CB’s own version of the Avengers is back as Justin Carmona, Shawn Hill and Paul Brian McCoy explore volume two of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes DVD set.
Episode 8: Some Assembly Required
Paul: After an entire disc devoted to introducing the characters and the world, Disc Two jumps right into the formation of the Avengers.
Justin: We get our first visit and tour of Avengers Mansion! Complete with automated Jarvis, Avengers Assembly Hall, the Quinjets and the team’s first training exercise! I am totally geeking out at the seams here, folks!
Shawn: What I’m left with from this episode mostly are some interesting visual elements. Tony Stark likes to hide his big monitors under Jackson Pollock paintings (Nick Fury studies one in depth as he waits for Stark to acknowledge him), and Amora’s spells involve noxious green clouds advancing towards her victims. The writers also underline again how gung-ho the Wasp is about heroism, as she plans to forsake her uptown penthouse to move into the Avengers Mansion, which she compares to firemen sleeping in the fire station, ready for active duty.
Justin: I tell you, this animated series is like a dream come true- not just for die-hard Avengers fans, but for fans of the entire Marvel Universe proper.
Paul: I laughed out loud when they capture the Mandrill and Thor says “He brings shame to all monkeys with his cowardice.” That’s what I like about this show. The writing is snappy, as well as just plain densely populated with Marvel Lore.
Paul: I did get goosebumps when the final shot pans over to Cap’s shield in the ice. Because I am a huge nerd.
Episode 9: Living Legend
Justin: The title of this episode alone gets me all giddy inside with fanboy glee!
Paul: Cap wakes up screaming “Bucky!” and it’s just perfect.
Shawn: The animation features goo monsters that look like refugees from a Miyazaki film, which both Cap and Hank recognize as the work of Arnim Zola. How convenient for Cap that so many of his familiar foes from the past have survived just like he has.
Paul: I also love the way they bring Baron Zemo into this story. The flashback to 1943 captures some of the original origin of Zemo, while bringing in new superhuman qualities. I like that we’re not dealing with his son, as in the comics. This is the original Zemo, just like back when Cap first came out of the ice in ’64.
Justin: Again, I can’t tell you how much actual Avengers comic book moments they pump into this series. Be honest now, does it get any better than this?
Paul: I love the fact that they’re building up the Masters of Evil the same way they did The Avengers. Each character gets an introductory episode. Sweet.
Episode 10: Everything is Wonderful
Justin: Apparently everything is not as wonderful as it seems as we’re introduced to Simon Williams. Yes, ladies and gents- this is the episode were we are introduced to Wonder Man!
Paul: I am a huge Wonder Man fan ::pauses for laughter to die down::, and really like the way they bring him into the series. I kind of regret they don’t get the chance to bring him back first as a zombie, like they did in the comics, before moving on to the “Living Ionic Energy” version of the character.
Justin: Oh yeah, and let’s not forget we get to meet the commander of the Advanced Idea Mechanics as well- Mr. Potato Head himself, MODOK!
Paul: MODOK! MODOK! MODOK!
Shawn: A really, really hilarious MODOK. I love how he can still be scary even while Thor makes jokes about his ridiculous appearance. “Like a Frost Giant’s head on an infant’s body,” he says in gobsmacked confusion.
Justin: Reading about this Humpty Dumpty-looking monstrosity in the comics is one thing, but watching him come to animated life is enough to give me the creeps. ::shiver::
Shawn: We also get the first meeting of Nick Fury and Steve Rogers, as Nick presents Steve with an exceedingly cool gift: Steve’s war-era motorbike, lovingly passed down and preserved in the Fury family. I’ve got no problems with this cartoon’s take on Fury; he’s a badass (of course), but he’s a good guy who’s pro-Avengers in most of the ways that count. Maria Hill, as his 2nd in command, is even toned down to a level of useful efficiency.
Episode 11: Panther’s Quest
Paul: This is the first of the adventures that doesn’t feel quite right for me.
Justin: All I gotta say is that there are two really stand-out moments for me in this fantastic episode: First, when Black Panther took down the Avengers to test their ability. Was I the only one who thought it was freaking cool the way Panther took out Giant Man? He took out Pym by jumping on his enlarged body and hitting various pressure points all over the gigantic Avenger, taking him to the ground! Awesome! The other stand-out moment for me was when Black Panther officially joined the Avengers!
Paul: I know they’ve been slipping the Panther in for a few episodes now, and I know that it all ties directly back to the Ant-Man/Wasp intro from Disc One, but it keeps feeling tacked on and off the narrative path of the season.
