REVIEW: THOR & LOKI: BLOOD BROTHERS

CAST (VOICES)

Daniel Thorn (Technobabylon)
Jennifer Spriggs  (The One I Love)
Roger Clark (Perfect Disasters)

thor_loki_bloodbrothers_preview_01Loki has become the ruler of Asgard. However, he doesn’t have dominion over Hela, the goddess of death. Loki is demanding fealty from everyone in Asgard. Hela asks Loki for the soul of Thor for her “legions in Nifelheim”. Lady god Sif is imprisoned at the ending of the first segment. Karnilla, the queen god of Nornheim meets Loki in the second segment. She pleads for the release of Balder from imprisonment. In the third segment, Loki orders the destruction of the Rainbow Bridge. In a flashback, Odin defeats Laufey in battle. In the final segment, Loki refuses to execute Thor and spurns Hela.cbr-thorlokibloodbrothersclip118-1024x577To say this is “inspired by” the four-issue Loki graphic novel series of 2004 is a little misleading. The scripting, story and artwork are identical, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The animation is a more than a little stifled, mostly relying on computer technology to manipulate a single static image rather than produce extra frames. I find this adaptation to be fascinating. The transfer from graphic novel to albeit limited animated feature showcases the original artwork in an incredible way, adding a vibrancy to the work. The addition of the more traditional elements of Norse mythology and it’s clever integration is a very nice touch. If you liked the original source material then this you will love. thor_loki_bloodbrothers_preview_03

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REVIEW: THOR: TALES OF ASGARD

CAST (VOICES)

Matthew Wolf (The Fault of Our Stars)
Rick Gomez (Sin City)
Tara Strong (Batman: TAS)
Alistair Abell (Freddy vs Jason)
Paul Dobson (Chappie)
Brent Chapman (Big Eyes)
Chris Biritton (Carrie 2013)

Tales of Asgard takes place well before Thor would become the mighty God of Thunder. His strength is anything but superhuman. He wields no otherworldly powers. This teenager has yet to seize hold of Mjolnir, the mystic hammer that would go on to be the adult Thor’s weapon of choice. There’s nothing vaguely heroic about him at all, really. The Thor we’re introduced to at the outset is a sheltered, arrogant whelp. He’s never stepped foot outside the palace grounds of Asgard. He’s so wrapped up in himself that Thor fails to recognize that the warriors he battles in the arena are letting him win.

His father Odin and brother Loki do their damndest to keep propping up that façade. When Thor with his masterfully crafted, jewel-encrusted sword is effortlessly bested in battle by Sif — a teenaged girl with nothing more than a bucket and a broken pitchfork — his illusions come crumbling down. Thor thirsts for a real adventure, so he and Loki stow themselves away on the flying ship of the Warriors Three. The prize is the legendary sword of the fire giant Surtur…a treasure that countless Asgardians have chased but never been able to unearth. The treasure hunt at first glance seems to go according to plan, but the sword’s dark power proves to be more than Thor can handle, and a war between the Frost Giants and Asgard quickly erupts because of it. Returning the sword should quell those fires, but Thor and his companions are still a world away.

As much as the Star Wars prequels have trained me to wince at the prospect of a “when they were young” story, Thor: Tales of Asgard pulls this off remarkably well. It’s intriguing to see how different these characters are at the outset. Loki would in later years be Thor’s arch-nemesis — responsible for the deaths of untold legions, to blame for the destruction of Asgard — but here he’s easily the more likeable of the two brothers. He’s fiercely protective of his family, genuinely innocent, cautious, and only just now dipping his toes into sorcery. Thor, meanwhile, is an arrogant, impulsive braggart incapable of looking far enough ahead to think about consequences. At least at first, no one would mistake him for a hero. The events of Tales of Asgard nudge both of Odin’s sons towards the directions they’d take later in life, but instead of feeling like a heavy-handed origin story, it’s a really well thought out and very effective chapter from these early years. Both Thor and Loki are believably fleshed-out as characters, and their arcs feel meaningful and wholly earned.

