Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Recap: Avengers Assemble "The Dark Avengers"

Today, Avengers Assemble continues the proud Marvel Animated Universe tradition of using the names of stories from the comics without actually adapting the plot of said story.

"Planet Hulk" Parts 1 & 2
 And more.

And out of all of those, I would only really call one of them "good."

So I'm hoping this episode can beat the odds.

But Avengers Assemble is past due for a solid episode, so this is going to be it, right? An in-name-only adaptation that features a stock sci-fi plot is going to be the episode that gets Avengers Assemble out of its funk?

The episode begins with yet another average day in New York City. The sun is shining, a little girl is walking some kind of tiny dog, and gigantic, four-legged robots start shooting up New York City. Like I said, a normal day.

But for some reason, my mind is drifting toward the lyrics "Our world's about to break, tormented and attacked."
The little girl's dog starts barking at the giant robots, which seems to get the attention of one of them, since it starts charging up its laser. Luckily, a super-tough red-and-yellow blur flies through the robot, breaking the parts that make it go.

Little Girl: "Hyperion... my hero!"

Something is very wrong.

I like to think that luminescent teeth is one of his powers.
Hyperion: "That is one cute dog."

What dog is he looking at?
Nighthawk: "Your charm alone's not going to destroy the other two robots, Hyperion!"

As if Hyperion being called a "hero" wasn't enough, Nighthawk's sounding a bit more... Super Friends than usual.

Seriously, he sounds like he's going to start referring to people as "Old Chum."
After Nighthawk uses a small bomb to destroy another one of these robots, an ally of his named Zarda comes along to drive a hammer into another robot.

No, that's Zartra, voiced by April Stewart.
This is Zarda, voiced by... April Stewart.

This also isn't her first rodeo when it comes to Marvel in general. Here, Stewart voices a super-strong bruiser and an Atlantean, respectively, whereas in the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series, she voiced Ms. Marvel and Namorita... a super-strong bruiser and an Atlantean, respectively.

Seems to be some typecasting going on.

Speaking of typecasting, a black guy wielding an alien artifact that can turn thought into reality shows up. And he's voiced by Phil LaMarr.

There ya go.
After Doctor Spectrum, as he's called, gets smacked into a building before he can do much of anything, he's joined by a speedster clad in bright, primary colors with a lightning motif, played by Jason Spisak.

There ya go.
Yeah, I'm sure several among you have noticed the little joke in the casting. Save for April Stewart, the rest of the voice actors correspond to the DC equivalents of these characters, including Brian Bloom as Hyperion (who played a different evil-Superman-type called Ultraman) and Anthony Rurivar (who played Batman in the unfortunately short-lived Beware the Batman).

Soon enough, the Squadron Supreme has taken down each and every robot, to the delight of the assembled crowd. As they cheer, Hyperion spots a small device in the robotic wreckage and gleefully zaps it with his laser-eyes, activating a trap in the form of an energy sphere that slowly starts shrinking around the Squadron.

From up in the sky, an evil laugh erupts as the greatest criminal mind of our time, clad in robotic armor, takes glee in the fact that his super-strong alien foe has foolishly fallen into his trap.

There ya go. You know, you're really bad at this game today.
Iron Man: "Who did you expect? A good guy?"

Well... sort of. But the title kind of spoiled the full impact of the twist.

Dr. Spectrum makes up for his poor earlier showing by breaking the energy bubble, allowing the Squadron to lay the smackdown on the evil Iron Man.

Hyperion: "I'll never know why such evil lurks in the hearts of men like the outlaw... Tony Stark."

You should ask the Shadow. He knows.

My guess? The evil facial hair.
Iron Man escapes Hyperion's grasp to make a quick exit, but finds himself forced to blast Dr. Spectrum real quick, hitting the yellow gem in the middle of Spectrum's hand. Yellow energy starts flying around, with odd effects.

As if the world itself was giving way, Iron Man not only finds himself inside unfamiliar armor, but fighting alongside oddly familiar faces.

Good to know that the Jumbotron shows the same ads in every reality.
JARVIS identifies the yellow energy as some kind of dimensional anomaly, and Iron Man takes the opportunity to escape.

Even though Spectrum assures Nighthawk that Iron Man won't realize what he saw, Iron Man goes over footage of the fight back in his secret lair in an abandoned subway. As if the Lex Luthor parallels weren't already there. It's kind of a shame that this version of his AI isn't called the Operational Technological Intelligence System. Or the Technologically-Encoded Systemically-Connected Hardware with Mentally AlgorithmiC Heuristic-Engram Responses. Nah, the first one was better.

