Marvel Comics’ The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest
Heroes Vol. 1 & 2 (Animated/Disney
B- Sound: B- Extras: B+ Episodes: A
last ten years DC Comics and Warner Brothers have ruled the roost when it comes
to animated features for comic book characters. The long shadow cast by
creative juggernauts Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie has set a high standard
that has made it difficult for Marvel’s animation projects to measure up.
That started to change with Ultimate
Avengers a few years ago, and the subsequent string of animated features
that followed all showed great progress, with some shining more brightly than
others (Hulk Vs. stands out as one
of the best of the recent vintage).
Marvel animation still lacked was a television series to rival DC and Warner’s
epic Batman, Superman, and Justice League
runs from the early to mid 2000’s. Avengers:
Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (AEMH)
now fills that role, and does it with a dynamic energy that draws its
inspiration from the very best aspects of Marvel’s rich history. With the
DC stuff, Timm and McDuffie always strove to capture the essence of their
iconic characters. AEMH
follows the same credo. Volume One
offers a wonderful set of prequels that provide critical background to the formation
of the Avengers team. Some act as full-blown origin tales, while others
pick up en media res, dropping us right into the action of an ongoing story
that provides the underpinning to larger events yet to come. Another
tenet of the “DC model” was to animate characters you might never hope to see
on the television screen--obscure, but visually stunning villains that make the
longtime fan exclaim, “They did him? No way!”
happens a lot in these two sets. We get to enjoy full-on slugfests with
villains like the Absorbing Man and Whirlwind, and we’re treated to flashes of
baddies like Modok and the Bi-Beast. And they don’t skimp on the voice
talent for these characters, either. For example, Fred Tatasciore returns
as the Hulk, and Clancy Brown shines in his too brief appearance as Odin,
All-Father of the Norse Gods.
Whereas Volume One provides plenty of setup, Volume Two features the Avengers
assembled. Again writers Joshua Fine (also a producer on the series) and
Christopher Yost (a Marvel Comics veteran scribe) draw upon the core elements
of the characters and their rich history. Like in the original comics
from Lee and Kirby, the team squabbles in their early adventures.
Manipulated by the machinations of Loki and the Enchantress, Hulk and Thor
engage in a donnybrook that leaps from the screen. Captain America strikes
a melancholy chord as a stranger in a strange land, displaced in time and
riddled with guilt over the death of his WWII comrade, Bucky. Hank Pym
and the Wasp enjoy a frenetic but troubled relationship, and voice actor Eric
Loomis beautifully harnesses the “Robert Downey Jr.” Iron Man--at once deadly
serious and playful.
Joshua Fine and his crew hit the sweet spot with this series, and they’ve now
shown that they can successfully apply the techniques that made the efforts of
their “Distinguished Competition” such smash hits.
These two sets provide a great start on what promises to be an exciting journey
back into the history, and the future, of Marvel Comics’ animated universe.
- Scott Pyle