Shawn: The Panther seems to be someone Steve clicks with immediately. That makes sense as he’s neither as technology-based (at least visibly) as Tony Stark, nor as other-worldly as Thor. In fact, he pretty quickly makes his culture shock into an advantage, because his fresh perspective and old-fashioned values give him insights the rest of the team lack.
Justin: I totally did not see that coming. I thought he was just going to have a recurring guest role or something.
Paul: Easily the weakest episode so far, but still pretty solid. And one weak story out of eleven? I’ll take that.
Shawn: The voice acting is especially notable in this one, as Mark Hamill voices a slimy Klaw, Lance Henriksen’s rasp provides a wily and sinister Grim Reaper, and Brian Bloom portrays a Captain America made up of equal parts innocence and strength.
Episode 12: Gamma World, Part One
Paul: My absolute favorite thing about this story is that Jeffrey Combs is the voice of The Leader!
Shawn ong>: Jeffrey Combs as the Leader? More please!
Paul: The stunt casting for this series seems to be designed specifically to appeal to me, from Lance Henricksen as Grim Reaper, to Mark Hamill as Klaw, and, of course, Clancy Brown as Odin.
Justin: This episode perfectly captures what the Avengers are all about, a team of earth’s mightiest heroes joining forces to fight the foes that no single hero could withstand.
Shawn: I also really enjoyed the fact that the writers are focusing on developing the teamwork during the action sequences. Cap and Panther are making a fantastic team.
Justin: What I love most about this series is that not only do we get the Avengers and Avenger villains, but we get the entire Marvel Universe as well. From S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doc Samson to the U-Foes, this feels more like a Marvel Universe cartoon as opposed to an Avengers one.
Episode 13: Gamma World, Part Two
Paul: The stakes are raised with this one, which is appropriate, as it starts in Las Vegas.
Justin: Most of the Avengers have been gamma irradiated, turning them into Hulken-ized version of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Meanwhile Thor, who is immune to the effects of earth’s science, struggles against the Leader and the Abomination without the use of his mystical Uru Hammer, Mjolnir.
Shawn: I don’t really know that much about the Hulk rogues gallery, as I’ve only ever checked in to his ongoing saga intermittently. The Leader’s mad plans dominate this installment, and his exoskeleton (to compensate for his small frame) is a grandly ridiculous design.
Paul: He really does seem to think that humanity is heading for disaster and without his leadership, the planet is doomed. I like that.
Shawn: The Hulk’s stories are always good fodder for some psychological exploration, as the subtext is that gamma rays bring out whatever the exposed victims want to repress in their psyches.
Paul: One of the strengths of this show so far is that it provides interesting character interactions. For example, this episode teams up Hawkeye with The Hulk, and it works really well, particularly when Hawkeye confronts Hulk, demanding to talk to Banner or he’ll kick Hulk’s ass. Hulk is so amused, he relents.
Shawn: That it’s Hawkeye who saves the day is a pleasant surprise (he’s kind of the secret weapon of the entire DVD, playing almost as many angles as the secretive Black Widow does, but having much more fun doing it). He does it all with no actual powers, just a lot of skill and determination.
Paul: Hawkeye gets the best line this episode, when he and Hulk bust into The Leader’s headquarters (no pun intended), and shouts, “You with the head! Freeze!” I seem to have a soft spot for head jokes with this show. Again, no pun intended.
Justin: By the end of the episode, Hawkeye agrees to join the team, but on one condition- the Hulk rejoins as well.
Paul: I wasn’t really expecting The Hulk to come back to the team, so when he said he’d accept membership again if Cupid, er, I mean Hawkeye joins too, it was a nice twist. It also shows the humor that the character has, which isn’t always on display in shows like this. To be honest, I could take or leave Hulk, but if his return brings Hawkeye into the fold, I’m all for it.
Justin: But the best part of this episode is the very last scenes where we see Baron Zemo’s Masters of Evil come together.
Paul: I love, love, love the Masters of Evil showing up at the end to recruit The Abomination. With Baron Zemo in charge, The Enchantress and The Executioner, Wonder Man, and The Crimson Dynamo teamed up with The Abomination, we really do have an Avengers of Evil that should prove to be an intense battle when it all goes down.
Justin: It’s a great promise of things to come for Season 2. Here’s hoping they do the Under Siege storyline! Can’t wait!
Paul: There’s really no reason why any self-professed Marvel fan should not own these discs. This is the best Marvel Television in years. Maybe ever? I might go there.
Justin: This is absolutely and without a doubt the Avengers animated series I’ve waited my whole life for.