Review copies provided by the studio.
Yes, a mere seven months after its debut, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes is coming to DVD on April 26th. These kids today don’t know how lucky they are. It took twelve years for Batman: The Animated Series to be released on season sets. Sixteen years for X-Men! Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes Volume One collects the original seven episodes (with the “micro-episode” compilations counting as five episodes), while Volume Two has six more episodes, ending with the “Gamma World” two-parter. For the first time, Disney has included special features in a Marvel animated series season set. Both volumes have interviews with Joshua Fine and Christopher Yost, teasing future events for the upcoming season. We learn that Vision is coming soon (yay), while Captain America is getting an Ultimate redesign (boo).
As an entitled fanboy, I proudly reject virtually all post-2000 Marvel continuity, along with the Ultimate Universe. As such, I have numerous nitpicky complaints whenever a “contribution” by Brian Michael Bendis or Mark Millar makes its way into the series. Luckily, the show borrows from almost every corner of Avengers continuity, so the use of an “Ultimate” version of a character is usually balanced out by a classic Hawkeye, or an appearance of an obscure villain or B-lister. One thing I can’t get past is Iron Man’s horrific voice acting, which is the worst Robert Downey, Jr. impression I could imagine a professional actor getting paid to do. I like the Iron Man movies, but I’m afraid they’ve cursed future generations with an endless steam of “witty” quips and smirky performances. On the other hand, Jeffery Combs is playing the Leader, so the casting department has at least one major score going for it. Actually, most of the voice acting is at the very least competent, which makes the casting of the subpar RDJ clone even more confusing.
The animation is provided by Film Roman, generally regarded as the best studio currently doing American television animation. The early episodes look a bit rough, the character designs are all over the place and the colors are just too bright, but the quality improves as the season continues. By “Gamma World” you can see a marked improvement, putting the show on the same level as Film Roman’s other Marvel cartoons, X-Men Evolution and The Superhero Squad Show. (Although, for some reason, Superhero Squad’s digital coloring still surpasses almost every Avengers episode.)
The stories on these episodes broadly follow the original Stan Lee issues, right down to the original Avengers line-up. They don’t even cheat and let Captain America in as a founder. He’s got to wait until the team forms, moves into the mansion, and fights Hulk a few times before his body is unfrozen. Surely, this is the way The Man intended. The villains range from Klaw to Baron Zemo to Man-Ape. It’s hard to think of a villain who doesn’t show up (King Cobra, Purple Man, and Wendigo are in the same episode!), and most of them have solid designs. I don’t know which animator designed Abomination, but I would say his look rivals any design from the comics. I’m not sure when the next DVD set is due, but future episodes continue to borrow heavily from classic Avengers storylines, so Kang and the Masters of Evil make appearances, as the show drops some hints regarding a war between two certain alien races. Allegedly, the plan is for the series to run 52 episodes; hopefully they’ll continue to lean towards the classic Avengers and stay away from “New” or “Ultimate” anything (although Cap’s redesign doesn’t give me a lot of hope). Even if I personally dislike some of the material chosen to be adapted, it’s still fun to see an Avengers cartoon that gets so much right. And, none of the characters are stuck wearing animal-themed cybernetic armor, which is always a plus.