Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Recap: Avengers: United They Stand "Avengers Assemble, Part One"

You know, it's easy to get burned out when you deal with the same stuff day after day. It can happen regardless of how much you love working with the material. I mean, I love watching stuff I enjoy (obviously), and I get a bit of pleasure dissecting the things I didn't enjoy in what I hope is an entertaining manner. But I recently became a smidgen weary.

A bit of a break by reviewing Iron Man 2 and Thor was just what the doctor ordered. To see the good instead of the bad. But a small part of me wondered whether or not I would be able to return to reviewing crappy animation with my usual vigor. I mean, "The Ambassador" was easy enough to find energy for. But I was still worried. Worried that when I returned to recapping crappy episodes, I wouldn't have the vigor I once did.

But after realizing that the release of Age of Ultron was coming quite soon, I realized that I should take advantage of people's Google searches delve into a time when Ultron was the big bad for the Avengers cartoon. And what I found there....

Ye gods, what I found.

I just... Words can't explain. Let me put it like this.


I saw such beautiful horrors.
Then I cracked my knuckles...

And I got to work.
But before I tell you about this... thing, I need to say something important.

The show I'm looking at today comes from what you kids call "The Before-Time." But people my age call it "The 90's." As with any decade, the 90's has its ups and downs. While many fine, timeless cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series came out of this decade, let's just say that this one... isn't timeless. At all. We're talking "Nineties" spelled with a capital "X-TREEM."

There are those that say this show is the worst thing that Marvel Comics has ever put their name on. I would like to direct those people toward Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. 

Still, that claim has left me morbidly curious. And a little scared. And even somewhat excited. How bad could it be?

If you only knew....
When I talk about animated superhero adaptations, I usually don't go into too much detail with how the show came to be. (Though I will often sprinkle behind-the-scenes stuff into the Recaps and Reviews where relevant.) This is mainly because it boils down to "somebody pitched a show to Marvel/DC and it was approved" a lot of the time, though I try to document the exceptions. But still, it usually boils down to either some creator saying "I've got an idea for a show" or some executive saying "This is something I think we should make."

But this show? This show wasn't so much "created" as "congealed."

Roland Poindexter spoke with Robert N. Kir and Marty Isenberg, veterans of the X-Men cartoon, in 1997 regarding an Avengers show. And after working to outline a thirteen episode story arc, Poindexter took it to Fox for approval.

However, there was a little problem. Marvel went bankrupt, thanks to some questionable financial decisions. But after Marvel got some of their act together, the Avengers show was greenlit and put into production! Mainly because they thought this show would be a great opportunity to increase toy sales.

Sadly, the mindset of judging a show by its toy sales is still around, even after killing the DC Nation shows. But Avengers: United They Stand was being canceled for low toy sales before it was cool. Well, low toy sales and terrible ratings.

The show ended up only lasting for the initial thirteen-episode story arc before quietly being cancelled. All in all, the show only ran from October of 1999 to February of 2000. And as you'll soon see, there was no way this show would have been greenlit at all if it hadn't been for the 90's being the 90's.

This is a difficult show to get hold of, since it had not official North American DVD/VHS release, but it's doable if you know people with working VCRs, a love of Marvel Comics, and knowledge of the old MST3K motto "Keep Circulating the Tapes." And occasionally, Marvel will stream it on their website.

Now let's begin.

We begin with the show’s theme song, because superhero cartoons actually had those in the 90's. It’s not bad, but it definitely wants to be the 90’s X-Men theme when it grows up. Much like the X-Men theme sequence, all the Avengers are shown next to their names. You also get to see just how freaking 1990’s this show actually is. So it’s nice that the intro acts like a warning in that way. But I’m not going to describe the opening visuals to you. Partially because it just consists of clips from the series proper, but also because I want you to go in to this 90’s-fest unprepared.

Actually, I’ll show one shot from the intro.

Three of these things are not like the others....
See Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor? They barely appear in this series. Mostly for legal reasons, but partially because creators didn't want the "Big Three" to overshadow the rest of the team. I guess that makes sense, although this puts more pressure on them to make the B-list characters interesting, which takes time away from designing characters to make into toys.

The episode opens up on a dark and stormy night. In his warehouse hideout, the evil robot Ultron (played by John Stocker) begins putting the finishing touches on his latest creation, his vision of perfection.

Welcome to the 1990's, everybody. the heyday of shoulderpads.
Ultron rants for a bit about how humanity is flawed, Ultron is perfect, blah blah blah as he gives life to an android creation of his own.

I don't know about Ultron, but there seem to be some strings on this guy.
It walks forward towards its creator.

Ultron: “And like your creator, Ultron, you are perfect!”

