REVIEW: IRON MAN (1994)

CAST (VOICES)

Robert Hays (Airplane)
James Avery (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air)
Ed Gilbert (Transformers)
Robert Ito (Batman: TAS)
Dorian Harewood (Sparkle)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Sarah Douglas (Superman 1 & 2)
Matt Frewer (Taken)
Neal McDonough (Arrow)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Batman: TAS)
David Warner (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II)
Lisa Zane (Monkeybone)

Although only lasting two seasons, Iron Man was the subject of a major overhaul between seasons when its production studio was changed. The result was a massively changed premise, tone, and general approach, which left the disparate seasons scarcely recognizable as being two halves of the same series.

The first season of Iron Man featured little more than a Masters of the Universe-style battle of “good against evil”, as billionaire industrialist Tony Stark battled the evil forces of the world-conquering Mandarin as the armored superhero, Iron Man. In his evil endeavors to steal Stark’s technology and Iron Man’s armor, the Mandarin led a group of villains consisting of Dreadknight, Blizzard, Blacklash, Grey Gargoyle (when it comes to fighting Iron Man and his team, he has a tendency to accidentally turn his fellow villains to stone), Hypnotia (Dreadknight and Blacklash were rivals for the affections of Hypnotia), Whirlwind, Living Laser, MODOK, Fin Fang Foom and Justin Hammer. To combat these villains, Iron Man had the help of his own team (based on Force Works, a then-current comic book team which has since faded into obscurity), including Century, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye (replacing U.S. Agent from the comics) and Spider Woman.

The season consisted mostly of single-episode open-and-shut-case adventures, with two two-part stories late towards the end. Unlike many other Marvel animated series, despite featuring over-the-top titles that paid homage to the early Stan Lee written Marvel comics of the 1960s (for example, “The Grim Reaper Wears a Teflon Coat”, and “Rejoice, I am Ultimo, Thy Deliverer”), almost none of the episodes were adaptations of comic book stories, consisting instead of original stories penned by Ron Friedman, occasionally collaborated on by Stan Lee himself. The closest the season came to adapting a comic book tale was in the two-part “The Origin of Iron Man”, which recounted a (modified and modernized) version of the character’s comic book origin  just before the season concluded.

This late-run recounting of the title character’s origin is symptomatic of what is generally thought of as the season’s greatest weakness – despite (or perhaps because of) having such a large cast of characters, very few of the show’s heroes and villains were actually developed in any way, leaving viewers unaware of their personal stories and powers. The show is generally held to have been at its best when filling in these origin blanks (MODOK in “Enemy Without, Enemy Within,” Iron Man and the Mandarin in their self-titled “The Origin of…” episodes), but these were rare occasions, with virtually every other plot simply consisting of the Mandarin attempting to steal Stark’s newest invention and being bested, often through very strange and illogical means (with the nadir perhaps being Iron Man somehow using the energy of a small tape-player to restore his armor to full power in “Silence My Companion, Death My Destination”).

A small sub-plot in the first season revolves around Mandarin secretly spying on Force Works. It culminates in “The Wedding of Iron Man” when Stark realizes they have been spied on by reviewing events from previous episodes (and explaining how Mandarin’s forces always knew where they would be), realising that Mandarin has acquired enough information to potentially deduce the true identity of Iron Man. The entire episode’s plot is dedicated to resolving the problem, culminating in Iron Man and his team setting up an elaborate deception where Mandarin sees Iron Man and Tony Stark in the same place with the intention being to convince him that the two men are not the same person (The ‘Tony’ in the situation was an android).

