Thursday, May 19, 2016

Recap: Avengers Assemble "Valhalla Can Wait"

Today, Avengers Assemble gives us another Asgard episode. Unlike the majority of last season’s Asgard episodes, it has nothing to do with Ragnarök. But like every Asgard episode last season, the plot centers around glorious combat! And this time, the Hulk gets in on the action.

Which gives this episode something in common with Thor: Ragnarok, despite the actual absence of Ragnarök.
The episode opens up on Avengers Tower, where a Daily Bugle reporter is beginning her live TV interview with the Avengers. Yes, readers, this is a rare instance of Daily Bugle Communications doing something other than having JJJ rant about Spider-Man.

"That's not true. I've ranted about the Hulks at least once."
The reporter, Megan McLaren (Vanessa Marshall), begins her interview by talking with Iron Man. Naturally, he takes to opportunity to brag, boast, and generally massage his own ego while the other Avengers stand mostly unamused offscreen.

As an aside, that "baby panda" appears quite often on the DBC scroll in this show.
Good to see that the panda population is steadily rising in this universe.
Tony's feeling slightly cockier than usual, since today was a pretty big day for his team. Earlier that day, the Avengers earned the key to the city in a huge ceremony that involved a parade and getting the key to the city. And to top it all off, the mayor of New York even declared it to be "Avengers Day."

Let's face it, the Avengers deserve all this. I mean, among other things, they stopped Doctor Doom's snake-riding rampage, kept an evil Superman pastiche from becoming a dictator, stabilized the entire city's molecules, halted an Atlantean invasion, stopped two separate alien invasions (and possibly more), halted a Cabal attack on the United Nations, and defeated a Tesseract-powered Red Skull. I think the real question is "Why didn't they get a parade sooner?"

Not that Captain America minds. As he says in his own interview, they're there to do what they can when they can.  Hawkeye, on the other hand, seems to be more interested in his cake than his interview.

Hawkeye: "Avengers Day? Yeah, whatever. Have you tried this cake? It is amazing!"

Falcon is the exact opposite; he's just so excited to be an Avenger.

Falcon: "I'm still geeking out over here!"

And as for Widow....

Megan: "How 'bout a smile?"
Black Widow: "I am smiling."

She gets to channel her inner Tommy Lee Jones.
As for Hulk, he forgoes the usual morals and platitudes he delivers to the camera in his own show and instead goes for a simple message.

Hulk: "Hulk's strongest there is. 'Nuff said."
Megan: "Actually, Thor claimed he's stronger. Your response?"
Hulk: "Two words. Hulk. Strongest."

Megan seems to really be stuck on this topic, though. Not only does she keep debating Thor's merits with the Hulk, but the comparison is the first thing she brings up with Thor.

Thor: "Hulk is a worthy competitor, but I think we all know how any competition would end."

Having had enough, Hulk responds by tackling Thor through the wall of Avengers Tower into the city street dozens of floors below. As the citizens of New York pull out their phones to take pictures of their fight, the Avengers rush down to stop it. While they abandon the interview, Megan's reflection in the window starts looking a lot more Loki-ish while she gleefully watches Thor fight.

So... I'm beginning to doubt that J. Jonah Jameson authorized this interview.

"You've got that right. I actually sent her to examine the Zapruder film for any sign of that web-headed menace."
As Thor and Hulk fight, "Megan" whips out a magic stone (which comic fans will no doubt recognize as a Norn Stone) and destabilizes the news helicopter surveying the hero-on-hero brawl, making it look like Thor's lightning is getting out of hand. Before the chopper can hit the ground, Hulk abandons the brawl to catch it. Understandably, the people inside aren't exactly grateful, since it appears as though Hulk's fight with Thor was the reason they started falling in the first place.

But despite that, Black Widow starts to put the pieces together. After all, the two strongest Avengers were egged on in the first place.

Black Widow: "Something's not right. Where'd that Bugle reporter go?"

Uh, nowhere. She stayed in the tower the whole time so "she" could use her magic to make a helicopter crash, though you never saw that last bit.

But before Widow can do any sort of investigating, Iron Man comes down to berate Thor and Hulk over their pointless little fight.

