16 Reviews (1 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
From the bottomless vault of Marvel comes another animated series released by Clear Vision. This time it's Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends from the 1980s; this is the Complete Season One, incorporating 13 episodes over two discs, with a total running time of 5 hours and 10 minutes. In this scenario Peter Parker has two room-mates, Bobby Drake and Angelica Jones, who are actually the mutant-born Iceman and Firestar. Within the boarding house they rent from Peter's Aunt May they have a secret computer and science lab, and together they fight crime as... The Spider Friends.
Disc one consists of: Triumph of the Green Goblin, in which Green Goblin tries to turn the citizens of New York into goblins; The Crime of All Centuries, in which Raven the Hunter brings back marauding dinosaurs from the Savage Lands; The Fantastic Mr Frump!, in which Doctor Doom uses an ancient amulet to make himself all-powerful, but the power accidentally goes to old Mr Frump; Sunfire, in which an inventor of electronics uses his mutant nephew to befriend Firestar for his own nefarious schemes; Swarm, in which a strange meteorite influences a swarm of bees to turn everyone into hive workers; Little Superheroes, in which the Chameleon plans to defeat seven superheroes by impersonating them and sowing discontent; and Video-Man, in which Electro brings a video character to life to defeat the Spider Friends and steal materials required to control the city.
Disc two consists of The Prison Plot, in which Magneto attempts to free some villainous mutants from prison; Spidey Goes Hollywood, in which the Chameleon lures Spider-Man and co into taking big risks in a movie, but doesn't count on the appearance of the Hulk; The Vengeance of Loki!, in which Thor's evil half-brother seeks revenge in the form of a powerful fabled diamond; Knights and Demons, in which a demon from the Land of Shades is sent to Earth to seek the Ebony Blade, the weapon by which the demon master can cross the realms; Pawns of the Kingpin, in which the master criminal uses mind control to persuade Captain America and Iceman to steal a super weapon; and The Quest of the Red Skull, in which the Red Skull steals a relic which leads to a hidden stash of devastating super weapons.
This series has some good storylines, and it certainly rolls out some famous faces from the Marvel universe. Aside from the regular trio, we get the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Dr Strange, Thor and the Sub-Mariner; and on the opposite side of the coin, The Kingpin, Red Skull, the Chameleon, Raven the Hunter, Electro, the Green Goblin, Magneto and Doctor Doom.
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends is another animated outing which splits fans of the web-slinger. The main reason is that, although it goes all-out to entertain, it does obviously target a somewhat younger audience. Consequentially, it's a simple matter to pick fault with the inherent silliness. Here's a break-down:
The problem with Iceman and Firestar is that, like Superman, they prove all-powerful unless the plot demands that they don't. Therefore, ice or even cold air renders Firestar helpless, and any significant heat source incapacitates Iceman. Their powers also cancel each other out. Like Spider-Man, they both have secret identities but change in such public places that they must have thought the whole world would respectfully turn the other way. And as for the boarding house, how do three students create a scientific laboratory come computer room, including escape route trap doors without alerting the never very far away Aunt May. She's old not stupid.
The piece de resistance of cringe-worthiness comes with the writing-in of a hatefully cute and cowardly little dog called Ms Lion. She's in on the secret, plays the comic relief to extremes, and even winks knowingly to the viewer. This is the Scrappy-Doo of the Spidey myth; I can't imagine anyone but a two-year-old liking this monstrosity. And finally, the superhero trilogy periodically shouting "Spider Friends, Go For It!" just makes you want to lift the carpet and hide beneath.
So, a generally enjoyable animated series spoiled by talking down to its audience. I certainly wouldn't turn anybody off of purchasing this set, but if you want something which takes itself a little more seriously, whilst maintaining the trademark quips, go for the 1990s series.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
I don't know what happened to the complete seasons 1-3 for review (they must have fallen into another dimension), but here we have season 4 of the 1994 animated series spread over two discs.
I have a fondness for this interpretation of the well-known character and situations. If the Original Spider-Man animated series is dated but quaint, this one is contemporary and right on the mark. As well as progressing at a break-neck pace, the characters are well realised, being three-dimensionally evil or sympathetic. There's much more going on than the black and white palette of good versus evil. With on-going storylines, the plots have more depth and substance. There is time for events to go wrong in a monumental manner, before they are eventually put right, because very few mishaps in life are solved instantly.
The 12-part Season 4 has the title Partners in Crime. As the first part begins we discover that Mary Jane Watson has gone missing after being kidnapped and dropped from a bridge by Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin (this is a variation on the comics event when Peter Parker's love interest Gwen Stacy died after being dropped). Naturally, Spider-Man blames himself, and is starting to react angrily to the way his life has taken a downward spiral.
Matters deteriorate further when Peter Parker's friend Felicia Hardy is abducted by the Kingpin and Doctor Octopus to ensure her father's cooperation. Felicia's father, the athletic thief known as the Cat, as a boy witnessed a secret government experiment which transformed Steve Rodgers into the super soldier Captain America. He memorised the formula, and now the Kingpin wants it to create his own super army. It is tested on Felicia who is transformed into the Black Cat. Spider-Man strikes up a reluctant partnership with her without knowing her true identity.
