"Super Hero Squad Show" Season 2 Vol. 2: Maybe It's Broke After All...
After watching the Super Hero Squad Show Season 2 Volume 1 DVD, I came to the conclusion that the changes made were evolutionary improvements rather than revolutionary ones, rearranging the furniture and adding a few new fixtures rather than making massive, wholesale changes to the formula. After watching the second volume of this season, I am reconsidering this stance a bit. The six episodes on this disc make it clearer to me that not all the changes made were for the better. In fact, one change creates some rather endemic problems that actively hurt the series in several ways.
This second volume picks up where the last one left off, with the Squad (minus the Silver Surfer and plus the Scarlet Witch) heading off into deep space to counter the threat of Thanos, the death-obsessed cosmic being seeking six Infinity Gems to complete the Infinity Gauntlet so he can rule the Universe. “Alienating with the Surfer!” pits the Squad against the world-eating Galactus, who is attempting to consume the Skrull Throneworld. Part of the Squad engages in some increasingly silly delaying tactics while others attempt to seek out the Silver Surfer, who had agreed to become Galactus’ new herald at the end of season 1 specifically to steer the cosmically hungry being away from inhabited worlds. The episode is mostly OK, although it seems to exist largely to create a plot point that will no doubt be expanded on in the remainder of the season. I can’t say I’m overly fond of the creative decision, but it does add an intersting new wrinkle to the Thanos plot. “Blind Rage Knows No Color!” starts off as a Hulk-centric episode, as Thanos uses the Mind Gem to prod a dozing Hulk into a sleepwalking rampage. However, it then turns extraordinarily silly as Wolverine, Iron Man, and Thor enlist the aid of Nightmare to end Thanos’ plot; the fact that their countermove involves all three heroes dressed up in giant foam mascot costumes for a “Candy Land”-styled board game is all you really need to know about how silly it gets. “Lo, the Mighty Hath Abdicated!” centers on fathers and children, with the main plot having the Enchantress putting a love spell on Odin to seize control of Asgard, only to watch it all slip away as a long-forgotten rule means Odin has to abdicate and hand over the kingdom to Thor. While Thor discovers how heavy is the head that wears the crown, Loki and the Enchantress scheme to seize power from him. Meanwhile, Magneto and Quicksilver plot to kidnap the Scarlet Witch away from the Squad, thinking that her decision to change sides to the Good Guys must be brainwashing. At best, the episode is substantially better than Thor/Loki: Blood Brothers at handling a lot of the same themes, but overall this is not one of the better episodes on this disc.
Thor gets more love in “So Pretty When They Explode!” which also features the return of the Greek muscle-head Hercules along with the She-Hulk (voiced by a bemused Katee Sackhoff) and Nova. The heavy-hitting muscle brigade is dispatched by Iron Man when Nova is kidnapped by Thanos, who seeks Nova’s Power Gem for the Infinity Gauntlet. It’s a lot of fun, mostly because of the She-Hulk’s dry commentary on what’s going on, although it also highlights one of the bigger problems with this season in that Thanos is too threatening to be buffoonish but too idiotic to be taken seriously as a threat. But more on that later. “Too Many Wolverines!” is the second-best episode on the disc, as Wolverine clones descend on Super Hero City in increasing numbers, leaving the Squad to be full-time Wolverine-clone wranglers as the genuine article (helpfully identified by a “Hello! My Name is Wolverine” nametag) seeks the root cause with the help of Reptil and guest hero Firestar. It’s both loving homage to Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and parody of Wolverine’s tendency to be everywhere in the comics, and the fact that it introduces the Super Hero Squad version of Amadeus Cho is just icing on the cake. However, the very best of the episodes on this disc is “Pedicure and Facial of Doom!” It draws a snicker right from the title, and only gets better as it shifts the focus back to Doctor Doom, his moronic minions the Abomination and M.O.D.O.K. Best of all, it also features the return of Doom’s mother, Coco von Doom, who is plotting super-villainy of her own. The episode is an absolute scream from start to finish, starting with the transformation of Castle Von Doom into a high-end day spa all the way to the utterly ridiculous climactic fight.
It was watching that last episode that really nailed down the issue I’ve had with this season of The Super Hero Squad Show. I had thought that the change from Doom to Thanos was just shuffling deck chairs, but the decision has many more serious ramifications. As mentioned, Thanos isn’t very funny and he isn’t very threatening, either. He doesn’t even show up for more than half the episodes on this disc, which makes him even harder to take seriously as a threat. In contrast, Doctor Doom managed to be both buffoonish and threatening to ensure that we could laugh hard at him while fully believing that it would be a Bad Thing if he re-assembled the Infinity Sword in season 1. Seeing how badly Thanos bobbles that balance demonstrates how hard it is to actually get right. Doom is also helped immeasurably by the Abomination and M.O.D.O.K., who are funny in their own right and even funnier as big dense objects that Doom can slam his head into periodically. Thanos has no comparable sidekicks to provide comedic or plot assistance. Furthermore, the fractals of season 1 were total wildcards: their unpredictability meant they could drive episode plots while also explaining why nobody would attempt to use their powers against the other guys, and the fact that there were an unknown number of them meant the writers could fill all 26 episodes with fractal-driven plots and still re-forge the Infinity Sword in the season finale. There are only six Infinity Gems and their powers seem to be well-defined, which might be why Thanos doesn’t show up for much of these episodes. The larger problem is that Thanos seems to have forgotten that he already has several Infinity Gems; even though each of gems he’s acquired so far caused major problems in earlier episodes, he never uses their powers in subsequent episodes. I kept wondering when he’d really use the Infinity Gauntlet in “So Pretty When They Explode!” and the fact that he doesn’t is another reason why he’s hard to take seriously. Judging by “Alienating with the Surfer!” it seems that the crew recognized Thanos’ limited potential and threw in a new plot element, but it’s a strong downward curve in likability for the Surfer, who was one of the best characters in season 1. In combination, all of the above makes The Super Hero Squad Show feel a lot less inspired and daring than the first season, even if it is still reasonably funny. “Pedicure and Facial of Doom!” feels like a season 1 episode, which is exactly why I enjoyed it as much as I did.
Shout! Factory’s releases of The Super Hero Squad Show have been getting fewer and fewer features as time goes on, and the Season 2 Volume 2 disc has the least yet. The previous disc removed the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack in favor of 2.0 channel stereo only, but this disc removes even the bonus interviews or artwork. There’s nothing on this disc other than the episodes themselves, and even they end up looking a bit worse for wear. There also seem to be a few aliasing issues, with lines looking jagged and color gradients being more visible than they were in the past. It’s not enough to ruin the visual quality of the episodes, but it can be a little distracting.
There is a good chunk of the second season of The Super Hero Squad Show left, and judging by the loglines of upcoming episodes, it seems like it’s about to take a hard left turn into someplace entirely different. Let’s hope the change can put the show back on the same lunatic track it was on before.