"The Avengers": Earth's Mightiest Heroes Assemble for a Rather Lame Series
Avengers assemble! The call has gone out for the first time in this new Marvel animated universe, and Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and The Wasp have rallied for the call. Are they the Earth’s mightiest heroes, or are they just another attempt at rounding together some marketable heroes to promote some movie series?
Having premiered on Disney XD, The Avengers is really one of the first productions to come out of Marvel Comics after its acquisition by Disney, and is as much of a companion piece to the theatrical movies as the 90’s Batman series was for the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher movies. It’s a hard to task to bring the team’s original concept into an era where Norman Osborn has just led a team of Dark Avengers, and Samuel L. Jackson has defined the role of Nick Fury, and it’s one the series doesn’t completely succeed at.
The current Marvel Universe actually features multiple Avenger teams: The Avengers, (featuring Thor, Hawkeye, the current Captain America, Bucky, the Red Hulk, Iron Man, and absent-from-the-cartoon members Spider-Man, The Protector, Wolverine, and Spider-Woman); The New Avengers (Luke Cage, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Mockingbird, Ms. Marvel, Power Woman, The Thing, and once again, Spider-Man and Wolverine); The Secret Avengers (a black-ops team consisting of Steve Rogers, The Beast, War Machine, Valkyrie, Moon Knight, Black Widow, Agent 13 and Ant-Man Eric O’Grady); and an Avengers Academy book (teenagers taught by Giant Man Hank Pym, Tigra, Quicksilver, Justice, Speedball, and Jocasta). Naturally, this series goes for the more traditional line up with The Big Three, plus characters such as Ant-Man and the Wasp that are traditional to the team. The Hulk, while being there for its start, was never a regular member of the team.
By the end of this disc, though, the team has only barely formed. It takes seven episodes for the concept and title of “The Avengers” to be formed, when they face a threat that no single hero can withstand. The first five episodes are apparently compilations of mini-episodes, focusing on the origins or backgrounds of some characters; in them, we see how Ant-Man and Wasp get along with each other; how the current Black Panther took his mantle; how Captain America was frozen. We see the duality of the Hulk, what Thor’s family life is like, what put Hawkeye in prison, and what mission Iron Man has taken. These episodes are slightly disjointed, given their nature, with awkward act breaks and a very short introduction to the Black Panther being thrown in at the end of another episode.
The final two-parter, “Breakout,” features the supervillain Graviton breaking free mysteriously from SHIELD (alongside legions of other supervillains), echoing the birth of The New Avengers (in which a mass supervillain breakout from The Raft forms a makeshift team of Avengers soon after they disassembled). Admittedly, this is where the television run starts, which is partly a misstep. While they’d naturally want to get to the first episodes with The Avengers in them, many plot points and character traits were established in the mini-episodes preceding it, leading to an arc where you’re assumed to know that Hawkeye’s not really evil even though he’s in jail, Ant-Man has repeatedly turned down SHIELD, Iron Man is tracking down his tech, and so forth. Even at the end of this arc, the team is still missing Black Panther and Captain America, alongside anyone else joining the team. It feels disjointed, and it gave me a bad impression of the series months ago.
One of the issues with The Avengers is that it’s obviously an attempt to promote and cash in on the budding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hulk and Iron Man have had movies, Thor and Captain America are coming out soon, and Ant-Man is in the writing stage. Hawkeye’s involved in the movies as well, and Black Panther has been bandied around. In comparison with it’s DC contemporary Young Justice, it’s not driven by creativity or innovation (not that I’m criticizing it for a lack of the same, mind you), but a desire to remind kids of these characters and get them in the theaters.
While the story and writing is honestly better than many other superhero animated series, voice acting and animation average out to weak. Iron Man’s VA tries too hard at aping Robert Downey Jr. and doesn’t make the role his own. Animation is too flat at times, with a severe lack of shadows and depth. Character designs have their own unique look, which seems to try to merge Jack Kirby’s work with Bruce Timm’s models. This isn’t bad, but (once again comparing it to Young Justice), one series looks like it was commissioned for promotional work, and the other looks like it was produced by animators. The theme song doesn’t stick with you, and given the popularity of the one turned down, it’s a shame. Ron Wasserman, of the classic “Go Go Power Rangers” theme, had produced a theme song that eventually got released on Rock Band as “Revengers”, and it will stick with you much more.
Admittedly, this series probably comes closest to starting a true Marvel Animated Universe, even better than what they did in the 90’s with the Spider-Man/X-Men universe battling the Marvel Action Hour heroes of Hulk, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man for true focus. Veiled references to The Punisher, a cameo by Wolverine, promised appearances by members of the Fantastic Four, and more prove that there’s very little off-limits to this universe, except maybe Spider-Man (who Disney might even not want to promote, thanks to the upcoming reboot of the movie franchise).
There is a lone special feature, a preview of Season Two, which is still a fair number of episodes off from where this disc concludes. It promises new, more modern designs for most of the cast and the addition of some other Avengers mainstays, such as The Vision and Ms. Marvel. This reveals one true annoyance about the set: it came out the same day as Volume 2, when both should have been combined into a “Season One Part One”, or in a dream world, combined with the two unreleased volumes into a “Season One” set. Given that the other Marvel sets released by Disney have done such larger releases, seven episodes for this relatively high price is an annoyance.
The Avengers may be Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but this is far from the mightiest DVD release. While it’s a noble attempt and superior beginning to other runs, it still has many faults in a genre that we know can work in animation, if only due to the repeated successes of their competitors. While it’s worth checking out if you subscribe to the Merry Marvel Marching society, it still lacks much of the polish that someone like Tony Stark demands of his armor and works.