Because this story is properly fleshed-out, there's a significantly larger cast, and all properly conducive to the plot. There's no shortage of villains on show; aside from the aforementioned Kingpin and Doctor Octopus, we have Smythe, Shocker, the Scorpion, the Vulture, Kraven the Hunter, Morbius the Vampire, the Lizard, Mysterio, the new Green Goblin, and cameos by Venom and Carnage. Phew! As for the good guys (or in some cases anti-heroes), we have Punisher and Chip, Blade, the Cat, the Black Cat, and Nick Fury with his S.H.I.E.L.D. cohorts in tow. There's a very bitter sweet irony to Spider-Man's victories which work very well. In fact so much happens to our hero that he should really be ensconced in the rubber-walled home for insane web-slingers.
So there's plenty here to keep any Spidey fan happy. 3 hours 42 minutes of action, character conflict, emotion and intrigue. I'm happy to say that although some of the city skylines are cleverly rendered using computer animation, the rest is traditional animation, making the whole feel more alive. I even prefer this to the admittedly very professional later Spider-Man animated series, which lost part of its heart through computer trickery.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2009)
You'll know from my review of Season 4 that this animated series from 1994 is fantastic, and knocks spots off the rather dreary X-Men series from the same period. This time around we get 13 20-minute episodes spread across two discs, which equates to a running time of 4 hours and 24 minutes. There's hardly time to breathe as Spider-Man endures all manner of hardships in his endeavours to make Manhattan and the world at large a safer place. The fighting of crime continues to interfere with his private life at every juncture. This series has cleverly incorporated many of the Marvel comic sagas in a few short episodes at a time, and simply moves on to the next. However, this isn't all about action; this animated series has real heart and shows that events in life don't always go according to plan.
In The Wedding, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson finally tie the knot. Fisk (the Kingpin) comes forward to arrange the wedding in return for Peter saving his life. But Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson refuses to be outdone. No one has counted on the untimely arrival of the Green Goblin.
In Six Forgotten Warriors (a 4-part story), The Kingpin assembles the Insidious Six (Doctor Octopus, Shocker, the Vulture, Chameleon, the Scorpion and Rhino) to assemble the hidden keys to a doomsday device, protected by aged superheroes. Meanwhile, Peter Parker travels to Russia to clear his dead parent's name. He returns to find a new super-villain created by the doomsday device, and Captain America and the Red Skull are released from their 50-year struggle in the vortex.
In The Return of Hydro-Man (2 parts), the man who can control water discovers he is clone of the dead original. However, possessing all the memories and emotions of the original, he kidnaps his counterpart's love, Mary Jane. Under duress MJ reveals water powers herself, and it turns out MJ is a clone too, whose genetics breakdown. Not only has Peter Parker lost her for a second time, he realises that he married a clone.
In Secret Wars (a 3-part story), Spider-Man is taken by the mysterious dimension-crossing Madam Web to a powerful being called the Beyonder, who has been studying the respective strengths of good and evil. He is transported to another planet and told that the people have lived in peace for millennia and have no concept of good and evil. The Beyonder transports Doctor Octopus, Doctor Doom, the Red Skull, Alister Smythe and the Lizard to act for evil. Spider-Man must lead a force of good against them to prevent the planet being overrun. He chooses the Fantastic Four, Storm from the X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America and the Black Cat.
In Spider Wars (2-parts), Spider-Man returns to New York to find it in ruins. The Green Goblin and Hobgoblin are wreaking havoc under the leadership of another Spider-Man, who has joined with the symbiotic Carnage. This is another dimension. Secret Wars was a test of Spider-Man's skills as a leader, and now he is chosen by Madam Web and the Beyonder to put things right, aided by a group of Spider-Men from various dimensions: the eight-limbed Man-Spider, the grey-armoured Spider-Man, Octo-Spidey, the Scarlet Spider, and a curiously powerless Spider-Man.
This entire animated serial has been a joy to behold. Many of the major storylines have been covered (albeit briefly, compared with the comics of the time), making every episode equally compelling viewing for children or any adult with an interest in the character. At the end of the Spider Wars, Madam Web takes Spider-Man to the reality of the powerless Spider-Man, wherein he's a fictional character. In a cheesy moment the real Spider-Man meets creator Stan Lee and takes him web-swinging around the city. The final moment is more poignant and a great place to end the series, as Spidey and Madam Web go in search of the real Mary Jane.
*Update: The Complete Series has been available as a set for some time, and a Blu-ray version is imminent.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2009)
As part of their high quality on-going animated films, Warner Bros. in conjunction with Warner Japan releases Batman: Ninja on Blu-ray, Steelbook and DVD. This 85 minute anime feature is written by Kazuki Nakashima and directed by Jumpei Mizusaki. Gorilla Grodd has developed a time displacement machine. Batman is after putting it out of action, whereas his arch enemies are desperate to secure it for very different and nefarious reasons. The resultant clash zaps them all off to ancient Japan. The Joker seeks overall power, forcing the Batman to make reluctant alliances in order to get them all back to contemporary Gotham. He soon realises that technology can’t help him here; only ingenuity and a willingness to change to suit this new environment...
