The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

As much as I’ve loved super-hero comics, I’ve never really enjoyed super-hero cartoons. (Don’t even get me started on super-hero movies. I haven’t liked one since the second Tim Burton Batman movie.) The cartoons tended to seem overly simplified and overblown to me. They either didn’t have any character continuity at all, which made them suffer in comparison to the ongoing comics, or they handled it so baldly that I felt like I was getting a history lesson.

It’s been a while since I’ve read super-hero comics regularly, mostly because they’ve become mope-y and insular beyond even my ability to tolerate. I do have a super-hero cartoon that I love, love, love. It’s The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which airs on Disney XD (though I’ve been catching up on it on Netflix). Here are some of the reasons why I’m so smitten:

  1. The episodes can be very funny. Part of the fun of the comics is the banter and bickering among the heroes, and writer Christopher Yost does a great job with that. The banter is character-driven rather than writer-specific. The Hulk is a riot. I always thought that character’s addition into the Avengers’ comics canon was a mistake that was hastily and appropriately rectified. He just didn’t work as a part of a team, what with his portrayal elsewhere in Marvel’s shared universe. Here, there’s no other portrayal to consider, so he can be cranky and troublesome, but you still believe he wants to do good with this group. He’s smart in an instinctive way, and he likes to needle people, which yields some great lines. There are also some fun, subtle jokes. I thought it was terrific that the Avengers ended up fighting an alien robot in a drive-in movie theatre, since the tone of the episode was very much in keeping with the kind of creature flicks that ran there.
  2. The episodes that I’ve watched (about half of the first season) are very exciting. The Avengers face big stakes – massive prison break-outs, the Masters of Evil, alien invasion, a takeover by gamma monsters, etc. Even more importantly, those stakes tend to be external to the fact that the Avengers exist. (At a certain point with any super-hero property, a lot of what they do consists of reacting to villains who want revenge.)
  3. There’s a good division of attention among the characters. Someone clearly cares enough to track the way the characters interact and to make sure everyone gets time in the spotlight. There’s a consistent team dynamic that consists of specific individual relationships, which is something the comics don’t manage all of the time, so the show certainly gets extra points for that. And nobody gets marginalized because of power levels: Thor and Hulk are the best at hitting things, but everyone believably brings something to the table – Hawkeye’s skill, Wasp’s energy and speed, and so on.
  4. The gang’s all here. Aside from the horde of villains that crash in and out of the narrative, there are tongs of supporting characters to add spice. You can’t seem to do an adaptation without Nick Fury lurking on the periphery, obviously, but it’s nice to see Jane Foster driving an ambulance, Pepper Potts rolling her eyes at Iron Man, Doc Samson helping out with gamma-related issues, and so on.
  5. There’s good subplot management. The act of teasing to the next big thing while in the midst of the current big thing was always essential to my enjoyment of super-hero comics. That element is very much in place here. Yost is very good at suggesting the current adventure is part of a larger threat, adding a level of excitement and interest.

Now, the series isn’t perfect. The team’s roster needs more women. Wasp is a terrific character, an enthusiastic adventurer who holds her own rather than the dingbat girlfriend she was for so long in the comics. But, as much fun as it is to see the closing team shot at the end of the credits, it’s always sad to see Wasp doing solo duty when it comes to representing women. This might be rectified; Carol Danvers has appeared and taken steps toward her super-hero destiny. In the episodes I’ve watched, the Black Widow has played a significant (though morally ambiguous) role, and Mockingbird made a great impression as a SHIELD agent. But I want to see another super-heroine in the credits, if not more than one.

Also, the theme song is kind of terrible. Rhyming “one” with “won” always grates on my nerves; some couplings only work in print. And yes, that’s picky of me, but I’m a Sondheim devotee, so my expectations of lyrics are very high.

But if you’re like me, and have fond memories of when super-hero adventures were fun to follow, then you really should give this series a try. It’s terrific.


Random Sunday question: Which Who?

As one must on a long weekend, I’ve been watching marathon television, particularly the most recent season of Doctor Who on BBC America. In spite of our extended time together, I’m just not warming up to the Eleventh Doctor. To be honest, I’m shocked that I miss the Tenth Doctor, as I always found him to be a bit much (his five minutes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire felt like 40), but there you go. So, if you’re up to the point that you can have an opinion of the Eleventh Doctor, what might that opinion be? In favor? Opposed? Abstaining?

