Shawn: In this DVD we begin to meet our cast, built on aspects of the entirety of Avengers history, from the origin stories to recent Ultimate versions and films.
Justin: Remember the God awful Avengers: United They Stand cartoon from the ’90’s? The one with a team absent of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man? The one that consisted of second stringers wearing ridiculously bulky armor that made no sense at all? Those weren’t my Avengers. Luckily the 90’s armor and shoulder pad craze is over and twenty years later we finally get an animated series worthy of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Paul: This really is a much watch for Marvel fans.
Shawn: The first half of the season is devoted to meeting our cast one-by-one (or two) and getting them all together. Loki makes an appearance, but he’s so far not the principle reason they unite.
Paul: I love the fact that this series takes the time to introduce each of the main characters individually before bringing them all together to form The Avengers.
Episode 1: Iron Man is Born!
Justin: Did anyone else hate the emo driven opening theme song? I get that Disney XD’s action oriented channel is targeted at young males 6-18 (who obviously all like emo, right?), but I expect to find an opening song like that in a 90’s cartoon.
Paul: The real treat about these episodes is how they work Marvel history into each episode. These adventures are populated by countless Marvel characters, both good and bad, which made me extremely happy with the end result.
Justin: There’s only two minor snips I have with this episode. First (and this is very very minor, mind you) is the title of the episode, since the show seems to take place (more or less) where Iron Man 2 leaves off. With a title like, “Iron Man is Born!” I expected to see a rehash of Iron Man’s origin again, but thankfully it wasn’t. Second is Stark’s voice, which sounds like a bad Robert Downey Jr. impression. I guess they really wanted to reel in fans of the Iron Man movies by making him sound like Robert Downey Jr., but I just found it annoying and it really took me a while to get used to it.
Shawn: Nick Fury is in some ways the star of this show, though. He’s an interesting mix of Howling Commando grit and Samuel L. Jackson style, and he develops his gray temples this episode while in battle with the Baron. But the real show-stopping sequence is on a fleeing hover-ship, where the artists somehow give this modern-day Fury a Steranko vibe, as he and the two villains battle to death on some gleaming flying Kirby-tech. The creators seem able to take from every era of the Avengers storied history, and their recombinations are apt and entertaining rather than Frankenstein-like disasters.
Episode 2: Thor the Mighty
Shawn: It’s actually full-on Asgard, with Frost Giants, Thor upsetting Odin (readying himself for the portentous Odinsleep), and Sif, Baldur, Heimdall and all the rest.
Paul: Odin is voiced by Mister Crabs himself, Clancy Brown, and is preparing to enter his Odinsleep while Loki is leading a Frost Giant attack on Asgard.
Justin: This episode is enough to give fans of the Thunder God fanboy overload!
Shawn: It’s a mini-version of the upcoming Thor movie, and we meet Jane Foster and the Wrecking Crew as well. Of course Loki is the evil mastermind behind it all, and he stars in the spookiest sequence, when he is consigned to a silent, barren land for punishment.
Justin: The voice casting is dead-on, while the characterization and costumes are super faithful to the comics. I especially love that they went for Thor’s classic look as opposed to his current one in the comics. It’s enough to make me hope they do a Thor solo animated series in this vein.
Episode 3: Hulk vs. the World
Justin: All I gotta say about this episode is: Hulk smash Hawkeye and Black Widow! Hell. Yeah.
Paul: The story of Hawkeye and Black Widow is another nice example of the writers taking the established comics history of the characters and gently tweaking them into new configurations that echo the originals, but updating and incorporating them into a Marvel Universe that closely resembles that of the latest round of Marvel Movies.
Shawn: This Hulk retains his intelligence, and his angry trigger finger personality is an interesting contrast to the resigned, but still hopeful Banner trapped inside. Before long, they’ll be bargaining semi-rationally for dominance of their shared body.
Episode 4: Meet Captain America
Justin: Did I say I wanted a Thor animated series? Scratch that. I want a Captain American one!