Batman: Ninja is a difficult one to quantify. The plot device used to place Batman in a period Japanese setting is a little contrived, to say the least. The likelihood of the time displacement machine transferring not only Gorilla Grodd and the Batman, but top villains The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Deathstroke, Two-Face and Bane is unlikely. Whilst the chances of Catwoman, Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, and even Alfred extend that to the point of being ridiculous.
The idea is that The Joker has taken over the machine, but is missing some of the power rods, one each of which is held by opposing Feudal Lords Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Deathstroke. Although these villains are adorned with Shogun-like armour of real Japanese history, we see very little of them. The main characters are undoubtedly Batman and The Joker, so why not just have these two? It would have made a tauter and more realistic battle. The point is proved with the one-on-one Samurai sword fight on a rooftop at the film’s finale. As for the Sumo Wrestler version of Bane: Batman sees him off in about ten seconds! Conversely, Catwoman looks really good, but is under utilised, except for the odd skirmish with Harley Quinn. Other than that she stands near The Joker pretending to be a reluctant ally.
I realise the idea is to strip Batman of his technology; certainly, the moment when he goes to use his grappling gun, only to realise there are no tall buildings, is priceless. However, everyone else seems to possess anachronistic tech. Where does The Joker’s robot temple and vast array of firepower come from? Recent Japanese anime culture dictates the appearance of a robot or monster somewhere along the line. But Transformers and warring robots?! Batman leads the good guys without doing much but a little fighting and exerting of his presence. Red Robin and his associate monkey do more by calling together hundreds of armoured monkeys – which looks impressive until they form an opposing robot (which looks like a rubbish Teddy Bear) to go up against The Joker.
In between the manic, in-your-face, action (punctuated by mad visuals in the vein of Pokemon character screens) are quiet introspective moments. Here the animation changes to a likeness of watercolour paintings: two birds singing on a branch or seeds floating on the breeze. This portrays a culture of peace and harmony amidst the chaos of warring factions.
Although Batman: Ninja has its fair share of nice original moments, this iconic American hero doesn’t sit well in an historical Japanese setting. I suppose that is the point Warner Japan is trying to make. Compare it with the stylistic Victorian setting of Gotham By Gaslight, for example, and you’ll see what I mean. Much of what happens in this film is quite obviously for the sake of convenience eye candy. Am I being too fussy about loose plot strands? Technology which has been damaged or discarded is carelessly left behind with no consideration of how it could affect the historic timelines. Perhaps the reality should be changed when they return to Gotham City.
Nevertheless, you’ve got to appreciate the attempt to do something different with these characters and situations. I am a dedicated follower of these animated Batman films targeted at a more adult audience. I have Batman Year One, Mask of the Phantasm, Under the Red Hood, Gotham By Gaslight, Mystery of the Batwoman, Gotham Knight, Assault on Arkham, Batman Vs Robin, Son of Batman, Bad Blood, The Dark Knight Returns – Parts 1 & 2, The Killing Joke, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and a few of the Justice League titles in which Batman is prominent in the storyline. They are generally of very high standard; certainly, a line that DC excels in. Okay, this one is noBatman Year One, or The Dark Knight Returns, but is a slightly above average release and worth seeing.
Extras include: East/West Batman and Batman: Made in Japan featurettes; and New York Comic Con Presents Batman Ninja.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2018)
From the extensive vault of Marvel, and released by Lionsgate Films, comes this animated feature from 2009 pitting two of the strongest and angriest comic character superheroes against each other. The Hulk has been rampaging for more than a week across the Alberta region of Canada. Logan, also known as Wolverine, is called in by Department H to stop him at all costs. After tracking down the Hulk, the pair clash in one of the fights of the century. However, there are very soon new concerns as they are both captured by Weapon X – a sort of X-Men group of bad guys led by a professor who wants to experiment on the subjects in order to turn them to do his bidding. But Hulk and Wolverine cannot be held for long, and they are pretty resentful of their incarceration, momentarily forgetting their vendetta against each other.
Essentially good superheroes are often set against each other in special event graphic novels and on screen for very little valid reason other than to showcase popular characters and sell more produce. This mini film is based on a Marvel comic series storyline. You would get bored very quickly with this spectacle if it wasn’t for the distraction of the villains. Sabretooth, Wolverine’s main nemesis, is along for the ride, as is Deathstryke, but most notable is the presence of Deadpool, represented on screen for the first time. Deadpool is an exaggerated wise-cracking deadly killer with absolutely no remorse. He makes numerous puns whilst dispatching his victims. In character, imagine a wicked Spider-Man with verbal diarrhoea. He keeps on to the point that even his fellow villains get annoyed and attack him.
