Wednesday, January 21, 2015

'Avengers Assemble' comics collection review

Here's some irony — I own several "Avengers Assemble" products: A poster framed for my hallway, two plastic cups and even a washcloth.

But until Sunday, I'd never seen an episode of the Disney XD TV series. (Keep checking CCC for my review of the first four episodes and the mostly disappointing "Avengers Assemble" DVD.)
This is a promotional image used by Disney XD prior
the May 2013 debut of the "Avengers Assemble" animated series.
Why haven't I watched "Avengers Assemble"? That's easy; my cable TV service doesn't include Disney XD.

And why do I have some "Assemble" merchandise? That's pretty easy to answer, too. The Avengers are my favorites superhero groups and secondly, I dig the character designs.

At a recent stop at the library, the "Marvel's Avengers Assemble: Assembly Required" DVD and a collection of comic books based on the series came in. This review will focus on the fun, extremely kid-friendly comics stories in the trade paperback with the cumbersome title of MARVEL UNIVERSE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE VOL. 1.

I thought this was a reboot of the "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" animated series, when in fact it seems to be a continuation.

Although the details aren't discussed, Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) earlier disbanded the superhero team and there apparently was a lot of tension among the team (Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, the Hulk and Thor). Once Iron Man witnesses the Red Skull apparently vaporizing Cap as he rushes to the Star-Spangled Avengers' aide, Iron Man puts out the "Avengers Protocol" — essentially a call to reunite the team (also the name of the first two-part story).

The Avengers test and question Stark's leadership. Hawkeye's quip is priceless: "You could lead a field trip to Vegas. Maybe, but …"

Presumably like most Avengers fans, I strongly prefer Captain America being the team leader since he comes by it more naturally and except for some time when the Vision and Iron Man have led the comic-book version of The Avengers, Cap or Wasp have been the leaders. Stark's character has a lot of charisma thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal in the Marvel Studios films, but to put it bluntly, Iron Man isn't a natural fit to be a leader.

But I understand the reasoning in "Avengers Assemble" since the animated series' roster and this incarnation of Iron Man closely resemble the live-action movie — down to the front cover of this collection, which is an animated version of the live-action DVD/promotional poster. (See the image at the right.) In short, Marvel's animation department and Disney are trading on the popularity of Downey's Iron Man to put the Armored Avenger at the head of The Avengers, whether it feels natural or not.

Another cinematic tie-in is the obvious roster addition of the Falcon, fresh off his first live-action appearance in the thrilling "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

Here, Sam Wilson is a SHIELD trainee who has a "golly gee, I can't believe it" response to being an Avenger. Somewhat like the comics incarnation, the Falcon holds Cap in high regard. In "Avengers Assembled," Stark has used Wilson as War Machine from time to time and unlike in the comics, this Falcon is tech savvy.

The same sort of schtick from "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" remains in place — even if Wasp and Ant-Man have been traded out of the roster for Black Widow and Falcon.

As Hawkeye says, the Hulk and Thor have an ongoing "who's stronger?" debate and the two often challenge each other about who can take down more baddies during battles.

Hawkeye and the Hulk still give each other a rough time. In the first story, the archer ribs the Big Green Guy about his bad breath. ("Is there a convenience store on the way? Hulk could use a mint or three. … I can't look for bad guys if I have to cut through that gamma breath of yours.")

So while the AVENGERS ASSEMBLE stories are nothing but fun the dialogue is snappy, I was hoping for more. Far more. The seemingly uncredited artwork is straight out of the animated series — but so are the four stories. Each of them are based on those very same episodes; I had hoped the writers would expand the "Avengers Assemble" continuity, not just retell episodes. Grade: B

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