Hulk: "Rage issues. What's your excuse?"
Thor: "Apologies, Stark. Our friendly competition, while the Asgardian way, got out of hand."
Megan: "The famous 'Asgardian way'?"

Yep, Thor fights for truth, justice, and the Asgrardian way.

Megan: "Tell me, is this the same 'friendly competition' that turned your own brother, Loki, into an outcast?"

"That cost him his rightful place as king of Asgard?
That left him taking petty revenge on spider-costumed jackanapes from Midgard?"
"What?"
"...So I've heard?"
Thor: "Hardly. Loki and I lived to compete as children. I do not know when that changed for him."
Megan: "Maybe it was never as 'friendly' as you thought...."

"Megan" goes on to praise how incredible the Hulk was, saving the helicopter from certain doom at the hands of gravity.

Megan: "You're a hero."
Thor: "Aye, we are all heroes."

Megan agrees that everyone's a hero in their own way. And in Thor's case, in his own not-that-heroic way.

Megan: "You may have lightning and a giant block of stone on a wood stick, but... you're no Hulk."

Thor starts itching for a second round, but Captain America stops that before it can even start. "Megan" secretly summons a gust of wind to blow Thor's cape over his head. Thor, assuming that the Hulk was responsible, gets mad enough to knock the big guy into Central Park. They end up... aw, crap.

With this again?
To be fair, Hulk never actually throws Thor's hammer, like Thanos does, but... yeah, Thor's hammer has suddenly become a lot less immovable than it usually is.

They prepare to trade blows in the middle of the park, but Iron Man defuses the situation again by reminding them that Earth is populated by innocent bystanders. But Megan, who suddenly appears nearby, continues to press the issue in the least subtle way possible.

Megan: "These warriors are bent on battle. If there was only a place they could pursue the glory of combat without worry of inflicting damage."
Hawkeye: "She sound like someone we know?"

Thor, oblivious as ever, summons up a portal from Heimdall, which Megan redirects to Valhalla with the use of her Norn Stone. And once Hulk punches Thor through the glowy energy beam to continue the fight in Asgard, Megan lets loose a laugh in Loki's voice before revealing himself in all his glory.

Captain America: "Loki, what did you do with Hulk and Thor?"
Loki: "Oh, they're on a one-way trip to the afterlife."

Loki, this is the Marvel Universe we're talking about. No trip to the afterlife is "one-way." Heck, they had to install a revolving door for Jean Grey.

Loki: "After all, only the strongest belong in Valhalla."

After having taunted the Avengers, Loki steps through the portal himself before the energy beam disappears.

Hawkeye: "So, are we talking 'Valhalla,' as in...?"
Captain America: "As in where Asgardian warriors go when they fall in battle. And don't come back."

We then cut to Valhalla, which is ruled over by Hela (Vanessa Marshall), the Queen of the Dead.

So... here's the thing. As I said in my Recap of Thor: The Dark World, I've recently started feeling that adaptations of the Thor comics should get a little leeway. After all, it's hard to talk about accuracy to the "source material" when the comics and mythology can be very different from one another.

On the other hand, this episode is getting things wrong that the comics and myths actually agree on.

Hela (aka Hel) in mythology, as well as the comics, is supposed to be the ruler of Helheim. I mean, the place is named after her. Of course, the problem there is that Helheim showed up in an earlier episode of Avengers Assemble, "The Doomstroyer," where it was said to be the domain of the trolls, which is incorrect for both the comics and the mythology. And Hel's domain certainly isn't Helheim as shown in "The Doomstroyer," since this place actually has less brimstone and more sky.

And looks like the kind of background an Iron Maiden album cover would have.
Another thing this show gets wrong from both the comics and mythology is the fact that not everyone goes to Valhalla when they die. The plain ol' dead, regardless of morality, go to Helheim while the truly great warriors ascend to the Great Halls of Valhalla, where they feast until they get called off to help Odin fight Fenrir in the end of days.

Now let's move on before I start complaining that Valhalla is the name of the building, not the realm.

...Too late.

Hela is bored. Apparently, watching skeletons fight to the undeath for all eternity is pretty boring. Probably more so since Skurge failed to show up with that wild boar last Asgårdsreien. Loki suddenly appears, promising her a great spectacle, but she simply responds with indifference. Which makes sense when you consider that, in the original myths, Hela is Loki's daughter, a detail I kind of wish they would have included in this episode.