While Hulk and Wolverine save the day, they end the story as it began by continuing their personal battle. So it’s a little niggling nothing is really resolved. With a running time of only around half an hour, it’s over seemingly before it has started. The mini making-of documentary mentions a companion piece to this called Wolverine Vs. Hulk, but there is no sign of it here.
Just a note on animation. Although it’s absolutely fine, Marvel’s animation doesn’t appear to have progressed that much in the last decade or so. In comparison, DC has adapted and used a number of different styles, particularly for their Batman animated films. They have also targeted a more adult audience for many of them. Check out Batman: Year One, Batman: Under the Red Hood, Gotham Knight, and The Dark Knight Returns. Come on Marvel, keep up! No complaints about Marvel’s many fantastic live-action films though.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2013)
This box set for the first time collects together all 39 episodes of the 1966 series, all 32 episodes of the 1982 series, and all 21 episodes of the 1996 series. The total running time is 16 hours and 39 minutes over seven DVD discs. Clear Vision has reached the stage whereby some of their earlier releases from the extensive Marvel animation vault have been collected together into combined sets or special releases. For any true follower of Marvel comic character animation, and The Hulk in particular, this is surely a must-have set.
Of all the most popular Marvel superheroes, the Hulk is almost certainly the most difficult character to adapt to the screen. The feature films were - let’s be polite - disappointing, to say the least. The fondly remembered TV series, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, only succeeded because it broke the military format and allowed the audience to build up a genuine sympathy for the man, rather than the beast. He spent his days moving from place to place, searching for a solution to put his life back on track.
The '60s animated series, right from the point of the childish opening theme tune, seems to live in the wrong skin. The format is too close to the Spider-Man series of the time, which is inappropriate because of the highly dangerous military aspect of the scenario and situations.
The '80s series has the decided benefit of being narrated by Mr Marvel himself, Stan Lee. This is very much a product of its time: large and colourful, but the Hulk himself is more what we’ve come to expect - whilst the storylines could be better. The best of the bunch come in the '90s series. It has Lou Ferrigno providing the voice, and a much more serious attitude to the proceedings. In fact, the first batch of episodes were considered so dark that She-Hulk was quickly introduced to provide balance. This contrast of characters works extremely well, and adds emphasis to Banner’s internal turmoil. Not only is his change to the Hulk often involuntary, but he has no idea whether the green Hulk or Grey Hulk will emerge.
A nicely presented set, but not a patch on the '90s Spider-Man series, so expect no enduring story arcs. For a more in depth examination of each of these Hulk shows, see my separate reviews.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2011)
The Justice League, adapted from the DC Comics adventures, follows a group of superheroes based on a space station as they fight against evil from the Earth and beyond. Here we have three episodes from the Unlimited series...
In Initiation, Green Arrow is invited to join the Justice League but gracefully refuses. The Green Lantern, Supergirl and Captain Atom (please!) agree to drop him off after they have helped with a reported nuclear accident. They are turned away by the military, but Green Arrow discovers there is a nuclear-powered robot on the rampage and only he can get close enough to pierce its weakness.
In Hawk and Dove, two sets of warring factions in a country are further divided when one side is given an unstoppable robot by a mysterious shape-shifting character. Recognising a symbol on the robot's armour, Wonder Woman visits the individual who created her own suit. He tells her he made the robot for Aries, and that he leaves a small weakness in each of his creations. Justice League members Hawk and Dove try to convince the warring leaders to talk peace, but Aries has taken over one of their identities. It takes Dove to realise the robot is fuelled by hatred and prejudice.
In Kid Stuff, Morgane LeFay shows her young son Mordred the Amulet of First Power, with which he will one day claim his kingdom. But the impatient youth snatches the amulet and uses it to banish all adults. Consequently, Batman, Wonder Woman and countless others find themselves deposited in a shadow realm. The only way to get back is to allow Morgane to turn them into children.
I'm sorry to say that, whilst the animation remains good, this new Unlimited version of Justice League has gone right down hill. When I reviewed some of the original Justice League show it concentrated on the main characters of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and the Green Lantern. Now we not only have a cast of thousands (superhero overkill), but the entire format seems to be aimed at young kids who they would have you believe care nothing about characterisation or good storytelling, only whizzes and bangs. Furthermore, is three episodes amounting to seventy minutes good value for money? Probably not.
Extras consist of: Justice League Watchtower Database (spoken information on Green Arrow, Supergirl, Captain Atom, Hawk and Dove); Save Gorilla City (help Flash catch an armoured van by using arrow keys on your remote - which didn't work on mine); Rate a new cartoon called Keeping Up With the Joneses; and a short trailer for Tom & Jerry Blast Off to Mars.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2005)
Believing the Hulk to be an uncontrollable danger to himself and everyone around him, the Avengers incarcerate him in a spacecraft and dispatch it to an uninhabited planet. However, the Hulk regains consciousness and manages to break free. In destroying some of the instrumentation, the ship's trajectory is altered and it instead crash lands on Sakaar, a world ruled by the tyrant Red King. Weakened from the crash he is eventually overwhelmed by a multitude of guards and forced to fight as a gladiatorial slave for the apparent pleasure of the people. But the Hulk reluctantly bands together with a small group of fellow slaves, including the rock-like Korg, the insectoid Miek, ex-Shadow Priest Hiroim, and the rebel Elloe. Much to the Red King's increasing wrath, the Hulk becomes the greatest gladiator the world has seen, and a hero of the people. The king orders the deaths of the group, but it is not a good idea to give the Hulk a single target for his irrepressible rage...