Asimpressed as I am with the way both of them are presented, the Warriors Three completely steal the movie, overflowing with personality and scoring all the best lines. Also putting in appearances here are Odin himself, The Enchantress, a Fenris Wolf, the Dark Elf Algrim, Brunhilde, and the warrior goddess Sif, among many others. As sprawling as the cast is and as dense as the mythology can be, Thor: Tales of Asgard is never overwhelming. The point of it all is to introduce neophytes to the realm of Asgard, and the movie deftly juggles all of these many different elements and with a minimum of exposition to boot.

The pacing is kept nimble with a constant sense of forward momentum too, so things never have a chance to drag. I’m also intrigued by how even-keeled Tales of Asgard is with these characters. There really is no overarching villain. There are characters who do terrible things, of course, be it willfully or out of ignorance, but there are no nefarious, moustache-twirling schemes or anything like that. Everyone is shown as having a sympathetic, justifiable point of view. Its primary interest is in showing the transformative effects of great power, and in keeping with that, the finalé even takes care to define heroism in terms other than people hitting each other. Even better, the movie manages to make these points in the scale of a colossal battle, never at all feeling preachy, heavy-handed, or anticlimactic.

Thor: Tales of Asgard takes a lot of chances, presenting such familiar characters in very unfamiliar ways and veering away from the traditional superhero formulas. I mean, this is a movie where Thor is kind of a prick, can’t fly, lacks any superhuman abilities, has never held his iconic stone hammer, and is the best of friends with a character we’re so used to seeing as his mortal enemy. It’s impressive enough that Tales of Asgard doesn’t play it safe, but also that it pulls all of this off so well.

REVIEW: HULK VS

 

CAST (VOICES)

Fred Tatasciore (9)
Matthew Wolf (The Fault of Our Stars)
Graham McTavish (The Hobbit)
Grey Griffin (The Replacements)
Kari Wahlgren (Rick and Morty)
Bryce Johnson (The SKulls 3)
Steve Blum (Wolverine and The X-Men)

Hulk vs. completely lives up to its title. There are no long, tedious origin stories. Neither half of this double feature is bogged down by any meandering, who-really-cares filler subplots, clunky romances, or triple-underlined moral messages. These two mini-movies chuck viewers straight into the action and never let up until the end credits roll. Marvel and Lionsgate haven’t watered it down to play to the lunchbox crowd either; these battles against Thor and Wolverine are intense and unflinchingly violent.As a nod to the comics that first introduced Wolverine to the world, he and the Hulk square off in — where else? — the desolate Canadian wilderness. The Hulk has been carving a path of destruction throughout the Great White North, and Department H drops Wolverine in to stop the beast dead in his tracks. The two are fairly evenly matched: Wolverine’s healing factor can take all of the abuse the Hulk can dish out — flinging him what looks like miles away, smashing his hairy little body into the ground over and over again with a three-ton rock — and although those adamantium claws sink deep into the jade giant’s hide, all it really seems to do is piss the Hulk off even more. Just as the tide starts to turn in this brutal, bloody brawl, the Hulk’s back is peppered with a stream of oversized tranquilizer darts. The Weapon X program sees the Hulk as the ultimate weapon in its arsenal, and as the sleeping giant is being prepped for a mindwipe, Wolverine escapes and slices through the small army of seasoned killers that stand in his way.Barely breaking the half hour mark minus credits, the core of the story is lean and uncluttered, and the whole thing is devastatingly brutal wall-to-wall action. Hulk vs. Wolverine draws deeply from imagery from the comics, from that iconic McFarlane cover of the Hulk reflected in Wolverine’s gleaming claws to entire pages of Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X origin translated verbatim. The movie doesn’t take any undue liberties with its characters or their powers; I really do get the sense that this was written, directed, and animated by lifelong comic fans making the sort of movie they’d want to watch instead of just trying to cast a wide net and disinterestedly hit the studio’s numbers. A movie about Wolverine recaptured by Weapon X can’t be saddled with a PG rating, and this is so hyperviolent and sopping with blood that I’m really not sure how it managed to just score a PG-13. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s more brutal and unflinchingly graphic than a lot of slasher flicks I’ve seen. I love the skewed, stylized character designs, and from Wolverine’s half-growled dialogue to the Hulk’s thunderous roar, the voice acting is absolutely perfect. I don’t want to spoil the reveal of who all is part of Weapon X’s superpowered black ops team — the surprise is a huge part of the fun — but I have to give