After saying this, Ultron decides to add some yellow and green armor to his creation. So much for “perfect,” I guess.

Ultron shoots purple lightning out of his fingertip to press a button on a console… for some reason. What, you’re too perfect to walk across the room, Ultron? Anyway, his lightning hits the button, and a machine comes down and outfits his creation, Vision, with a gaudy armored costume. He rants some more about his mission to destroy all humans as he caresses the face of his creation in a fairly disturbing manner.

Ultron: “Only one man understands who we are. And only he can stop us.”

As he says this, he holds up his robotic fist which starts spinning around and around before shooting out and punching an entire sequence of television screens depicting his arch-nemesis.

Ultron: “Henry Pym. Ant-Man. The leader of the Avengers.”

Yes, you read that right. Ant-Man is the leader of the Avengers.

Ant-Man is the leader of the Avengers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Ant-Man. But he’s just not leader material. He doesn’t have the bearing of Thor, the charisma of Iron Man, or the authority of Captain America...

"Hey, man. Words hurt...."
Ultron:He! Shall be the first… to perish.”

William Shatner called. He says you’re pausing too much.

Over at Avengers Mansion, which is now apparently owned by Ant-Man, he watches the news report on the preparations for the ceremony where the President will present “a special commendation” to the Avengers.

Reporter: “Led by shapeshifting superhero Ant-Man….”

Let me stop you there. He’s not a shapeshifter, he’s a size-changer. Get it right.

Wasp: “Enjoying the attention, dearest?”

Now let’s talk about Janet van Dyne, aka the Wasp. Quite simply... her voice is weird. Not "weird," but, well, an odd choice.

Okay, let me set one thing straight before I continue. Linda Ballantyne is a fine voice actress who has done some fine work. In fact, her voice is actually perfect for the Wasp's characterization here. I just find the characterization to be a little different than what I'm used to for this character.

This character whose face is apparently melting.
For one, her delivery sounds like she should be dubbing anime. Not surprisingly, she went on to voice the title character of Sailor Moon from the second half onward.

But her voice is... for lack of a better term, smoker-ish. I don't mean that she has the rasp of a seventy-year old chain smoker, but the slightly-deep, slightly-cracking tone of a thirty-something.

Typically speaking, Janet van Dyne is portrayed as youthful and energetic. Somewhat sprightly, if you will. Here, she's definitely more laid back and... soccer mom-ish.

I get that they're playing up the character's more "motherly" aspects to contrast her with the other female Avengers, but I still find it an direction considering what I'm used to for the character. It’s very distracting, like hearing Peter Cullen’s voice come out of Spider-Man’s face. And since this is Avengers: United They Stand, I don't have to put money into my Avengers: EMH Wasp complaint jar for my previous comments.

Ant-Man (Rod Wilson) is a bit hesitant to allow his team to be put in the spotlight like this, but adds that it's very difficult to say no to the President. Still, Hank's a bit nervous about the whole team. Like I said before, Ant-Man is just not a good choice to lead the team. And he knows it. He admits that he's no Captain America, Thor, or Iron Man. And as he says their names, we get close ups of their portraits on the wall. And by "portraits," I mean "art from actual comics." A nice touch, though the 90's artwork clashes with the art style of the show itself.

Wasp: "Well, none of them is Dr. Henry Pym, world's greatest biochemist?"

Mediocre entomologist? Fairly good physicist? Terrible singer?

Wasp: "You are as qualified to lead us as anyone."

We then cut to Simon Williams, aka Wonder Man (Hamish McEwan) smashing his way through a wall.

Wonder Man: "Now hex... my attack."

Was that even a sentence?

Suddenly, the Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch (Stavroula Logothettis) literally drops in and speaks without opening her mouth...

Scarlet Witch: "Weends off destiny... change!"

...and she zaps Wonder Man into the wall he just smashed.

Let's back up a second. This is a training exercise. Normally, such a thing would only be cut to after an establishing shot of wherever they were, unless they were trying to fake us out by making us think it was a real fight. But with Wonder Man's obvious coaching of his opponent, there's no way they were trying to fake us out. The only conclusion is that either this scene was a victim of terrible editing, or this was part of the 90s' ongoing fascination with training exercises. Seriously, pick up an old issue of X-Force and you'll understand that I mean.

Anyway, Wonder Man gets knocked on his butt.
Scarlet Witch: "I waurned you, dear Simon. When I change the probabilities affekting something, the weurld goes a leetle beet craysee! Auckh, I'm never sure what weel happen."

Let's talk about that accent. As near as I can tell from the research I did, it's Logothettis's actual Greek accent. And as much as I hate to criticize what may be her natural speaking voice, I find her accent quite distracting. And before you accuse me of unfairly criticizing the female voice actors in this show... Just you wait. There's a real doozy of a male voice coming up.