Marvel has a prolific output of classic superhero characters, most of which were created by Stan Lee. The fact that they are still loved worldwide decades after first appearing in comic books proves their sustainability - particularly as they have been so successful when adapted for big budget Hollywood films. Spider-Man, Iron Man and Daredevil have stood out for me, but most have been decent enough films. Except for Hulk. So why didn't Hulk work on film when the long-running TV series featuring Bill Bixby was so popular? The problem was the character had been dehumanised. Yes, Hulk is a powerful rampaging monster, but he's also a person, with all the emotional conflicts which come with that.
This animated film version is a pretty faithful adaptation of a comic book story of the same name. Here Hulk is given an inner turmoil. Traditionally a loner, here he bands together with others for the greater good. No longer is he simply seen as a monster. Now he is a saviour and protector. His life is given meaning for the first time, and people are interested in his thoughts as well as his brawn.
In my opinion, there is less storyline scope for development with the Hulk character than almost any other in the Marvel canon, so this choice of story is inspired. Furthermore, the quality of animation is very professional without resorting outright to CGI.
Also of interest on this disc is a Making of featurette, and a first look at a new Thor animated film.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
When another Earth-like world is discovered on the opposite side of the sun, J. Jonah Jameson's astronaut son is sent to investigate. At the launch Spider-Man sees the symbiotics Venom and Carnage getting aboard and tries to stop them - only to have the media and public believe he is attempting to sabotage the launch. Shortly afterward SM is thought to be dead after a rescue attempt at a burning building. But Peter Parker is lying low and making plans. Six months later, when a new launch to the other planet is announced, SM emerges with a new high-tech costume and additional gadgets (including stealth mode) and gets aboard the craft to embark on a rescue mission. The moment he arrives he is attacked by a group of high-tech animal-like bipeds known as bestials. He soon discovers that an individual known as the High Evolutionary has experimented with DNA and genetics to form a high society of bestials. Consequentially, all the humans have now been driven to the lower level slums, where they are at best left to their own devices but ruled over in a dictatorial manner. A diverse gang of rebels have dedicated themselves to putting things right. Jameson has become their unofficial leader, and SM finds himself joining forces with them on a semi-regular basis in the hope that he can then, somehow, get the astronaut and himself back home.
Spider-Man Unlimited is a single linking story covering thirteen episodes and two discs. The running time is 4 hours 23 minutes. References to past events are included for the diehard Spidey fans, and I'm happy to say that the defence shield wise-cracking transfers seamlessly to the new format. Although the majority of the action takes place on Counter-Earth, it doesn't stop many of SM's regular foes from turning up from time to time. Of Course, there is Venom and Carnage from our Earth (they seem to be up to something, but it's never revealed exactly what), there is an alternative Electro, Hunter and Vulture, and a reluctant ally in the Green Goblin. Peter Parker even secures a job taking photos for a popular newspaper.
Here is my problem. As a kid I was an avid follower of Spidey in the comics and graphic novels, and I still like the character now. However, I remember reading a series of adventures in which he acquired cosmic powers. I quickly lost interest, as he changed his suit and became a number of other superheroes. This wasn't the SM I knew and loved. I found that a similar thing happened whilst watching this series. Although the changes aren't as extreme, a different suit created from nanobots, a web-cape, suit sonics, stealth invisibility mode, and firing projectiles from glove knuckle points just isn't Spider-Man as far as I'm concerned.
There is no proper conclusion to events either. I don't know if another series was planned, or the plug was pulled early, but the tables just begin to turn when another even greater threat to existence reveals itself, inadvertently creating potentially the biggest cliff-hanger devised for an animated serial. I have mixed feelings about Unlimited, but the good points outweigh the bad. It will be interesting to see how Spider-Man 5000 compares, because the nineties series is still way out in front in terms of storylines and quality.
Episodes consist of Worlds Apart - Parts One and Two, Where Evil Nests, Deadly Choices, Steel Cold heart, Enter the Hunter!, Cry Vulture, Ill-Met By Moonlight, Sustenance, Matters of the Heart, One is the Loneliest Number, Sins of the Fathers, and Destiny Unleashed.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
From the vast vault of Marvel - via Clear Vision - comes the animated series The Super Hero Squad Show. This is Hero Up! (effectively volume one) which incorporates six episodes over one disc, with a total running time of 2 hours, 13 minutes. From their base on Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D. sky ship, Iron Man heads a team of super-powered heroes dedicated to finding and recovering the pieces (or fractals) of the Infinity Sword - the most powerful object in the universe - which has been splintered in a mighty battle between Iron Man and Doctor Doom. Making up the regular squad are Thor, the Hulk, Wolverine, the Silver Surfer, Falcon and Wasp - with appearances by the Fantastic Four, Captain America and Dr. Strange.
