Marvel's Avengers Assemble debuts Sunday on Disney XD at 11 a.m. Eastern.
Who are the Avengers? Five years ago, if you asked that question to people who didn’t read comics, they probably would have either talked about the ’60s spy series or given no response at all. That’s all changed since Marvel’s superhero team became the subject of the third highest-grossing film of all time, making Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and Hulk household names. (Scarlett Johannson’s redhead spy and Jeremy Renner’s bow and arrow guy…not so much.) Marvel has been making its comics resemble the film universe ever since the first X-Men movie, and their animated series have started to follow suit in recent years. Spectacular Spider-Man was cancelled to make way for Ultimate Spider-Man, which is set in a world that is a hybrid of the Marvel movieverse and the Ultimate comics universe, which offers new reader-friendly takes on established characters.
There’s no Ultimate branding on Avengers Assemble, and there’s no denying that it is fully indebted to the film. (Although the team is using Avengers Mansion instead of Stark Tower for some reason.) The team roster is the same as on screen, and the plot picks up shortly after Tony Stark disbands the team at the end of the movie. There’s one new addition in Sam “Falcon” Wilson, a character that is making his film debut in next summer’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and will likely reappear in Avengers 2.
Many fans have lamented the cancellation of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and while Avengers Assemble is clearly moving away from the classic interpretations of these character, the only thing that’s noticeably different in “The Avengers Protocol” is the costuming. Captain America is still a valiant man from another time; Iron Man is a thrill seeker hiding vulnerability behind a veil of arrogance; Thor is a god that simply enjoys his visits to Midgard; Hulk is the powerhouse who lives to smash; Hawkeye is the class clown; and Black Widow is a spy working more than one angle. The character that undergoes the biggest shift is Falcon, who is the rookie on the team. His portrayal is very similar to the way Cyborg is being used in the current Justice League comic, providing young viewers an entry point into this world by showing how a newbie adjusts to the crazy circumstances.
The Avengers is a badass but nonsensical team name, but the Man of Action writing team gives it meaning by having Iron Man reassemble the team to avenge the apparent death of Captain America. After Cap is vaporized by the Red Skull, Iron Man calls the team back into action to take down the Nazi and his big-headed partner M.O.D.O.K. That’s the first half of “The Avengers Protocol,” a standard “get the team together” story that builds to a standard superhero/supervillain brawl. Captain America is obviously not dead, and with M.O.D.O.K.’s help the Red Skull has switched bodies with the super soldier in a development that echoes several comic book storylines where Cap’s archnemesis takes control of his body.
When that plan doesn’t work out, Red Skull stops trying to be like Captain America and starts using Iron Man for guidance, stealing Tony’s army and attacking the entire team rather than the individual heroes. The second half of “The Avengers Protocol” is stronger than the first because the writers find a way to integrate character relationship drama into the superhero action. The new Iron Skull attacks the Avengers by unleashing nanobots that turn them against each other, and the second part is where it becomes apparent how a bunch of “arrogant and pig-headed” personalities (according to J.A.R.V.I.S.) on one team can be a problem. Their personal differences are all put on the table thanks to the Skull’s manipulation, igniting a series of fights that are the perfect distraction while the bad guys rig the reactor under Avengers mansion to blow. It ultimately proves to be the perfect building exercise, though, helping the Avengers get over their personal crap and work together to save the day.
“The Avengers Protocol” is directed by Batman: The Animated Series veteran Eric Radomski, who tries to bring an added cinematic quality by letterboxing certain moments. It makes for a jarring viewing experience because the letterboxing becomes exceedingly random; action, dialogue, and establishing shots are all letterboxed for no real reason. It’s much more effective when Radomski tries to mimic a comic book page and splits the screen into multiple panels. This gives him the opportunity to show the same scene from different angles, adding visual variety without breaking up the flow of the action.
The sad thing about losing Earth’s Mighiest Heroes to Avengers Assemble is that the former series had established a history and was beginning to expand its stories and explore more of the Marvel universe. This new show starts over again, and at this point, there’s no sight of Hank Pym, Janet Van Dyne, Quicksilver, or Scarlet Witch on the horizon. But the end of this episode gives some hope that this series will try to incorporate more of the Marvel universe as Iron Skull begins to assemble his own team of supervillains to take down the Avengers. This Cabal includes M.O.D.O.K., Attuma of Atlantis, Dr. Doom, and Dracula, which opens up a lot of opportunities to bring in characters like Namor (please bring in Namor), the Fantastic Four, and Blade. With the film rights for the Marvel characters spread across Hollywood, Avengers Assemble is going to be the only place outside of comics where it’s possible to see the Avengers fighting alongside the X-Men and Spider-Man, and while this first issue isn’t the deepest superhero adventure, it’s entertaining enough to merit a weekly visit, especially for younger viewers.
- If you’re not reading Marvel’s Avengers comics right now, you are missing out. Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers have been captivating reads, and Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Avengers Assemble is a delightfully fun superhero comic. Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers is playing with the medium in exciting new ways, Dennis Hopeless’ Avengers Arena has taken a lousy concept and turned into riveting drama, and Secret Avengers offers an espionage tale for people that like to see their comics reflect the movies as much as possible. It’s generally a great time to be a Marvel Comics fans.
- This show features music by DCAU veterans Lolita Ritmanis and Michael McCuistion, and the score will really make you miss the full orchestra of Batman: The Animated Series. It gets into MIDI territory at times.
- How fantastic is M.O.D.O.K.’s character design? There’s no way to make that floating big head not look completely hilarious.
- “Have you noticed how often you lose your bets with yourself? If I were keeping track, I believe you’d owe yourself $15 million dollars.”
- “I’m already warmed up and I’ve got the B.O. to prove it.”
- “They’re called mints. Try a dozen.”
- “I hate seeing me squirm.”
- “See, I can be nice…when I almost die.”