I think comics dorks will mostly agree that the DC Animated Universe utterly trounces the various animated incarnations of its Marvelous competition. There’s never been a Marvel cartoon anywhere near as groundbreaking as Batman: The Animated Series or as risky as Young Justice. Episodes of 2009’s Wolverine and the X-Men and 2010’s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes all range from pretty good to excellent, but for the most part, neither show really adds much more than a modernization to any of the characters. Thus far, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. isn’t as engrossing as any of the above mentioned moving drawings. But possibly due to the involvement of BTAS writer Paul Dini, it’s on its way to becoming more than a retread of the comics or an update of a series that already exists.
The name Bruce Banner isn’t mentioned during the first episode of S.M.A.S.H., and if the inaugural 22 minutes sets the template for what’s to come, the entire series could pass without a single reference to Hulk’s brainy alter ego. As opposed to the brooding, unstable powerhouse from the Avengers film, this version of the Hulk behaves much more like a conventional superhero. He rescues and comforts children, he cracks wise at bad guys, and he can encounter members of the armed forces without squishing them into a pulpy paste. A level-headed, right-thinking Hulk nullifies any reason for Banner, normally Hulk’s voice of reason, to exist on this show. This might irritate traditionalists who insist on an angsty, Jekyll and Hyde-esque rampaging Hulk/remorseful Banner paradigm, as if that story hasn’t been told into the ground a million times over.
It also seems doubtful that many stories on S.M.A.S.H. will revolve around the military harassing the Hulk. The pilot takes place in Vista Verde, New Mexico, where the locals treat Hulk like a folk hero. About halfway through the premier, it’s quickly explained that the big guy’s former government-funded antagonist, General Thunderbolt Ross, has transformed himself into the Red Hulk. He and the original Hulk have since become the bestest of frienemies and often slap around ne’er-do-wells in tandem. Because the youngsters need a spunky non-adult character to identify with, Hulk’s little buddy Rick Jones shall be tagging around for his foreseeable future adventures, and looks to be on the verge of gaining insane gamma powers of his own by the end of the premier. Clancy Brown provides the voice for Red Hulk, and it’s kind of nice to hear him finally speak for a prominent good guy after playing so many villains. Jones gets his vocals from Seth Green, who sounds like a teenager no matter how old he gets. Green’s fellow Buffy alumnus Eliza Dushku does the voice of She-Hulk, who ought to be absolutely badass whenever she makes her first appearance.
As for the plot of episode one, titled “Doorway to Destruction, Pt.1,” a portal to the negative zone inexplicably pops up in the sky over Vista Verde. Annihilus and his legion of giant evil bug thingies show up accompanied by Skaar, an alien warrior with a family secret bound to absolutely blow Hulk’s mind later in the series. Much smashing ensues. Complicated, it ain’t.
Because the writers and producers don’t trust their audience’s attention span, the show includes a handful of annoying comedic asides, like the latest crop of Spider-Man ‘toons. But unlike Ultimate Spider-Man, these Family Guy-esque interruptions are actually explained. They’re supposed to be part of a web project Jones puts together to give Hulk some overdue good publicity – something it appears the show itself lacks at the moment.
ComicBookMovie.com reports rumors that Marvel already plans on dropping a gama bomb of cancellation on S.M.A.S.H. after this initial batch of episodes, which is unfortunate. With its unique premise and top-notch cast, the possibilities for this show are as massive as its titular, green, grouchy protagonist.