Tony Stark: "Ever had an itch you just can't scratch? I just got one in my brain."

Maybe if you reached inside your ear deep enough?

Tony Stark: "Am I looking at the future? Another reality?"
JARVIS: "Sir, there's no reality where you'd choose that outlandish color scheme for your armor."

"Except for the ones where I've got style, thank you very much."
Tony Stark: "Or work together with those clowns."

So Tony has JARVIS bring up the files on "Public Enemies 2-7."

Mmmm... I'm just not buying these guys as evil-universe counterparts of the Avengers.
That's better.
To conveniently tell the audience what exactly these Un-Avengers are up to in this reality, J. Jonah Jameson complains about each one of them in turn. I can only assume that in this reality, Spider-Man is a petty crook that Jameson claims is continually framed by the cops. Although it's good to know that the baby panda population is on the rise in this reality, too.

As shown on security tapes, Falcon hacks ATMs to spew money, Black Widow is a cat burglar, Hawkeye is a regular burglar, Thor is the Lord of Crime, and Hulk is basically a mob enforcer, making me sad inside that he won't be referred to as "Joe Fixit." Still, I like the Doc Green mohawk he's sporting.

Finally "the Captain," who has no accompanying camera footage and is assumed to be a myth.

Tony Stark: "The real outlaw is whoever told Jameson to grow that mustache."

"I think he's the first person to rock that mustache since Adenoid Hynkel started World War II."
With Tony's itch still needing scratching, he decides to arrange a little Marvel Team-Up with some other criminals. Speaking of criminals teaming up, back at Squadron Supreme Tower, Nighthawk has apparently waited until nightfall to berate Dr. Spectrum about losing control of the Reality Stone in public.

Nighthawk: "You promised me a world where the Avengers wouldn't exist."

Hyperion tries to calm Nighthawk by reminding him that they have the support of the public on their side, but Nighthawk prefers ruling through fear. And since they can't let anyone remember that the Avengers stood for hope, Nighthawk decides to do things his way, taking the competition out once and for all.

So as Hawkeye leaps across the city with stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. data, Zarda and Speed Demon corner him. Hawkeye expects the usual drill of arrest and incarceration, but Zarda throws him off a building instead. Because when you need to kill people quickly and secretly, tossing them blindly into a busy street is the best way to go about it.

Luckily for Hawkeye, he's saved by Falcon.

...Twice, apparently. Must be the same person who animated MODOK last episode.
Hawkeye doesn't exactly appreciate the rescue, though. Not even when brought aboard Iron Man's... well, it's not an Avenjet, so let's call it the Revenjet.

Hawkeye: "Stark. What, have I died and gone to pompous-jerk-land?"
Tony Stark: "Is that any way to talk to your new partner-in-crime?"

Elsewhere, the mohawked Hulk (the "Mo-Hulk," if you will) is breaking into some kind of secure facility with some kind of secret gun thing under glass. As is Thor. Apparently, they both got the message referring to some kind of device that can kill Hyperion. As they fight over it, Black Widow sneaks in to nab it.

Black Widow: "Don't mind me."

They do, however, mind her, so she turns the weapon on them.

I find it funny that the fake superweapon here has a properly-hollow gun barrel, whereas the real superweapon from the Watcher's stash in "Thanos Rising" didn't.
As Black Widow states, the whole thing was a setup. And the setup was... erm, set up by the very man they were looking to destroy. But before Hyperion can horrifically burn his enemies' bodies with his eyes too badly, Iron Man hits him with the Revenjet, knocking him straight into a mountainside

And he doesn't exchange insurance information, the fiend.
The jet circles back 'round, and Hawkeye tosses a rope for Black Widow and the others. With little other option in fleeing Hyperion's wrath, the three of them decide to board the Revenjet.

Meanwhile, back at SS HQ, Dr. Spectrum is fiddling with some machinery and doing some kind of science to the Reality Stone. As he explains to Nighthawk, this should allow him greater control over the Reality Stone, allowing him to delete the Avengers once and for all. Speaking of the Avengers, Hyperion returns, beaten and bruised. So Nighthawk decides to do things himself.

Back with the Not-Quite-Avengers, it seems that each one of them prefers to do things themselves, and they're wondering why Iron Man called them all together.

