Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: Avengers Assemble "The Dark Avengers"

So… yeah, the Dark Avengers don’t actually show up in this episode, nor are the alternate Avengers referred to by that title. But don’t worry, a team of villain pretending to be heroes will actually show up when Avengers Assemble adapts the Thunderbolts!
  
Poorly adapts the Thunderbolts, but still.

Plot/Themes
“The Dark Avengers” does actually work on multiple levels as a title. It can refer to the now-villainous Avengers, or it can refer to the role of the Squadron Supreme; they take the place of the Avengers, but are still as evil as ever. Role-wise, they’re the Avengers, but with a secret dark side. “Dark Avengers,” if you will.

I like the idea that the Squadron Supreme got their hands on an Infinity Stone. They seem to be the only organized group of criminals after the dissolution of the Cabal (I’m not counting minor nuisances like the Wrecking Crew or the Frightful Four), and it would make sense that they would at least be trying to get their hands on one of the stones.

Yes, the idea of an evil universe has been done to death since we first saw Spock’s bearded counterpart in the Mirror Universe, but this is still a solid example of such a story.

What I really like about it is that Dr. Spectrum changes the world, but doesn’t have such control over the individuals.

The Avengers became villains. They didn’t have false memories of being villains, they had real memories of being villains because reality itself was altered. The fatal flaw in Dr. Spectrum's plan is that while he can alter history to make it so the Avengers have always been criminals, he can't change who they fundamentally are deep down.

After reality warps, and the Avengers find themselves in their new roles with new memories of having always been a criminal, they go along with it because, as far as they know, this is just what they do. Except for Captain America. Captain America is such a decent guy that even when confronted with real memories of being a criminal, something feels inexplicably wrong to him.

And sure, the others might enjoy the freedom to let loose and take what they want, but when push came to shove, they all stepped up to the challenge.

You’d think that an evil plot on this scale would warrant a two-parter, but I actually kind of appreciate the fact that they didn't try to milk a two-parter out of this. As interesting as it might be to see more of this altered world, the pacing keeps the episode brisk, and it doesn't get bogged down in fight scenes for padding, which is a very nice change.

Characters
Tony Stark/Iron Man
Tony Stark, after basically becoming Lex Luthor, is the second to notice that something’s wrong, but only because he peered through a crack in reality. But even that was enough to make him wonder. So I can only imagine that deep down, each Avenger didn’t feel quite right, which would explain why they ended up teaming up so quickly.

And Iron Man’s sacrifice was ultimately a rash and impulsive decision, but he looked at the evidence, determined that reality was wrong, and gave his life over a theory simply because it finally made sense of everything that had been gnawing at him.

Steve Rogers/Captain America
Captain America, on the other hand, immediately knew something was wrong. And he was the first one to suggest that maybe he and the other villains were actually heroes, probably because no matter what you do, you can’t turn Cap into a bad guy.

Not even this managed to stick.
Hulk
The fact that Hulk hasn’t destroyed everything is proof that he’s not a bad guy. General Ross knows, correctly, that the Hulk could wipe out an entire state before anything could hope to stop him. So the fact that the Hulk is simply a small-time gang enforcer shows that at the very least, the Hulk has self-control. And at most, he’s got a good heart.

Thor
Instead of being obsessed with protecting Earth, he’s just overjoyed that it’s weak enough for him to ransack. Though I have to wonder why he steals Earth money when Odin is loaded. Perhaps Thor is the unwanted Odinson in this universe?

I can’t help but think just a reference to Thor being bitter over Loki being daddy’s favorite might have added a bit of depth to his non-descript villainy.

But Thor still using Mjolnir and gallivanting about on the relatively-primitive Earth when he could probably conquer another realm entirely can be chalked up to Dr. Spectrum not knowing enough about Thor as a person to create a plausible reason for these things; they probably felt wrong enough to convince Thor in the end that Tony was right.

Sam Wilson/Falcon
Falcon was probably lured to Tony’s side easily, since the two are basically science buds in real-reality.

Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Hawkeye was the one who opposed teaming up the most, probably because he’s the one who actually used to be a criminal. All Dr. Spectrum did was give him a chance to revert to what he was like during his time in the Circus of Crime.

Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
She’s introverted even in the normal universe. Here, she’s a cypher. I don’t know what makes her tick, and it’s hard to know how, when, and why she changes her mind about Tony’s theory.

…Which is kind of exactly what you’d expect from her, really.

Visuals
Where the episode falls short, in my opinion, is the design of the evil Avengers. Some of them, anyway.
Iron Man's black armor, from the Marvel NOW era, hearkens back to the evil AI Mainframe from the MC2 continuity. So I have no problem with that.

I like Hulk's mohawk (a little reference to his Doc Green persona).

I like Cap's U.S. Agent outfit.

But Hawkeye, Thor, and especially Falcon look like.... Well, you know how in fighting games, characters come with multiple color palettes? It looks like Hawkeye, Thor, and Falcon are just wearing their "Player Two" outfits, as it were.

More than anything, it reminds me of that episode of Futurama with the alternate universe.

And what is the deal with Black Widow's emo clown makeup?
And why is Hawkeye as pale as a blogger?
Still, the animation is average for the show (which includes the duplication of Falcon), and the fights are pretty good. Not the best I’ve seen, but the fights in this episode probably weren’t a priority since they weren’t being used as padding.

Final Thoughts
While the whole "evil alternate universe" thing has been done to death, this episode manages to put an interesting-enough spin on what could have been another strictly-by-the-numbers plot.

Next time, we go from stock sci-fi plots to a stock sitcom plot. The twist? It takes place in Asgard.

See you then!

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