Wolverines you can believe in

I’ve been largely indifferent to Wolverine, the character, though I’m learning to actively hate him as he’s portrayed in Avengers: The Children’s Crusade. I like the sight of Hugh Jackman in a sleeveless undershirt as much as the next person who is so inclined, so I suppose I can appreciate the existence of Wolverine, the character, in that it made such visuals possible. But I honestly hadn’t given much thought to wolverines, the species, until I saw this episode of Nature on PBS.

And yes, they are brutal, and I certainly wouldn’t want to inadvertently cross the path of one in the wild, but they are also some of the most adorable vicious predators I have ever, ever seen. Seriously, watch this episode if you get a chance.

Bullies for you

Last night saw the broadcast of Glee’s much-anticipated episode about bullying, “Never Been Kissed.” I could go on at length about it, but I think I’ll confine my remarks to about a paragraph. I didn’t find it dramatically or musically successful or useful in a sociological sense. In fact, at a time when a show of Glee’s profile and audience demographic could really have modeled some behaviors that would be useful to kids who are at risk and the classmates who might be persuaded to stand up for them (Glee’s precise demographic, for all intents and purposes), it seemed to choose instead to write for the nostalgia of people who’ve come through those kinds of bullying crises, which is not useful at all to kids who are actually being bullied. Now, you may argue that Glee is under no obligation to model positive behaviors, but I would counter that the show’s creators are more than willing to accept praise for the show’s inclusive, empowering message, so, yes, there’s a certain onus in place for them to actually craft those messages with care. Also, Mr. Schue is an idiot.

I agree with this spoiler-filled review by Monkey See’s Linda Holmes in most particulars, if you want to see a more detailed examination of the episode.

I can sing any note higher than you

I put this theory out on Twitter this morning, and I’ll mention it again here, because I enjoy writing about Glee for some reason. Anyway, it struck me as I was watching last night’s episode, “Duets,” that continuity on Glee is kind of like the DC universe just after “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” By that, I mean that it’s intermittent, sometimes functional, and dependent on who’s writing at any given moment.

“Duets” is one of the good-continuity Glee episodes, in that characters remember things that have happened and behave in ways that indicate they learned something from those experiences. That’s a good thing, because Glee is rarely more frustrating than when it ignores character continuity for a passing joke or punchy scene. But, as I’ve mentioned before, Ryan Murphy’s attention span is a fleeting thing. (The celebrity-centric episodes like “Britney/Brittany” are sort of like line-wide crossovers where every character [or comic] gets wedged into a storyline or tone that doesn’t necessarily make sense for them.) So we really should just enjoy the good bits of episodes like “Duets” and tolerate the rest.

Some more specific thoughts after the jump:

Tina was right when she called Artie a horrible boyfriend. But he’s a horrible boyfriend in ways that sort of make sense for him or at least are consistent.

Rachel didn’t make me deeply uncomfortable last night, and it’s because she behaved in ways that reflect the things she’s been through during the past year’s episodes. I remembered why I liked her, and I thought she and Finn were kind of cute together, which isn’t normally my reaction.

Quinn owned the episode for me, and I thought Dianna Agron was perfectly lovely throughout. Again, the writers allowed her behavior and choices to reflect a year’s worth of experiences, and she reminded me why I find her the most interesting character on the show. I thought she and Sam had nice chemistry and sang well together, and I hope the characters can still be friends… y’know… after.

I adore Kurt, but I’m glad Finn called him on his stalk-y nonsense. I’m annoyed that Finn encouraged other characters to closet up so they could make it through life, but I was with him earlier in the episode. I didn’t think that number from Victor/Victoria really expressed any duality, but maybe “The Ballad of Lucy and Jessie” from Follies was too long and difficult to edit due to those marvelously Sondheim-ian lyrics.

Aside from the extremely awkwardly staged make-out scene with Brittany, I loved Santana a lot, and I thought her duet with Mercedes was the musical highlight of the episode. There’s really no way they wouldn’t have won that gift certificate in a fair contest, which Mr. Schue is incapable of staging.

I thought I would miss Sue Sylvester more, but there was a lot going on and some nicely divided focus on several characters, so her absence was tolerable. Puck better be back in the next episode, or I will cut someone.

