From 2013-2017, I reviewed several Marvel cartoons at my Channel Awesome blog, including the complete series of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Before all the blogs disappeared, I managed to back up everything I wrote. In belated memory of Stan Lee, I have made several of my EMH reviews again available to read online, including those for my 20 favorite episodes.
Thor the Mighty
Airdate: October 24, 2010 (#2 chronologically)
Writer: Michael Ryan
Micro-Episodes: “Thor the Mighty” (#5), “The Siege of Asgard” (#8), “My Brother the Enemy” (#11), “The Isle of Silence” (#12)
I return to Midgard again and again because their world is spawning dangers that mankind has never seen before. Evil that will consume them, unless I am there to stop it.-Thor Odinson
While visiting Earth, the Norse god of thunder, Thor, fights a gang of robbers known as the Wrecking Crew. Afterward, he stops the Norse god of mischief, Loki-also Thor’s adopted brother-from taking over the gods’ domain of Asgard. Thor decides to fight evil on Earth-known to him and the other Norse gods as “Midgard”-full-time, unaware that Loki has already started planning another evil scheme.
The fact that I’ve long considered Thor the least intriguing of the Big Three Avengers might require me to strain to find worthwhile comments for this episode, my least favorite from the first season. Fight scenes take up a rather heavy portion, and your level of enjoyment of them might depend on how strong an interest you have in learning about Thor and his world. Once they end, the punishment Loki undergoes for trying to steal the throne leads to one of the show’s most frightening scenes. Additionally, the conversation Thor has with his father, Odin, about Thor’s adventures on Midgard poses an interesting question for someone as powerful as Thor – Just because you have enough power to interfere, does it mean you should? Loki’s schemes also establish him as a crafty enough threat for the Avengers.
I guess the main reason this episode failed to hold the interest of this non-fan of Thor concerned how long it took to establish Thor’s fatal flaw, his arrogance. While he does sound rather boastful in his first scene, it takes until halfway through the third act- when he and Odin disagree over whether or not the mortals need Asgardian help in fighting evil – for anyone to paint his overconfidence in a negative light. Until then, Thor seems like a generic muscleman with a magic hammer. “Thor the Mighty” makes merely an average introduction to the fantasy side of the EMH universe.
The Deadliest Man Alive
Airdate: October 7, 2012 (#48)
Writers: Man of Action
You guys sure took your sweet time to help me.-The Incredible Hulk
Shortly after the Incredible Hulk receives pardon for crimes Red Hulk framed on him, another rampage lands him in prison again. Red Hulk offers to take his spot in the Avengers, apparently reforming after the jailing of his former boss. Captain America has his suspicions, and sets off to free the Incredible Hulk.
I’ll admit feeling relieved that Hulk gets freed from his sentence before the show ends. Since his imprisonment oddly didn’t receive mention since episode #37, “Infiltration”, some viewers might fear that the writers didn’t plan to pick it up until season 3. However, unlike such subplots as Director Maria Hill’s Registration Act, or anything involving Surtur the Fire Demon, this story gets an actual resolution. Red Hulk gets jailed as well.
