Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: Avengers: EMH "Gamma World"

Well, if an evil scheme's worth trying once, it's worth trying twice. Although I think the Leader has found himself firmly inside "Fool me twice, shame on me" territory.

Plot
This episode has been building since the Micro-Episodes. Remember when we first met Thor? The Leader had sent the Wrecking Crew to get him a Gamma-emitter. Of course, that “Leader” was Loki in disguise, but still.

A few of the major aspects of the episode were lifted from then-fairly-recent comics. The Gamma dome was taken from the Warbound miniseries, and the characters becoming Hulks is nothing new. As for the actual plot… well, it’s a quintessential Leader story. He wants to rule the world, and tries to use Gamma radiation to do it. With a few tweaks, though, you could easily turn this into a pilot for a Hulk series.

Have S.H.I.E.L.D. ask the Hulk for help in stopping the events at the Cube. He does, but discovers something that makes him ditch S.H.I.E.L.D. and flee while the Leader enacts phase 2 by irradiating Las Vegas. Someone goes to get the Hulk, but he says that he’s done working for S.H.I.E.L.D. But with a little convincing, the Hulk and his new friends form a team of their own: the Gamma Corps.

Hmmm…. Almost makes one wonder if this episode actually was reverse-engineered from a pilot for a Hulk cartoon. After all, that’s what they we reworking on before they changed this into an Avengers show from a Hulk show. And Doc Samson’s character arc of redemption is perfect for a main character in such a show….

Which makes me pretty bummed that this is what we ended up getting.
Themes
There are a couple that stand out.

Redemption
Doc Samson’s heroism is born from his guilt at ignoring Bruce Banner until it was too late. And when you add to that Hawkeye clearing his name and the Hulk re-joining the team after proving himself to be a hero, the message becomes clear. But what’s a bit more subtle is the other theme….

Worthiness
The Leader considers himself worthy to rule the world simply because he’s the smartest person in it, though he lacks the strength needed to enforce his will. Thor, whose strength gives him the power to enforce whatever he sees fit, has a worldview that disgusts the Leader as much as the Leader’s view disgusts Thor. Instead of Thor letting might make right, he uses his might to enforce what truly is right. Instead of deciding what’s right. And in the end, that’s what makes him worthy to not only lift Mjolnir, but to unleash his strength upon the world.

As if we needed this pointed out further, Thor controls the Absorbing Man when he takes on the properties of Thor’s hammer. Absorbing Man, working for the Leader, is not worthy to inflict his will upon the world. But Thor is.

Sexuality
While not a "theme," per se, this is something I should probably address.

I am a straight, cisgender, white male. So a lot of the causes I support are not necessarily "my own." When I discuss topics like female sexuality as portrayed in the media, I’m not doing it to be a White Knight. I’m doing it to discuss the work in question. (Although I was probably a bit harsh on "A Little Night Magic.") And this work is question... zigzags a bit.

There are many people who will jump to vilify any female sexualization in the media, and in some cases, this is justified. Like when a film’s casting call basically tells women not to show up unless they’re hot. Looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

But in some cases, it’s okay for female characters to be… well, I hate to say “sexualized," so instead I'll just ignore this sentence and try again.

I'll explain what I mean with the various examples of sexualization in this episode and how some of them are, for lack of a better word, “justified.”

First up, we have the Wasp checking out her own butt.

It's still there, Janet. Right where you left it.
Ostensibly, this is so Janet can see how good she looks in the unflattering radiation suit. Which is completely in character for her. But it also acts as a way to throw a bit of a bone to those who find the character attractive. So while it is partially meant to titillate that portion of the audience, it is, for lack of a better term, justified in that this is something the character would totally do.

The same goes for Vapor kissing Cap when she and the other U-Foes attacked.

I wonder if his lips taste like apple pie.
From a practicality standpoint, she’s forcing toxic gasses down Cap’s windpipe.

From a character standpoint, she’s a bit of a seductress.

And that’s fine. Female characters are allowed to be sexual in nature. We don’t need to slut-shame every single female character who might deign to use sexuality to her advantage. Or even just for fun. Or because they’re bored.

On the other hand, what she’s doing is sexual harassment, which is decidedly not okay in real life. So feel free to shame the character for that.

