In the first volume of Disney and Marvel's new animated series, "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes," we were introduced to the core members of the team separately, before ending on an exciting two-parter, resulting in a cadre of villains unleashed on the world; comic fans will smile as both AIM and HYDRA make their presence felt without the series heavily addressing their scope and origins thus far. Volume two of the series opens with Tony Stark stepping up as the de-facto leader of the group, providing them with their own headquarters and training facilities. The Avengers find their first foe to be a emotionally conflicted Hulk, who is eventually revealed to be poisoned by the hidden machinations of Enchantress, fellow Asgardian to Thor, but lacking his heroism and love of humanity. With Hulk eventually out of the way, the series blazes forth with some standalone episodes that introduce new foes and tie up some loose ends presented in the "origin" episodes.
As with volume one, and not surprisingly given these volumes consist of the first season broken into smaller, thematic chunks, the animation and voice acting are aces. As our heroes encounter a new ally in Black Panther, we also get guest spots from the likes of Lance Henriksen as the effectively creepy Grim Reaper, and Mark Hamill, borrowing a page from his Joker playbook as the sonically equipped Klaw. This talent along with other, equally qualified but less recognizable voice actors make for some action packed and at times emotionally thoughtful episodes. One standout in the batch comes in the form of "Everything is Wonderful" as Tony Stark's business competitor makes his own leap into supervillainry, becoming a destructive force of energy dubbed Wonder Man. Wonder Man is a real threat to our team, which has now added the recently discovered Captain America to its rosters. As Wonder Man's existence is threatened Iron Man is burdened by his duty to protect others from evil and his own guilt over having a hand in pushing his competitor to the dark side.
I was a little disappointed with the Captain America-centric episode, as I felt the issues and feelings the Captain was faced with after being preserved in ice for decades could have been stretched over the course of a few episodes. However, the writers do an admirable job of using Nick Fury as a bridge between times and re-instilling the sense of patriotism and duty associated with the character. As before though, there's still a great sense of levity to the series, and Thor's astonished reaction at encountering MODOK is worth giving the series a shot on its own. Thor's pairing with Wasp also makes for some lighter moments in action as the two are a sight gag on their own, but Wasp's fiery attitude makes her a welcome surprise to this comic fan, who didn't care much for her printed page exploits.
The volume concludes with another two-part adventure, focused on Hulk nemesis Leader (voiced by horror icon Jeffrey Combs) and his plot to irradiate the world with gamma rays. It's yet again, another logical break point for these smaller releases, brining our squad together as a whole and cementing a few supporting players as trusted allies for our heroes; fans of Hawkeye will be pleased by his initially small, but incredibly memorable (read: badass) part. The two-parter does drag a little, as Leader himself is slow in making an appearance, pitting our crew against some disposable gamma mutants and a few titans of Hulk lore. The concluding stinger, which I won't spoil, teases a possible overarching storyline which given the players involved might be a safe bet to call epic. As before, I was immediately left wanting to see more, and while I understand the marketing angle behind these smaller volumes (it's actually not all a money/greed issue), I wish we were getting more than two right now.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer would be reference quality if it weren't for two glaring technical hiccups. A very primary colored series, compression artifacts are occasionally noticeable, resulting in a less than smooth image. Additionally, aliasing is a minor but noticeable issue, and in animation where smooth lines can be key, this is a bit frustrating. That aside, the transfer is strikingly clear and vibrant, with strong clarity.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is solid, with strong sound design and appropriate usage of the surrounds. Dialogue is well mixed and clear, while action sequences never feel overpowered or underplayed. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
A brief featurette entitled "New Stories, New Threats" is a preview of stuff to come in season two. It's relatively spoiler free, but if you don't want to know where season one ultimately ends up (in terms of who shows up and becomes a major player), I'd skip it.
If you liked what you saw in volume one or you're thinking of snagging both at the same time, I whole-heartedly insist you do. This second volume wastes no time getting our heroes working together in large form and smaller groups. The broad appeal remains just as strong and this installment of "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest" heroes will once again please kids and comic fans of any age. Highly Recommended.