Hulk And The Agents Of S.M.A.S.H. debuts at 11 a.m. Eastern Sunday on Disney XD.
At the end of the Hulk And The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (HASMASH from here on out) two-part series premiere, Rick Jones, freshly mutated into a spiky blue headache by the name of A-Bomb, gives the group of gamma-powered heroes the team name that also serves as the show’s title. “What does S.M.A.S.H. stand for?” She-Hulk asks. Rick’s motor mouth reply: “I don’t know whatever we want it to no one is going to argue with us you know why? Because we are awe-some!” The line is perfectly representative of the show’s general tone, which is all hyperactive posturing without any real foundation to back it up.
Ultimate Spider-Man is a childish show, but HASMASH is a series that can only be recommended for children. And even then, it’s pretty far down on the recommendation list. Frankly, I expect more from a debut episode written by Paul Dini, one of the best writers of the DC animated universe, but “Doorway To Destruction” has more in common with Dini’s Tiny Toons than his DC superhero work. There’s a strict focus on action and comedy, and viewers looking for any semblance of tortured Bruce Banner will have to look elsewhere. In fact, Bruce Banner has almost no presence on the show. It’s all Hulk all the time, now available in a variety of flavors.
Over the past 10 years, Jeph Loeb and Greg Pak expanded the comic book Hulk family by introducing characters like Red Hulk, Red She-Hulk, A-Bomb, and Skaar. (Those are all horrible character names.) Red She-Hulk doesn’t appear in this series but her green counterpart does along with the rest of the group, and when they’re all together the silliness of the Hulk family concept really comes through. Dini had no choice but to push these characters in a wacky direction because that’s the only way they all work together. His first episode is the standard “get the team together” story, a by-the-numbers beat-’em-up that ultimately builds to the climax of Hulk breaking a stick.
The voice casting on this show’s a mixed bag, with Clancy Brown’s Red Hulk easily standing out as the voice with the most personality. Well, the most personality that isn’t totally obnoxious. That honor goes to Seth Green’s Rick Jones, who is insufferable before he becomes obsessed with how awesome his gamma transformation is. Fred Tatasciore is suitably gruff as Hulk, but Eliza Dushku’s She-Hulk is bland and flat. She-Hulk’s TV character is much less interesting than in the comics, working as a Hollywood stuntwoman rather then a New York lawyer. The latter offers more interesting story possibilities than “living green screen,” but stuntwoman is more x-treme and the Hulks are all about thrill seeking.
Like Ultimate Spider-man, HASMASH breaks the fourth wall by having the characters as the stars of Rick Jones’ web series, replacing Peter Parker’s inner monologue with reality TV confessionals. The animation style of the show is the same as Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers Assemble, an upgrade of the stiff animation use for the ‘90s X-Men and Spider-Man series that is starting to look very stale as other cartoons up their game. The “slow motion” shots are especially lazy, and it looks like the animators forgot a few seconds of the action.
Annihilus is an interesting choice of villain for this episode, showing how the series will be using characters from other corners of the Marvel universe alongside usual Hulk villains like the Leader. The choice is interesting but the plot isn’t, with Annihilus playing the part Loki had in The Avengers as he tries to open a gateway from Earth to the Negative Zone. The show asks “What would The Avengers look like with only Hulks?” and answers it with “pretty damn boring.” Dini hits all the usual plot points as the Hulks take on Annihilus, including a Hulk versus Hulk fight when two of the heroes fall under the villain’s control. The writer plants some seeds for the future at the end of the episode, particularly for Skaar, but “Doorway To Destruction” doesn’t give much reason to keep watching.
- Those looking for a great Hulk story should read Mark Waid’s current Indestructible Hulk comic book, which finds Bruce Banner teaming up with heroes from across the Marvel universe as he works with S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop superhuman threats while making technological innovations. The art is also fantastic, featuring work from Leinil Yu, Walt Simonson, and Mateo Scalera.
- Fun action moments: When Hulk leaps off the ground and smashes into a beam above him, he leaves an imprint of his face in the metal before ripping through it.
- The giant Hulk hands battle in the used car sales lot is toy product placement at its finest.