"Ugh, can you seriously just stay out of my life, dad? God, you're such a buzzkill."
"Where on Midgard did you learn such disrespect for your dad, young lady?"
"I learned it by watching you."
"...Touché."
Her mood continues until he explains that Thor and Hulk are fighting just outside her palace, convinced that they're in an Asgardian arena. And Hela likes what she sees.

"OMG, Thor is so hot."
"You realize he's your uncle, right?"
"You banged a stallion and gave birth to an eight-legged horse. Don't judge me."
Loki: "How would you like to see the winner battle for all eternity?"

Wouldn't that be really boring, since the winner would be fighting Hela's fragile skeleton? I mean, imagine you're a basketball fan. What would you rather see: Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley play one-on-one, or Michael Jordan play against high school basketball players?

The correct answer is "Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes playing against aliens."
Hela asks Loki what he wants in return, and Loki knows exactly what to ask for...

As Loki schemes, Thor and Hulk continue their fight until they eventually shatter the illusion.

Hulk: "Puny illusion. Where are we?"
Thor: "Odin's beard! Valhalla!"

Well, which is it?

Also, Valhalla is a building. You're fighting in a wasteland. Valhalla literally means "Hall of the Slain." That's why it doesn't end in "-gard" or "-heim" like the other realms. Because it's not a realm.

Back in Central Park, Hawkeye has an idea to get Hulk and Thor back.

Hawkeye: "Heimdall! Portal!"

Nope.

Hawkeye: "Alakazam?"

Pokemon will get you nowhere.

Hawkeye: "Bibbiti-bobbti-boo?"

Not even Disney can help you now.  But coincidentally, a portal opens up soon afterward, spewing out legions of undead warriors.

That's a buttload of 12-sided dice.
Iron Man: "Something tells me this isn't just a Renaissance fair."

You know, I bet Tony's totally that guy who goes to a Ren fair dressed up as a time traveler.

Loki follows his new undead horde into the world of the living, declaring himself King of Earth. The Avengers have other plans, which mostly involve kicking undead butt.

Hawkeye: "I thought Valhalla was supposed to be full of great warriors? These guys seem pretty dead to me. Eh?"
Black Widow: "As dead as that joke."

Iron Man coordinates the team, telling them to go after Loki. Falcon, bless his heart, does his best to take down Loki with his flechettes, but ends up getting his wings clipped.  As Iron Man struggles against the zombie horde, JARVIS informs him that according to the Asgardian archives, whoever holds the Hunting Horn of Hela commands her army. But the horn can't simply be stolen; it must be given.

Iron Man: "He got her to give him the horn?"

Well, Loki once screwed a horse; I'm not surprised he got turned on by his own... Ohhhhhhh, you meant she literally gave him the Hunting Horn.

While Iron Man wonders how Loki got her to give him the horn, Loki's bargaining chips watch the invasion from Valhalla. They try to jump through the portal, but can't pass through the barrier. Because in this realm, everything is governed by the will of Hela. And she doesn't want them to leave.

Hela: "I grow tired of watching the remains of once-great men fight and fall apart at my feet. I long for new entertainment."

Somebody needs to get this chick Netflix.

Hulk tries to attack her in defiance, but she simply responds by giving Hulk her legendary Death Touch. In an interesting twist, this kills the Hulk... but not Bruce Banner.

Thor: "Hela! End this madness, now!"

"Wait, Thor! I've been searching for a cure for the Hulk since...."
Hela: "I so rarely get to have fun."

"Aw, crap."
Thor asks what Hela wants, and she tells him that all she wants is an answer to the question that has been plaguing Marvel fans since time immemorial: Who's stronger, Hulk or Thor? Thor insists that this little competition is dooming Earth, but Hela counters with a twofold response.
  1. She doesn't care.
  2. Thor used to fight like crazy with Loki all the time.
But she also tells them that the loser will go free, and Thor grudgingly tells Hulk that they should accept her terms. At least that way, one of them can help the Avengers on Earth.

Thor: "I will beat you so you may return to the Avengers."

Hulk, not one to let Thor's claim slide, decks him in the face.

Hulk: "You go back! Hulk strongest!"