But what's worse is the lip-syncing. Her voice doesn't even match her face. Her voice is stuttering and concerned, but her face is all flirty.

Oh, yeah, you look real concerned, Wanda.
Anyway, back to the action. Scarlet Witch is all worried because she doesn't have perfect control over her powers, but the freakishly-built Wonder Man assures her that that's why they're practicing in the first place.

Also, that is the most 90s bodytype I've ever seen.
She thanks the grotesque homunculus in the same tone of voice you'd use to talk to a puppy, and the scene suddenly fades to a different training exercise. This one is a sparring match between a catgirl named Tigra (Lenore Zann), and Hawkeye (Tony Daniels).

Tigra: "Hawkeye, I wanted a reeeal workout."
Hawkeye: "Tigra... Why didn't you say so?"

First of all, saying each other's name before talking twice in two sentences? Lazy character introduction.

Second, Hawkeye's dressed like this.

You may begin laughing.
Third, Hawkeye's voice sounds like a terrible Solid Snake impersonation. It doesn't sound like a character's voice, it sounds like somebody's doing a fake voice, which only serves to highlight the fact that it is a fake voice.

Anyway, he fires five arrows at once, all of which Tigra ends up catching from literally a foot away.

Hawkeye: "Now... Ready to meet the President?"

I guess we're done training, then?

Also, I hate to harp on Hawkeye's voice, but it's legitimately hard to listen to. Not because it's terrible (which it is), but because the actor is clearly straining to not only keep his performance consistent (which it isn't), but also to not hurt his voice. And judging by his audible problems finishing his sentences, the man was clearly in a little pain as he struggled to record his lines. But enough of that, the call's going out!

Ant-Man: "Avengers! Assemble!"

The team gathers in the meeting room, where surveillance footage informs them that the President's helicopter is under attack. The theme song blares and... oh, yes, I nearly forgot. The suiting-up sequence.

"But Newt," you say, "They're already in their costumes. What do you mean by 'the suiting-up sequence'?"

So, I mentioned that Iron Man isn't a regular character. Good thing, too. He'd be completely redundant, seeing as how every Avenger has an armored outfit to go over their costume, complete with anime-esque transformation sequence. You might be wondering why on Earth there would be a transformation sequence in an Avengers cartoon.

Exhibits A, B, C, D, and E.
But only three Avengers have armored forms. Hawkeye gets some shoulder pads and some kind of arm brace, Wasp dresses up like... I don't know.

Kamen Rider or an Esthar Soldier. Take your pick.
Hank, meanwhile, gets a suit of armor with a seashell visor.

Extreme closeup! Whooooooooooaaah!
They fly off to the scene in their jet as Ultron radios the Vision, who's observing the attack from afar, asking if the Avengers have shown up yet. When the answer is negative, Ultron's flying drones redouble their efforts to down the President's chopper. The continuing carnage ends up wrecking the apartment of Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon (Martin Roach), who summons his pet falcon, Redwing, and suits up to assist the Avengers.

Just as it looks like the President's chopper is done for, the Avengers' jet arrives on the scene to blast away some drones, before everybody but Wasp and Ant-Man jumps down to grab the drones and destroy them in midair. Tigra gets shot down by another drone and makes the most exaggerated grunts as she falls through the trees below. Falcon manages to destroy the drones closing in on her, so Vision decides to finally step in and shoot the President's chopper down himself.

After successfully grounding the President, Vision decides to let missile-carrying drones try to shoot down Ant-Man, who is like to remind you is supposed to be the priority target here. Which explains why Vision isn't actually going after him, I guess?

Hawkeye gets the order to protect the President, but ends up having to take out more drones. As Ant-Man lands his jet, Vision decides that he wants to actually join the fight again and shoots his eye lasers at the jet. The other Avengers find themselves unable to fight a super strong, intangible, laser-beaming android, and Falcon ends up swooping in and getting the Commander-in-Chief to safety with a minimum of fuss.

So much for the Avengers, I guess.
As the cops finally decide to show up, Vision concedes defeat and flies off.
The Avengers reconvene and Hawkeye gets chewed out for attacking drones when he was told to protect the President.

Hawkeye: "I did! Then I took on Mr. Bright-Eyes to save your... jet!"

Either that pause is supposed to be a joke (swapping "save your ass" with "save your jet"), or the voice actor could barely finish his line in that raspy voice he's doing. I honestly can't tell.

Anyway, the President needs medical attention. And without Falcon's random assistance, he could have gotten killed. Later, at Avengers Mansion, the Avengers' government liaison, Mr. Sikorsky, is a bit upset at this despite Hawkeye's claims that the day was technically saved.

