The release of the first two (of four) volumes of "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" several months ago managed to transcend the status of clever tie-in with the theatrical release of "Thor" and offer Marvel fans of all ages, one of the most exciting small screen outings since Fox's "X-Men." The DVD's really opened the door to the older crowd who would have likely never tuned into Disney XD to view the series in the first place, and now, the second half of the series debut arrives again (cleverly tied-in to the Blu-Ray/DVD release of "Captain America") in two, modestly priced volume releases.
It's no shock that being pulled from the same season that the six episodes of volume three maintain the series' quality animation, as well as its accomplished voice cast and writing staff that finds the delicate balance between writing for a younger crowd without pandering and alienating an older, large fan base who have suffered through mediocre animated offerings of days gone by. Picking up where the previous encounter with The Hulk's nemesis Leader leaves off, our heroes are introduced to the lurking threat posed by Enchantress who unleashes the a powerful band of villains at our now more cohesive team.
The initial growing pains of the team are firmly past, following the threat posed by Leader and the reintroduction to Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Wasp, Ant-Man, and Black Panther (at least to those just following on DVD) is met with plenty of action that would be just as welcome on the printed page. From there the series reminds viewers of just how smart this "kids show" is, bringing the Kree into the limelight for an episode that is equal parts action and emotional turmoil, as Kree agent, Captain Marvel fights his own race to save Earth, which he has come to love during his time disguised as a human and time spent with the lovely Carol Danvers (the future Ms. Marvel).
The emotional centerpiece of this release is the episode focused on the hunt for Black Widow, who is believed to be a traitor to S.H.I.E.L.D. The Widow's betrayal is felt most by Hawkeye, a series standout, who embodies all the traits one associates with a superhero: fierce combat skills, a quick cunning intellect, a confident sharp personality, and most importantly a love for humanity. The episode also serves as a quick introduction to the Skrulls and for the astute Marvel fan, the possibility of a Kree-Skull conflict being a part of the series is exciting.
The volume closes with a three-part (well, actually it closes with the Black Widow episode, although that episode was initially shown on TV following "459," the Kree episode) life-and-death conflict with the Conqueror from the 41st Century, Kang. For my money, thus far, the Kang three-part arc would be one of the first things I'd show to a skeptic, as it hits all the positives that make the series worth your money and time. The idea of a "kids show" in 2011 taking a chance on a three-week investment seems foreign (I know other shows, like "The Clone Wars" do this, but mostly, what I've seen appears to be a focus on standalone, episodic structure), but the risk pays off in spades. Over the course of the three episodes, Kang is established as the threat he deserves to be, and the seeds for future story arcs arise via the introduction of Ultron and fan favorites, the Fantastic Four.
Fan service aside, Kang forces Iron Man and Captain America to put aside the last of their tensions drawing on their mutual strengths to defeat the biggest threat to the Earth mankind has seen. Earlier episode weaknesses involving Captain America are washed away in this stretch of episodes and the principals that the live-action film nailed with perfection are finally realized in animated form. It's no easy task to critique one-fourth of a complete package, but with these individual releases of "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" the consistency in quality and multi-episode arcs makes my job much easier than anticipated.
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.
The lone extra is "Avengers Unmasked: Masters of Evil," a glorified trivia track for the episode. The catch is the episode is confined to a small box around changing relevant artwork, with little trivia bubbles popping up covering on-screen action in more detail. The older Marvel fan won't find a lot of use out of such common knowledge, but younger viewers who haven't had the ability to explore decades of storytelling on the printed page will find it of value.
It's a no-brainer for owners of the first two volumes, that this third volume will find its place on your shelf. If there are still any skeptics out there, volume three is actually a good place to jump on. The team is working at full capacity and the episodes contained within hit all the positives, whereas the first two volumes were focused solely on the origins of our main heroes and finally the origin of the team. Disney offers up another technically solid release, though the weak attempt at substantial bonus features stings a little bit. Highly Recommended.