Iron Man: "You ever have an itch you can't scratch?"
Hulk: "Always."

Luckily, Hulk doesn't elaborate as Iron Man shows the others the image JARVIS recorded of the crack in reality. Falcon brushes it off as a hallucination, but Iron Man counters that the world is the hallucination.

Iron Man: "What if we were once a team of villains so strong that the Squadron tried to wipe us from reality?"

And in order to double check, Iron Man wants to assemble a team to steal Dr. Spectrum's stone. Unfortunately, everybody refuses. Well, except for Thor, who only joins up to spite the Hulk.

So Iron Man asks for the Captain's opinion, which everybody scoffs at.

Falcon: "Good luck with that. No one's ever seen him. I bet he doesn't even exist."
Hulk: "Bet he does."

In order to find out, Iron Man lines up a lethal high five right in Falcon's face.

Feel free to dodge, Falcon. No? Just going to stand there? Okay.
Luckily for Falcon, a shield zips out from the rear of the Revenjet to deflect the blast, returning to the hand of its master, the Captain.

Because he loves the flag in every reality.
Falcon: "I just lost about a thousand bets."
Hulk: "Thousand and one."

Cap wants to know what Iron Man's real objective is, so Iron Man counters by asking why the Captain was so quick to save Falcon. Cap chalks it up to muscle memory, backed up by this odd felling he's had for a while that something's forcing him to be something he's not. That somehow, the world is wrong.

And when Cap isolates the audio of a little girl from the recorded crack in reality, they realize how wrong the world actually is.

Little Girl: "Go Avengers!"

As hard as it is to believe, it seems as though the Squadron "flipped reality."

Iron Man: "My itch is scratched."

Unfortunately, Nighthawk arrives in his jet to open fire on the Revenjet. So quickly, Black Widow hops into the pilot's seat.

Hawkeye: "You got one of these things at home?"
Black Widow: "Never flown it in my life."

Luckily, having two X-chomosomes in the MAU grants you the ability to operate planes.
Black Widow, She-Hulk, even Aunt May briefly operated one.
Her maneuvers do the job, so Nighthawk is forced to eject from his own ship to manually plant a bomb on the Revenjet.

Hawkeye: "Abandon ship! I'll go first."
Captain: "Negative! we'd be dropping a bomb that'd blow up half the city!"
Hawkeye: "And we care why?"
Iron Man: "We're all on the Most Wanted list, but have any of us actually taken a life?"

"I have slain many warriors in my time, across all Nine Realms."
"I mean an innocent life."
"Sure, I did black ops for Russia all the time before I switched sides."
"And didn't you build a giant robot that nearly murdered a little girl and her dog?"
"She survived."
"Because of Hyperion."
"Yeah. She survived."
Iron Man: "I'm guessing we're not very good at being bad guys."

And since whatever they're all living in isn't reality... as far as they know, Iron Man flies up into the atmosphere with the bomb, sacrificing his life for the teammates he believes he has rediscovered.

With the damaged Revenjet quickly falling out of the air, Thor and Hulk both head outside to keep it from crashing. Thor slows it down with winds, and Hulk stands in front of it and pushes it back as it skids along the ground.

The two show their grudging respect for each other as the others try to figure out what this makes them. A team?

Captain: "Some of you might not believe we're the good guys, but deep down inside you all know something's wrong here."

So for the good of the world, and in honor of the man who believed in them, they vow to finish the job and restore the world.

Captain: "Avengers assemble."
Hawkeye: "That does sound kinda familiar."

"It'd make a good title."
The next day, Hyperion celebrates the death of Iron Man, while Nighthawk is more concerned that this gives the other Avengers something to actually avenge. And avenge they do, as Thor and Hulk start throwing empty vehicles at the Tower.

Hulk: "First to knock it down wins."

...I'm just going to say that if the Hulk wants to keep a body count of zero, perhaps he shouldn't be trying to knock down a skyscraper in the middle of New York.

Luckily, Zarda is on the scene to smash Hulk's foot with her sledge.
"Who goes for the foot?"
To add insult to injury, Speed Demon traps the Hulk in a vortex, removing his access to oxygen. Luckily, a quick super-clap sends him flying.

Inside, Dr. Spectrum runs to the lab to protect the Reality Stone while Hawkeye and Widow break in.

Hawkeye: "We should team up."
Black Widow: "We already did."

