"Ben 10/Generator Rex: Heroes United": Brothers From Different Mothers
Ben 10 in its various forms (no pun intended) has been a hit for Cartoon Network for the last decade. However, original creators Man of Action were not involved with the two sequel series and instead came back with a different series: Generator Rex. Of course this has caused any number of fan debates, with many wondering why they left Ben and how they would handle the character if given the chance again. The generally positive reception to Rex has only amplified the speculation. Well, let it not be said that they passed up a good idea.
Something that needs to be made clear is that the Ben 10/Generator Rex special is really a team up and less of a crossover. Although this is clearly the Ben of Ultimate Alien, the story itself is firmly a part of the ongoing Generator Rex narrative with Ben included as fan service. (The other regulars merit only mentions and a single static visual). As such, in discussing this special I’ll have to mention the latest happenings in Rex’s show.
Things begin with a mysterious dimensional sphere appearing over New York. Both Providence and Rex’s team of vigilantes head out to stop what they assume is the latest EVO threat only to find something much more mysterious. The first meeting of Rex and Ben follows in the infamous tradition of the superhero team up, with both sides mistaking each other for a villain and opting to strike first, ask questions later. This is a fairly tired and irritating concept for superhero stories, but in this case I’ll let it slide because of the excellent opportunity it provides to see Ben and his transformations rendered in the other show’s art style and animation. I’m really not a fan of the DCAU-inspired visuals of the sequel series, so the chance to see the characters rendered in a style I find to be much more dynamic and exciting is a treat. Seeing designs like Humongosaur, Diamondhead, Rath and Big Chill (all in their standard forms, no Ultimates are used) in the look of Generator Rex provides a stark contrast to the more stiff look of their native show. I do have to admit the transition isn’t seamless though; Ben in particular takes some getting used to as his new design is taller and thinner and pulls off some expressions we never seem to see in his own show. As a character Ben is fairly enjoyable. A brief mention is made of his recent celebrity status, but the characterisation ditches the more inconsistent elements in favour of a mature young man with a good sense of humour who serves as a kindred spirit for Rex.
As I said before, the episode is firmly rooted in Generator Rex’s own canon, and the plot itself is concerned with advancing that. Rather then feeling like a poorly designed villain who exists solely to create a means for the characters to meet, antagonist Alpha is the next piece in the puzzle of Rex’s mysterious past, and the reason his appearance brings Tennyson in fits perfectly with said show’s own rules on parallel worlds. Full credit to the writers for finding a way to tell a story like this and still advance their own long term plot threads. In particular, the mystery of Rex’s brother Caesar deepens as the special constantly leaves you guessing as to if he’s playing mole within Providence or is simply content to use anyone and everyone when it suits his private agenda. By the time the credits roll, it’s clear this adventure will have further significance for Rex then simply having met his predecessor.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as Man of Action’s trademark style of combining intense action with comedy is also on display, starting with a gag which sees Rex try to compose a theme song for himself. This is something which I really think adds to the appeal of both shows, and Rex has really smoothed it out. Some shows can make a transition from drama to comedy feel awkward but Rex always makes it feel seamless, communicating that the creators want to tell challenging stories but not leave their audience depressed.
The fight scenes are possibly some of the biggest the show has done, starting with the chaos the dimension sphere wreaks on New York. Again, this just really reaffirmed my misgivings with the animation of the Ben 10 sequels as getting to see the aliens storyboarded and animated by a different group of people results in something truly impressive, and perhaps the first time I’ve considered some of them truly powerful. Of course, this being a team up, there’s at least one moment where we see the two sets of powers combined. Six also sees some action briefly before the plot conspires to take him out.
As team ups go, this is one of the more unique I’ve seen. Rather then opt to just do a non-specific story that has both shows interact, we get an extended episode of Generator Rex that brings Ben into his world. As is, that may be the biggest hurdle for recommending this. Whilst team ups/crossovers are always aimed at long time fans, this is specifically a case where Rex viewers will likely get more out of it and nuances of the plot will be completely lost on those who only watch Ben 10, especially as this story occurs at a time when Rex’s show has undergone some massive plot twists. Likewise, I’m sure some fans would have preferred a full crossover with appearances from the likes of Gwen, Max and Kevin. However, those are the only real strikes against it I can think of. It’s not perfect (team ups rarely ever are) but for a story that allows Man of Action to continue their current project and briefly unite it with the one that first made their name it’s pretty effective. The sprinkled hints that this might not be the last time Omnitrix and Nanites team up make it all the better. Bottom line, if like me you’re a fan of Rex and less than impressed with the Ben 10 sequels, give this a go. There’s some gentle ribbing of those shows, but really this is like a parent who had an amicable divorce getting custody for the weekend.