Thursday, February 17, 2011

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

I'm a big fan of superhero cartoons - even if my wife thinks they're childish - but I often don't get to see a lot of the American output due to not having a satellite or cable subscription. Thank goodness for good ol' YouTube then.

Whilst browsing YouTube on my iPod, I first came across large numbers of X-Men: Evolution that Marvel have posted on the video sharing site. Amusingly (well, I thought so), in the description to these excellent X-Men cartoons, there's a note from Marvel to go and buy the episodes from iTunes. Why would anyone do that when they're able to watch these ones Marvel themselves have provided for free?

Anyway, after watching a few of these episodes, I noticed someone had (illegally) posted the recent Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes cartoons on there and so I had a look. And I'm very glad I did!

The series has obviously been created to ride the wave of interest associated with the recent Marvel movies, including the upcoming Avengers movie. Here, the animated Iron Man sounds quite like Robert Downey Jnr, he has a computer system called JARVIS, Captain America fights HYDRA in WW2 not Nazis and Thor meets Jane Foster who looks similar to Natalie Portman. It also uses a line-up close to that in the Avengers movie - Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Captain America as well as Ant Man/Giant Man and the Wasp. And if the movie version can be half as exciting as this, it'll be amazing.

What I love about it is the way the show is organised and how a common series-wide storyline is woven into each episode.

It starts right in the middle of the action with the big four supervillain prisons - the Cube, the Vault, Big House and the Raft - shutting down, releasing all of the villains inside. So, it's a bit like the beginning of the New Avengers series in 2004 only multiplied by four! More worrying though, it also releases Graviton, a corrupt and very powerful ex-SHIELD scientist, who now has the power to command gravity itself. A number of individual heroes - Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Ant Man and the Wasp (echoing the original Avengers as Cap and others heroes join later) - arrive on the scene and join forces to take down this single, city-destroying menace in a blistering two-part opener. Following the battle, they decide to remain together as a team to help track down the other 74 supervillains.

Then, instead of continuing onwards with the storyline showing the heroes rounding up the villains, the next five episodes detail some of the heroes' background leading up to the big breakout. Each features an individual hero (or both Ant Man and Wasp for the 7th ep) and explains what the heroes were doing before the series opener plus character origins, where required. These expand on many of the unexplained threads from the first two episodes and hint at who, or what, might have been behind the simultaneous mass supervillain breakout.

Again, in a way it mirrors Marvel's method in managing its movies. Each character in the Avengers is given his own movie (or two) to introduce the character and explain his background whilst throwing a few hints regarding the overarching Avengers Universe. The same occurs here but with 25-minute episodes instead of movies. It works extremely well, keeping things episodic whilst also having an ongoing storyline.

Of course, with the whole Marvel Universe at it's disposal there are plenty of appearances from other superheroes and supervillains. From Wolverine as one of Fury's Howling Commandos in Captain America's past to Kang the Conqueror who travels back from the future to ensure his timeline isn't wiped from existence.

The stories are engaging, the action wonderfully relentless and the voice acting is decent too. The only negative thing I would say is that the art and animation is sometimes a bit rough; it doesn't look as accomplished as DC's Justice League Unlimited, for example. Still, after watching the first batch of this Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes series, I'm hooked.

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