Hate on them

We’ll get to our regularly scheduled installment of the Seinen Alphabet tomorrow, interrupted by me ranting about all of the things I didn’t like about last night’s episode of Glee, “Grilled Cheesus,” which you can watch on Hulu for the next month or so. In it, young, gay, atheist Kurt is faced with a major life crisis, and his Glee Club comrades try and help him through it, but many of them do more harm than good, or at least show creator Ryan Murphy did. Episode spoilers after the jump.

Here’s how Kurt’s friends tried to help: by persistently disrespecting his atheism and trying to impose their spiritual responses to grief and distress onto him. Kurt is no prince in the episode, and his dismissal of spirituality is inconsiderate and tactless, but he clearly establishes his boundaries, and that should have been that. One of my closest friends in high school was a born-again Christian, very devout, but absolutely able to respect people’s religious boundaries. She was always able to comfort and advise people during difficult periods while still respecting their religious and spiritual boundaries. Nobody in New Directions manages that, and their advisor and instructor doesn’t insist they back off and find ways to support Kurt that respect his position. Nobody is shown as inviting Kurt, a 16-year-old with no parent at home, to stay with them. They just want to drag him into their prayer circles. (Well, idiot cheerleader Brittany does do something at least theoretically helpful when she offers Kurt a book report she wrote on heart attacks. Brittany is my hero. And thuggish Puck at least manages to offer Kurt and his father his prayers without dragging Kurt into it. Puck is hot.)

In fact, the only person to take up for Kurt is the show’s ostensible villain, Sue, whose atheism is ascribed to unanswered prayers. It’s the “bad breakup” school of atheism, which also applies somewhat to Kurt. Religious institutions, he notes, not unreasonably, generally reject him on the basis of his sexual orientation, so why shouldn’t he reject their doctrine? Of course, it would be nice if one of the characters was an atheist for the simple reason that they find the idea of a supreme being implausible rather than driven by anger or disappointment, but that’s not a part of this episode’s specific cosmology.

But, alas, all of the glee clubbers seem to view Kurt’s lack of spirituality as just not having found the right god yet. The only means of comfort they seem willing or able to offer is prayer, which is the one strategy Kurt has said offers him no comfort at all. Kurt is the bad guy for his close-mindedness, and he eventually is driven to the position of humoring his friends, because their intentions are good. He attends church with Mercedes, who never reassures him that her church is inclusive or gay-friendly, in spite of Kurt’s very reasonable reluctance on that front. Nobody needs to humor Kurt, the one in crisis, because his non-belief can’t possibly be as sincere as their faith.

The glee clubbers aren’t obliged to respect the non-religious Kurt or help him on his terms, in spite of the fact that the group is routinely portrayed as offering each other support through song, which never occurs to anyone. Understanding only really needs to go in one direction in this episode’s construction. It’s infuriating and, in my opinion, awful. Kurt is still an atheist at the episode’s end, and that’s apparently fine with his club mates, as long as he doesn’t make a big deal out of it or bring it up with the same confidence with which they discuss their religious beliefs. To be sympathetic, he has to keep his mouth shut.

Today, the United States Supreme Court will likely support the rights of religious people to say the most horrible things in public, and I believe in freedom of speech, I really do, even if it’s speech I find profoundly offensive and hurtful. But it has to extend in both directions. Atheists don’t need to pass or apologize for their lack of a religious component to their lives, and it offends me that this is the takeaway message from last night’s episode of Glee. And looking at the recent rash of suicides by gay or perceived-to-be-gay kids bullied to conform with the values of the majority, it’s even more offensive.

Finale thoughts

Even if the rest of Glee‘s final episode of the season had been entirely intolerable, and one should never rule that out as a possibility when Ryan Murphy is involved, I loved the Journey medley so much that it’s almost indecent. I’m sure Hulu is wondering who in West Virginia keeps watching that clip over and over again. I had never fully realized how much I love Journey in spite of the fact that they were basically the soundtrack to my high school years. Seriously, there weren’t many traumatic experiences that weren’t scored by “Open Arms.” If that hasn’t demolished my musical credibility completely, I would like to admit that I would totally pay to see a musical constructed on the song catalog of Air Supply.

I might have loved “To Sir, with Love” more if Quinn had been given a few solo lines. I’m always delighted to see Kurt and Santana get some of the vocal spotlight, but this song seems very much the right style for Dianna Agron’s sweet but not especially powerful singing voice, and the sentiment tracks with Quinn’s character arc. I love Santana, don’t get me wrong, but she didn’t learn anything this year, much less right from wrong.

