Thursday, January 1, 2015

Review: Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. Season 1

It's 2015. My New Year's Eve was spent working, unfortunately. Not only that, but the very first second of the new year saw a lady telling me that I was doing my job wrong. But I take comfort in the fact that my year will no doubt be looking up from here.

Now let's ring out the old and/or ring in the new by putting Season 1 of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. to rest for good with by reviewing it as a whole season.

No punches pulled.
The main theme of Season 1 is "family." But the same can be said for most other super hero team shows. A corollary theme of the show is "acceptance." You can find it in each of the protagonists' motivations. She-Hulk wants to be able to have a career, Skaar wants to be forgiven for his past errors, Hulk wants the world to stop hating him, etc. And on the whole, most episodes draw from this idea in some way. Even crappy ones like "All About the Ego." Unfortunately, the subplot based on this theme is carried out poorly. Par for the course for subplots in this show, but we'll get there.

I blame both Jeph Loeb and Paul Dini for the few-and-far-between lip service to the subplots.

Hear me out, fellow Paul Dini fans.

First of all, Jeph Loeb became infamous for retooling Avengers: EMH by eliminating subplots on an attempt to make the story "more accessible." And the same thing was likely the case here. But Paul Dini isn't known for his intricate subplots, is he?

It's mainly for his magician fetish.
His Magnum Opus, Batman: TAS, was largely comprised of self-contained episodes. Justice League's tightly written story arcs were largely thanks to Dwayne MacDuffie.

It's hard to balance self-contained stories with long story arcs. That's one of the most common criticisms of Star Trek: Voyager. And this show is no different. While the subplots are there, they're not even relevant for more than half the episodes.

The Hulks' Reputation
Though the Hulks' reputation as monsters does come up in episodes like "Galactus Goes Green" and "Deathlok," it's only actually important in the first two episodes and the last two episodes. Overall, no progress is made, as all their efforts are foiled by the Agents of C.R.A.S.H. in one fell swoop in the second-to-last episode.

Skaar's Backstory
Though this subplot is handled much better, the adaptation of Planet Hulk fails. Not only that, but the subplot is barely important throughout most of the series. Several episodes will go by with no progress or mention made, until it suddenly becomes important again. Just in time for the finale, "coincidentally" enough.

It's not a very interesting mystery, even. Comic fans already know Skaar's origins, and the mystery itself is barely even brought up again until it's about to be solved.

The Leader's Evil Plot(s?)
The biggest problem with the Leader's master plan is that, like the other subplots, it's barely mentioned when it's not important. But this subplot is hurt the most by this tendency. It gives the impression that the Leader is a master of retconning himself into the events of previous episodes, rather than being the evil mastermind behind them.

His overall plan seems to change depending on the episode with little rhyme or reason. He goes from wanting to control the Hulk to wanting him destroyed whenever the mod strikes him. And why was he even involved with Sauron and Frost Giants? What did he hope to gain by allying himself with potential backstabbers? And when did he find the time to conquer a technologically advanced planet? And why did he mind wipe Skaar? These questions and more will remain unanswered.

Paul Dini must be a fan of Lost.


Hulk doesn't change much in this season, other than learning to trust his friends in the first few episodes. I do like this smarter Hulk, but he does have the tendency to come across as kind of bland. Of course, this is done to accentuate the flaws and quirks of his teammates, but bland is bland. And the Hulk is kind of bland. Also, I still miss Bruce Banner.

Now, a smarter Hulk without a Bruce Banner is not unheard of. For a while, the comic version of the Hulk had Banner's mind in the Hulk's body. But that's not what this is.  ...I think? There was an episode of Ultimate Spider-Man that served as a prequel to this show. In it, Hulk got a bit smarter as the result of some mind-swap hoodoo. But that doesn't explain where Banner was before the smartening. Bruce Banner's only appearance in the MAU is in an alternate reality.

But enough talking about a non-existent character. Hulk is either bland or smashy. Either way, he's not interesting to watch.

Red Hulk
I will admit that Red Hulk acts as a good foil to the Hulk, but his personality is hampered with the fact that the character keeps learning the same lesson. Over. And over. And over. After a while, it gets old. Honestly, it really doesn't take that long for his one schtick to wear out its welcome.

Having said that, Red Hulk has taken A-Bomb's intended role as the breakout character. And that's not bad. I may not entirely like his schtick, but it's a far cry from the comic version whose only personality trait was being stronger than literally everyone.

I've already gone over She-Hulk's character in quite a bit of depth. And my opinion hasn't changed.

I actually kind of like Skaar.

Kind of.

I mainly like the contrast between him and the Hulk. Skaar is basically written like the classic "Savage" Hulk, which makes for interesting contrast. I'm not a fan of how his major subplot was handled, and the writers did go overboard on exactly how uncouth he could be (seriously, eating books?), but Skaar is one of the better parts of the show. "The Skaar Whisperer" not withstanding.

If the character had been a little less George of the Jungle and a little more Conan, he could have made the show worth watching by himself.

It's Seth Green telling the PG-rated jokes that this show can get away with. If you don't find him particularly funny (and I don't), then he's got nothing else to give.

An absolutely terrible villain. Every thing that happens is apparently "all part of the plan." Lame. It's lazy writing, it's a boring villain. He's not particularly menacing, and his overall goal is simply to rule the world. Even he already rules one.