"So what if we only saved some of the President? Isn't that what the Vice President's for?"
Mr. Sikorsky: "The President doesn't see it that way. Out of his one good eye."

"Cry me a river, Mr. President. Sr."
Sikorsky demands that Hawkeye be kicked out and Falcon recruited in his place before leaving the room. Ant-Man reluctantly tells Hawkeye that they're not kicking him out, but he should lay low for a while. This makes Hawkeye so mad that he goes off-model.

"That just purples my arm!"
Also, he quits the team and storms out.

Wonder Man runs after him and tries to convince him to stay. You know, I have to say, there is some genuine emotion between these two. Like, I am legitimately believing that these two deeply care about and love each other. Which is perfectly fine, although I'm not quite sure the attraction between these two was intended by the production staff. I mean, the homoerotic subtext between these two has just skyrocketed into nearly becoming plain ol' text. The gravelly voice of Hawkeye is softening, and Wonder Man looks utterly heartbroken. Honestly, there's more chemistry here than in all the flirting between Simon and Wanda.

Hawkeye: "Simon... You're the only real friend I ever had... So you know why... I gotta go."

Good for him. The audience sure doesn't know. Is this supposed to be some kind of lone wolf thing, or what?

Later, Ant-Man has the mansion's butler, Jarvis, take the salvaged drones to the lab for study. Ant-Man heads off to examine them while Tigra heads off to search for Falcon. As he tinkers with one of them, he accidentally triggers a self-destruct mechanism with enough power to blow up the whole mansion, which starts counting down. As he urgently tries to disarm it, we cut to Ultron's hideout. Ultron congratulates Vision's valiant effort, as he gets his head and spine put into a new body. I'd say this was ripping off the Borg Queen from Star Trek: First Contact, but...

But nothing, it's ripping off the Borg Queen.
Ultron's new plan is to create separate crises to draw the Avengers away while Vision destroys Ant-Man without their interference. He plans to distract the other Avengers by using his massive new body and its oversized shoulder pads.

Will his shoulders just get bigger every time we see him?
Soon enough, the plan is put into action as Sam Wilson is busy taking what I presume to be his brother or nephew to see a movie. While standing in line, he notices something suspicious about the vehicles driving past. They're all buses, but there's no passengers on any of them. This starts making sense when the buses start opening up and firing lasers at the crowd standing in line. After making sure his brother/nephew (named Andrew, apparently) is okay, he prepares to leap into action.

Meanwhile, Hank tells Janet to turn off that alarm so he can work on defusing the drone in peace. But the alarm isn't for the imminent explosion, it's for the latest drone attack in Madison Square Garden. Hank tells Jan to assemble the team without him. If he doesn't defuse the self-destruct soon, then the whole mansion could be destroyed. You know, Hank specifically said "Engage containment field" before he began. What good is a "containment field" if it can't actually contain anything?

Sam gets Andrew (now identified as Sam's nephew) to safety and rushes off to do some good as a do-gooder. He throws a steel I-beam that was lying around with one hand at a laser bus. Apparently, he has super strength. Or the writers don't know how heavy metal actually is. But either way, this accomplishes nothing and Sam gets zapped for his troubles.

Andrew runs out after his uncle, only to get shot himself. Sam gets back up and holds his still nephew in his arms. And... um... is.... is Andrew dead?

Are we looking at a dead child? I really don't want to be posting a picture of a dead kid....
But before the laser buses can add Sam to their list of casualties, the Avengers arrive to save the day.  But actually, it looks like the day is saved for them. Out of nowhere, all the drones deactivate.

Scarlet Witch: "Sahmthing dahsint feel right. They draw all of us here an zen stop ze fight? A dozen make sentz."

"Wanda, I don't know what a 'sentz' is or why it takes twelve to make them, but we're kind of busy."
Wonder Man realizes that this was all a ploy to get Ant-Man by himself as an alarm in the jet announces a security breach in the mansion. When we cut to the mansion, Ant-Man has abandoned his plan of disarming the drone in favor of beating up the new drones invading the place. To help with this, he changes into his Giant-Man form, which makes his helmet have shades instead of a clamshell visor.

Because 90's.
Wonder Man, the only team member who can fly, is back at the mansion ready and barely manages to take a blast from the Vision that was meant for Hank. Scarlet Witch comes in to wail in horror, a drone self-destructs, and the words "TO BE CONTINUED" appear on the screen.
Will Simon be alright?

Will the Age of Ultron begin?

And the most important question of all....

Why and how does Tigra get her hair to do that?
At least two of these questions will be answered in Part Two!


  1. What's with these shows and making Hawkeye gay?

    1. Maybe they like the irony of having him not be as "straight" as an arrow.

    2. Quote Berserker: That pun, physically hurt me