While at the 2010 New York Comic-Con I had a chance to attend a screening of Marvel Animation’s two-part premiere episode of the new animated series The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, which is set to premiere next week on Disney XD.

The two-part episode, entitled “Breakout”, was a fairly entertaining experience that should appeal to Marvel fans and cartoon fans alike, be they young or old. For all the positive things about it, however, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes still doesn’t quite reach the acclaimed status of DC Universe and their animated projects.

Written by acclaimed comic book/cartoon  scribe Christopher Yost, “Breakout” is a wonderfully simple and effective setup for this Avengers cartoon. In a version of the Marvel Universe that not-so-subtly mirrors the Marvel Movie Universe, S.H.I.E.L.D. is a policing force that takes on the baddest terrorists and super villains from around the world. Led by Nick Fury (who here appears as an amalgamation of the Sam Jackson and classic versions of Fury – i.e., black but with hair), S.H.I.E.L.D. operates four key prison facilities that house the world’s worst offenders: The Cube, The Raft, The Vault and The Big House.

All four prisons are stocked with baddies that have been defeated at the hands of heroes like Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Wasp and Nick Fury himself. All of sudden, without warning, a mysterious force strikes all four prisons at once, effectively shutting them down. Of all the villains to escape, there is one that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been keeping under tight lock and key for a long time: Graviton, the evil master of gravity. When Graviton awakens and breaks free of his shackles, all of Manhattan is put in danger. Our heroes must band together as a team to defeat this Omega-level threat, and must even turn to the most unlikely of allies to get the job done: Dr. Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk.

The premiere of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes wastes no time getting into the action. Within the first ten minutes there’s an epic prison break, featuring cameos by just about every Marvel villain you can think of. I’ve listed as many of said villains as I can remember off the top of my head:

  • Baron Zemo
  • The Leader
  • The Abomination
  • Absorbing Man
  • Grey Gargoyle
  • Crimson Dynamo
  • Whiplash (the female version)
  • Mad Thinker
  • Living Laser
  • Griffin
  • Ultron
  • Hawkeye
  • The Wrecking Crew
  • Whirlwind
  • A.I.M.
  • Graviton

By having all these characters make a jailbreak, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes essentially sets itself up with an inexhaustible rogues gallery to play with. Some of the villains (The Leader, Zemo) even foreshadow their schemes-to-come before they’re even out of their prison cells. Smart move on the writers’ part, and a great way to get longtime Marvel fans sucked into the show.

The battle scenes are pretty epic – especially the final battle with Graviton, which goes on for about a good ten minutes of (literally) city-leveling mayhem. We get to see the Avengers characters use all the familiar powers and abilities we love (Hank Pym shrinks, grows and talks with ants!) and there are plenty of grinning winks to longtime Marvel fans, who will get goosebumps from hearing Thor scream “For Midguard!” Hulk cracking wise about ‘Who is the strongest one there is’ or seeing Iron Man blast someone with his uni-beam. Those are the kinds of Easter eggs that the real fans will truly appreciate; people just watching the cartoon for the cartoon will still be entertained by the action. The characters pretty much mirror their movie selves – Iron man is on a quest to eliminate Stark tech that’s been misappropriated and Thor has just met Jane Foster, who bears a striking to resemblance to Natalie Portman, her movie counterpart. The only curious thing is that the Hulk int his cartoon is the slightly-smarter version of the character that pops up in the comics from time to time.

There’s a good bit of humor in this cartoon, both your standard for-the-kids slapstick gags and smart little meta-gags that poke fun at familiar tropes or myths within the Marvel Universe (for example, Fury’s Life Model Decoys). It’s a good balance that caters to both of the primary demographics for this show: kids and adult fanboys.  The voice acting was fairly good, with the only questionable character being Iron Man, whose voice sounded off to me, like they were trying to hard to imitate Robert Downey Jr.’s voice tones from the Iron Man films.

As for the animation: it’s good, but not as good as the Paul Dini designs that people know and love from DCU animated shows like Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes opts for the more anime-influenced style we saw in shows like Wolverine and the X-Men or the Hulk vs. animated features Marvel put out awhile back. It’s not bad animation, it’s just not the best.

The one big gripe I had with this premiere episode: no Captain America! But then, the story of Cap being discovered in suspended animation and revived in modern times is surely one the writers  are saving for a later story-arch. Just don’t take too long getting there (or to the appearance of other popular Avengers team members)!

All in all, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is a a step forward for Marvel Animation. I’ll actually stick with this show, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that about a Marvel cartoon. For one thing, I’m very curious about how tightly this animated Avengers world will tie into the live-action Avengers movie we’ll be getting in 2012. If “Breakout” was the basis for Joss Whedon’s Avengers script, I certainly wouldn’t be mad about it.

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has its one-hour premiere @ 8:30 on Disney XD. Full episodes will be available a day later on iTunes, Xbox Live, Playstation and Disney XD Mobile VOD.

If you want to check out the mini-episodes that lead into the premiere of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, check out the Marvel YouTube Channel.