The show can make that minor failing up to me next year by giving Quinn and the Cheerios a crack at Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” which would also give Heather (Brittany) Morris some awesome solo dance opportunities. I always smile when she’s on screen, particularly when she’s dancing.


So Glee is back, and I’m glad. It wasn’t a great episode (too little Quinn and Kurt), but it was nice to see everyone in fresh material. The problem, as I see it, resulted from achieving too much in the previous portion of the season. Remember that Dynasty cliffhanger when they were all at the wedding in Eurotrashia, or wherever, and gunmen mowed down all of the guests, and then when the new season started, everyone got up and brushed themselves off except for the other gay guy?

Basically, the makers of Glee had to push things back to a certain point, leading couples to estrangement so the audience could resume rooting for them to get together and undoing various other plot developments to fuel future events. I remember this sort of thing happening with the season finales on Ryan Murphy’s earlier teen dramedy, Popular. I’m not going to complain too much, because even really good shows have so-so episodes, and it wasn’t like it was “Acafellas” or anything that dire.

I would like to provide nerdish speculation on one plot development, which I will do after noting that I’d never actually watched an episode of American Idol before, and I am unlikely ever to do so again, because that hurt.

Idina Menzel, who caught attention on Broadway in Rent and then grabbed that attention in a stranglehold in Wicked, plays the coach of rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline. She gives a very good performance, and I don’t even mind that she didn’t get to sing anything, because that sentence can clearly be ended with “yet.” Geeky hero coach Will goes to talk to her about a budding romance between her star (Jesse St. James, played by Jonathan Groff of Spring Awakening fame) and his (Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michele of Spring Awakening fame, and you have to love a TV show that incorporates Broadway musical in-jokes in its casting decisions).

Will is worried about glee-club subterfuge, but Idina’s character assures him that Jesse is a good guy and has no ulterior motives. She later watches Jesse and Rachel making out, and there’s suspicious eye contact, and we’re all supposed to think that little Rachel is going to get her Broadway-bound heart broken by the conniving rival. This seems to me to be an obvious fake-out.

My theory is that you don’t cast Idina Menzel in a throw-away villainess role. (Well, you might, but not after you cast Kristin Chenoweth in a throw-away villainess role. You don’t make that mistake twice.) When she bears enough of a physical resemblance to Lea Michele to play TV-related, and Lea Michele’s character is the product of surrogacy, and both are driven, show-choir obsessed brunettes, you cast Idina Menzel as Rachel’s biological mother, who just happens to be the director of a rival show choir who is using the rivalry and the romance to get closer to the child she bore for other people.

This is my theory, and I’m sticking to it.


As there won’t be a new One Piece omnibus for a while, I’ll have to obsessively geek out over something else. Fortunately, I have the Glee DVD set in my possession. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a comedy-drama-musical about a high-school show choir that airs on Fox, and it was created by Ryan Murphy, who has experience with surreal high-school comedy-drama from his work on Popular. (He also created Nip/Tuck, but I’ve never watched it, because plastic surgery grosses me out and some of my worst nightmares have featured scalpels.)

I loved about half of Popular (the surreal, bitchy parts) and couldn’t have cared less about the rest (angst-y teen drama). My enjoyment ratio is better with Glee, and I tend to enjoy the grounded drama as much as the heightened, bizarre material. As with Popular, I strongly suspect that Murphy can’t bring himself to really dislike bitchy, status-conscious blondes, though he pays lip service to the notion that perhaps we all should hold them in contempt.

The blonds on Popular got all of the good lines and funny scenes and, as a result, they were more effective when they were thrust into mope-y drama sequences. The brunettes fare better on Glee than their Popular sisters did, since they’re also quirky and funny, particularly stardom-obsessed Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michele of Spring Awakening fame. In addition to having a perfect Broadway belt, Michele is endearingly shameless. Rachel is narcissistic and bossy, but she’s also a self-defeating goof, and she’s got a good heart somewhere under all that ambition.

