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"Super Hero Squad Show" Vol. 2 is Faster and Funnier

Hero Up!Marvel’s The Super Hero Squad Show and DC’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold both have a number of common elements: a highly stylized visual aesthetic, wonderful animation and voice acting performances, a penchant for exclamation marks at the end of every episode title, and a combination of affection for the tried-and-true superhero comic book tropes and a willingness to spray laughing gas all over them. The biggest difference is that The Super Hero Squad Show has no straight man, so it is always going for comedy…and doggone it if it doesn’t make this jaded old comic book fan laugh and laugh and laugh. While many of the episodes on the first DVD volume were getting up to speed, The Super Hero Squad Show Vol. 2 reveals a much more confident and sure-footed show that hits far more often than it misses.

The Super Hero Squad Show has no real continuity and a magical MacGuffin plot device to put its heroes and villains into pitched battles. Doctor Doom and the denizens of Villainville battle Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Wolverine, and the rest of the Super Hero Squad over fragments of the impossibly powerful Infinity Sword. Dubbed “fractals,” these shards’ power is matched only by their unpredictability, since touching one produces wildly unpredictable side-effects (delightfully illustrated as the Hulk is transformed into something new in each episode’s opening credits). The show is still gathering steam on this volume, but that’s not to suggest that any of these episodes are truly bad or disappointing. The weakest of the six, “From the Atom, It Rises!” is probably the weakest of them, largely because “Hey! The Mole Man farted!” is its sole source of humor (even if it does set up a pretty funny gag at the end of the episode). Immeasurably better is “Night in the Sanctorum!”, which finds the Squad running through a succession of shelters after the Falcon crashes the SHIELD Helicarrier. The funniest bit has to be the brief stint in the Punisher’s battle van, as the Squad slowly realizes how entirely unhinged its driver is. “This Forest Green!” guest-stars Ant-Man, and shrinks both Squaddies and Doom’s lackeys down to size to turn the Helicarrier’s kitchen into a battleground of gargantuan household objects (and also makes an extended joke over Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada’s name that would be funnier if it didn’t run just a smidge too long).

HERBIE the Robot and the Falcon“O Captain! My Captain!” is probably the other serious contender for the funniest episode on this disc, as Wolverine gets sick of the Squad’s amateur fumbles and joins Captain America’s “All-Captains Squad” for a change of pace. If you’re the type who can’t laugh at Captain Liechtenstein (“Small! But economically prosperous!”), then I think you can probably write off the entire show as “not your thing” (or just go buy a better sense of humor). Close behind is “If This Be My Thanos!” which mixes up the death-obsessed supervillaiin of the title, the Fantastic Four, and the Falcon defending the Baxter Building from an onslaught of baddies with only HERBIE the Robot to assist. The prior episodes are either two entirely unrelated subplots bolted together or have a bit too much narrative ADD to stay focused on one thing for too long, so it’s notable that this is the first of the episodes that manages to be a single, cohesive narrative all the way through. Even so, the funniest bit is a throwaway involving MODOK and the Abomination ruthlessly mocking Paste Pot Pete’s unfortunate choice of a supervillain name. Finally, “Deadly is the Black Widow’s Bite!” inadvertently shines a spotlight on the show’s (and Marvel’s) lack of iconic female superheroes. When the Black Widow joins the Squad, all the (male) members turn into drooling morons completely incapable of seeing her real purpose. Despite keeping the emphasis on comedy, there is still a strong sense that something is at stake here, which makes for a fascinating balancing act.

Shout! Factory has always been one of the best purveyors of TV on DVD and this disc is no exception. All six episodes are presented in crisp sharpness with a solid stereo soundtrack. Unfortunately, there are few worthwhile bonus features. We get an all-too-brief interview with Tom Kenny (who voices Iron Man, Captain America, and MODOK) which was previously available on the Marvel website. Two DVD galleries showcase character profiles and production artwork. Finally, there’s a trailer for the The Super Hero Squad Show video game.

It’s a little surprising that The Super Hero Squad Show even exists; despite the public face of Marvel Comics provided by “Smilin’ Stan” Lee, it always seemed that Marvel took their stories far more seriously than their Distinguished Competition. Or, at least, it may seem that way considering how they pioneered the angsting superhero with feet of clay as opposed to the paragons of virtue populating the Justice League. It’s nice to get a hint that the crew at the House of Ideas is aware that they’re writing stories about people with their underwear on the outside and can embrace the genre’s fundamental silliness so wholeheartedly. Some of the best episodes of season 1 are coming up shortly in the third DVD volume, but there’s more than enough laughs to be mined from this one.

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