"Ben 10: Alien Force" Vol. 4 is Familiar but Fun
I must confess that I was never much of a fan of the original Ben 10 series, thinking that it skewed a bit too young for my tastes. This probably drove my apathetic reaction to the follow-up series, Ben 10: Alien Force, even considering the involvement of Glen Murakami and Dwayne McDuffie, two big reasons why Teen Titans and Justice League, respectively, were as enjoyable as they were. However, better late than never: the newly released Ben 10: Alien Force Vol. 4 DVD proves to be easy enough to start in on and interesting enough to compel me to seek more.
Ben Tennyson (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) is a teenage superhero who commands the Omnitrix, a piece of advanced alien technology that allows him to transform into any of 10 different aliens with different powers and cool names like Chromastone and Humongousaur. He uses his powers to serve the greater good with help from his cousin Gwen (Ashley Johnson) and former-enemy-turned-ally Kevin (a nearly unrecognizable Greg Cipes). In the original series, the 10-year old Ben was assisted by his grandfather Max, a member of an interstellar police force. Ben 10: Alien Force picks up 5 years later. Grandpa Max has gone mysteriously missing, leaving Ben, Gwen, and Kevin without guidance in their fight to prevent an alien race called the Highbreeds from destroying all life on Earth, if not the universe.
Teen Titans was a fundamentally lighthearted show that got serious occasionally while Justice League was a fundamentally serious show that got lighthearted occasionally. Ben 10: Alien Force lands somewhere in between. It’s another series where a small, select group defend the people of Earth from threats that the populace remains mostly unaware of. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Men in Black are two relatively recent examples, but the basic idea is much older than either. Thus, even though the five episodes on Volume 4 were the debut episodes of the second season of the show, it isn’t too difficult to pick up on what’s going on in broad strokes. I may not have walked in knowing a DNAlien from a Necrofriggian, but it doesn’t take long to figure out the good guys from the bad guys, and even spot the ambiguous or largely self-interested guys that make things a bit more interesting. While Ben 10: Alien Force seems to combine familiar elements from other shows, its execution is still solid and enjoyable. You may not quite shake the feeling that you’ve seen this all before, but the specifics are done well enough and just differently enough to continue holding your attention.
As an example, the second episode on this disc, “Alone Together,” is an odd-couple road trip story, where Ben and a Highbreed commander must stop fighting long enough to survive and escape a deadly desert planet. While this episode is arguably the best one on this disc, it’s a familiar plot that’s been played out in any number of other movies and TV shows, so it’s not too surprising that Ben and the Highbreed gain some rapport despite their mutual mistrust. However, it’s still fascinating to watch the story play out, with the highlight being the truly alien reactions that the Highbreed has to the situation. The episode also goes much darker than one would expect, tempering the feel-good, “aren’t we all the same underneath?” theme with just the right dash of sourness. Similarly, the “Good Copy, Bad Copy” episode that follows manages to subvert just enough of the “Evil Twin” trope to be entertaining, if only to watch how Ben’s different aliens end up fighting each other. In addition, the cast members seem to be as aware of the existence of the trope as the writers, and thus avoid most of the usual clichéd reactions to the situation. On the whole, the interplay between Ben, Gwen, and Kevin feels comfortably familiar, with Ben and Kevin generating an entertaining friction as heroes with differences in attitude while Gwen and Kevin fumble through a blossoming teen romance in a pleasant and believable way.
This DVD presents all 5 episodes in a decent anamorphic widescreen presentation and a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack. The video quality is solid, but the soundtrack is a bit of a disappointment. Giant alien fights are always more fun with a nice 5.1 soundtrack, especially with some of the larger-scale battles that occur on this disc. Sensible chapter stops are placed within each episode. The only extras are a lame set of ads for the live-action Ben 10: Alien Swarm movie, plus a few trailers when the disc is inserted that are not available from the main menu.
Conventional wisdom among the comic book crowd is that continuity is bad because it inhibits accessibility and locks out new fans. Like many bits of conventional wisdom, this is wrong: it’s only bad continuity that inhibits accessibility and locks out new fans. Good continuity makes you curious, and compels you to seek out the backstory to fully appreciate what’s going on. The episodes on Ben 10: Alien Force Vol. 4 definitely demonstrate this latter type of continuity, being good enough that I want to seek out vols. 1-3 to catch up on what I’ve been missing.