SDCC '08 - Review: Next Avengers DVD

The cover to the Marvel Animation direct-to-DVD feature 'Next Avengers'

In their previous efforts, Marvel Entertainment's animation division have seemed to have focused on reinventing and reinterpreting characters from both the Ultimates line and their core Marvel Universe titles for a broader audience. Origins have changed, story lines streamlined, but all-in-all, as a comic book retailer yours truly can say the market's response to such reinvention has been lukewarm.

The shouldn't be an issue with Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, however. It not only doesn't try to reinvent a familiar Marvel concept; in fact, it invents something fans haven't seen since an issue of What if? way back in 1998. In this world, the Avengers retired, moved on in their lives, but were called back to one last battle with the robot menace Ultron. The Avengers lost, but their children were spirited away to safety and left under the care of Tony Stark. Hid in a secret location, they grow up in relative safety and security until disaster strikes. And then the story really begins.

I am incredibly impressed with what Marvel's animation division and Lionsgate have created from the timeless foundation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. At Saturday evening's Next Avengers preview screening and panel at Comic-Con, I was lucky enough to sit behind the coloring artist on the film, Jason Peters. At the end of the panel he was quick to note to me that this was the project where they were finally allowed to do "what we really wanted", and it shows. There are many nods to comic book canon to pick up - from Steve Roger's son's energy shield, to the design of the Hulk who looks more Maestro than monster at the end of the film, and even to the look of the "Iron Avengers" that Iron Man builds. Its animation style successfully combines the look of the classic comics with almost an anime-esque level of action, tinged with softer designs that range towards cartoonish for the main characters.

The kids were specifically given a 'softer' look and, while it may be strange to see the son of Pym have an almost triangular head, it works within the story to give them a unique look as well as making them appear younger.

There are some great epic images of the trophy cases that Ultron keeps of the fallen heroes he's disposed of, and some great moments of introspection. At first the original Avengers that came before are referred to by their "archetypes" rather that names ('The Soldier, the Knight, the Giant, etc.), with the children growing up seeing them more as legends more than parents. And while he isn't the obvious choice given his history, Tony Stark is actually a believable concerned father figure, protecting and effectively raising these kids as a way to preserve the hope of the team he helped found.

The kids at the center of the story are written as kids. Young and innocent, they come off as cloying or even a little hokey at first, but they are given moments of quiet realization as they begin to understand the legacy they inherit and how the world really works. The writers bring a lot of depth to these brand new characters in the classic 'Marvel style'. Though superheroes, they're still just kids and must cope with growing up in a harsh world.

The action scenes were incredible, far more intense than expected from Marvel Animation's first PG-rated film. Perhaps because most of the battles are fought against robots the animators enjoyed some leeway, but they are still spectacularly heroic in scope and scored with a truly epic soundtrack with choral themes and traditional movie symphonics.

The audience in attendance of the preview seemed to love every minute of it. They laughed at the right times, cheered for the heroics, and gasped at the surprise reveals and appearances. It was great to see and be part of such an enthusiastic response.

Last year at Comic-Con's premiere of the Dr. Strange animated movie, people walked out at the start of the panel's Q&A. But on Saturday everyone stayed.

The first question asked by an audience member was how fans could get more stories with the Next Avengers, which prompted a healthy round of applause and cheers from the crowd. The same question was asked two more times throughout the Q&A, with the panelists responding it was entirely up to fan's response to the DVD, adding that they could easily expand the concept into more movies or perhaps even an animated television series. They film's creators genuinely showed a love for not only the movie they had created, but the material they based it on, speaking highly of the comics that inspired them and referring to the film as an homage.

This movie is recommended to both the young and old, as well as hardcore comic fans and brand new readers, as there is something for everyone.

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