Even though this episode contributes so much to EMH, I still call it the show’s low point (even including the episode Disney XD skipped, #41, “Powerless!”). My dislike of Red Hulk probably made it awkward for me to see him become an Avenger, and a lot of the dialogue sounds awfully written. Even more unfortunate, it feels pretty obvious early on that Hulk is being manipulated into rage, and I don’t think the Avengers should have taken as long as they do to notice. Since the founders dealt with a manipulated Hulk before (#8, “Some Assembly Required”), the possibility of a similar circumstance should have at least crossed one or some of their minds. If you breeze through EMH season two as quickly as I did in 2012, you might find Wasp’s and/or Hawkeye’s behavior especially inconsistent with past stories. Wasp needs Cap to convince her not to give up on a friend, even after she said the same to Iron Man in order to let a mentally unstable Hank back into the Avengers (#44, “Yellowjacket”), not to mention her status as the first Avenger to recognize Hulk’s capacity for good (#7, “Breakout, Part Two”). The sight of Hawkeye helping interfere with Cap’s and Wasp’s effort to free Hulk also feels jarring, for many reasons. After Hulk stood up to Avengers who suspected Hawkeye as a disguised Skrull (#33, “Who Do You Trust?”), and Hawkeye boasted during the aftermath of the Secret Invasion that he doesn’t abandon a friend in need (#40, “Behold…The Vision!”), the thought of him siding against “Jade Jaws” should have become unfathomable. I actually wanted to groan twice while writing the plot synopsis, once for each of the first two sentences. I don’t blame the decision Hulk makes after he gets his name cleared (A decision that again calls to mind “Some Assembly Required”. No one at Marvel and/or Man of Action thought it sounded regressive for the fifth-to-last episode to borrow so much from one about some kinks the Avengers had to work out before they could call themselves a real team?). “The Deadliest Man Alive” might not stand among the most pointless of my bottom episodes, but it still feels very hard to sit through.
Airdate: October 20, 2010 (#6 and #7)
Writer: Chris Yost
Together, we can avenge the wrongs caused by all these villains.-Iron Man/Tony Stark
A security system failure at SHIELD’s four prisons causes 75 outlaws and villains to break out of their cells. Iron Man tries to contain technological rioters at the Vault, while Ant-Man (with a little help from the Wasp, pun intended) deals with criminals escaping the Big House, and the Incredible Hulk must save gamma-irritated SHIELD agent Dr. Leonard Samson from the monster-ridden Cube. Meanwhile, Thor’s crimefighting on Midgard interferes with orders he receives to protect Asgard while Odin sleeps. After the Raft opens up, SHIELD’s most powerful prisoners become free to wreak havoc. The gravity-manipulating physicist Graviton swears revenge on the man who incarcerated him, Nick Fury. As Graviton causes chaos and destruction, Thor, Wasp, Iron Man, Ant-Man (who also becomes Giant-Man for the first time), and Hulk team up to take him down.
“Breakout” represents the high standard I hold when I watch the premiere episode of an American comic-based TV show. Even if you somehow missed or skipped the Micro-Episodes before watching part one, it does a sufficient job summarizing and demonstrating the founding Avengers’ driving motivations and personalities. When the prisoners start escaping, the episode basically becomes non-stop action, with dashes of foreshadowing for future cartoons and comics. Most of the foreshadowing consists simply of cameos by villains the Avengers will fight later, only occasionally seeming like a blatant teaser for a future installment. The cutting between different locales ensures that combined, the fight scenes create a powerful impression of the Marvel Universe entering a state of chaos.
“Breakout, Part Two” uses locale-hopping to a smaller degree than the first part, due to focusing entirely on the Avengers’ efforts to stop Graviton. Graviton’s powers to weaken or increase gravitational pull on people and objects allow for several memorable visuals. Regarding the Avengers’ first team-ups, I appreciate the indications that they either met or heard of each other before, sparing the need for introductions. The climax puts all of the protagonists’ signature powers to good use, from Iron Man’s repulsors, to Ant-Man’s ability to talk to bugs. While the show saves personality clashing for after the official founding of the Avengers, this episode does provide some nice expressions of the founders gaining respect for each other as crimefighters.