Down on the ground, Speed Demon uses the altered properties of this reality to lift Zarda's usually-unliftable sledge and give it back to her, prolonging the fight by dragging Thor by his cape as the crowds cheer the Squadron on.

Inside, Cap has regrouped with Falcon, Hawkeye, and Black Widow to prepare to take the lab when Hyperion says hello. With his fist.

Dr. Spectrum tells Nighthawk that the machine will need three more minutes to prepare the Reality Stone, leading to the cliche that you know is coming.

Nighthawk: "You get one."

"Then I guess we lose, because slashing my time by two-thirds doesn't make the equipment operate any faster. Jerk."
As the Avengers and Squadron fight, Cap's shield whacks into the Reality Stone, causing a small tear in reality that turns the shield back into its normal self. So Hyperion tosses the shield back at the good Captain, knocking him out the side of the building. Luckily, the rip in reality restored Iron Man, who conveniently swoops in to save Cap.

Well, it's been one minute, and the progress bar on Dr. Spectrum's machine is only at 93%. So the Squadron continues the fight until the harmonic lasers can engage on what appears to be Doctor Octavius's fusion reactor from Spider-Man 2.

Perhaps in this new reality, Doc Ock is back working at Oscorp and built this for Dr. Spectrum?
I'd believe it.
But unlike that movie, Dr. Spectrum doesn't need robot tentacle to put the Stone in the middle of the lasers. As he prepares to do so, all the Avengers start Marty McFly-ing out of existence.

This is getting heavy.
But at the last second, Iron Man returns to blast Spectrum as the other Avengers hold down the various Squadron members long enough for Cap to grab the Stone and prepare to restore reality.

Hawkeye: "Forget reality, this is our chance! We can make a world exactly how we want it!"
Captain: "No. Forcing our will takes away freedom."

Says the man who once used the Cosmic Cube in the comics to forcibly restore the Winter Soldier's memories of being Bucky.

So Cap uses the Stone to restore reality in a gigantic wave, changing everything and everyone back to normal. Outside, Thor and Hulk celebrate by knocking out Zarda and Speed Demon.

Hawkeye: "It's all coming back to me... I do like you guys. Well, some of you."

The Squadron retreats as Nighthawk distracts the Avengers by blowing the bombs he placed in the tower, sending the top two-thirds sliding down like Odin sliced it off with Zantetsuken.

Luckily, the Hulk is on hand to help push the falling two-thirds back in place, where an automatic repair system gets to work on the broken building, defying the laws of physics and architecture. 

So... I have a bit of an issue with this.
New York infamously had a problem with two towers getting blown up, to put it mildly.

I don't mind it when Marvel movies and shows gloss over massive loss of human life, such as in The Avengers. The idea is that even though New York was heavily damaged, and lots of people are dead or injured, the Avengers still saved as much as they could. At the end of the day, the destruction could have been a lot worse.

But when you go out of your way to show such destruction and explicitly state that nobody got hurt...

Well, at best, that's as silly as those G.I. Joe cartoons where people would safely parachute out of exploding planes without a scratch. At worst, it's disrespectful to the people who actually have been injured or killed in such tragedies, because you're pretending like massive destruction is a walk in the park that nobody dies in.

This episode specifically is trivializing the idea of a New York building being destroyed for no other reason than to give the Squadron time to escape while the Avengers demonstrate that they're heroes again, which could have been accomplished... well, pretty much any other way.

Of course, I understand that cartoons have censors breathing down the necks of the writers, dictating what can and can't be shown on TV. Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes had to choose between showing swastikas in World War II or guns that fire bullets.

But even as far back as the early days of the DC Animated Universe in the 90s, many cartoons weren't afraid to let civilians die, even if they could only vaguely imply it. The way Avengers Assemble prevents any and all civilian casualties while wrapping it all up with a nice bow just feels like a step backward.

Anyway, the little girl from earlier says "Thank you," which Thor eagerly accepts... only for her to reveal that she was talking to the Hulk, her real favorite hero.

"Kids love me. That's why I've got my own show. Heh. Agents of S.M.A.S.H. will be on the air forever."
Later that night, the Avengers seal away the Reality Stone and thank Tony for his heroic sacrifice in that other reality. But he brushes it off by saying that it's what any one of them would have done.

As Hawkeye smiles and flexes, relishing being a hero again and not a grumpy loner, the episode ends.

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