The title Hulk vs. Thor doesn’t really convey the scale of the second half of this double feature. The Hulk isn’t just pitted against the Norse god of thunder; he singlehandedly takes on the entirety of Asgard: the Warriors 3, legions of valkyries, frost giants, Odin’s ravens, Hel itself, and virtually every last iconic character from the pages of the comics. The movie is set in the waning hours of the Odinsleep: the annual slumber of Asgard’s greatest protector that leaves the realm most exposed to assault from its enemies. Every plot, scheme, and army to have ever been unleashed during the Odinsleep has been handily defeated over the years, but the warriors of Asgard have never been pitted against a force as unstoppable — the embodiment of rage — as the Hulk. An embittered Enchantress uses her dark sorcery to bring the Hulk under Loki’s thrall, and the god of mischief pulls the beast’s strings to effortlessly pummel his brother Thor to within inches of death: no small feat for an immortal god. The Hulk’s thundering rage proves too difficult for Loki to control for long, though, and with his ferocity fully unleashed as never before, he’s not going to stop until the entirety of Asgard lays in ruin.It’s as if the writers behind Hulk vs. Thor couldn’t figure out what Asgardian lore to mine from the hundreds of issues of the comic, so they opted to throw in everything. Virtually every recognizable character and iconic image from the greatest of the Nine Worlds is featured here at some point. Its story is more involved than Hulk vs. Wolverine and is given a few extra minutes to breathe, but the action never lets up here either. Dark magicks rend Bruce Banner from the Hulk, removing the lone spark of humanity keeping the beast’s colossal rage in check, and his path of destruction is unreal, even threatening to topple Hel itself. The imagery isn’t nearly as graphic as Hulk vs. Wolverine, but there’s still an enormous amount of carnage, and the sight of Thor’s arm being shattered or the god of thunder laying limp and lifeless after being punched clean through a mountain is still remarkably intense. I have to admit to not being quite as dazzled by Hulk vs. Thor as I was with the first half of this double feature; dialogue like “You are no troll, monster!” doesn’t sound quite as effortless, the voice acting is perfectly fine but more straightforwardly proper and British, and the celebratory ending seems a little forced. Still, its ability to draw so deeply from some four hundred issues of Thor ought to astonish even casual fans of the comic, the scope of the movie is truly epic, and the torment and anguish inflicted on Bruce Banner pack about as much of a wallop as a roundhouse from the Hulk.Hulk vs. is the first of Marvel’s direct-to-DVD animation to really feel as if it’s targeted squarely at  fanboys. There’s no filler or tedious origin stories here: both halves of this double feature dive headfirst into the action.

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: THE SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW – SEASON 1-2

CAST (VOICES)

Charlie Adler (Wall-e)
Alimi Ballard (Sabrina: TTW)
Steven Blum (Wolverine and the X-Men)
Dave Boat (Ultimate Spider-Man)
Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck)
Grey DeLisle (The Fairly Oddparents)
Mikey Kelley (Gravity Falls)
Tom Kenny (The Batman)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Travis Willingham (Dragon Ball Z)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Shawn Ashmore (X-Men)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
John Barrowman (Arrow)
A.J. Buckley (Disturbing Behavior)
Ty Burrell (Muppets Most Wanted)
LeVar Burton (Star Trek: TNG)
Taye Diggs (Private Practice)
Michael Dorn (Ted 2)
Suisan Eisenberg (Justice League)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: TNG)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
Nika Futterman (Futurama)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth)
Josh Keaton (Justice League: Gods and Monsters)
Wayne Knight (3rd rock from The Sun)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Phil LaMar (Free Enterprise)
Jane Lynch (Glee)
Jason Marsden (Full House)
James Marsters (Smallville)
Jennifer Morrison (Urban Legends 2)
Scott Menville (Teen Titans)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica)
Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: TLJ)
Ray Stevenson (Divergent)
Fred Stoller (Little Man)
George Takei (Star Trek)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Michelle Trachtenberg (17 again)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Jim Ward (Danny Phantom)
Adam West (Batman 60s)
Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries)

When I saw a preview of The Super Hero Squad Show back in February of 2009, I thought it looked pretty interesting, but certainly aimed at the kiddies, and as it aired on Cartoon Network, I never saw an episode. In fact, I forgot all about it, and when I got my hands on this disc, I thought it was an animated take on the old Fisher-Price Marvel kiddie figures. So I had no expectations coming in. Well, my only expectation being that it would be bad. So it was with a good deal of shock that I found it to be a pretty entertaining action-comedy series, if you don’t mind the cheese-level of many of the jokes.