In 1995, Marvel switched The Marvel Action Hour to a new animation studio (as previously mentioned, the animation in Season 1 was provided by the Rainbow Animation Group, while the animation in Season 2 was provided by Koko Enterprises), and with it came new writers (Ron Friedman was replaced by Tom Tataranowicz for Season 2) and new music for each sequence, coupled with a new direction for the series. The first season’s subtle keyboard theme music for Iron Man (composed by progressive rock artist Keith Emerson) was replaced by an intense electric guitar theme featuring the repeated refrain of “I am Iron Man!”, while showing Tony Stark beating red-hot iron plates into shape with a blacksmith’s hammer (possibly to mimic the Black Sabbath song “Iron Man”). Tony Stark’s longer hair style in the second season was based upon the artist Mark Bright’s depiction of Stark from the late 1980s, which is where most of the episodes from Season 2 were based upon.

The new story lines spanned multiple episodes and were no longer “open and shut” cases. They formed a linking narrative, featuring themes of duplicity, consequence, and phobias. Also, the stories were no longer centered on the Mandarin, whose rings had been scattered and whose power had been depleted. While the Mandarin did appear in these episodes, his appearances were reduced to cameos in the cliffhangers at the end of the story, as he tried to retrieve each ring.

Another change was that Force Works was mostly written out of the series, parting ways with Stark after he deceives them in order to work in secret with the Mandarin when Fin Fang Foom and his fellow Dragons were plotting to eliminate Earth. When Stark’s counter plan against Justin Hammer, which includes faking his death without the knowledge of his teammates, leads to a disbanding of Force Works, Julia Carpenter and James Rhodes are the only ones who continue to work with Stark. This split would be revisited with Stark’s ensuing conflicts with Hawkeye over the course of several episodes.

Also, War Machine develops a phobia of being trapped inside his armor (also based on a then-current comic storyline), but this is resolved before the final episode. While Rhodes was active as War Machine in Season 1, he remained out of armor for the majority of Season 2 due to reliving a tragic drowning experience while being trapped underwater in the War Machine armor in the Season 2 episode “Fire And Rain”. Rhodes eventually overcomes his fear and dons the War Machine armor once again in the episode “Distant Boundaries”.

Prior to finding his last two rings, the Mandarin claims his eighth ring from MODOK in the episode “Empowered”. “Empowered” was the clip show of the season, the purpose being that the Mandarin wanted to learn of Iron Man’s recent activities. In the finale,[9][10] the Mandarin, having regained all of his rings, unleashes a mist using the Heart of Darkness to render everything technological useless. Iron Man reunites with Force Works in order to stop him. The Mandarin unmasks Iron Man before their final showdown ends in his death. More specifically, Iron Man manages to reflect the power of Mandarin’s rings, destroying them, and ultimately leaving the Mandarin with amnesia and helpless before a band of desert bandits who likely killed him, or at least cut off his hand/fingers for the rings. After Mandarin was killed, MODOK and the rest of Mandarin’s henchmen were sent to jail. After disappointing ratings, the series was canceled.

After twenty six episodes, Iron Man the animated series remains a very mixed bag. Blame for this shows disappointing quality can be attributed to constrictions placed upon the writers to feature as many Iron Man suits as possible in each episode as free publicity for the toys. On the bright side, it got better, allowing the audience at least 13 episodes of decent animated entertainment.

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REVIEW: IRON MAN: ARMORED ADVENTURES – SEASON 1 & 2

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MAIN CAST

Adrian Petriw (Edgemont)
Daniel Bacon (50/50)
Vincent Tong (Death Note)
Anna Cummer (Aliens In America)
Mackenzie Gray (Man of Steel)Image result for iron man armored adventures LOGO

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Catherine Lough Haggquist (Godzilla)
Fred Henderson (This Means War)
Alistair Abell (Freddy vs Jason)
Ty Olsson (Battlestar Glactica)
Christopher Britton (Thor: Tales of Asgard)
Venus Terzo (X-Men Evolution)
Lee Tockar (George of The Jungle)

When his industrialist father Howard Stark who disappears in a plane crash after refusing to weaponize the Earth Mover at Obadiah Stane’s behest, 16-year-old genius Tony uses a high-tech suit of armor he has constructed and investigates a charge that Stane may have been involved in his father’s death. As Iron Man, Tony spends his time stopping Stane’s plans and saving the world from other villains such as Mandarin, Mr. Fix, Whiplash, A.I.M., Living Laser, the Maggia, Controller, Crimson Dynamo, Blizzard, Killer Shrike, Unicorn, M.O.D.O.K., Ghost, Black Knight, and Technovore. He is assisted in his crime fighting efforts with help from James Rhodes and Pepper Potts. Tony’s activities as Iron Man usually result in his needing to make up excuses as to why he is constantly late or missing from school and other activities. Dependent on his phenomenal technology for survival, Tony must balance the pressures of teenage life with the duties of being a super hero.

