"AVENGERS ASSEMBLE" does exactly what it says on the tin; assembles quite literally every single superhero who has ever appeared in a major cameo role in the show to take on a gigantic global threat (even if as always it seems centered in NYC). In this way it seems similar to "DESTROYER", the series finale to "JLU" although a key difference is that finale was also the resolution of a seasonal subplot regarding Lex Luthor's attempt to resurrect Brainiac which instead revived Darkseid. This episode had the chance to tie up one seasonal subplot which would have provided the required global/galactic threat in Surtur, who was first introduced in "ACTS OF VENGEANCE" and amped up in "THE BALLAD OF BETA RAY BILL" and (poorly) in "POWERLESS". Yet the fire demon from Asgard and his destructive sword Twilight, despite "THOR" having been a commercial success and the demon found worthy of being a key plot detail in "THOR: TALES OF ASGARD", did not appear. That will forever remain an untapped and unresolved subplot, which is a damn shame quite frankly. To play devil's advocate, perhaps the powers-that-be decided that one season finale which involved a menace from Asgard was enough, and decided not to make it two. So instead the threat of the week/finale/season turns out to be Galactus, the devourer of worlds and his heralds.
In execution, this episode reminded me heavily of "SCAVENGER HUNT", the season/series finale to "FANTASTIC FOUR: WORLD'S GREATEST HEROES" from 2006. That show was the last one that Chris Yost had major influence on before this one; he essentially co-produced and story edited the show alongside Craig Kyle. In that episode, a large armored alien giant emerges from space and appears to be completely invincible, forcing the team of heroes to go all out and abandon doubt to overcome it. Yet because "FF:WGH" was a comedic show at heart, Yost and Kyle did not feel comfortable depicting Galactus for laughs within it; they mention as much in the DVD commentary for the episode. So instead they adapted Terminus, a C-List villain at best, and remade him as a giant kid playing a game. This episode, in contrast, is very similar although because "A:EMH" is a far more serious and straight-forward superhero adventure show, Galactus is allowed to be a part of it and be his usual awesome presence. While many of the details are different, the basic premise of "SCAVENGER HUNT" appears so similar that one could almost imagine both episodes written with the same MAD LIBS sheet, just with different words plugged in. While the producers of "MARVEL SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW" didn't feel ashamed to depict Galactus for laughs, this is really the first seriously toned appearance of Galactus in Marvel Animation since "SILVER SURFER" wrapped in 1998. That makes for a gap of some 14 years between serious appearances; quite a lot for one of the ultimate space figures crafted by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, especially when you consider how often characters like Magneto or Dr. Octopus turn up. Much like Apocalypse and his Horsemen, Galactus is never without at least one of his heralds. Surprisingly, the Surfer himself doesn't appear; instead his four heralds are Terrax, Air-Walker, Firelord and Stardust. They are used to represent the elements, although doing so means making Stardust more aquatic than I remember.
After a somewhat blunt discussion about how history will judge them between Iron Man and Cap, Terrax comes down with a horde of space rocks to do what heralds of Galactus always do; announce to the populace and local superheroes that the big G is coming to devour their world. After the standard team of Avengers prove to be unable to do more than briefly distract Terrax as he transforms Stark Tower into some cosmic antennae - and seeing three other heralds repeat this feat around the world, including in the middle of the ocean - Cap is put in charge and uses his keen leadership and legendary tactical skills to come up with a "summon everyone we ever met in spandex who lives on earth" plan. Hey, I liked it, but I never said it was vastly clever; "code white" or whatever it was called was essentially JARVIS hitting "SEND TO ALL" in the inbox. And much like in JLU's "DESTROYER", the reserve squad of cameos come. The Fantastic Four, Doc Samson, Falcon, Black Widow, Quake, Ant-Man (Scott Lang), Iron Fist, Luke Cage, War Machine, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and even Winter Soldier and the Hulk. I was probably the most surprised to see Barnes there, to be honest, considering how "WINTER SOLDIER" ended; how did JARVIS even know where he was? At any rate, everyone is rallied by another epic speech by Cap and split up to do their best to battle the heralds. Despite a far more powerful team of heroes being unable to so much as distract Terrax, Cap is able to lead a far weaker team to victory against him because he's just very determined. It is also established that none of the heralds are "alive", even though Terrax is clearly able to talk (and voiced by Kevin Grevioux, of "UNDERWORLD" and NEW WARRIORS fame) and seems to have a personality, which I imagine is justification for the heroes to attempt to destroy rather than arrest them. In fairness, Ultron had plenty of personality but he was always blown to bits anyway; although Vision is allowed to exist. So the lesson is that superheroes are free to kill things that may talk but "aren't alive" unless they decide to join the team; in that case any hunk of bolts in a cape can tag along. For equal time, little attempt at mercy against Darkseid's Para-Demons was ever showcased in "JLU"; even at the end of "S:TAS", Superman himself seems to incinerate a horde of them with heat-vision. When it's a full scale invasion, "acts of war" morality applies.