In And Lo, A Pilot Shall Come, a city-wide battle ensues over possession of a shard of the Infinity Sword; in This Silver, This Surfer, the Silver Surfer inadvertently causes problems with his cosmic power and is sent away, but only he can prevent Doom assembling an Infinity Dagger; in Hulk Talk Smack, contact with an Infinity fractal leaves the Hulk grey-skinned, intelligent and cultured; in To Err is Superhuman, a new member who can turn parts of his body into any dinosaur is introduced to the team and saves the day; in Enter Dormammu, the powerful other-dimensional being is combated with help from Dr. Strange and the Fantastic Four; in A Brat Walks Among Us!, a little girl wearing a fractal in a tiara is given phenomenal tantrum powers. Heroes and villains alike race to recover the shard without upsetting her.
This is like a toy town version of the Marvel universe, where everyone appears to be tiny, and the 'good' people live in Hero Ville and the 'villains' live in an industrialised complex dominated by a huge eye. Don't these people know that life isn't as black and white as that?
However, childlike naivety apart, this series has a lot to offer. The central theme of the Infinity Sword does not sustain itself very well, but does lead to interesting situations.
Where this concept really succeeds though is with characterisation. There is constant exploration of the main player's psyches. Like all good friends they continually make fun of each other, and it's this that predominantly makes for an enjoyable viewing experience.
Furthermore, the ever-present humour is significantly less childish than that in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. I look forward to the next volumes.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
Next up, from Clear Vision and the bottomless vault of Marvel, comes The Super Hero Squad Show - Volume 2 (in this instance named Hulk Smash!), the humorous animated series. This time there are five episodes on one disc, with a total running time of 1 hour 51 minutes. For anyone who missed my review of volume 1, the premise follows Iron Man, Wolverine, Thor, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Falcon and Reptil who protect Heroville from their S.H.I.E.L.D. carrier headquarters. Their primary goal is to recover the fragments of the all-powerful Infinity Sword, also sought by Doctor Doom and his cronies.
In Oh Brother!, Loki, Thor’s evil half brother starts a battle in Asgard as a distraction whilst he recovers a fragment of the sword; in From The Atom...It Rises!, a super criminal called Scorpio steals information on an atomic particle collider from Stark Industries, but who is he?; in Night in the Sanctorum, the Enchantress causes Falcon to crash the carrier, and the Squad are forced to look for somewhere else to spend the night; in This Forest Green, Doom uses a scientist’s shrinking ray to send his cronies on to the carrier to steal a fractal; in O, Captain My Captain, Wolverine leaves the Squad and joins Captain America’s team - only to find they do things more than a little differently.
Once you get used to the extremely unusual format of this show, and in particular an almost toytown visage to all proceedings, you soon realise that this is more than competently put together. In fact, the balance is very clever. The probable reason why Spider-Man is absent from The Super Hero Squad Show is that all the other characters wise-crack in a similar manner. The humour hits the mark far more often than it misses it, and the characters are very well realised, with Thor being vain and long-winded with his ancient speech (thees and thous), Hulk being a likeable but destructive big kid, and a perpetually brooding Wolverine. Night in Sanctorum is the best example of a perfect episode; very funny, with each hero showing his true character. This series has really grown on me.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
Brainiac, the composite of all knowledge on the planet Krypton, decides to dispute Jor-El's scientific findings that the increasing seismic activity will cause the planet's destruction. While Brainiac uploads itself to a mobile satellite, Jor-El places his infant son Kal-El in a lifeboat escape pod and fires it off to Earth as a mighty earthquake signals the end. From then on it's the standard Superman backstory (Smallville, Lana Lang, Metropolis, Daily Planet, Lois Lane, etc.) until the super-powered benign alien goes up against the ultimate battlesuit engineered by Lex Corp...
Superman The Last Son Of Krypton is an hour-long animated feature produced by the same team who won an Emmy award for the Batman animated series. On first viewing that's surprising because this isn't a patch on Batman. Only on reflection does it become apparent that it's the concept itself which is at fault.
Whereas the majority of Batman action takes place at night in the grand but sinister setting of Gotham City and features a host of mentally-deranged psychotic villains which counter Bruce Wayne's own unbalanced mental state, in Superman everything is too bright and happy, and the idea of somebody flying around in bright blue and red spandex would be open to extensive ridicule, no matter how powerful he was. The costume of Batman is designed to instil fear in the hearts of the criminal fraternity, giving him an advantage for those vital first few seconds. The main difference here is that Batman is human; he can be hurt or killed, and relies on his money, ingenuity and physical prowess.
When a character like Superman is impervious to practically anything unless the plot demands someone wave a chunk of green rock in his face, then you have no depth and so grow bored with proceedings. There is a nice reference to "that nut in Gotham City" but the truth is this DVD will only appeal to a very young audience.
