In enormously appropriate news, the first two DVDs from the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series arrived this week just as shooting began on the live-action film. I spent some time with the discs, ably assisted by my two junior Avengers experts, my sons Connor and Kyle (as well as my noble/long-suffering/learning-who-Moon-Knight-is-thanks-to-the-boys’-SuperHeroSquad-figures wife), and here’s what you should know.
The first two discs cover roughly half of the first season that has aired so far. Disc 1 also includes five episodes compiled from the 20 mini web episodes that ran on the Disney XD site prior to the show’s debut. If you recall, those episodes did run on Disney XD during the debut week, but I don’t remember seeing them rebroadcast since that point. Nevertheless, Disc 1 includes those five episodes (“Iron Man is Born”, “Thor the Mighty”, “Hulk vs. the World”, “Meet Captain America”, “The Man in the Ant-Hill”) and “Breakout “ parts 1 and 2.
Disc 2 covers six episodes: “Some Assembly Required”, “Living Legend”, “Everything is Wonderful”, “Panther’s Quest”, and “Gamma World” parts 1 and 2. “Gamma World” was originally broadcast together as a “one-hour Avengers movie” in prime time on XD, but the disc reflects the episodic split that was used for later broadcasts.
I’d like to tackle this series thus far from three perspectives: my kids’, my wife’s, and mine. Since we’re gentlemen around here, we’ll recount what Becky thinks first.
Although we’ve been together since 1993, Becky’s lighter on knowledge of the Avengers than, say, Justice League or X-Men (she’s probably racked up her Master’s in those fields by now). She knew who the main characters were, and has seen all the Marvel live-action films to date. Still, I think that she’s been pleasantly surprised by the show. Her favorite characters far and away seem to be the Wasp (my wife, love a spunky chick? NEVER.) and Hulk (particularly the interplay that develops between him and Hawkeye). While she has no desire to know who every background villain in the crowd scenes are, she finds the show entertaining.
As for my boys, they are IN LOVE with Avengers. While there’s certain humor for the adult viewer, the kids love the action and the fact that they get to see characters paired together that they haven’t previously. They’re pretty wild about the selection of villains, too. My four-year-old walked around for days after “Everything is Wonderful” quoting MODOK’s “I am science! I am genius!” Yes, my house is crazy. At six and four, they’re the perfect audience for any super-hero show, and they are nuts about this one.
As for me, I think that all involved have done a great job. Some fans questioned the designs before the show launched, but I think they’re well done. They reflect a modern sensibility while staying true to the characters. In a bonus feature that can be found on both discs, the creators discuss the look of the cast for the second season, and you’ll note that the looks of Thor and Cap hew closely to the live-action film outfits (just in time for the Avengers live-action movie! Ah, synergy).In terms of story, one can easily detect the steady hand of Christopher Yost at work. The show honors Avengers history, and by that I mean ALL segments of Avengers history. Even as the show tips its hat to the initial rescue of Cap, the origin of Wonder Man, the role of Man-Ape in Black Panther’s history ... it figures out new ways to invoke Ultron, the various super-villain prisons, and (later, not in these volumes) drum beats pointed to the Kree-Skrull War (or even Secret Invasion). That makes this an Easter-Egg-packed delight for long-time fans.
Speaking of which, the cast is HUGE. Aside from Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Wasp, Ant-Man/Giant-Man, Hawkeye and Black Panther, you’ll see Black Widow, Nick Fury, specific SHIELD agents of your acquaintance, a dozen Asgardians, and more. (Going forward, you have cameos from the FF, the Black Knight, Carol Danvers, and Captain Mar-Vell; on disc 1, you see Wolverine. In World War II. Yes, that’s awesome.). On the villain front, more than 70 bad guys show up is some capacity between being primary antagonists or inmates in the four prisons. What’s remarkable is that the creators manage to achieve a balance of characterization and personality; despite the expansive cast, the show gels with an ensemble feel.
Just as Justice League became the cornerstone of the DC animated universe, I expect that Marvel can build around this success with the forthcoming “Ultimate Spider-Man”. (Frankly, I still hold out hope that we can get back some form of “Wolverine and the X-Men”). I highly recommend this series for fans and families.