The Avengers, “Masters of Evil”

15Dec10

I’ve let the examination at the differences between the comic book version of the Avengers and the cartoon lapse in most of my reviews of the show. Partly this has been a matter of trying to sit back and enjoy the ride. I’ve also been trying to reduce the risk of pointing out the differences as though it was a problem-it’s not a bad thing for the series to change things. After all, the Black Panther originally appeared in the Fantastic Four comic, not the Avengers, so it wouldn’t make much sense to introduce the Fantastic Four, just to make sure the Black Panther’s appearance followed the original canon.

And really, it’s more important not to get hung up on minute details of fidelity whenever a comic book is adapted to another medium. I’m not interested in a Thor movie that sports strict adherence to his costume in the comics at the time the movie was made. Those kinds of details change too frequently to be that important in adapting something, and I’d rather have the adaptation focus on the essential qualities of a concept-the X-men as outsiders, Batman’s determination to fight crime, Hellboy’s blue collar attitude to the supernatural-than get bogged down in fiddly things. However, I think tonight’s episode is a good time to try and bring that back.

We’ve had plot points being laid down across several episodes before now; the Black Panther got several appearances before he revealed himself, and the Masters of Evil picked up group members at the codas of both “Everything is Wonderful” and “Gamma World.” All of that work with the Masters of Evil pays off in the cold open. Wasp chases the villain Whirlwind across town, trashtalking all the way-but once he’s led her into a construction site, it’s revealed that “Whirlwind” was actually an illusion. The Masters ambush her and easily take her down, with the comment from Baron Zemo of “one down.” While we haven’t gotten the full details on how the group was formed, we at least got a hint that it was being gathered, along with explanations for why the Abomination and Power Man are around.

We get to see another plot point being laid down afterwards, as Hawkeye talks with Black Panther and spells out the basic problem with the Avengers at this point: there’s no cohesion. They’re a team in name only, as everyone has their own approach to stopping super villains, and no one is stepping forward and really leading the team. The only person he doesn’t list a problem with is Captain America. And he’s right. Even leaving aside obvious problems like the Hulk’s rage issues (because really, if you can’t guess the Hulk gets mad, you are not paying attention), the strategy for the team so far has boiled down to “Everybody get that guy!”

In a way, the rest of the episode is a good example of that. The team members are ambushed one by one-Tony Stark is almost killed by being caught out of his armor, the Hulk gets thrown into Jotunheim by the Abomination and the Enchantress, and Captain America is overpowered by the Executioner and Power Man. He’s the only one that even puts up much of a fight, but as awesome as Captain America is, he’s not powerful enough to take them on.

We get another cute Jane Foster and Thor moment before he’s called in, then ambushed and beaten as well-though like Cap, he’s able to resist for a bit first. Then it’s up to Hawkeye and the Black Panther to save them! Well, kind of. We get some decent fights before they’re both captured. Which is when they reveal their real plan-sneaking in Ant Man and distracting the Masters to make sure he was undisturbed in his lab. And when Ant Man appears, he uses a ray gun to disperse Power Man, before growing to giant size and punting the Abomination through the ceiling. Everyone gets freed, including Thor making a portal to bring the Hulk back, and after some fighting, the Masters are driven away, leaving the Avengers to wonder why they attacked. Of course, the audience gets that reveal, as we get to see the Enchantress reporting on the whole thing to Loki.

That last minute reveal isn’t unexpected if you’ve watched the mini episodes-it’s not even hinted, but outright said, that Loki orchestrated a lot of things on Earth. And if you were wondering who broke all the villains out of prison back in the premiere…well, the god of lies and mischief would probably be able to manage that, wouldn’t he? But it’s actually a neat bit of Avengers continuity to use him as the big bad guy behind the Masters of Evil, because in the original comics, Loki was actually the unintended cause of the Avengers joining together. Having him appear with a more elaborate and deliberate plan to that effect is a nice way to update the story.

Overall, the episode could best be described as competent, trending upwards. That’s hardly a glowing assessment, but it’s certainly not aggravating like “Panther’s Quest” was. It’s not even held back by any issues. It’s more that it had a fairly pedestrian target, and it hit it well.

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