One thing that took me aback when revisiting “Breakout, Part One” on Netflix involves how dark the colors look, compared to most other episodes. I don’t know if it looked this dim on Disney XD, but if so, it comes off as a distracting and unnecessary style choice – one that creates the impression of a mis-calibrated TV rather than a time of chaos. My personal enjoyment of “Breakout, Part Two” feels lowered by Graviton, whom I don’t consider one of the show’s best villains. Fred Tatasciore (the same voice actor as Hulk) delivered a hammy and borderline obnoxious performance, and I don’t know if the character’s backstory provides a strong enough motivation for him to cause as much destruction as he does. All in all, “Breakout” doesn’t seem like a very deep cartoon, but it does provide enough action and heart to make an epic introduction to The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
The Man Who Stole Tomorrow
Airdate: January 9, 2011 (#16)
Writer: Andrew Robinson
Your actions in this era have destroyed my empire, Captain. Ending your life is the first step in restoring it.-Kang the Conqueror
Kang the Conqueror travels from the remains of his 41st century empire to 21st century New York, on a mission to prevent the end of the world. After a fight with the Avengers, he takes them to a future in which an event from the Kree/Skrull war takes out the sun. Unfortunately, the Avengers and Kang don’t see eye-to-eye with his claim that destroying Captain America will prevent this disaster.
Kang ranks pretty highly on my list of favorite Earth’s Mightiest Heroes villains. His futuristic weapons and ability to manipulate objects establish him as a worthy opponent in battle, but his apparent belief that he can protect the world by strengthening his influence truly distinguishes him from past baddies. Kang doesn’t seem like the Avengers’ first foe to make this claim, but he does make it in a more concrete manner, by offering the viewers glimpses of whom he needs to protect and what he fears will happen if his plans fail. Having the Avengers decide between placing the Earth in the care of a violent conqueror or depriving it of advanced defense means forms one of the most dramatic moments of the series, and one that this episode delivers well.
If I had to find something potentially disappointing about this episode, I’d acknowledge the possibility that some viewers will feel overwhelmed by the durations of the fight scenes. I think scuffles between the Avengers and Kang take up at least half of the total runtime. (If we account the boxing match that Tony and Steve have before meeting Kang, then it would seem like fighting takes up over half of the runtime.) However, only one clash really bored me (the one the Avengers and Kang have in between their return to 21st century New York and his retreat to his starship), and it fortunately didn’t last too long. Ultimately, “The Man Who Stole Tomorrow” provides an exciting and engaging beginning to the Avengers’ biggest battle yet.
Come the Conqueror
Airdate: January 16, 2011 (#17)
Writer: Eugene Son
This is war, and we need an army.-Captain America/Steve Rogers
Having failed to talk the Avengers into entrusting the Earth with him, Kang the Conqueror decides to forcefully take it over. Crimefighters all over the globe defend their homelands from Kang’s mechanical scarabs, with the Avengers enlisting the Ultron robots guarding Prison 42 to help protect New York. Meanwhile, Iron Man searches for Kang’s base of operations.
Action takes up a higher portion of this episode compared to the one before. Fortunately, the fights hardly seem to drag. The Avengers get to show off their different fighting techniques, allowing greater variety than lesser action-heavy installments. They also provide some great banter, such as Thor, Hulk, and Hawkeye competing over who could destroy the most scarabs. While all of this provides enjoyment, this chapter also deftly works in drama through some short scenes of the Avengers rescuing civilians. Iron Man’s seemingly endless hunt for Kang also provides some welcome dramatic breaks from the fighting, yet doesn’t badly disrupt the flow of the main plot.
One part I have problems with concerns the Avengers’ means of eliminating Kang’s armada ships. As Ant-Man puts it, each of the ships has a temporal device inside “anchoring” it in the 21st century, and destroying that device sends the ship and the scarabs it launched back to Kang’s own time. The episode doesn’t have an explicit explanation as to why the Avengers don’t get sent there, even though most of them don’t exit the ships immediately after de-“anchoring” them. I can only assume that since the Avengers didn’t come from a different timeline, the unclear physics of time travel allowed them to stay in this one. “Come the Conqueror” delivers a relatively exciting installment, as long as you don’t overthink the script.
(I almost said, “as long as you turn your brain off”, but that sounds more appropriate for a Man of Action episode.)