The first season of Iron Man: Armored Adventures has a total of 26 episodes. Tony Stark, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Pepper Potts, Gene Khan, Happy Hogan, Nick Fury, Whitney Stane, Black Panther, The Hulk, and S.H.I.E.L.D. all appear in this season.

The first season focuses on the Makluan Rings saga as Tony, Pepper, Rhodey, and Gene Khan work together to get the 5 rings. Upon overthrowing his stepfather Xin Zhang, Gene secretly works undercover to steal the rings from his friends, and ends up betraying them (which upsets Pepper). The season also features the Madame Masque Saga, which comes to a conclusion in the episode “Best Served Cold”. Tony’s feud with Obadiah Stane comes to a partial conclusion in that episode as well. The season ends with two primary cliffhangers in the episode “Tales of Suspense”. The now-friendless Gene discovers that the original Mandarin had 5 other rings besides the original 5. Tony finds out that his father, Howard, survived the plane crash and is being held prisoner, while the armory is destroyed during Xin Zhang’s attack limiting Tony’s resources to find and rescue his father.This season featured Makluan Guardian versions of Dreadknight, Ultimo, Firebrand, and Fin Fang Foom who guard the rings the Mandarin hasn’t obtained yet.

The second season of Iron Man: Armored Adventures has a total of 26 episodes, just like the first season. Black Widow / Natalie Romanoff, Hawkeye, Doctor Doom, Magneto and Justin Hammer appear in this season. General Nick Fury, Black Panther, Mr. Fix, Whiplash and Obadiah Stane return.

The second season covers the Armor Wars saga and Stane International storylines. The first half of Season Two reflecting the Armor Wars has Tony and Rhodey as his definite partner War Machine fighting many people who have stolen Stark’s armor tech and seek to exploit the stolen Iron Man specs for their own purposes.

The enemies young Stark fights during this version of the Armor Wars include the Ghost who steals Iron Man specs and knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man. Ghost sells the specs to both Justin Hammer and Obadiah Stane but says he will not reveal Iron Man’s true identity until Tony turns 18. Justin Hammer makes an armor with the Iron Man specs with the armor being called Titanium Man. Doctor Doom joins forces with Stane to attain the Iron Man armor operating system. Stane builds the Iron Monger armor which is revealed actually to be a direct upgrade from Crimson Dynamo armor (version 3) and is much larger than in the comic book and live action movie realities. The Armor Wars conclude as Obadiah Stane discovers the identity of Iron Man. Stane steals Iron Monger and is intent on destroying Tony once and for all.

While Tony is fighting the Armor Wars, Howard Stark is shown to be alive and forced by Gene to find the other 5 Makluan Rings. Gene continues to find and secured the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth rings for himself during this time. This part of the season also included Makluan Guardian versions of Melter, Sunturion, Grim Reaper, and Grey Gargoyle who guard the remaining Makluan Rings. The second half of season two is loosely based on the “Stane International” story arc. Justin Hammer (instead of Obadiah Stane) successfully buys control of Stark International. Stark, Rhodey and Potts all agree to fight against Hammer and his weaponization of Stark International’s projects. Unlike the printed page version, Stark and Rhodes reject the title of Circuits Maximus for the new start-up and settle on “Stark Solutions” . By the end of the second season, Pepper has assumed the armored identity of Rescue.

