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The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! Volume 1 - Heroes Assemble! DVD Review (Marvel DVD Super Hero Collection)

The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! Volume 1 DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! Volume One (2010)
Show & DVD Details

Executive Producers: Alan Fine, Eric S. Rollman, Dan Buckley, Simon Philips / Co-Executive Producers: Joe Quesada, Stan Lee / Supervising Producers: Joshua Fine / Producer: Dana C. Booton / Line Producer: Leanne Moreau / Supervising Directors: Ciro Nieli, Frank Paur

Writers: Christopher Yost (Also Story Editor), Joshua Fine, Brandon Auman, Michael Ryan, Kevin Burke, Chris Wyatt, Paul Giacoppo / Directors: Vinton Heuck, Sebastian Montes

Voice Cast: Eric Loomis (Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man), Rick Wasserman (Thor, Carl Creel a.k.a. Absorbing Man), Alex Desert (Nick Fury, Damocles Officer), Wally Wingert (Hank Pym a.k.a. Ant-Man, Elton), Colleen O'Shaughnessey (Janet Van Dyne a.k.a. Wasp), Fred Tatasciore (The Hulk, Franklin Hall a.k.a. Graviton, Frost Giant #2), Kari Wuhrer (Maria Hill), Troy Baker (Clay Quartermain, Blizzard, Whirlwind, Grey Gargoyle), Phil LaMarr (Jarvis, S.H.I.E.L.D. Doctor, Cameraman), Gabriel Mann (Bruce Banner), Brian Bloom (Captain America), Graham McTavish (Loki), Scott Menville (Bucky), Kari Walgren (Jane Foster, Enchantress, Beautiful Woman), Dawn Olivera (Pepper Potts), Clancy Brown (Odin), Jim Ward (Baron Von Strucker, Damocles, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, 1940s Announcer), Bumper Robinson (Rhodey), Chris Cox (Hawkeye, Crimson Dynamo), Cam Clarke (Doc Samson, Constructor), Danny Mann (Mad Thinker), Jeffrey Combs (Leader), Mark Hamill (Ulysses Klaw), Jonathan Adams (Kang the Conqueror), Vanessa Marshall (Black Widow, Waitress, S.H.I.E.L.D. Computer), Nolan North (Balder, Jimmy Woo, Pile Driver, Scientist Supreme, Living Laser, Dispatch), Kevin Michael Richardson (Man Ape, N'Gassi), Hakeem Kae-Kazim (T'Chaka), James Mathis III (T'Challa), Steve Blum (Red Skull, Hydra Scientist, Logan, Ogre), Robin Atkin Downes (Baron Zemo, Abomination), Cindy Robinson (Ravonna), JB Blanc (Wrecker, Heimdall, Frost Giant #1), Nika Futterman (Sif), Gary Anthony Williams (Thunderball), Keith Ferguson (General Ross)

Running Time: 161 Minutes (7 episodes) / Rating: TV-Y7-FV
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Closed Captioned; Extra Subtitled and Captioned
Volume 1 Airdates: October 20 - October 24, 2010
DVD Release Date: April 26, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Keepcase in Embossed Holographic Cardboard Slipcover

Buy Volume 1 from Amazon.com Buy Volume 2 from Amazon.com

It's been nearly two years since The Walt Disney Company announced its plans to purchase Marvel Entertainment and its catalog of 5,000 or so comic book characters for the hefty price of $4.24 billion. The deal hasn't brought immediate visible change to either media giant.

Last fall, Disney bought worldwide distribution rights to The Avengers and Iron Man 3, films designed to kick off the 2012 and 2013 summer movie seasons in their respective early Mays. The beginning of May is a popular theatrical release window for Marvel Studios, who have employed it each of the past four years (and twice shortly before that) to great success.
Next week, the timing is put to use on Thor, the first Marvel movie to begin principal photography since Disney's acquisition. Ten days before that Paramount Pictures tentpole opens, Disney brings one of Marvel's latest animated television series to DVD with the release of the first two volumes of "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!".

