The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Volumes 1 and 2

Format: Animated, Color, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Number of discs: 2 (sold separately)
Studio: Walt Disney Video
DVD Release Date: April 26, 2011
Run Time: 154 minutes (Volume 1) and 135 minutes (Volume 2)




It’s an old complaint, but it bears repeating: why on Earth would you release a half season of a show on DVD without giving fans the complete package? Oh right, because you can chisel more money out of them that way . . .

The new cartoon version of The Avengers arrives on DVD this week, but as has become depressingly common, we don’t the entire season: just the first 13 episodes, split up into two separate purchases.

The show itself certainly deserves better. Though definitely an also-ran amid the recent bevy of animated superhero programs, it displays flair and a sense of fun that serves it well. Positioned to take advantage of Marvel’s upcoming movie glut, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes still does a good job of creating its own identity. Nods to the live-action versions crop up here and there (notably in Tony Stark / Iron Man, whose improvised quips owe everything to Robert Downey), but the show by and large focuses on being itself.

The first five episodes act more as an anthology than a continuous series: each one showing the adventures of one of the five superheroes who ultimately form the titular team. One by one, they all realize they can’t make a go of it alone, which leads straight into episodes 6 and 7 where they finally join forces to put the hurt on Marvel’s assembled baddies. The slow roll-out belies the clever action and terrific character development on display, honed by writers and directors who truly love Marvel Comics.

The early episodes also help set various long-term plot threads in motion: mostly concerning the clandestine organization SHIELD and a quartet of super-powered prisons designed to keep various ubervillains safely under wraps. When the bad guys engineer a mass breakout in episodes 6 and 7, Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, the Wasp and the Incredible Hulk join forces to bring them down.

That constitutes the first DVD volume, Heroes Assemble – and admittedly makes a nice self-contained arc for anyone interested in just a taste of what the show has in store. The second DVD set, Captain America Reborn, focuses on new members joining the team, including Cap himself, Hawkeye and the Black Panther. Long-time comic book fans will recognize the pattern, first established in the early issues of the comic book, which the show duplicates here with enthusiasm and respect.

Many of the show’s writers and directors wrote for Marvel comics, as well as working on earlier projects like the terrific Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon. The Avengers can’t quite match that effort, but it stands in good company, and the mixture of fist-pounding action and sophisticated storylines hums merrily along throughout the DVDs. (There’s also a few fun inside gags, like the appearance of Logan / Wolverine during Captain America’s World War II adventures.)

Unfortunately, by breaking it up like this, the studio doesn’t give any of that reverence room to breathe. Fans have to accept what they’re given in piecemeal chunks, while waiting for the second half of the first season to arrive God knows when. The cartoons on display are well worth a look; if only the package they came in measured up to the same standards.

THE DISCS: Each separately sold volume contains one disc. Volume 1 holds seven episodes; Volume 2 holds six. Special features are practically nonexistent, with just a few previews and a self-serving look at the character design in the show’s upcoming second season. It’s pretty thin soup, even with a priced-to-sell sticker on the cover.

WORTH IT? The cost is a little high for the dearth of interesting materials, but the cartoons themselves won’t let you down.

RECOMMENDATION: If you can’t wait and don’t mind a mild gouging, these collections are worth the price. (And by “mild gouging,” we mean maybe three or four bucks more than you should be paying.) If you have no faith in double-dipping, you might want to hold on for the complete season one, which may or may not arrive in a more complete package.

- Rob Vaux



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