The show is well written. The characters are three dimensional. And the story is very intriguing. But you have to watch all the episodes in order. It’s almost a serial type of show. If you miss an episode it’ll be harder to understand what’s going on.

REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 2

CAST

Clark Gregg (When A Stranger Calls)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Ian De Caestecker (Filth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Reach Me)
Nick Blood (Identicals)
Adrianna Palicki (G.J. Joe: Retaliation)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Hayley Atwell (Cinderella)
B.J. Britt (Veronica Mars)
Neal McDonough (Arrow)
Reed Diamond (Dollhouse)
Henry Simons (No Good Deed)
Patton Oswalt (Blade: trinity)
Lucy Lawless (Ash Vs Evil Dead)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kenneth Choi (Street Kings)
Simon Kassianides (Quantum of Solace)
Brian Patrick Wade (The Big Bang Theory)
Ruth Negga (World War Z)
Maya Stojan (Castle)
Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps)
Kyle MacLachlan (Dune)
Brian Tee (Jurassic World)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (The Dark Knight)
Joel Gretsch (V)
Tim DeKay (Swordfish)
Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse)
Lou Ferrigno Jr. (The Young and The Restless)
Jamie Harris (Rise of The Planet of The Apes)
Blair Underwood (Gattaca)
Christine Adams (Batman Begins)
Edward James Olmos (Green Hornet)
Luke Mitchell (Home and Away)
J. August Richards (Angel)
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother)
Jaimie Alexander (The Last Stand)