Not to be confused with the 1960s British spy series, this "Avengers" is the second TV incarnation of the team of superheroes created in 1963 by the legendary duo of writer-editor Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. Introduced at the height of Lee-Kirby creativity, a period that saw one or both give birth to characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, the Avengers comic line assembled colorful heroes including some of these and others in Marvel's ranks. The original lineup consisted of Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, and Wasp. Captain America would join them in issue #4. Since then, the team's roster has regularly rotated, although its mission has always remained to fight villains no single superhero could withstand.

The title logo for "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!" features silhouettes of those heroes over the ridge of the A. Iron Man, presently the most famous Avenger, lifts a car while defending the United Nations against HYDRA agents.

With a target audience of boys aged 9-14, this "Avengers", which airs on Disney XD in the US and Teletoon in Canada, seems to remain very faithful to Lee and Kirby's earliest works, even taking its subtitle from the usual cover headline. Though the Volume 1 DVD's cover only features the highly recognizable (or soon to be) Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America (whose film will open in mid-July),
the series itself stays true to the original lineup, with lesser-known Ant-Man and Wasp part of the dream team at its launch and Captain America featured but not yet admitted.

The series' design immediately combats some of the issues that may turn off potential audience members from Marvel cartoons or even the comic book lines that inspire them. With so many characters in play, there is no repetition or formula, at least not through the first seven episodes found here. Each of the first five half-hour episodes establishes a future Avenger (or in the case of Ant-Man and Wasp, two). While leaning on fifty years (and in some cases, more) of rich lore, the show assumes no foreknowledge. That's the only way to do this and I don't know any Marvel TV series that has done it differently.

At the same time, the show's most likely fans, those devoted to Marvel action, won't be bored or dissatisfied by this newest interpretation. Origin stories are typically the most compelling part of any comic book character's life and here, they are lively and accessible. The series makes sure we get to know all the characters of importance, which is essential because by the two-part "Breakout" (Episodes 6 and 7) there are already a couple of dozen names and costumed bodies in the mix.

Mighty Thor and his thunderous hammer stand up to the Frost Giants in his introductory episode. A tiny ant-riding Ant-Man and human-sized Wasp team up to take down baddies.

Besides introducing a new generation to the Avengers, whose last time on television was Fox's 1999-2000 "The Avengers: United They Stand" and raising awareness for the star-studded superhero film of summer 2012 (which began filming in Cleveland today, directed and co-written by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon), this entertaining series brings and enforces consistency to Marvel's one shared universe. The Iron Man looks and characterizations mostly remain true to the Robert Downey Jr. movies and I'd be surprised if the show's creative team wasn't on the same page as the makers of this summer's Thor and Captain America flicks.

While Fox cancelled "United They Stand" after just thirteen episodes, "Earth's Mightiest Heroes!" is already certain to run four times as long. It was announced as a 52-episode production, the first half of which has now aired, at least in Australia (where the show didn't debut until this past March but now airs daily). Nineteen episodes have aired in the US, the first thirteen of which hit DVD (and only DVD) tomorrow. Note that the 20 part micro-series (consisting of 5-minute hero backstories) is not included, but that their contents comprised the first five half-hour shows here.

Let's take a closer look at the seven episodes of Volume 1, subtitled Heroes Assemble!, which are sensibly arranged by production order.

Hulk block fist of Absorbing Man in "Hulk vs the World." Banished to the Isle of Silence, a colorless Loki sobs...silently.

1. Iron Man is Born! (23:03) (Originally aired October 24, 2010)
Iron Man single-handedly takes on the Hydra when they attack the United Nations using Stark Industries armor. Left to pick up the pieces, Nick Fury and his law enforcement agency S.H.I.E.L.D. try to stop a Grim Reaper prison break.
Watch an "Avengers" clip of the Hulk's return:

2. Thor the Mighty (23:03) (Originally aired October 24, 2010)
After dealing with the potent criminals of the Wrecking Crew on Midgard (Earth), Thor returns to his home planet Asgard to defend it and his father's throne against his brother Loki and the Frost Giants.