The Kang Dynasty
Airdate: January 23, 2011 (#18)
Writer: Brian Reed
I pride myself on my intelligence, my tech. I think of myself as a futurist. But to someone like Kang, I’m living in the past…-Iron Man/Tony Stark
The Avengers, accompanied by some Ultron robots, venture to confront Kang the Conqueror at his base, the starship Damocles. Kang throws some obstacles in the team’s way, but the heroes eventually find Damocles’ temporal device. After fighting Kang one more time, the Avengers must decide if banishing him and his forces from the 21st century will prove beneficial for the future.
This part of the storyline doesn’t feel as satisfying as the other two, but it still provides a lot to like. The outer space setting gladly adds a feeling of the Avengers going out of their element for the sake of mankind. Most of the obstacles differ greatly from those of “Come the Conqueror” (such as fighters who can stop time), sometimes requiring the heroes to perform inventive means of overcoming them. Even when the Avengers fight Kang again, the new setting and some new fight moves keep the scene from feeling stale. Viewers who felt disappointed at the two previous episodes showing off Iron Man’s hacking skills more often than his fighting skills will feel pleased to see him demonstrate both here, while everyone else still gets a chance to shine, as usual. Additionally, the bantering seems amusing and well-placed.
This episode ends this conquest in a satisfying manner, but not a completely satisfying one. I don’t want to spoil the resolution that the Avengers and Kang’s forces agree on, but I would have liked more detail about how exactly they came to agree on it. Right now, some of them seem to abruptly concede. Then again, I don’t think I can call such behavior out of character for them. “The Kang Dynasty” provides a mostly exciting “finale” (this doesn’t mark Kang’s last appearance) to the first three-part EMH storyline.
Airdate: December 19, 2010 (#19)
Writers: Kevin Burke & Chris Wyatt
You disobeyed your team leader, dragged half your team out here, got a SHIELD agent captured, all to get back at a girl who lied to you. Real professional.-Mockingbird/Bobbi Morse
Despite warnings from Nick Fury and Iron Man that Hawkeye’s hunt for Black Widow – a SHIELD/HYDRA double agent who framed Hawkeye as a traitor – interferes with SHIELD’s efforts to overthrow HYDRA, Captain America and Black Panther offer to help Hawkeye achieve his personal goal. SHIELD Special Ops agent Mockingbird also joins the search, claiming to have a desire to catch the woman who betrayed their organization. The makeshift quartet takes their pursuit of Widow all the way to HYDRA’s base on HYDRA Island, after Hawkeye allows himself and Mockingbird to become prisoners of HYDRA leader Baron Strucker.
My regard for this episode grew with repeat viewing, especially since my first viewing occurred before I actually saw the episode where Widow betrayed Hawkeye (#3, “Hulk vs. The World”). “Widow’s Sting” provides quite a few exciting action scenes, courtesy of some of the most human Avengers, as well as Mockingbird. It also wrings some great tension regarding the effectiveness of Hawkeye’s plan, especially as Cap and Panther strain to find HYDRA Island after losing contact with Hawkeye and Mockingbird. The featured crimefighters have great chemistry both on and off the battlefield, as one should expect from the show at this point. Hawkeye’s character development in learning to become less of a loner feels nicely balanced with some intriguing setup for future episodes and story arcs, some of which casts doubt on Widow’s loyalty to HYDRA.
I usually try to avoid commenting on sexual fanservice, but I will admit this episode provides a high amount of sensual female imagery. This might prove unsettling to some viewers, especially since Hawkeye shamelessly admits that Mockingbird’s costume turns him on. Fanservice-y male imagery also appears in this show, but whether or not you believe this particular episode has any will depend on how strongly you agree with Mockingbird’s claim that Hawkeye’s costume turns her on (I personally think it sounded like a sarcastic attempt at giving him his own medicine). I’ll also admit that Hawkeye saves Mockingbird’s life a few times in this episode, and that I get too caught up in the excitement of the action to determine whether or not this surpasses the number of times Hawkeye gets saved by a woman – though I can assure you the latter happens more than once in this story. “Widow’s Sting” marks a thrilling turning point in Hawkeye’s character arc, and an encouraging formal TV introduction for Mockingbird.