For many, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD in its first season  became a forgotten and/or overlooked series, which was too bad, and yet understandable. This was Marvel’s first TV series, coming off of an amazing run of movies and it just didn’t deliver when it debuted. The initial episodes felt unfocused and badly paced,but many people people felt the show improved when SHIELD notably improving in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s events.In season 2 the pacing was hugely improved, with storylines no longer taking forever to bubble up again and secrets no longer being kept both from the audience and the characters that no one on screen seemed in a hurry to deal with. Instead, there was payoff to big plot threads happening consistently, as both lingering questions from Season 1 and newly introduced plotlines were deftly dealt with and tied up, while paving the way for new mysteries. On the villain front, there was some nicely done twisting and turning regarding who the Big Bad would be in Season 2. We began with a focus on Hydra leader Whitehall and while Reed Diamond had fun in the role, Whitehall rarely had moments that made him feel like a truly credible threat. When he was killed in the midseason finale, it seemed Kyle MacLachlan’s Cal would take center stage as SHIELD’s main foe… but there was yet another swerve in store.The fact that Skye’s mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), was alive at all was a surprise and we soon saw that she was the leader of the Inhumans and could be pretty strict and cold when it came to doing what she felt was right to protect her people… but that was all hiding just what a zealot she had become, convinced war with humanity was inevitable and willing to begin it herself (via a staged attack) to get all her people on her side. The fact that Jiaying was the true main villain of the season was a subtle, slow reveal and much appreciated for how it was pulled off. We understood the tragic events that had changed her, even as we came to see she, and not Cal, who was the most dangerous.Oh, and did I say Inhumans? This was also a huge part of the season, which was especially notable because it indicated that behind the scenes, Marvel had decided Agents of SHIELD could lead the way in a much more notable way than before, rather than being simply reactive to the events of the films. We know an Inhumans film is coming in a few years, but now this series has already introduced the concept into the MCU. Presumably the film will focus on the Royal Family and a very different group of Inhumans than the ones we met here, but this show was still allowed to be the first part of the MCU to give us Terrigen Mist, the Kree origins and all the major background elements of the Inhumans.
In general, SHIELD felt less restrained this season. The first couple of episodes utilized the notable Marvel villain Absorbing Man, while the reveals that Cal and Skye were, respectively, Mr. Hyde and Daisy Johnson/Quake, rooted this show much more into its Marvel Comics roots.While it began in the latter half of Season 1, SHIELD: Season 2 also benefited from much stronger characterization. While there were so many characters they all didn’t get as much time as might have been ideal, they still all felt much more distinct and specific than the show’s early days, and the fact that several members came and went and shifted allegiances kept things interesting. Ming-Na Wen was always a great presence on the show, but Melinda May was given a lot more depth, as we met her ex-husband, Andrew (Blair Underwood) and finally got the dark details of that incident in Bahrain that we kept hearing about in Season 1. The rift between Fitz and Simmons added a lot more textures to both of them, and was beautifully played by Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge, while Coulson, now the director of SHIELD, had to reevaluate his approach, making much harsher decisions that pained him, but felt more involving and believable than the overly sappy, often naive approach that he began the series with.As for Skye, the writers and producers certainly still were determined to make her the most important and revered character on the show, but this season, it actually felt like they were earning her that position. Sure, we had to accept that she’d apparently gotten one hell of a crash course in being a badass fighter from May between seasons, but it felt good to see her actually be such a formidable presence in the action scenes – and Chloe Bennet really rose to the challenge of her characters new dynamic. And by making Skye both an Inhuman and Daisy/Quake, we at least had tangible reasons she would be important to us as viewers, beyond Coulson simply saying she was awesome over and over again. Bennet and Kyle MacLachlan also were able to build a strong rapport together as the estranged father/daughter duo. Speaking of MacLachlan, what a job he did. While Dichen Lachman brought the perfect pained righteousness to Jiaying, who truly believed what she was doing was right, MacLachlan had the freedom to go absolutely crazy as the absolutely crazy Cal and wow, was he fun. He expertly conveyed his character’s wish to be a happy, doting husband and father intermixed with his violent rage and gave the season some of its best moments – goofy Mr. Hyde makeup/visuals in the season finale aside.The new additions to the SHIELD crew were also appreciated, with Nick Blood’s Lance Hunter, Henry Simmons’ Mack and Adrianne Palicki ‘s Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird all fitting in very well. With such a big group of agents, someone was bound to be overlooked, and unfortunately, that was Trip (B.J. Britt), who never really got a storyline of his own – except to be the big midseason death. Which wasn’t as impactful as it could have been because he felt like a character with potential that was never fully utilized in any capacity (Remember when he and Simmons were flirting?).The “Other SHIELD” storyline was an interesting inclusion, with Edward James Olmos bringing exactly the gravity you’d expect him to as Gonzales. I liked the idea of he and Coulson being so opposed and yet very respectful of one another, in their own ways. I just wish we’d gotten a bigger payoff to that, as Gonzales was killed by Jiaying before he and Coulson really came to any sort of conclusion in their own conflict except on the “very begrudging/wary allies” level.I went into Season 2 very concerned about Grant Ward’s continuing presence on the series. His betrayal was a shot of Adrenalin the bland SHIELD crew needed and his actions had been too extreme and lethal to be forgiven or excused – but this is TV, where it seems any character can be redeemed. And I really didn’t want to see Ward redeemed, especially since Brett Dalton really found the character when he was allowed to play him as a villain. Thankfully, Season 2 didn’t try to bring Ward back onto the SHIELD team – in fact, by the end, he was more delightfully despicable than ever, torturing Bobbi and setting a trap to kill any SHIELD agent that attempted to rescue her and shooting and killing May, point blank, the first chance he had.SHIELD: Season 2 benefited from a show now unafraid to shake up the dynamic. Perhaps having to completely change everything about the series two thirds into the first season served as an inspiration, but from Simmons’ double agent status, to Gonzales’ crew taking over, the show rarely felt stagnant. The show’s always been in a difficult scenario – people love the interconnectivity of the MCU, but because the movie’s have the big superheroics covered, SHIELD felt hindered by not being able to deal with a lot of the bigger name heroes, in a way a series like The Flash (which isn’t connected to DC’s movies at all) doesn’t have to deal with. The decision to have Coulson and Skye begin to form a team of superpowered members seems to indicate those involved have decided its time to bring some more ongoing flash  to the series, even if it won’t be with the biggest name characters. Things will no doubt change in a big way again as a result, but right now, it’s exciting to ponder what’s coming next.