Galactus himself looks great, depicted as a giant space god without lame cell-shaded CGI as was the case back in '98. This time Galactus doesn't speak, which I think works to make him appear more ominous. After all, Galactus is supposed to be such a high level force of cosmic nature that other beings are akin to insects to him, even when they meddle in his affairs. Do YOU address the gnats or mosquitoes that may harass you personally? While almost every character in this episode gets a moment to shine, some of the noteworthy highlights for me are the increasingly insane Yellowjacket ("What's he going to do? Eat us MORE!?") Captain America (as usual), Iron Fist's blow against Terrax, Human Torch (voiced by David Kaufman, best known as Jimmy Olson from "S:TAS") & Wasp's victory against Stardust, and Thor. While it may seem simplistic that Thor is actually able to harm Galactus in this episode, the show does offer the explanation that Galactus' energy levels were greatly diminished since he was "hungry" and thus not at his prime. In the comics, Thor IS capable of unleashing a "God-Blast" which has been powerful enough to faze Galactus. Much like with "LIVE KREE OR DIE", I usually feel it is about time Thor unleashed some epic feats in animation after always seeming to lose to the Hulk in some animated spots (and even at the start of this show), so I don't mind some cool Thor moments coming out of here. While the epic scale of Galactus' threat is established, a quibble is that the method to undoing him seems to appear simple because it happens in the span of one episode. It involves Iron Man, Yellowjacket, Doc Samson, and Mr. Fantastic stowing away on Galactus' ship and rigging a portal to the Negative Zone to zap Galactus to, where he can feed on the anti-matter energy there. The one unpleasant detail hand-waved away is that Yellowjacket is so crazy that he considers Hank Pym a different, inferior person and he's unwilling to utilize those science skills unless he's virtually shaken until he does (as seen in "YELLOWJACKET"); yet in this episode it is presumed he aided in whatever Stark and Reed had to do. I do feel the heralds were defeated a little too easily, although that again could have been due to only having 21 minutes to spend, and I feel the effect of Galactus consuming the life-energy of the planet would have had more effect if we saw some effect on Earth itself from this, even if it was undone. Skies blackening, trees withering, etc. Again, that could have been due to time.
Yet in the end the episode is very much like a Hollywood blockbuster. It is a big action spectacle with a lot of characters in it, a lot of action and explosions and it does bring Iron Man to a different place than he was in the micro-episodes, when he was more brash, arrogant, and a lone wolf. While he still has some ego and recklessness to him, Stark has learned to appreciate history, stand still to reflect, and admit when he needs help or even when he's not the best leader in the room.
