Good job, Avengers.

23Jan11

I haven’t been doing any Avengers reviews lately, and this has happened for a couple of reasons. First, unlike the B:TAS reviews, there’s no particular time pressure for the Avengers-doing them when they were the most recent episode was ideal, but I was, and am, actively trying to keep ahead of the AV Club in doing my Batman reviews/retrospectives. So if it was a choice between the Avengers and Batman, the Avengers kept losing out. Another was the fact that sometimes, I struggled to find anything to say about them other than a plot summary and praising when things explode good. I don’t have that issue with the Batman reviews, mostly because I’m coming back to something I watched as a kid; individual episodes may surprise me from what I forgot or didn’t notice, but I know how everything turns out, and that means I can take more time to point out odd or endearing parts. However, I’ve just watched the latest Avengers episode that wraps up the Kang story arc they’ve done, and I have to say, it’s proven I was right to keep my eyes on this show. The Kang story gave them an amazing enemy to fight, and showed a group that was moving towards becoming a real team.

I have to admit, Kang has never been one of my favorite villains. Even as a kid, the use of time travel made me go “Why doesn’t he just use that to beat them before they become heroes?” And as I’ve become an adult, that issue just loomed larger. That’s not to say an individual Kang story can’t be good, but unlike Doctor Doom, he’s never had the personal obsessions that justified erratic or self-defeating behavior. It made him seem goofy instead of threatening.

But in the cartoon, Kang rises above that for one simple reason-he’s coming from a position of weakness. He doesn’t want to admit it, of course. And with both his time travel capabilities and other future technology, he doesn’t have to admit it to the 21st century. But when he travels back in time to confront the Avengers, he can’t just pop back to his own time, get new gear, and attack again. Hell, he’s probably limited in how far and how often he can move in time, even if it’s not explicitly stated-making all the separate trips to take out the Avengers in the past might not be feasible for him. So when he tries to conquer his past, it’s not motivated by boredom or pride, as it was in his first comic appearances. This is his attempt to make an end run around total defeat, to save the woman he loves and prevent his existing empire from being erased by an unknown time anomaly.

Kang also claims that Captain America is the reason for the anomaly in the first place, which explains why he’s come back to the Avenger’s time. If he can take Cap out of the equation, maybe he can go back to his own time and the anomaly will be gone. So we have Kang’s introduction where he has a reason to come back to this specific time period, without the theoretically limitless resources that would make his victory assured…but able to do a whole lot to take over the Earth anyway. Even with limited resources, he’s able to deploy hundreds of ships and thousands of mechanized ground troops.

And we don’t get shortchanged on that, either. By playing this out over three episodes, we get to see the Avenger’s early fights…and their growing realization that they can’t just smash the robots until they stop coming. There are just too many to handle. Even worse, they’re self-repairing, so how much do you need to destroy each individual robot to keep them from coming back? What might have been played as just a slam-bang fight instead becomes a desperate holding action to keep New York from being completely overrun, knowing that other cities, and countries, keep falling while they manage that stalemate…and eventually, those forces will be marshalled against New York as well. As Captain America puts it, they’re fighting one battle in a war. And they need more soldiers to fight a war.

It also worked so well because from the very beginning, we saw that Kang is not afraid to handle things personally, or unprepared to do so. That’s not to say he has a great track record here. He loses not once, but twice-first on his own (though he does hold his own against all of the Avengers for a while), and then with all of his forces being defeated. But even when he has to fight hand to hand, Kang is a warrior. He lives up to his title of the Conquerer…including the pride involved with taking that title. When Ravenna’s plight is revealed, and the Avengers try to offer to help in healing her, Kang lashes out. Because in his mind, the idea that he-the Conquerer-needs the help of primitives is too great an insult to bear.

And in the end, Kang is defeated…but that’s hardly the end. His message remains the same-Captain America will somehow destroy the Earth. The Avengers will be betrayed, and things will get worse. Of course, Kang could be wrong, since coming back in time could have changed the timeline enough to prevent that. But thanks to the weaponization of Hank Pym’s Ultron robots in the storyline, there are going to be immediate consequences.

Plus, one of the best ways to handle a cameo I’ve seen, with Reed Richards just being dropped into the ending. No attempt to talk him up, or even introduce him. If you know who he is, it’s a great nod to Marvel continuity. If you don’t know, it’s a fun thing to learn about.

When I first started to watch Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, I was hoping it would move towards the Justice League model of story telling. It hasn’t taken that exact path, but we’re starting to see the fruits of playing a longer game, and I think it was well worth it. Even if we had to go through “Panther’s Quest” to get there.

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