REVIEW: IRON MAN (1966)

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CAST (VOICES)

John Vernon (Dirty Harry)
Bernard Cowan (20,000 Leagues Under The Sea)
Peg Dixon (Strange Paradise)

Thirteen episodes of the animated Marvel Comics’ tough-as-steel superhero – Iron Man. In ‘The Mandarin’s Revenge’ when military missiles begin disappearing, Iron Man allows himself to be captures by the Mandarin. He fights the Mandarin and stops missile from exploding.

In ‘The Moleman Strikes’ the Mole Man captures Iron Man and steals an earth digging device. Iron Man frees himself and must face a fire-breathing Dragon. He defeats the monster and tricks the Mole Man into destroying the digging device. In ‘The Death of Tony Stark’ Happy Hogan and Pepper think that the Mandarin killed Tony Stark, but the Iron Man is alive and facing a series of death traps.

The Mandarin tells Iron Man his origin, battles him and Iron Man escapes, returning as Stark to his relieved friends. In ‘If I Die, Let It Be With Honor’ Iron Man faces death if Happy doesn’t bring him a needed component in time. Happy is wounded but saves Iron Man’s life. In ‘The Crimson Dynamo’ when the Crimson Dynamo battles Iron Man and defects, the Black Widow’s partner dons the Dynamo armour. The original Dynamo sacrifices his life so that Iron Man can defeat his evil counterpart.

In ‘Double Disaster’ Tony Stark discovers that a trusted employee is stealing from him and fires him. The ex-employee becomes Jack Frost and vows revenge, but Iron Man heats him up before he can do more damage. In ‘Enter Hawkeye’ Hawkeye decides to become a super hero but falls prey to the Black Widow. Hawkeye and Widow fight Iron Man but flee before Iron Man can stop them. In ‘Ultimo’ Tony Stark is captured by the Mandarin and the giant Ultimo. He must stop them before getting back to a congressional hearing or the Senate will cancel all of Stark’s industry contracts.

In ‘The Dream Master’ Count Nefaria causes Iron Man to believe he is fighting the Unicorn and the Crimson Dynamo in his nightmares. Iron Man must defeat Aliens from outer space to stop Nefaria. In ‘My Life For Yours’ Iron Man loses power when trying to rescue Happy from the Black Knight’s mysterious castle. Happy is turned into a monster and Iron Man must save his own life and that of his friend. In ‘Beauty And The Armour’ the evil Countess is behind the Mad Thinker, who kidnaps Tony Stark.

The Countess steals Iron Man’s armour to defeat Titanium Man. In ‘The Other Iron Man’ Hogan takes on the Guise of Iron Man when Stark collapses and is captured by the Mandarin. Tony builds a new suit of armour and comes to Happy’s aid. In ‘Cliffs Of Doom’ The Chameleon and Kraven the Hunter battle Iron Man to get a new laser gun. The Chameleon convinces Iron Man that he is the real Captain America. The two heroes do battle until they realize the dupe. Crude animation, but a fun show, out of all the 66 animated shows this one has to one of my favorites.

REVIEW: THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES

MAIN CAST (VOICES)

Brian Bloom (Vampirella)
Chris Cox (All Star Superman)
Jennifer Hale (The Rick)
Peter Jessop (Jla Adventures)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)
Eric Loomis (Shin Chan)
James C. Mathis III (Undercover Brother)
Colleen Villard (Duel Masters)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)
Rick D. Wasserman (Planet Hulk)
Wally Wingert (American Dad)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST COICES