Reflecting on the season as a whole, there did seem to be a noticeable shift in SOMETHING after "POWERLESS", even though MAN OF ACTION technically only wrote or co-wrote 5 episodes out of roughly 12-13. While Loeb was mentioned as the executive producer since the start of the season it was the latter half of it, which Fine and Yost stated, which had more of his influence. Given how underwhelming "ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN" was I once stated that if the remaining episodes were "average", we'd be lucky. Aside for "POWERLESS", the remaining episodes whether by MOA or not were all well above average to varying degrees. Yet much as I suspected in "SECRET INVASION", that episode was a peak which the show would never quite reach again, even if it did try. At this stage the Surtur subplot will remain an unresolved cliffhanger which ended on a whimper with "POWERLESS" when it could have been an awesome chance to adopt Walt Simonson's epic to animation. Without resolving it, it makes a lot of Thor's tenure away from the team before "SECRET INVASION" border on a waste of time, merely accomplishing a cool episode with Sif and Beta Ray Bill. In hindsight it might have been removed, but I imagine by the time Loeb & MOA started to influence the show for whatever reason (deadlines according to Fine, whims of power according to real life logic), too much of the show was already in production to re-write that. The other questionable element of the season revolves around Yellowjacket. While Pym's quitting being an Avenger led to the introduction of Scott Lang and naturally one of my favorite episodes in "TO STEAL AN ANT-MAN", for the life of me I don't know what making Pym become the deranged Yellowjacket accomplished beyond ending the series establishing him as the psycho that many fans already believe he is. Having an arc where Pym leaves the team and returns in another guise is fine, but there are less toxic identities to have used; Goliath or my preference, plain ol' Doctor Pym would have sufficed. In fact the latter would have better resolved Pym's arc of accepting himself as a scientist superhero rather than have him randomly snap and develop a new bee-themed personality. While I will admit Yellowjacket amused me with a few of his recent antics, in the end he seems akin to a deranged Batman villain who the Avengers allow on the team because of seniority. This episode especially needed Pym in his scientist guise and him being Yellowjacket forced that issue - which was itself the climax of an episode - to be forgotten. In season 1, I was greatly pleased by how this show handled Pym; rather than depict him as an eternally confidence lacking psycho, it instead handled him well as a bizarre but still engaging hero and scientist. Season 2, however, saw him descend into type and I've never liked Yellowjacket much at all, as it represents the worst of the character which has become all he's known for. Spider-Man was another bug-themed hero who once snapped and hit his wife, the only difference is that isn't all he's known for DESPITE that moment being homaged in a film.
Naturally, this doesn't get into "Drake Bell Dub-Gate", which may end up referenced in message boards as much as anything else from this season. It remains a damn shame that Josh Keaton's tracks weren't allowed in, as originally intended and recorded. Considering this series has been cancelled and doesn't share continuity with "ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN" (while its replacement, "AVENGERS ASSEMBLE" might), it seems equally short sighted and petty.
Still, there is a lot to like in this season. Even the latter half of it was better than some expected and had some great moments and episodes, including with the Red Skull. It made anything with the Red Hulk actually watchable. This is the first time so many of Marvel's superheroes were allowed to all exist within the same show and animated series since "SPIDER-MAN: TAS" in the 90's also accomplished the feat of guest stints by the FF, the X-Men, War Machine, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Blade. Many villains, both big time (Ultron, Kang, Leader, Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Loki) and small time (Purple Man, Grim Reaper, Doughboy), as well as a few brand new ones (Skrull-Cap) were handled efficiently and cast gloriously. So many heroes from starring Avengers to guest stars all got their moments to shine in a manner that DC fans took for granted for 5 years in "JUSTICE LEAGUE" but for Marvel fans has been long overdue. Warts and all, this is easily the best superhero show produced by Marvel Animation outright they have ever had; "X-MEN EVOLUTION" was a co-production with Warner Brothers and "SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN" was produced by Sony. When "NEXT AVENGERS" came out I initially hated it because I cynically doubted we would ever get a decent Avengers cartoon on TV; this series proved me wrong and I am glad to have been wrong. While the meddling in production for the final stretch is a shame, it didn't destroy the show completely and "AVENGERS: EARTH'S MIGHTIEST HEROES" will still stand tall as Marvel's long awaited answer to "JLU", and at least to me it often managed to be superior. My heart sank when the roster for the team was shown on screen for the last time, as this is a show whose greatness I will miss for years to come.