Airdate: May 22, 2011 (Episode #21)
Writers: Kevin Burke & Chris Wyatt
By the order of SHIELD, you are under arrest.-Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff
The Avengers receive a visit from Black Widow, who convinces them to help her prevent HYDRA’s acquisition of a reality-warping device called, “The Cosmic Cube.” To obtain it, HYDRA has engaged in war against the Cosmic Cube’s creators, Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). The Avengers and Widow get caught in the middle of this war in order to prevent either side from taking over the world.
This episode has a few good set pieces, but I enjoy it more for its explorations into characters’ relationships and dynamics. Widow finally explains her reasons for betraying Hawkeye, and it feels great to subsequently watch whether or not the two of them will make amends. The most monstrous Avenger, the Incredible Hulk, also gets some entertaining scenes about his relationships with more human crimefighters. A conversation between him and Captain America can become a contender for the series’ tenderest moment. Speaking of Captain America, his race to the Cosmic Cube against HYDRA’s leader, Baron Strucker, provides a high level of tension even after the Cube decides whose wish to grant.
I have to dock major points from this episode because of Maria Hill trying to pressure the Avengers into registering with SHIELD. Her cause doesn’t sound entirely unjust, but the fact she stopped some of them from fighting HYDRA to ask them could paint it as such to a younger viewer. Not only does the show never explain why she couldn’t wait until after the battle, but registration only comes up one more time in the whole series, making this diversion seem especially worthless. At its best, though, “Hail, HYDRA!” caps off some of the show’s subplots in an engaging fashion.
Airdate: May 29, 2011 (Episode #22)
Writer: Brandon Auman
The only way to achieve peace is through the elimination of those who would perpetuate war.-Ultron-5
Ant-Man and Ultron-5 find the Avengers’ violent tendencies a hindrance in finding peace, but address them with two drastically different approaches. Ant-Man tries in vain to encourage the Avengers to talk out their problems with criminals. After Ant-Man’s failure prompts him to quit the team, Ultron decides to try and eliminate the Avengers, Ant-Man included.
This episode feels like neither Ultron’s tensest or most thought-provoking appearance, but it still establishes him as an impressive threat. His abilities to hack into the Avengers’ security system and equipment allow him to find rather frightening means of trying to destroy the team. Among other means, the parts where Ultron forces Iron Man to try and zap Thor feel particularly disturbing, and could also represent the logical extreme of Ultron’s beliefs about humanity becoming naturally prone to violence. Some of the Avengers reveal new things about themselves in order to break out of Ultron’s traps. I can overlook how abruptly they introduce these things, due to how awesome the scenes seem. The fact that the Avengers defeat Ultron with physical violence might leave the moral questions raised unanswered, but the storylines of his later appearances provided better answers for them.
Regarding parts of this episode that precede Ultron’s heel turn, I have mixed feelings about the ineffectiveness of Ant-Man’s pacifism in the confrontation between the Avengers and the Serpent Society. On one hand, I will admit it seemed unrealistic of Ant-Man to expect the teams to peacefully talk out their problems. On the other hand, I worry that the fact that his interference allowed the Serpent Society to escape the Avengers’ grasp would encourage younger viewers to give in to peer pressure. Hopefully, the fact that Ant-Man defeats Ultron in a nonviolent manner during this episode’s second part, “The Ultron Imperative”, can lessen the chance of that happening. If it can, then I shall call “Ultron-5” a strong beginning for Ultron’s progression into one of the Avengers’ most fearsome villains.