Gabriel Mann (Cherry Falls)
Drake Bell (The Reef 2)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: The Teenage Witch)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and Teh X-men)
Alex Desert (The Flash 90s)
Vanessa Marshall (Duck Dodgers)
Kari Wuhrer (Eight Legged Freaks)
Elizabeth Daily (Valley Girl)
Troy Baker (Lego Batman)
Nolan North (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Crispin Freeman (Hellsing)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Grey DeLisle (Danny Phantom)
Cam Clarke (He-Man)
Lance Reddick (Lost)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Nika Futterman (Hey Arnold!)
Lance Henriksen (The Terminator)
Jonathan Adams (Bones)
Jeffrey Combs (Gotham)
Graham McTavish (The Hobbit)
Dawn Olivieri (The Vampire Diaries)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Dwight Schultz (The A-Team)
Keith Szarabajka (The Dark Knight)
Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls)

Both Marvel and DC have to an astonishing degree started to pick up these last few years, with several well-appreciated shows that I really enjoy: Young Justice, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, Green Lantern TAS, and now this; The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

It’s very rare indeed for a superhero cartoon of this magnitude to be  great from start-to-finish, but that’s what Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is, right from Episode 1 `Iron Man is Born’ to the finale `Avengers Assemble!’. There are literally no dud episodes whatsoever! The whole series is infused with tremendous intrigue, exceptional plotting and some of the tightest continuity I’ve ever seen in a TV series. The number of sub-plots and story-arcs that are juggled here is staggering, but the creative team handled it all with such precision. The coherency, intricacies and pacing is nothing short of exemplary overall. This isn’t just essential for kids; adult Marvel fans will get bags of satisfaction from watching this cartoon!

So what exactly can folk expect? Well, as I said, the choicest pieces of Marvel history (be it in comics or on film) have been successfully adapted and utilized here. From how the Avengers banded together to life-changing events like the Civil War threat and the Skrulls’ Secret Invasion (adapted beautifully here!). Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Ant-Man/Yellowjacket, the Wasp and Black Panther are all superbly established before `Assembling’ for the first time, members come-and-go, characters undergo changes, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel and the Vision join the ranks, and all-manner of superb guests join the party, such as Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Fantastic Four and even those Guardians of the Galaxy!

And on the villains-front, you can be subjected to a cracking-bunch of dastardly rogues, such as Loki, the Red Skull, Hydra, A.I.M., Baron Zemo, the Enchantress, the Masters of Evil, Kang the Conqueror, Doctor Doom and (of course!) chief arch-nemesis Ultron. And it’s not all just for window-dressing. The depictions of all these characters (hero, villain and otherwise) and their worlds is just pure gold. It’s perhaps the most faithful animated portrayal of the Marvel Universe.
Really, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes could (and should) have gone on for more seasons. Instead, Marvel pulled the plug in favor of the replacement show Avengers Assemble. Thus in the last batch episodes, you DO get the feel that the writers were trying to wrap things up and give the show a grand swansong to make way for the next-cartoon-in-line. Admittedly, there are a few loose ends left over, but the series is mostly wrapped-up in winning style with a very acceptable conclusion. And in an age where too many shows are cancelled prematurely/end on a sour note, it makes that final moment of `Avengers Assemble!’ all the more of a triumph, just like the entire series itself.

REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 1

CAST

Clark Gregg (When A Stranger Calls)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Ian De Caestecker (Filth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Reach Me)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

J. August Richards (Angel)
Shannon Lucio (True Blood)
Ron Glass (Firefly)
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother)
Leonor Varela (Blade II)
Samuel L. Jackson (Jackie Brown)
David Conrad (Roswell)
Ian Hart (Finding Neverland)
Ruth Negga (World War Z)
Cullen Douglas (Scandal)
Titus Welliver (Lost)
Saffron Burrows (Troy)
Maximiliano Hernández (Warrior)
Ilia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)
Charles Halford (Constantine)
Peter MacNicol (Ghostbusters II)
Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps)
Christine Adams (Pushing Daisies)
Maiara Walsh (The Starving Games)
Carlo Rota (Stargate Universe)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Bill Paxton (Apollo 13)
Elena Satine (Revenge)
B.J. Britt (Veronica Mars)
Jaimie Alexander (The Last Stand)
Dylan Bruno (Carrie 2)
Brad Dourif (Child’s Play)
Patton Oswalt (Two and A Half Men)
Amy Acker (The Cabin In The Woods)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Glenn Morshower (Supergirl)