Extras include the interesting but short Portrait of a Hero: How to Draw Superman, demonstrated by character designer James Tucker; Superman: Family, Friends & Foes, a low-down of the characters using clips; Escape From Planet Krypton, a game which stubbornly refused to work properly on my machine; and Trailers for other Warner animated shows, one example of which (Batman: The Mystery of the Batwoman) was more entertaining than the entire Superman feature.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)
For anyone out there who hasn't seen the Marvel comics, graphic novels, previous animated series, or the two Hollywood blockbuster films, the X-Men are a group of people who have a mutating gene which allows them individual gifts or special abilities. They live and train under the guidance of Professor Xavier, who possesses remarkable mental powers, at his school for the gifted. The team's mandate is to seek out and help new mutants and to fight those who use their abilities for selfish or destructive gain...
X-Men Evolution is a modern-looking traditional animated series which is set early in the timeline of these popular characters. Mainstays here are Professor X, Cyclops (alias Scott Summers, who can unleash powerful optic blasts), and Jean Grey (who possesses telepathic and increasing telekinetic abilities). The suitably gruff, abrupt and bad-tempered Wolverine is a member, but comes and goes, clashing sporadically with his arch-nemesis Sabretooth. However, this series is more about the youngsters. The first six episodes, three of which are on this release explore the entry of newcomers to the fold.
In Strategy X, Kurt Wagner is brought to Xavier's mansion. Originating from Germany, Kurt (alias Nightcrawler) is blue-skinned, has pointed ears and a prehensile tail, but his astounding gift is that of teleportation and uncanny agility. Toad is a rather ugly and smelly boy with amphibian abilities who the X-Men try to welcome, but he rejects the offer. The school principal, who in reality is Mystique working for Magneto, tries to extract information from Toad; however, Xavier has already mentally wiped the boy's memories.
In X-impulse, Avalanche,who can create minor earthquakes, tricks Kitty Pryde into using her new-found powers to pass through solid objects, to help him steal the exam questions from a locked room computer. When she realises his objectives Kitty (alias Shadowcat) refuses to help him further. In anger, Avalanche causes a section of the school to crumble, but Kitty uses her abilities to get the people out safely.
In Rogue Recruit, the goth girl recluse Rogue is introduced. When her powers of temporary memory and ability absorption through touch emerge, Mystique lets Rogue slip through her fingers. The battle is then on between Mystique and the X-Men to get to her first. Rogue doesn't know who to trust, and this fear is heightened when Mystique takes on the shape of various X-Men. Taking on people's memories and abilities also confuses Rogue, and as a teenager too she is uncertain of her own identity.
Though quite short, these are very enjoyable stories. The physical shapes of the characters look a little elongated to begin with, but this is a purposeful attempt to capture the look of the old Jack Kirby comic illustrations, and you soon get used to it.
Extras include optional introductions to each episode and a short Evolution of X-Menfeaturette. I am confused as to why this and the next intended release contain only three tales, when X-Men: Evolution - Mutants Rising, which has already been released contains five, as well as audio-visual information on the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm and Wolverine return with a new batch of three adventures. As with volume 1 the emphasis is heavily on the new and younger members of the Xavier Institute: Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, Rogue and Spyke and their mischievous counterparts...
In Mutant Crush, the Blob (couldn't they have thought of a better name?) is a super-strong teenage mutant with an extremely short fuse. When Jean Grey attempts to befriend him, the formerly friendless Blob takes the relationship too far by kidnapping her. Jean uses her mind powers to call for help from the X-Men, but it is the loner Rogue (who temporarily takes on the abilities of others by touch, and was recently the subject of a power struggle between Xavier's team and the evil Mystique) that saves the day.
In Speed and Spyke, Evan Daniels is introduced to the Xavier Institute when his mutant gift of shooting bone spikes from his body materialises with unpredictable results. There is a further shock when he discovers his friend and basketball team mate is also a mutant calling himself Quicksilver. The friendship is short-lived when Quicksilver uses Spyke as a scapegoat in a crime. Now Spyke seeks retribution, but it comes unexpectedly at the hands of the X-Men.
In Middleverse, Nightcrawler inadvertently triggers a booby-trapped lab, and the only piece of equipment left intact sends him into a universe where everyone appears as insubstantial ghosts but don't see him at all. Here he meets the inventor of what turns out to be a transdimensional projector and they try to devise a means of contacting the outside world. While the X-Men search for Nightcrawler, Toad gets hold of the projector and uses it as a weapon. Again the reclusive Rogue helps out, but affiliates herself neither with the X-Men nor Mystique's henchmen.
As mentioned in my review of volume 1, this is modern-looking traditional animation with enjoyable, well-constructed storylines. The costumes and characters have been revised to make them more personable and this shines through in their very different mannerisms.
Again there are only three episodes (the six episodes comprising volumes 1 and 2 would have sat comfortably on one disc and been a more attractive package), each with the optional producer/director introductions. The one documentary relating to the artwork is interesting, enhanced by demonstration animated sketches and designs, but at only four minutes I'd barely settled in the chair before it was all over.