"Miss, this is sexual harrassment. And I don't have to take it."
But on the other side of the coin, we have Black Widow. Her establishing moment in this episode?

Her lovingly-animated butt.
That’s… pretty hard to rationalize as not being exploitative. Is she in any kind of situation where she would be intentionally flaunting her looks? No. On top of that, there isn’t a single person watching her apart from Hawkeye. And he’s probably not checking out her butt. So if the character isn't sexualizing herself, or perceived by any characters in-universe this way at the moment, then the entire point of this shot is to make sure we notice her butt.

Basically, this shot only exists so we can be perverts. There is literally no other reason for this shot. And that's when sexualization crosses the line into exploitation.

It actually kind of undermines the fact that we’re supposed to think of her as a threat. Not that we aren't allowed think of her as a sexy threat, but in this moment, when all we can see is butt, she’s not being treated like a mysterious character with an unknown agenda. She’s being treated like… well, porn.

Speaking of that….

Really?
Hawkeye tied her up in a way that just happens to push her breasts out? I mean, I guess it would make it more difficult to escape if her breasts were in the way of slipping the ropes off, but still.

For the too-long-didn’t-read crowd, in the end, when a work is sexualizing a female character for no one’s benefit but the audience’s, that’s a bit exploitative. But again, that’s not to say that female characters aren’t allowed to flaunt their sexuality. Not too much, though. After all, this is a kids' show. Disney's Standards and Practices are watching.

Characters
Hawkeye

Hawkeye has finally cleared his name. I think that they might have been able to drag it out a bit longer, but hey, the subplot’s moving forward. I won’t complain.

The last time he worked with a team was when he and Black Widow worked on the same side. So we’ll see how well he works with the Avengers. Speaking of Black Widow….

Black Widow
Something’s up. She offered the Hulk’s blood to HYDRA, but quickly pocketed it again when Hawkeye’s attack distracted everybody. But while Hawkeye finally caught her, she slipped away before she could be taken into custody. And now that she’s got S.H.I.E.L.D. chasing after her, so who knows what she’ll be desperate enough to do. Or what her overall goal is.

Hulk
Hulk does not want to be left alone, surprisingly enough.

While he grumps at Hawkeye when they first meet, he quickly agrees to let Banner out. After all, Hawkeye made him laugh. And after working together to defeat the Leader, there’s clearly a bit of a bond there. But one that the Hulk doesn’t want to admit. Which is why he only agrees to stay with the Avengers if Hawkeye does, while also making fun of him.

It’s a complicated relationship. Clearly, Hawkeye’s blunt attitude is a bit refreshing for the big guy. Hawkeye might be abrasive, but he’s not deceptive. And somebody with the Hulk’s trust issues would easily appreciate that. But somebody with the Hulk’s difficulties socializing would also find that hard to admit. And since both of them were chased by S.H.I.E.L.D. for a while, there are shared experiences there.

It’s really a fascinating relationship… which is why it gets replaced with a childish rivalry when Avengers Assemble comes along. Naturally.

Leader (Jeffrey Combs)
Jeffrey Combs, the man who made the Scarecrow pants-crappingly scary, returns in full force as the Leader. The Leader talks like somebody angrily explaining something to a little kid, which makes sense, given how smart he is. He says things with such simple conviction that claiming to be able to rule the world begins to seem plausible.

His evil plan, though… standard stuff. Mutate the world and rule over them with mind control. While the execution was pretty much flawless, the plan itself wasn’t anything to write home about. Still, at least I can believe that this version of the Leader is a super-genius. I can think of a certain other version that doesn’t even know the steps of the scientific method.

Doc Samson
Following up on Doc Samson’s character arc, he’s finally fixed the damage his mistake caused. More or less. And since now he’s got some Gamma-powered muscles backing him up, this certainly won’t be the last time Doc Samson plays superhero. Good thing, too. He’s a nice guy with a booming voice who would be awesome to watch fight monsters. Like the Marvel Universe version of Tom Strong.

Animation
There are a lot of nice little cameos amongst all the Gamma mutants. You can see characters resembling Skaar, A-Bomb, Harpy, and probably others. I really have to give props to Thomas Perkins, the character designer for EMH.