3. Hulk vs the World (23:03) (Originally aired October 24, 2010)
In the desert outside Las Vegas, Bruce Banner/The Hulk does battle with escaped supervillain Carl "Crusher" Creel, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Hulkbuster agents, Hawkeye and Black Widow.

Patriotic World War II hero Captain America is introduced in a black & white newsreel. Eye-patched S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury is targeted by a formidable escaped foe in the disc-closing two-parter "Breakout."

4. Meet Captain America (23:04) (Originally aired October 24, 2010)
Captain America (whose origins are detailed in an old newsreel) and sidekick Bucky confront Red Skull in the ongoing World War, as Kang the Conqueror examines Captain America's effect on space-time.

5. The Man in the Ant Hill (23:03) (Originally aired October 24, 2010)
Scientists Hank and Janet use their insect-like alter egos Ant-Man and Wasp to fend off mercenaries, Whirlwind, and other baddies wanting their research. The episode concludes with the seemingly unrelated goings on of Black Panther and others in Wakanda.

6. Breakout, Part 1 (23:04) (Originally aired October 20, 2010)
Inmates at the four S.H.I.E.L.D. supervillain prisons escape.

7. Breakout, Part 2 (23:03) (Originally aired October 20, 2010)
Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, and the Hulk help Nick Fury take on powerful, vengeful escapee Dr. Franklin Hall (a.k.a. Graviton). The Avengers are born!

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like the 21st century production that it is, "The Avengers" is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Both are just about flawless by DVD standards. The picture is expectedly clean and sharp, while the sound is crisp and engaging, excitingly putting you in the middle of all the action. Volume levels are a tad inconsistent, but not to a bothersome degree. Though some will be bummed that the show is not simultaneously debuting on Blu-ray (Disney is notoriously cautious to release anything not guaranteed to be a bestseller), the high DVD quality will not disappoint many.

Supervising producer Josh Fine talks about Ms. Marvel (top right panel) and the costume with which she will join the Avengers in Season 2. The Avengers A logo precedes every iteration of the main menu's nifty four-hero montage.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Volume 1's only designated bonus feature is "Season 2 Sneaks: New Looks, New Heroes",
a 7-minute featurette. Here, supervising producer Josh Fine and story editor Chris Yost discuss the appeal and depth of Marvel's heroes and villains, as well as costume makeovers and new and returning characters (and their powers) to look for in Season 2. It's promotional but earnest, although a similar discussion of Season 1 would have been more fitting.

The disc opens with trailers for Thor, Cars 2, and Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension. The menu's "Sneak Peeks" listing repeats the same three ads, followed by promos for the video games Thor: God of Thunder and Captain America: Super Soldier and The Lion King: Diamond Edition.

While an instrumental version of Bad City's fun theme song "Fight as One" plays, the winning main menu runs through a montage of the four cover Avengers, each section themed to the hero. The skyline-backed remaining menus are static but scored.

Volume 1 is packaged in a standard black keepcase and topped by a cardboard slipcover whose front is embossed and front and back covers are largely holographic. The only insert is Disney's adult-oriented Blu-ray promotional booklet.

Clockwise from left: Thor, Wasp, Hulk, Iron Man, and Ant-Man stand together in solidarity as the newly-assembled Avengers.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With rich characterization, inventive action, and a fitting touch of humor, "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!" makes for an enjoyable animated showcase of classic Marvel heroes and themes. Volume 1 marks a promising start as a series and as the groundwork for the Marvel universe unification that next year's live-action movie will offer to a larger audience.

The single-disc volume DVD route Disney and Marvel have chosen does require more money and shelf space than a logical, more inclusive collection would, but at least the discs are filled close to capacity and are including every episode in order. Though skimpy on bonus features, the video and audio are excellent. If this is a show you see yourself watching more than once, then a purchase is recommended. And any Marvel fan ought to see it at least once.

More on Volume 1 / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Volume 2 from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed April 25, 2011.



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