick D. Wasserman, Wally Wingert
Disney / Marvel
Originally Broadcast: September 22, 2010
The new animated series of The Avengers is a fantastic journey into fun adventure, with writing that embraces the best elements of all Marvel media, wrapped around the original comic book foundation created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Taking these elements involved, and coupled with excellent voice talent, and an animated style that pays tribute to earlier cartoons, The Avengers is a lot of fun for comic and superhero fans of all ages.
The first season kicks off by doing something wonderful: completely ignoring and disregarding origin stories. While elements of these tales do arise in some forms and others during the show, the opening episodes primarily focus on a single character to begin with, giving the viewer a nice feel for that persona, and their place in this version of the Marvel Universe at the time. It’s a nice, modular manner in which to begin the season, and makes for a fun experience once the team is finally together.
The premise behind Season One (which on Netflix additionally includes the compiled mini-episodes of the initial microseries) is that superheroes and supervillains have been in existence for several years. S.H.I.E.L.D., under the command of Director Nick Fury, takes responsibility for imprisoning supervillains, sending them to four unique SuperGitmos under the guise of national security. The problem with this is that it’s a powder keg waiting to blow. A chance moment, almost ripped from the Knightfall series of Batman, sees all the bad guys escape, prompting the forming of The Avengers. Their mission is to bring each of the escaped superterrorists to justice, and send them back to detention.
Instead of singling out a specific comic continuity, or even loosely basing the series on Marvel films, instead, The Avengers attempts to find the best of all worlds, combining elements from all comic eras and the film franchise as a basis for coming up something new and a little different. And it works very well. While it doesn’t reach the heights of some of the DC animated films and series, it does create a nice universe unto itself, making it pretty enjoyable.
Still, while this mashup factor is part of the nucleus of the writing, the true foundation lies in the original works by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, all those years ago. Where elements are borrowed from multiple continuum and the films, they surround the original old-style badasses that captured the imagination of comic book readers when The Avengers began. This is an absolute credit to this new animation series, recognizing the better elements of the new stuff, but sticking to the very fundamental core material as a road map for the writing.
That said, the script in the series is fairly elementary, though does stick to an overarching plot/theme that runs solidly through the season. Yeah, there are plot holes here and there, as well as some stock “done it before” storyline environments, but at the end of the day, who cares? It’s a cartoon series… Fair enough, it’s aimed at kids, but the foundation upon which it is build is an excellent approach, and makes for fun viewing overall.
The character development in The Avengers evolves under this basis as well: take the best elements from all eras, continuities, and media, and use it to come up with a unique feel that surrounds the basis of the original Lee/Kirby collaborations. Nick Fury becomes a mish-mash of preceding iterations of the character – beginning as African American with hair, and then eventually with the grey sideswipe hairstyle of the Caucasian Fury. Iron Man’s tech is also a mish-mash of old comic books meets new comic books meets films and the same can be said for all the heroes and villains really. Even Hydra has a new feel to it with this combination of influences.
And the villains… oh, the villains – this is a chief hallmark of this series. So many bad guys and gals from so many different comic books – it’s wonderful. Even Zzzax, one of the enemies of the Hulk, makes an appearance. While the old hat bad guy tricks are frequent in the series, there’s a unifying element between these villains, that is so endearing to the show overall.
Speaking of the Hulk, the production crew has nailed him completely. In the entire history of the Marvel Universe, this character has gone through many phases, and in this case, Bruce Banner is not exactly in control of the Hulk, but is in communication with his persona via subconscious. Though he has all his rage and strength along with the “Hulk Smash” goodness; a little of Banner’s intelligence seeps through into his personality, thus enabling Hulk to speak a little more than in simply just roars or in the above-mentioned catch-phrase. The look of the Hulk is wonderful, an amalgamation of many eras, but notably one popular when I was a wee lad. Old Greenskin kicks ass in this series, and is a hell of a lot of fun to watch on screen.
Wasp is also a pure delight in this series, given much personality from Colleen O’Shaughnessey‘s voicing talents. Her character has numerous funny one-liners here and there, some of which are aimed at the adults in the room (same for Chris Cox as Hawkeye for that matter). Oh, and an amusing anecdote? The mercs in the first Ant Man episode are fashioned after the mercenaries in the first Predator movie, which is awesome.
The animation style keeps to what you would expect from a superhero series, but there are a lot of tributes to the cartoon designs of the Seventies, and most notably the Eighties. The broadened backgrounds and backdrops, with the clear under-detailed designs of the main characters give an element of cleanness that has always worked well for Marvel (and superheroes in general), and truly links back to many of the cartoon shows I grew up watching. At the same time, the technological advances are embraced in definite moments, without being too overburdening – The Avengers is a nice combination of traditional styles with modern upgrades.
Nevertheless, The Avengers in animated form has its advantages as well. Without the demand of a film to make elements gritty and realistic, the animators and creative team behind the show are able to keep certain characters, costuming, and monsters within the universe they have adapted. This allows the more fantastical to appear, without campiness, and works very well to the advantage of the series, and done sparingly so as to be not too overwhelming.
The voice casting should be commended also, with the talent being selected for both being reasonably close to their characters’ film counterparts, but also with the dexterity to bring something unique to their role for the specific series. In the opening episode, the voice talent reminded me a lot of the cast from the Iron Man film, yet at the same time, it seemed to stand on its own. This trend continues through the series, and also brings on board the talents of Mark Hamill and Lance Henriksen along the way as well.
The opening credits actually quite fun as well, complete with a kick ass rock tune called “Fight As One” by Bad City. It’s certainly of a modern feel, embracing the whole “work-together/team” ethos that The Avengers (in all media) evolve into, without coming across as cheesy.
It sells the series very well in fact, sending a clear idea that, “yes, we’re doing this for kids – but keep watching, because we’re not forgetting about adult fans of The Avengers either”.
In effect, The Avengers is quite a lot of fun. While it is a commercialized series, lacking the animation pinnacles of critically acclaimed works, that isn’t the point: it’s enjoyable and it’s fun, and that’s what it is all about. Children will love the series, but for us grown-ups who love comics as well, it’s a very cool series to view. Several times I found myself falling into the clutches of nostalgia, recalling comics I’d read as a child, and other animated shows I’d watched as well – but at the same time, I could entirely appreciate the modern approach and fun attitude of the show, without getting all fanwanky about continuity and silly stuff like that.
Boiled down to the point: The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is extremely fun – if you like animation, cartoons, and comics, give it a shot. Kids will love it, and you might too.
Overall Rating: 4½ out of 5