So here we go with another batch of episodes from this modern-style series which makes good use of conventional animation. This time the stories are from season two. I have to admit to a growing admiration for this work; the more of these I see the better I seem to enjoy them. The characters are well fleshed-out, each possessing their own idiosyncrasies which made me warm to the people rather than their superpowers. There is also a good balance between tales concentrating on the new arrivals and those centring on the more established heroes. This flexibility extends to the emotional aspect of the show too. Serious rescues or clashes with powerful villains are interspersed with light humorous touches.
In The Beast of Bayville, Hank McCoy, ex-American football hero and now respected teacher at Bayville High School, suffers from Jekyll and Hyde moments as the beast inside him attempts to assert itself. Personally-concocted serums no longer have any effect in keeping it at bay. However, help comes from an unexpected source. When Evan Daniels (alias Spyke) cuts class McCoy is lenient, appealing to the boy's teamwork nature, and so when the other X-Men are battling McCoy's alter ego Spyke simply talks him into accepting the nature of the beast.
In Adrift, Scott Summers (Cyclops) attempts to rescue his brother Alex caught surfing in a virulent storm. They are both cast adrift, and even a rescue helicopter is struck by lightening and crashes, dumping its pilots into the sea. When the coastguard picks up the helicopter crew there is no sign of Scott or Alex, and it is left to the X-Jet and its occupants, Storm and Jean Grey to save the day.
In the Christmas episode, On Angel's Wings, a mutant with wings saves a crippled woman from a burning building and thwarts a mugging. Rogue, who is rather taken with Scott Summers, accompanies him in investigating the sightings. Magneto causes some mischief to turn the public against Angel after he saves the life of a little girl. When Angel refuses to join Magneto, Cyclops and Rogue help battle the arch nemesis of the X-Men.
In African Storm, Spyke fails to protect Storm in an X-Men training simulation. An African shaman, whom she had years ago justifiably turned the tribe against, captures her spirit in his staff. The X-Men come to her rescue, but it is Spyke who proves his worth.
Disc extras include: Stan Lee - The Original X-Man, in which Stan the man talks about his original creations and how they have been adapted for this animated series; and Inside Xavier's Institute, which has the voice of Wolverine give a guided tour using clips from various episodes. There is also an extended trailer for the season one DVD releases.
This DVD contains four episodes, as opposed to the three of previous releases, and would have gained an extra point if not for the fact that The Beast of Bayville has already appeared on the region 2 disc Mutants Rising.
Here we go with another batch of episodes from this excellent animated series. For those of you who didn't get a chance to check out my previous reviews (shame on you!), this interpretation of the popular X-Men comics from Marvel is set earlier in the mutants' progression. They are nurtured by Professor Xavier at his mansion house, where they are taught to discover the full limits of their powers and to act as a team. The main characters are Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Spyke, Shadowcat, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast and Storm. Regularly returning villains are Magneto and Mystique, and Sabretooth. These five episodes are the last of the second season...
In Shadow Dance, Nightcrawler is fitted with an experimental contraption which could extend his teleporting abilities. The theory is that he passes through another dimension when moving instantly from place to place. His timing is slowed down so that he can witness the environment he passes through. Ravenous beasts almost kill him, so Professor X decides to postpone the experiments indefinitely. However, the portals have not properly closed, allowing the beasts to slip through and make an entrance at the high school dance.
In Retreat, Mr McCoy (a.k.a. Beast) has a brush with the law during a night excursion into the streets and refuses to trust himself to leave the house again. Professor X suggests a nature field trip in a national park for those students a little behind with their Natural History. However, a group of hunters on the trail of Bigfoot captures Beast, forcing him and the mutant students to teach them a lesson in humility and respect - but not before they are obliged to save their lives in a flash flood.
In The HeX Factor, there's a new mutant in town. Professor X visits Wanda in an institute where they try to teach her to control her powers, which are like those of a witch. Mystique breaks her out to use as a weapon to go up against the might of Magneto, but as a test prompts a battle between the Brotherhood (the bad guys) and the X-Men, who have to learn to deal with defeat for the first time ever.
In the 2-part story Day of Reckoning, Professor X forces the X-Men into parnership against Magneto, but Cyclops hates the idea and leaves. Whilst at the mansion house Mystique manages to set a self-destruct countdown. The institute locks down; only one young student escapes and goes looking for Cyclops. Meanwhile, Wolverine has been captured and is forced to go up against the Sentinel, an unstoppable mutant-killing robot. The X-Men arrive at the scene and are forced into battle while the whole world looks on via the media. Back at the mansion Cyclops has to find a way into the building and save the young mutants, but there's only seconds left before destruction.
Extras are X-Men Evolution: Turning Point, a featurette explaining the plot differences between seasons one and two; and Toad's Test, seven easy questions which are answered before you've finished reading the question.
This is a good example of what can still be achieved with traditional animation. It's fresh, fast, exciting and quirky. Newcomers to the series might feel cheated here with the unresolved season two cliffhanger, but they can't say they're not getting their money's worth - well, not until the complete season discs arrive anyway.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004)
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