"Super Hero Squad Show" Season 2 Vol 3: How the Squaddies Got Their Groove Back
With the third DVD of The Super Hero Squad Show Season 2, the Thanos plot of “The Infinity Gauntlet” story seems to come to an end, subbing in a surprising replacement for the season’s big bad guy. The previous DVD left a much less positive aftertaste than earlier volumes of the show, mostly because it underscored how blah Thanos was as a villain and as comic relief. This volume represents a strong return to form for the show, although it still doesn’t quite hit the manic heights achieved during the peak of the first season.
Launching this DVD is “Fate of Destiny!”, in which Thanos finally gets all 6 Infinity Stones to complete the Infinity Gauntlet, but his destructive reign of terror is cut short by the timely arrival of the Silver Surfer and the Infinity Sword. Unfortunately, the Squad’s victory is exceptionally short-lived, since the combined corrupting influences of the Infinity Sword and the Infinity Gauntlet transform the Silver Surfer into the evil Dark Surfer. The entire episode works as a bridge from the first half of the season to the second, although “stalling tactic” might be a more appropriate term. The episode itself drags a bit too often, and even if the turning of the Surfer was hinted at a few times earlier in the season, it’s still not a plot twist I care much for. The real value in the episode is that it allows the Surfer to rip apart Space and Time and fling the Squaddies into alternate universes. It gets them out of his hair, while also burning off another six episodes of the season in the “Six Against Infinity” sub-arc.
Luckily, getting freed of the bigger plot and throwing the Squaddies into alternate universes means that “Six Against Infinity” manages to recapture some of the wild energy that defines the show’s best episodes. It also gives the staff a chance to stretch out into different corners of the Marvel Universe, which pays off in some surprising ways. “The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill!” tosses Thor into a sci-fi world and introduces one of my favorite supporting characters from the Walt Simonson Thor comics. It may take a little too long to really get rolling, but once it does, it’s a ton of fun to the end. In “Days, Nights, and Weekends of Future Past!”, the Falcon and HERBIE the robot are tossed into a dystopian future where giant robotic Sentinels imprison anyone with superpowers, enforcing the despotic reign of the Scarlet Empress, who is this universe’s version of the Scarlet Witch. It’s fun for the way it gleefully sends up the iconic “Days of Future Past” story from Uncanny X-Men, from which it takes its title, and for madcap little details like Magneto’s escape plan involving a dismantled Sentinel robot.
The best single episode of “Six Against Infinity” is Iron Man’s spotlight, “This Man-Thing, This Monster!”, which flings the Armored Avenger into a world populated by the denizens of Marvel’s horror comics, like Werewolf by Night, the Living Mummy, Marvel’s version of Dracula, and the shambling swamp monster Man-Thing. It’s an episode that milks the premise for all the high camp it’s worth, including an unseen voice-over helpfully declaring to the characters and the audience that “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!” I couldn’t stop chuckling and laughing all the way through. I have affection for “The Devil Dinosaur You Say!” on general principle just because of the guest star of the title. Devil Dinosaur is my favorite of the characters Jack Kirby created after his return to Marvel in the 1970’s, and if the episode (which teams him up with Wolverine) doesn’t quite have the same energy as Kirby’s original comics, it’s only fair to note that not many post-Kirby appearances of the character have (his headliner appearance in a Marvel Monsters one-shot being a notable exception). Like many other episodes of The Super Hero Squad Show, this one mines the rich comedic vein of heaping indignities on Wolverine.
“Planet Hulk!” is the disc’s one true dud, borrowing the structure and some characters from the popular graphic novel (quite successfully adapted into a DTV movie) but failing to successfully turn it into comedy. I think it never quite gets comfortable in balancing the serious nature of the source material and the silly tone of the show, and thus doesn’t manage to be very satisfying at either. This is especially evident when compared to the final episode, “1602!”, which is much more successful at adapting Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert’s graphic novel because it lifts one setting and tosses almost everything else in favor of silly nonsense instead. Throughout these six episodes, the Earth faces a slow destruction as the Dark Surfer tosses Earth out of its orbit to slowly freeze, but even this relatively serious plot thread yields comedic opportunities, especially by Stan Lee’s endearingly dim Mayor and his efforts to aid the situation.
Like the previous volume of the series, this DVD contains no bonus features. While the odd video artifacting I noticed on the last volume is gone, it also looks like the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is permanently gone as well.
By episode count, we’ve got one more DVD before the series wraps up and that might be just as well. The episodes on this DVD are fun enough and are a marked improvement on the prior volume, but I feel a sense of diminishing returns that I don’t feel will be addressed by the conclusion to “The Infinity Gauntlet.”