TV Review: Disney XD’s ‘Avengers Assemble’

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MARVEL'S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE LOGOIt’s necessarily fair to compare a new show or movie to one that came before in a review. But since we are getting far more reboots, reimaginings and retreads these days, it’s inevitable to do so. Take for example, Spider-Man’s film trilogy starting over after just a decade. “Amazing Spider-Man” wasn’t a bad movie, but comparing it to the first Spider-Man still in our memories just hurts its chances. In animation, the same thing happened when Ultimate Spider-Man replaced the beloved Spectacular Spider-Man.

I’m pleased to report that Avengers Assemble is much, much closer in tone to The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes than Ultimate Spider-Man was to Spectacular. No characters in Avengers Assemble broke the fourth wall, so that’s a bonus.

Still, diehard comic faithful loved EMH. Any show stepping into its form-fitting spandex must justify its existence as far as we’re concerned. Jeph Loeb, Head of Marvel Television, says to think of this like a new creative team taking over a comic book. That, of course, makes it seem like readers don’t run for pitchforks and torches then too.

Avengers Assemble starts much as Loeb described it. There are no origin stories here. It’s assumed you have some knowledge of who The Avengers are and what they do. Even the team’s newest member, The Falcon, gets all of one minute’s backstory. The team hasn’t been working together for a little while and according to Tony Stark, the Earth is just fine. Things change when Captain America goes missing.

I talked earlier about this show having to justify its existence. Disney’s reasons are clear: it wanted a team and tone that reflects its film universe. That means Hawkeye and Black Widow must have more to do, and Hawkeye needs to lose his old mask and put on some cool shades. These are two characters that have had to justify their existence truthfully. More than one review of “The Avengers” asked the same question I’ve heard in comic shops for years. Does the team with The Hulk and Thor really need the guy with a bow and arrow?

Without giving too much away, the answer here is that the mortals see things the godlike beings don’t. I’m hoping this doesn’t get to Batman constantly carrying the Justice League levels, because Hawkeye and Widow are no Batman. It isn’t just about their powers or lack thereof. Captain America doesn’t technically have superpowers. But as the premiere ep captures, this is not the same team without him. Even Hulk is worried when Cap’s missing.

The Falcon is one of the best reasons for an established animated property to have a fresh start. True, they could have just introduced him in EMH without having a whole new show. Seeing him debut here gives the whole thing a “new comic book arc” feel. One of the first things any new writer does is shake up the team.

There’s the matter of diversity, too. Growing up a young black kid reading comics, there were not a whole lot of characters that looked like me. The ones that did were often stereotypes, and it seemed mandatory for them to have “Black” in their name somewhere. The Avengers were like every other comic created 50 or so years ago, with not much minority representation. I can’t really argue against Falcon’s inclusion.

Overall,  Avengers Assemble blends action and humor for a fun way to spend 30 minutes. The first episode ended in a cliffhanger reminiscent of a comic book’s last panel. Kids seeing the characters for the first time and adults who know what issue Batroc The Leaper first appeared in can enjoy it together. Those worried it would pander to kiddoes as hard as Ultimate Spider-Man does can breathe a sigh of relief.

Disney could be on to something here. Restarting every time things get stagnant would be fun. This team is tied to the film universe. In two or three seasons, they could do something completely different.

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