Airdate: May 6, 2012 (#32)
Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
There are things out there in the universe, you’re better off not knowing about.-Star-Lord/Peter Quill
A man with radioactive scars unexpectedly appears in the middle of Central Park, begging for protection from intergalactic pursuers. Identified as Michael Korvac, he gets placed in the care of the Avengers, who learn that two years earlier, he became an abductee and test subject of the Kree aliens. The heroes’ efforts to protect Korvac and his newly-reunited girlfriend, Corrina, from another abduction land the team in a confrontation with the Guardians of the Galaxy – Peter Quill the Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Adam Warlock, and Quasar/Phyla-Vell.
After one episode from the Honorable Mentions section of my favorite Avengers episodes list moved up to the top 10, I gave the vacated Honorable Mentions slot to “Michael Korvac”. The first few minutes successfully make Korvac seem like an intriguing character. It also feels hard not to get caught up in the emotions of his tragic backstory. Like all the best episodes of this cartoon, though, the script also integrates humor and excitement well. The Avengers deliver some amusing banter both with each other and with the Guardians, and the battles between the Avengers and the Guardians provide some relatively unique and stimulating juxtapositions between alien and Earthly fighting techniques. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode feels hard for me to praise without writing spoilers. For those who haven’t watched it yet, let me just say that the Guardians aren’t really villains (even less of a surprise now), and that the night ultimately closes with possibly the show’s most emotionally wrenching ending.
The reason I don’t hold this episode in higher regard concerns the fact that it holds a nominal importance, at best, to the rest of season two. The severity of the Krees’ torture of Korvac increases the viewers’ desire to see the Avengers stop them from taking over Earth, but none of the characters introduced here ever appear again. Additionally, I’ve read that this portrayal of Korvac has almost nothing in common with the comics’. This doesn’t bother me, though, since I never read any comics with him. I also guess another guest spot by the Guardians would have felt extraneous, as much as I would have liked to have seen them again. If you want to watch an Avengers cartoon that delivers an emotional roller coaster, “Michael Korvac” seems like a solid choice.
Who Do You Trust?
Airdate: May 13, 2012 (#33)
Writer: Brian Reed
If we can’t trust each other, we can’t fight anything.-Iron Man/Tony Stark
The induction ceremony of Ms. Marvel (Major Carol Danvers) into the Avengers gets cut short when Nick Fury takes Tony Stark away to receive a message. Fury had discovered earlier that a shape-shifting alien race known as the “Skrulls” has started invading the Earth, and that one of them has taken the guise of one of Tony’s teammates. When the prime suspect refuses to get tested for his humanity, the air of distrust tears Earth’s mightiest heroes apart.
One of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes‘ co-developers, Josh Fine, said that Marvel Animation decided to begin season two with a Secret Invasion adaptation to contrast the previous season’s tales of learning to work together with tales of losing team spirit. I’ll admit, it does feel refreshing at this point to have villains whose strongest weapon does not inflict physical harm, but instead creates emotional manipulation. The scenes before Tony’s confrontation of the prime suspect provide a rare and welcome look into how well the Avengers got along even when not saving the world. Of course, if you see the first season finale beforehand, or at least this episode’s recap, you’ll know in advance which Avenger the Skrull replaced. While this information does make it feel like the Avengers could foil the Skrulls’ plan more easily than they do, it still feels dramatic to see the heroes turn against each other. It feels especially powerful to see Iron Man realize that the Skrull could have replaced any of his friends.
Unfortunately, this episode contains some of the cheapest animation I can recall finding in this show. (The animation admittedly has an inconsistent quality in other episodes as well.) I noticed a few avoidable consistency errors, plus one scene plays twice in a few seconds. Fortunately, the scene of paranoia catching the Avengers doesn’t seem to suffer any of this. These errors also fail to lessen the impact of yet another reveal at the episode’s closing. The Skrulls’ arc takes a while to get rolling, but “Who Do You Trust?” proves worth the wait.
Which episodes do I consider the highlights? Read on as I assemble my top 10 favorite Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes episodes…