Back on Earth, the Avengers continue to fail against Loki's trickery. Even a fully-powered unibeam blast from Iron Man simply makes Loki start monologuing about how Thor always had to turn everything into a competition when they were kids. So basically, this whole scheme is revenge against Thor and his competitive nature continually outshining Loki.

Speaking of Thor, he's still fighting the Hulk while Hela remarks to herself that even after all these years, Loki can still surprise her. The mention of Loki catches Thor's ear, and he demands to know what his evil plan is. So she simply points him toward the portal to Earth, where Loki continues to wage war with his skeleton army. Said skeleton army is finally defeated by the Avengers, so Loki simply blows his horn again (which sounds like a didgeridoo, oddly enough), merging their bones into a gigantic skeleton warrior. Unfortunately, that idea sounds much cooler than it actually is.

Maybe if it fought Godzilla?
The bony kaiju slowly tromps through the New York streets, carrying its master to his new home: Avengers Tower. As it makes its way, Cap, Hawkeye, and Black Widow attack it from their hovercycles. The giant skeleton repairs the damage, but not before Black Widow notes that the thing is hollow inside. As she formulates a new plan, so does Thor. He chuckles to himself and tells Hela that Loki finally beat him.

Thor: "You want the greatest warrior? Loki is the man you seek."

He explains his reasoning to Hela and Hulk, and they agree that Loki's craftiness has made him the true victor of this day. Especially when Thor points out that Hela doesn't have an army to back her up anymore.

Thor: "Who would the victor of this bout fight?"

Back on Earth, the skele-giant is absent-mindedly swiping its hand along a buildign as it lumbers. Distractingly, the destruction to several floors is done with a rather lazy "wipe" effect, rather than actually animating the destruction by hand.

As the Avengers continue to fight the big monster, Black Widow hops into one of the dents they make in it. She sets some explosives above the tibia before setting them off. As Falcon saves her from the big boom, Loki's gigantic minion falls to the ground. He tries blowing the horn to revive it, but the heroes manage to kick it out of his grasp.

With the monster down, but not defeated, Thor and Hulk fall out of the sky to smash it for good. Hela arrives with them to take back her gift, but Loki keeps trying to win, despite now being greatly outnumbered. Hulk and Thor gang up on Loki briefly, but end up surrendering to him and begging for mercy.

Loki: "Hmmm... No."

Loki zaps them both in a fit of rage and declares himself the final victor of the day.

Hela: "It is decided."

Hela blows her horn, reforms the giant skeleton, and has it take Loki back to Valhalla to fight for all eternity. And with one last friendly warning that Thor should not enter the land of the dead again until he actually is dead, Hela leaves as well.

Iron Man congratulates Thor and Hulk for their victory, saying that it must have been hard to bring themselves to surrender like that.

Thor: "Aye. Though it pains me to surrender, sacrifice of ego is sometimes needed to achieve victory."

Which is a lesson Thor learns about as often as Tony learns about not over-relying on technology.

Thor: "And to save the Hulk, who was almost trapped in Valhalla."
Hulk: "Hm. Trapped? So, you're saying I'm stronger?"
Thor: "That is not what I meant, you foul-stenched oaf!"

But against all expectations, Thor and Hulk don't start fighting again. Instead, Thor and Hulk have a heartwarming moment where Thor admits that he considers the Green Goliath to be family.

“No thanks. I’ve seen how your family treats each other.”
And so, the two strongest Avengers head off to grab a hot dog while the real Megan McLaren comes over to try and get an interview.

Avengers: "No comment."

Now there's a newscast.
"Today, the dead walked the Earth. The Avengers were not available for comment."
And with that, the episode ends. Now let’s review.

5 comments:

  1. (insert Skeleton Warriors theme song here)

    - That One Anon

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  2. It would have been even more hilarious if Hawkeye was wearing Thor's discarded helmet when he was trying to summon a portal

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  3. If next episodes would fix the realms to better match comics and mythology, would you praise writers for doing their research or scold them for lack of consistency?

    - Faceless Enigma

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    Replies
    1. Yes and yes, probably.

      But if they decided to try to actually get the realms to match up with the comics and mythology (which is one of the few things the comics and the mythology AGREE on, I think I'd value that more than stubbornly sticking to their inconsistent and inaccurate realm cosmology.

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