The Super Hero Squad (sort of a loose version of the Avengers) is made up of an assortment of Marvel heroes, including Iron Man (as the leader), Captain America (who provides aid on a regular basis), Wolverine (adding the X-Men’s popularity,) The Hulk, Thor, a spacey surfer-dude version of the Silver Surfer, and Falcon (obviously added to bring some diversity.) Joining them is the mostly unknown Reptil (a dinosaur-powered bit player from the Avengers comics) who is both a young guy and Hispanic, helping fill out the P.C. scorecard a bit more and give younger viewers a stand-in.  They go up against Doctor Doom and his legion of bad guys (and ineffective henchmen), as he searches for the Infinity fractals, shards of the Infinity Sword (which seems connected to the Infinity Gems of the Infinity Gauntlet. Infinity.)


Though the storylines are pretty solid and offer big action-packed battles, the bulk of the show is comedy, with the character’s out-sized personalities carrying the jokes, be it Thor’s overwhelming concern about his appearance or Captain America being stuck in the ’40s. Maybe I don’t give kids a lot of credit, but I can see a large portion of these gags flying over their heads, which will make the show far more enjoyable for adults than one would have expected. There was more than one joke that got a genuine laugh out of me, though many of them rely on bodily functions or pratfalls for the punchline. The wordplay and character-generated jokes are much more entertaining and fun, especially Thor’s Asgardian versions of modern language, the Silver Surfer’s alien view of Earth life, and anything involving the always-ridiculous floating head known as M.O.D.O.K. (voiced hilariously by Tom Kenny.) One joke about the Hulk swallowing a yo-yo is technically genius. The only thing about the show that doesn’t really work is Reptil, who feels like the Poochie of the show, coming off as a bone tossed to kids, with his dino-focused power, youthful role and extreme behavior.


This version of the Marvel Universe smartly keeps the same look for its characters, giving long-time Marvel fans an in for the series, but presents them in a super-deformed style (squat bodies, large heads and feet, four fingers) that’s kid-cartoon friendly and which easily separates it from any other version of the Universe you’ve ever seen. That way, there are no issues with continuity or previous incarnations, and the show can be enjoyed on its own merits (allowing them to do something like make Dr. Strange a complete lunatic.) That’s a good thing, because the show is loaded to the gills with fan-service goodies, like the episode titles (which reference famous comic titles) and title cards which replicate memorable cover art. The show also pulls characters from the depths of the Marvel roster, like Screaming Mimi and the Melter, and having silly cartoon fun with them. Taken simply as a silly, almost What The–?! treatment of the characters, it’s well worth a look for comic-book fans out of grade school.

On a non-story note, the theme song, provided by Parry Gripp of Nerf Herder, is an energetic blast, while the voice cast for this series has to be one of the best for a non-prime time animated series, with tons of veterans of the cartoon industry, like Kenny, Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer and Charlie Adler, along with plenty of genre stars, including Robert Englund, Tricia Helfer, Jennifer Morrison and Adrian Pasdar. It’s rare to see a show like this pull this kind of voice cast.

the overall plot of the cycle will feature the villain Thanos seeking the six stones of the Infinity Gauntlet, a powerful cosmic weapon. Opposing him will be the titular Super Hero Squad, which is made up of goofball takes on Iron Man, Thor, Falcon, Wolverine, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, original character Reptil, Scarlet Witch, and sometimes Captain America. While the first two shows focus specifically on the Thanos plot, other episodes detour into one-off excursions. For instance, “World War Witch!” takes the heroes back in time to when Cap was fighting the Red Skull alongside the Invaders in WWII, while “Support Your Local Sky-Father!” pits Olympus vs. Asgard, and it features the Marvel Universe rendition of Hercules.

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.