Paul: This is Captain America’s last adventure before going into the ice. They manage to incorporate elements of Norse Mythology as the Red Skull tries to open a portal to Bifrost, The Rainbow Bridge, and summon Ymir, the king of the Frost Giants. It’s up to Captain America and Bucky to stop them, along with the help of the Howling Commandos (with a mutton chopped Canadian retconned into their line-up)…
Justin: Howlett! (That’s Wolverine in case you didn’t know.)
Shawn: …Which they do, but not without Bucky paying the ultimate price. Then it gets weird, because Kang shows up. Yes, the ultimate time-traveling space opera Avengers villain, complete with his Damocles space ship, has taken a severe dislike to Captain America and his time-altering legacy, another facet that will play out in the later season.
Paul: Because, for some reason, Captain America is responsible for the collapse of time and space in the future.
Justin: I tell you, this series just keeps getting better and better with each new episode. The great thing about this series is that the Avengers team hasn’t even formed yet.
Episode 5: The Man in the Ant Hill
Shawn: For some reason, not everybody gets the appeal of Janet van Dyne and Hank Pym. He’s the mad scientist that goes crazy too often; she’s the socialite who just wants him to settle down. Those clichés are somewhat challenged by this series. He’s now the do-gooder scientist who wants to reform career criminals, while she’s the grant-maker who funds his research.
Justin: Finally Marvel gets an animated series that is not afraid to embrace its rich history, satisfying fans of the comic books without alienating a whole new audience who have never read an Avengers comic before.
Shawn: I don’t really have a clue why Jan looks like a teenager in a cheerleading outfit, though, and is obviously the youngest and most immature of the growing cast. Maybe it’s a kind of hysterical over-reaction to the motherly vibe she developed in the 616 comics before getting killed?
Paul: Before this episode is over, we return to Africa and witness the death of The Black Panther, king of Wakanda. His son, T’Challa, takes up the Black Panther mantle and leaves to find allies to help him defeat The Man Ape and free his people.
Shawn: It’s the standard Black Panther origin story, and while I like the stealthy presence that unfolds for T’Challa as the season continues, it’s pretty hard to take Man-Ape seriously.
Episode 6: Breakout Part 1
Paul: Just like Bendis’ 2005 Avengers relaunch, New Avengers, the gang gets together to take down the bad guys and avenge their wrong-doing.
Justin: I think the stand-out moment for me was when Hawkeye, who was trying to stop the prisoners from escaping, was mistaken as a villain by Iron Man who almost blasts him to bits. This is another nod to die-hard comic book fans who remember in the comics that Iron Man captured Hawkeye mistaking him for a criminal. It’s moments like this that really show how much love and respect the show’s producers have for the original source material.
Shawn: There’s also the Big House, which is actually a miniaturized fortress kept on a table in the SHIELD helicarrier … until it grows to full-size and shoots out of the sides and top of the ship at Frank Gehry angles. We also find out the biggest secret of the worst prison, the Raft: Graviton.
Paul: He’s a massively powered madman who has been locked up and kept unconscious by Fury and SHIELD for the last ten years. So yeah. He’s pissed when he wakes up.
Episode 7: Breakout Part 2
Shawn: This is when the heroes realize they have to stick together, as it takes all of them to beat Graviton down.
Justin: This villain gives everyone from Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. a run for their money
Paul: The battle takes up the entire second part, with massive amounts of property damage and a very visceral example of both Thor’s and Hulk’s upper limits. These are definitely the Big Guns and it was extremely satisfying to see them cut loose on a villain who could go toe-to-toe with them.
Shawn: Graviton, as usual, is way too much power with hardly any motivation. He’s just got a really bad temper. So it’s pretty much a case of wearing him down until he’s too tired to go on, and that series of epic blows comes from Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Giant-Man and Wasp who take turns backing each other up.
Justin: Of course at the end of the day when the dust of battle settles, the heroes prevail by working together!
Paul: Over the course of these first seven episodes, Marvel Animation has done something I didn’t think they could do. They’ve successfully brought the Marvel Universe to the television screen without oversimplifying anything. Each of these characters has their own world, their own history, and their own perspective, and it all comes together with “The Breakout”. There’s a lot of information thrown at you, but I found myself getting more and more excited for this thing as each new complexity unfolded.
Volume Two is up next!