In 10 Words or Less
The Muppet Babies version of Marvel's heroes.
Loves: "Heroes" Season One
Likes: Marvel Comics, Comic books
Dislikes: Most kids cartoons
Hates: The Hulk
When I saw a preview of The Super Hero Squad Show back in February of 2009, I thought it looked pretty interesting, but certainly aimed at the kiddies, and as it aired on Cartoon Network, I never saw an episode. In fact, I forgot all about it, and when I got my hands on this disc, I thought it was an animated take on the old Fisher-Price Marvel kiddie figures. So I had no expectations coming in. Well, my only expectation being that it would be bad. So it was with a good deal of shock that I found it to be a pretty entertaining action-comedy series, if you don't mind the cheese-level of many of the jokes.
The Super Hero Squad (sort of a loose version of the Avengers) is made up of an assortment of Marvel heroes, including Iron Man (as the leader), Captain America (who provides aid on a regular basis), Wolverine (adding the X-Men's popularity,) The Hulk, Thor, a spacey surfer-dude version of the Silver Surfer, and Falcon (obviously added to bring some diversity.) Joining them is the mostly unknown Reptil (a dinosaur-powered bit player from the Avengers comics) who is both a young guy and Hispanic, helping fill out the P.C. scorecard a bit more and give younger viewers a stand-in. (Surprisingly, there are no women in the core group, but even more surprisingly, Spider-Man is no where to be found.) They go up against Doctor Doom and his legion of bad guys (and ineffective henchmen), as he searches for the Infinity fractals, shards of the Infinity Sword (which seems connected to the Infinity Gems of the Infinity Gauntlet. Infinity.) Through the seven episodes in this set, they race each other in an attempt to gather these fractals, which give their owners great powers.
Though the storylines are pretty solid and offer big action-packed battles, the bulk of the show is comedy, with the characters's out-sized personalities carrying the jokes, be it Thor's overwhelming concern about his appearance or Captain America being stuck in the '40s. Maybe I don't give kids a lot of credit, but I can see a large portion of these gags flying over their heads, which will make the show far more enjoyable for adults than one would have expected. There was more than one joke that got a genuine laugh out of me, though many of them rely on bodily functions or pratfalls for the punchline. The wordplay and character-generated jokes are much more entertaining and fun, especially Thor's Asgardian versions of modern language, the Silver Surfer's alien view of Earth life, and anything involving the always-ridiculous floating head known as M.O.D.O.K. (voiced hilariously by Tom Kenny.) One joke about the Hulk swallowing a yo-yo is technically genius. The only thing about the show that doesn't really work is Reptil, who feels like the Poochie of the show, coming off as a bone tossed to kids, with his dino-focused power, youthful role and extreme behavior.
This version of the Marvel Universe smartly keeps the same look for its characters, giving long-time Marvel fans an in for the series, but presents them in a super-deformed style (squat bodies, large heads and feet, four fingers) that's kid-cartoon friendly and which easily separates it from any other version of the Universe you've ever seen. That way, there are no issues with continuity or previous incarnations, and the show can be enjoyed on its own merits (allowing them to do something like make Dr. Strange a complete lunatic.) That's a good thing, because the show is loaded to the gills with fan-service goodies, like the episode titles (which reference famous comic titles) and title cards which replicate memorable cover art. The show also pulls characters from the depths of the Marvel roster, like Screaming Mimi and the Melter, and having silly cartoon fun with them. Taken simply as a silly, almost What The--?! treatment of the characters, it's well worth a look for comic-book fans out of grade school.
On a non-story note, the theme song, provided by Parry Gripp of Nerf Herder, is an energetic blast, while the voice cast for this series has to be one of the best for a non-prime time animated series, with tons of veterans of the cartoon industry, like Kenny, Tara Strong, Jess Harnell, Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer and Charlie Adler, along with plenty of genre stars, including Robert Englund, Tricia Helfer, Jennifer Morrison and Adrian Pasdar. It's rare to see a show like this pull this kind of voice cast.
The show's first seven episodes are collected on one DVD, which comes in a standard-width clear keepcase, with a two-sided cover and a one-page promo insert that also lists the contents of the disc. Then disc features an animated anamorphic-widescreen menu, with options to watch all the episodes, select shows, check out the extras and adjust the audio. Audio is available in Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 tracks, with no subtitles, though there is closed captioning.
Presented with anamorphic widescreen transfers, the animation looks tremendous, showing off the beautiful designs and outstanding CG animation (like the SHIELD Helicarrier), with beautifully vivid color and excellent detail, though there's an annoying amount of compression artifacts throughout that mar an otherwise fine presentation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks are pretty impressive for a series viewed as a kids show, but considering the effort put into the theme and casting, such an audio presentation seems more than appropriate. There's excellent separation between the channels, with the dialogue coming down the middle, while the sound effects and music get the side and rear channels to themselves to make a deeper sound field. Dynamic mixing is even present (listen to Iron Man zooming off) making a good show even better.
The one place that didn't get the level of effort the others did is in the extras, with the only real bonus being a short interview with Stan Lee (who voices the Mayor of Super Hero City, where the good guys live.) Clocking in at under three minutes, it's rather brief, but hey, it's Smilin' Stan, and he's at his promotional best. The man is a treasure.
The interview is followed by a two-minute video set to a slightly different version of the show's theme song, including an oddly large number of photos of President Barack Obama, and a trio of commercials for the show itself, an online game based on the series and a video game based on it.
The Bottom Line
I love being pleasantly surprised, and that's exactly what happened here, as this show is a lot of fun, whether you're a kid or an adult, thanks to a candy shell of goofy humor and colorful animation coating a tasty center offering superhero overload and some smart comedy. The DVD isn't the greatest presentation ever, but it's at the least solid, and shouldn't prevent you from at least checking out these seven episodes.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.