It's a little less than on par with it's sibling shows Avengers Assemble and Ultimate Spider-Man. Unfortunately, that means that it's often-lazy and generally nothing special. I can't tell if some of the static image effects are meant to emulate a comic page, the 2003 Hulk movie, or if it's just more laziness.

Best Episode
It's the only episode with a good plot, an excellent villain, and a bare minimum of general stupidity.

Worst Episode
"Mission: Impossible Man"
"Hate" is such a strong word. So I'm going to use it. I hate this episode.

Most "Meh" Episode
"The Hunted"
I keep forgetting about this episode. 'Nuff said.

Best Adaptation
"Wendigo Apocalypse"
This is a surprisingly good retelling of Wolverine's first appearance. It's altered to involve the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. but it's otherwise pretty faithful to the source material. Hulk, Wendigoes, and Wolverine. A fairly good episode, and a good adaptation.

Worst Adaptation
"Inhuman Nature"
While "Planet Leader" is definitely up there, this was a substandard Fantastic Four plot adaptation with Johnny Storm replaced with A-Bomb.

Most "Meh" Adaptation
"For Asgard"
A sub-par rehash of Thor: The Dark World.

Best Heroic Character
I have no dislike for the Hulk, and Skaar's good qualities even out his bad ones. All in all, they tie as a resounding "meh" emanates from my lips.

Worst Heroic Character
Again, I've already ranted about this to my heart's content about how badly they've butchered this character.

Most "Meh" Heroic Character
See above. 

Best Villain
Crafty. Strong. Smart. Where the Leader is retconned into being a mastermind, Abomination is shown to be one. I would honestly say that this is my favorite version of the character.

Worst Villain
Though Impossible Man is infinitely annoying, when the Devourer of Worlds doesn't feel like a threat, you've done something wrong.

Most "Meh" Villain
Wait, who? Oh, yeah.

Best Guest Character
He has some wasted story potential, but he makes more of an impact than any other guest on the show, including Thor (who showed up multiple times, even).

Worst Guest Character
Elloe Kaifi
Turing a fierce amazon-esque warrior into a meek handmaiden is some of the worst character-butchering I've ever seen. Even more than what She-Hulk got.

Most "Meh" Guest Character
The Thing
Though seeing him was a nice little hint at the larger Marvel universe, he really didn't do anything too memorable. On screen, at least.

Best Thing About the Season
The inclusion of the oft-overlooked C-list Marvel characters.

Worst Thing About the Season
Impossible Man
See for yourself, if you don't believe me.

Season One of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. is a missed opportunity at best, and an exhibition of laziness and incompetence at worst. Though it does have its moments, they are few and far between.  And yet, this season could be fixed so easily. Five easy steps.
  1. Less "comedy." Make Skaar less of a joke character and make A-Bomb actually funny.
  2. Have Skaar actually stay a traitor for most of the season. Have him sabotage some of the team's heroics to further the Leader's aims. Even if the booby-trapped Iron Man armors don't kill the Hulks, have Skaar deliver an Arc Reactor or something to his master. Keep the tension up for a while, is all I'm saying.
  3. Have Hulk begin to embrace his role as an outcast, to his surprise and the audience's. Instead of being an all-loved "hero," he can be the outcast who can make the tough decisions that no one else can. And maybe he can go too far and need to be restrained in Season 2? There's options for stories, people! 
  5. Most importantly, have continuity. Maybe A-Bomb can do a webchat with Crystal? Or the jet can keep talking? Or Deathlok can join the team for a bit? Why even change the status quo at the end of an episode if you're just going to forget about it by the time the next one airs?
All and all, this season is the weak link in the already-mediocre Marvel Animated Universe. Even if you're a fan of the Hulk, go right ahead and skip this season. As for the next season, we'll just have to wait and see. See you then.


  1. "Paul Dini must be a fan of Lost."

    Paul Dini actually did work on LOST for a bit, though left the show for other affairs. I don't remember if he had a reason for leaving, though Arkham City made a joke about LOST, which was a game he wrote ("Speaking of which, why did it all end in a Church?").

    1. Huh. Well, you learn so etching new everyday. I never watched Lost myself, mainly because when I considered starting, all the people I knew who watched it told me not to. After seeing their outrage when it ended (as well as learning about the infamous ending), I'm glad I skipped that show.

      Still, it's pretty interesting to learn about Paul Dini's non-comic book work. (And I did catch the reference in Arkham City. I just didn't know it was that much of an in-joke.) Thanks!

  2. I really hate the realistic style animation MoA studio are using for these shows. They're so flat and boring, its a chore to just look at them. That works for stuff like Metalocalypse because its a dark comedy inspired by heavy metal music and not in a action filled superhero cartoon.

    Unlike other disney shows like Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls and Wander Over Yonder, these shows are made by people who could care less about the shows they work on and half ass everything as joylessly as corporate allows them to do.

    1. I agree on your assessment of the "realistic" style. It reminds me more of the 80's GI JOE cartoon. In a bad way. While that style worked for GI JOE, it's not the 80's anymore. Put some effort into your show design. Although it's pretty fitting, considering how merchandise-driven this show is.