"Super Hero Squad Show" Vol. 3: Mental Super-Hero Show Designed Only for Laughter
Volume 3 of The Super Hero Squad Show: Quest for the Infinity Sword has the episode “Mental Organism Designed Only for Kisses,” in which a love enchantment gone awry makes Ms. Marvel fall madly in love with the massive-headed MODOK. This was really the episode of the show which pushed it from an entertainingly goofy diversion that occasionally missed its mark to truly, divinely inspired lunacy. If volume 1 struggled occasionally and volume 2 showed marked improvement, the episodes on volume 3 are the ones that pull it all together, firing on all cylinders to tell cohesive and often screamingly funny stories with super-deformed versions of Marvel’s iconic superheroes. A lot of the earlier episodes of The Super Hero Squad Show felt a bit disjointed, with multiple unconnected plots bolted together awkwardly even if they were pretty funny on their own. Starting with the episodes on the last disc, the show started doing a much better job with its half-hour running time, telling slightly more substantial stories that also held together better as unified wholes. Volume 3 continue this trend, turning in seven episodes that are never less than good and often reach insanely great comedic heights.
The Super Hero Squad Show still pits the heroes of Super Hero City against the nasties of Villainville as they battle over fragments of the powerful Infinity Sword. As before, the fragments (or “fractals”) are mostly a MacGuffin that provide a reliable engine for the action and the humor, since touching a fractal produces wildly unpredictable results. In the first episode on the disc, “Tremble at the Might of…MODOK!”, a fractal grants tremendous power to the pint-sized, giant-headed lackey of Doctor Doom, leading to a coup d’etat in Villainville and a threat that not even the combined might of the Super Hero Squad seems able to defeat. It all works out in the end, of course, but not before a Rocky-inspired training sequence and a denouement involving sinister (and funny) uses of an ice cream cone. “Mental Organism Designed Only for Kisses” follows, and in addition to the goofiness of Ms. Marvel and MODOK’s romantic entanglement, we’re also treated to the sight of Thor and the Warriors Three as a heavy metal hair band during their high school years. It’s an episode whose execution is as superb as its high-concept, and it also allows the show a chance to spray laughing gas all over the otherwise humorless Ms. Marvel (who is as close as the show gets to a straight, er, man). It’s an episode that’s nearly worth the price of admission by itself.
The next few episodes play around more with familiar story plots from science fiction and superhero comics. “Invader from the Dark Dimension” is a good old-fashioned body swap episode, as the evil Baron Mordo (last seen in volume 2′s “Night in the Sanctorum”) manages to possess Iron Man, thanks to an errant interdimensional gateway opened by a fractal. It’s not bad, but is necessarily a bit of a letdown from the heights of the episode before it. It is notable for pulling together this show’s version of The Defenders, which had this show’s same love of the ludicrous and which was homaged in the Justice League episode “The Terror Beyond.” The next episode, “Tales of Suspense,” is much stronger, telling a hero-frame-up tale as Iron Man must clear his name after crimes are committed by an impersonator. Of note is the cameo appearance by LeVar Burton as James Rhodes/War Machine, which leads to a Reading Rainbow joke that I found a lot funnier than I probably should have. It also pits Wolverine and Reptil vs. MODOK and the Abomination on a golf course, of all places, which is worth it for the sight of the latter two in their golf clothes. “Stranger from a Savage Land” uses the tried-and-true “fight by mistake, then team-up” trope of superhero comics as jungle king Ka-Zar drops in from the Savage Land in search of his missing sabre-toothed tiger Zabu. Kevin Sorbo seems to be having far too much fun as Ka-Zar, which mostly balances out my marginal disappointment at the overly primitive and naieve characterization he’s given to work with.
“Mysterious Mayhem at Mutant High” guest stars the X-Men, as Wolverine gets sent back to school for remedial education and Reptil joins him as an extra-curricular activity. A visit from the evil Ringmaster leads to super powers gone awry as Reptil has to save the day from the mind mesmerized mutants; in addition to the Ringmaster’s hilarously awful disguise as a lunch lady, we’re also treated to Hynden Walch‘s gleefully empty-headed portrayal of Jean Grey as the Xavier Institute’s resident cheerleader. Finally, “Election of Evil” leaves the Mayor of Super Hero City and Wolverine as the last heroes standing between the city and the evil Egghead, who stole an election away from the Mayor via an iPod that broadcasts stronger-than-usual mind-controlling waves. I always thought it was a truly inspired bit of casting to make Stan Lee the Mayor of Super Hero City, but this episode really gives him something more substantial to do than his usual cameos. He does not disappoint, since the spacey politician persona of the Mayor is a perfect fit for Stan’s huckster charm, and he hams up his moment in the spotlight with delightful gusto and glee.
Those who picked up the last two discs of The Super Hero Squad Show won’t be surprised much by this one. As before, Shout! Factory has put together a classy package with a satisfying number of episodes, all presented in a sharp anamorphic widescreen presentation. The soundtrack comes in a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo version, as well as a surprisingly potent 5.1 mix; I must somewhat sheepishly admit I missed the fact that the 5.1 soundtrack seems to have been on the earlier two volumes as well. Bonuses this time around are limited to a too-brief interview with Grey Delisle (who plays Ms. Marvel and the Enchantress) as well as a gallery of villain concept art.
I know a lot of Marvel fans who just can’t quite grok the Looney Tunes madness of The Super Hero Squad Show. I can’t say I have much sympathy for the viewpoint; they dislike The Super Hero Squad Show because it’s so silly, while I love The Super Hero Squad Show precisely because it’s so silly. Volume 3 is really where the show rockets from a good, enjoyable show to a truly great one, though. If you’re not prone to laughing at Marvel’s capes-and-tights set, I doubt there’s much here that will change your mind, but the super hero fans with a more developed sense of humor will get a lot to love.