I was talking about my fondness for Rachel’s foil, pretty cheerleader Quinn Fabray, on Twitter yesterday, and puritybrown summed up Quinn’s vibe nicely as “tell me to hate her and I won’t.” Quinn, played by Dianna Agron, joins the glee club at the behest of psychotic cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (played perfectly by Jane Lynch). As you might suspect, Quinn grows to like being in glee club more than her high-maintenance cheerleading career and presidency of the Celibacy Club. Participating in show choir also allows her to keep an eye on her dim, quarterback boyfriend Finn Hudson, played by Cory Monteith. Quinn knows that Rachel has a thing for Finn, and she suspects that Finn may return the feelings. Finn’s a nice moron, and he wants to do what’s right to both girls, especially after Quinn discovers that she’s pregnant.

The pregnancy plot should dump Quinn firmly in the villainess category, and she’s undeniably manipulative and deceitful, but at least her feelings for Finn seems genuine. This puts her miles ahead of Terri Schuester, played by Jessalyn Gilsig, who fakes a pregnancy to hold onto her husband, Will, the advisor of the glee club, played by Matthew Morrison. Unlike Quinn, Terri’s manipulations seem based entirely on a desire to possess something she doesn’t even particularly like. Terri is like a real estate speculator who bought a parcel of land under the impression that it would increase in value. It didn’t, and she’s too stubborn and lazy to sell it at a loss and reinvest in something more promising. Gilsig seems like she could be funny, but she’s not menacing enough for this role, or she’s insufficiently shameless to really let the audience gape in horror at her character. (She should watch more of Michele’s and Lynch’s scenes.)

Another part of the problem is Will and Morrison’s portrayal of him. He’s supposed to be an inspiring teacher, but he’s too prone to letting his ambitions get in the way of the best interests of the club. There’s also something irritating about Morrison’s mannerisms; his grins, both elfin and sheepish, make me curl my hands into fists, and his attempts at boyish sincerity are similarly grating. It’s always irritating to see women fighting over a loser, a la Betty and Veronica, and it’s particularly irksome when one of those women is Emma Pillsbury, the decent, obsessive-compulsive guidance counselor winningly played by Jayma Mays. (At one point, she tells Terri that Will deserves better than Terri, ignoring the fact that Emma deserves better than Will.)

It’s not surprising to me that the adults gradually receded as the season progressed. After “Acafellas,” an episode where Will forms a middle-aged boy band, I couldn’t imagine them ever giving him the full weight of an episode again. The kids are just funnier and more interesting, and when they make stupid mistakes, it’s easier to sympathize with them because… well… they’re kids. Quinn can seem kind of heartbreaking in the midst of her schemes, but Terri just seems pathetic. (I’d love to see a scene where Quinn realizes that she could turn into Terri if she’s not careful.)

And the music is great. Sometimes the mere fact that the club is singing a particular song can make me grin like an idiot, and that’s before I get the chance to fully appreciate how well they’re performing it. (It’s not a criticism to note that a rival school’s performance of “Rehab” in the first episode sets the bar; the club is supposed to be leagues above our stars, and just about every big number is terrific.)


I’m ridiculously excited by the news that MTV will release a DVD collection of Daria: The Complete Animated Series in May 2010. It’s the best thing MTV ever did. It’s also quite possibly my favorite animated series of all time.

That’s not because it had terrific production values. It was a spin-off of Beavis and Butt-head, for pity’s sake, so what could you expect? But maybe it was less of a spin-off than a refugee, with its titular heroine escaping the moronic orbit of her former hosts to find new morons to observe.

I was going to write a long appreciation of the series in anticipation of the DVD’s glorious arrival until I remembered that I’d already written one a couple of years ago for Martin Kretschmer’s blog. I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I wrote then, to be honest.

The only addition I might make is that the thing I most admire about the character is her sincere indifference to the shifting sands of adolescent popularity. She’s not blind to the benefits of being sociable or outgoing, and there’s always the sense that she could work within that system if she wanted to do so. She’s certainly smart enough, but her principles and dignity keep her from it. She’s a conscientious objector, and an uncommonly funny and intelligent one at that. She’s the kind of teen-ager I wish I’d had the resources to be when I was that age, which is probably a little sad to admit, but it’s true.

Okay, one other addition would be that Daria also contains one of my very favorite constructs in fiction: when two women who are very temperamentally different manage to form a meaningful friendship from an adversarial starting point. In the case of Daria and her popularity-obsessed sister Quinn (vice-president of the Fashion Club), it’s a series-long evolution, and it doesn’t really pick up momentum until the last few seasons, but it provided some of my most lasting fond memories of the show.