My favorite? Top left.
The mutations he designed are creative, sleek, and horrifying. I highly recommend checking out his blog. You can find concept art for EMH as well as some of his other projects.

Final Thoughts
In the end, this was an excellent two-parter. It tells its own story, while at the same time moving several subplots forward. And it does so in the show’s usual funny, action-packed, and exciting way.

Next time, somebody wants revenge against the Avengers. Who will need to be avenged in turn. Plenty of vengeance to go around. See you then!

7 comments:

  1. So, what would you say about MCU and exploiting sexuality? I suppose they don't get much flak because a) they use fan service mostly when its fitting and doesn't ruin the mood and b) they objectify women and men (there was few male heroes who weren't shirtless for a scene or two, let be honest)

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    1. Well, I'd rather not go that far off-topic here... But since you asked politely, I'll put my two cents in real quick.

      While the MCU has slipped up a couple times with how they show their female characters, I'd say that the MCU is a bet less "sleazy," for lack of a better term, than many other franchizes and films.

      (Let's face it, Star Trek is NEVER going to live down Alice Eve's underwear scene.)

      And when they do throw in some gratuitous sexualization, they at least TRY to justify it. In Iron Man 2, Happy Hogan and Tony Stark both couldn't keep their eyes off of Black Widow (which helped her cover as an eyecandy office assistant, despite the other flaws in that disguise), which meant that in order to show the audience WHY they liked what they saw (show, don't tell), they sexed her up a bit. And that's actually in keeping with her characterization as a character who flaunts her sexuality to take advantage of those exact kinds of people for her S.H.I.E.L.D. work.

      And like you said, the sexuality in the MCU tends to fit the mood.

      "Wow, Natalie Rushman is sexy!" Which distracts Tony from actually digging deeper into her suspicious background. Note how her tied-up scene in the Avengers not only has her fully in control, but ISN'T shot like a bondage porno. The camera doesn't ALWAYS treat her like a sex symbol.

      "Wow, Steve Rogers is sexy!" Because they put him in a machine to MAKE him a Dorito-shaped hunk of beef and abs.

      Remember Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer? When the camera lovingly showed us the ample breasts of the sexy DEAD Susan Storm? A prime example of gratuitous sexuality ruining the mood.

      Does the MCU get a bit gratuitous? Yes.

      But on the other hand, you have shirtless Chris Evans, shirtless Tony Stark, naked Bruce Banner... There's a lot of eyecandy to go around, which I think is the way to go. Even Star Trek Into Darkness had a Benedict Cumberbatch showering scene at first.

      And finally, Marvel's female characters are AWESOME. Darcy? Pepper Potts? Wasp? Black Widow? Lady Sif? Agent Carter?

      They're there for MORE than eyecandy (looking at you, Star Trek reboot). Which in the long run, puts them on a bit more equal footing with the male characters, who ALSO are fully-developed characters occasionally used for eyecandy.

      The real issue with the MCU is female representation in general, but "Ant-Man and the Wasp," "Captain Marvel," "Jessica Jones," and all the recurring female characters popping up in solo films are making some headway there.

      Again, I'm not saying the MCU has NO instances of gratuitous sexuality, there's still some progress to be made, but I think that the MCU is a bit better in that regard than MANY other franchises.

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  2. Since it would be reaching for low hanging fruit to say that this show has superior version of Thor, or Hawkeye, or Black Widow, or superior mutated Avengers, or super Hulk-Hawkeye relationship......anyway, so I think we can safely say this is the only really good.....well, I hesitate to say "version" of Leader, since obviously I couldn't follow all comics about him, but the only good adaptation of him?

    -Faceless Enigma

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    1. Certainly the best, though I did like Matt Frewer's hammy take from the 90's Hulk cartoon.

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    2. Well, actor was definitely fun to listen, but I found character himself to be too cheesy for such serious show, basically leaving strongest one there is without worthy adversary. (then again, Hulk was arguably his own greatest enemy)
      - F. E.

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  3. Your enlightening views on such topics like how sexualitation can lead to explotation, how things live up to feminist standards or live them down are qualities I enjoy in reviewers. One of my favourite reviewers is Mr.Enter, he's an asexual autistic like me who reviews animation. Really great guy, can really tear terrible animations a new one.

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