When Marvel’s cinematic universe first took off, the next move was to make the leap to television, Marvel turned to Avengers director Joss Whedon’s brother Jed and his wife/collaborator Maurissa Tancharoen, who took the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One character Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the man who helped gather the heroes who became the Avengers, and made him the star of his own series, focused on his team at S.H.I.E.L.D., the international peacekeeping organization run by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson.) The hour-long drama would build off of the well-known heroics, and tell connected tales of espionage, as Coulson and his squad respond to threats to humanity around the world.Now, in case you haven’t seen The Avengers, you should know that in a climactic battle, Coulson was very badly injured, which became a rallying point for the heroes. Well, he’s back, but how he made it back is a large part of the series’ foundation, which is revealed in piecemeal over the course of the first season. Coulson’s search for the truth is intertwined with the arrival of the newest member of his team, a hacker known as Skye (Chloe Bennett), who has plenty of secrets of her own, in part due to her past as a rogue “hacktivist.” Trust is a massive theme in the series, as no one is sure about anyone else but they have to rely on each other if they are going to complete their missions, which remind one of Fringe in a big way, as the team investigates strange phenomena in order to keep humanity safe.Lorelei, Though certainly not a big-name Marvel character (her sister The Enchantress has a much higher profile) and not the first recognizable super-powered character on the show (that would be the cybernetic assassin Deathlok, whose origin is revealed over the course of the season), Lorelei tips the scales with her appearance because she, as an Asgardian, creates a direct link to the world of Thor, and also because she’s followed to Earth by Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the Asgardian warrior from the two Thor films. Finally, fans exclaimed, there’s some honest to goodness superhero action to be enjoyed, and that was followed by direct ties into the new Captain America movie, picking up the plot from the theaters and bringing its effects home. This was the crossover dream that comics mastered decades ago, and now Marvel was making happen between movies and TV (and you didn’t really even need to see both sides to enjoy them separately.)After offering this cookie to the fans, the series shifted back to the spy game though, where it would stay for the rest of the season, introducing Bill Paxton and Saffron Burrows in major roles) as Coulson’s organization crumbled around him and the team shifted from saving the world to saving each other. Coulson’s team, which, aside from Skye, includes Ward (Brett Dalton), a perfect soldier; badass pilot May (Ming-Na Wen) and science specialists Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), comes together quickly as a unit on the series, establishing their personalities right off the bat, with Skye serving as the show’s young star, showing the old guard how a new generation does the job (though still requiring saving and offering a hearty cry every now and then) and Fitz and Simmons serving as the audience’s tech-loving stand-ins, the most down-to-earth parts of a fantastical realm. May though, with her economy of words and excess of butt-kicking skill, is the “Wolverine” of the show, and her relationship with Coulson serves as a backbone for the series. Naturally, Gregg’s performance is integral to the show, and he continues to shine in the role of Coulson, giving us a smartass secret agent for the ages.While the show is a serial and does well at telling action-adventure arcs of mystery and intrigue, building the mythology and establishing a larger storyline, it could do one-offs as well, including two of the season’s best episodes, “FZZT” which ties into The Avengers while telling a standalone story that put a spotlight on Fitz and Simmons, and “T.R.A.C.K.S.”, which puts the team on a train and tries out some interesting storytelling structure. The show also has its humorous side, taking its tone from the Marvel films, which blend grits with grins (and though Patton Oswalt gets a featured role in one episode, for once, he’s not responsible for the laughs.) For the most part, this mix works well, as it helps illustrate the growing camaraderie between the teammates and keeps the tone light, but it can get out of hand very quickly. The final episode, where much of what’s been revealed over the course of the previous 21 episodes comes to a head, the lightheartedness (thanks to an appearance by a famous friend of the team) goes over the top.