This week’s episode of Hulk and The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. was another step in uniting the three cartoons that makes up Disney’s Marvel Animation block, with a few added bonuses. When Spidey shows up, he is the same young man with a huge heart and little confidence that fans have grown to love over in Ultimate Spider-Man, when the Avengers pop up they are the same crew from Avengers Assemble, and the show even gives a nod to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men (and Howard the Duck…what?). This is a fully functioning animated, interactive Marvel Universe, with all the Marvel characters interacting, not just the ones owned by Marvel Studios, and there is something very cool about that.
Marvel is also doing a good job using these cartoons to serve as a primer for future Marvel projects. This episode serves as an introduction to the Collector. Next summer, expect to see the Collector (played by Benicio Del Toro in the Guardians of the Galaxy film) everywhere (there will be a certain irony in buying a Collector toy, no?). This Collector is more the cosmic, rabid action figure/ebay scalper than omnipotent, cold-hearted curiosity seeker Marvel introduced at beginning of the Bronze Age, but this simplified version of the character works in the context of the cartoon. Young fans will now understand the Collector, and it was nice to see him become the familiar threat from yesteryear. There is quite a bit of Disney synergy happening as this Collector will remind fans of the toy collector, Stinky Pete, from Toy Story 2, and there is even a scene of Hulk and Spidey falling into a blast furnace that is reminiscent of Toy Story 3 (Woody Smash?).
As for the inner workings of the episode, A-Bomb and Red Hulk continue to have an adversarial relationship that is sometimes legit funny and sometimes annoying, She Hulk continues to do pretty much nothing, and the Hulk is still in the role of wizened hero as he doles out advice on how to deal with public rejection to Spider-Man. The Hulk/Spidey dynamic is not what fans are used to, but it works in a strange sort of way.
Toning down the reality show stuff served the episode well as there were very few distracting cut aways or cheap jokes, although they did do an A-Bomb fart joke. Please, Marvel, restrain yourselves…you’re better than that. If this show is to succeed, it needs to find adversaries worthy of the team’s combined might. The Collector was a perfect choice this week, but he pretty much only fought Hulk and Spider-Man. The other members of S.M.A.S.H. took on mini drones that they were able to crush like styrofoam yet for some reason they still snuck around the ship to avoid direct conflict with the ‘bots.
The whole reality show thing was getting rather annoying, so thank Kirby this episode diluted that particular conceit. In fact, the roving cameras and cut away interviews served to assist the plot instead of distracting from it. This episode was a step in the right direction after last week’s mismatched, poorly paced mess. Ratcheting up the stakes, giving She-Hulk something to do, and maybe a little Bruce Banner will go a long way towards making this show more than an amusing distraction.