It’s hard to believe that it has now been a decade since the animated Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes debuted on Disney XD. The series, which was developed by Christopher Yost, Joshua Fine and Ciro Nieli, hit just after the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and served to introduce a new generation of kids to the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe. It was a brilliant move by Marvel but the all-too-short 2 year run of arguably the companies best animated series left a void that, to some, has never been filled by any of subsequent series. To celebrate its 10 year anniversary, to relive the all the fun moments and in hopes that if we keep talking about it there will be a Season 3 on Disney Plus, we bring you the 10 best episodes of Avengers: EMH!
Episode 1.10-“Everything is Wonderful”
This episode resonated with me so deeply that, a decade after it aired, it became the foundation for my Iron Man 4 pitch. The rivalry between Simon Williams and Tony Stark worked perfectly from jump street and the episode does a nice job of setting up Tony to be the bad guy before delivering some redemption.
One of the great things about EMH in general was the way it fearlessly introduced characters that many fans who hadn’t read the comics might be entirely unaware of. This episode tripled up on that with Wonder Man, his brother, the Grim Reaper, and MODOK. Though he’s technically MODOC here and more memorable for being beaten and belittled by Thor than anything else, it’s always good to see that giant, flying head.
The Easter Egg game was strong in this episode as well. We got Wonder Man’s original suit, the setup for his time on the Masters of Evil, a Jack Fury mention and a peek at the Cosmic Cube. This one also set up quite a bit for season one while being a great standalone episode.
Episode 1.17-“The Man Who Stole Tomorrow”
The recent news that Jonathan Majors will portray the live-action version of Kang in Ant-Man 3 makes this episode all the more relevant as for many 2000’s kids, this served as their introduction to the Lord of Limbo. This kicks off a 3-episode run that’s as memorable to me as any; even before my recent rewatch, much of this one stuck with me.
The episode does a great job of building on the relationship between Tony and Steve, showing us how useful they are as foils to one another. While Cap takes Tony to school during PT time, Tony’s explanation of what it means to be a “futurist” is something that Cap can’t quite wrap his head around but puts a bug in the viewer’s ear for later. The episode also sets up a couple of MAJOR elements for the future of the show: the Negative Zone prison known as 42 and Pym’s army of Ultrons.
Kang’s arrival from the 41st Century to kill Captain America is pretty big divergence from the character’s comic book roots, but it’s well-developed and well-executed and plants a seed whose fruit wouldn’t be enjoyed until Season 2. But from the first appearance of Damocles to the incredible display of his tech-based abilities, the episode makes Kang every bit the threat he should be and sets up one of the most enjoyable mini-arcs of the entire show.
Episode 1.21-“Hail, Hydra!”
An episode that both pays off many of Season 1’s ongoing arcs and introduces some arcs that carry all the way into Season 2, “Hail, Hydra!” is the exemplar episode of how this series was outlined, planned and executed from the very beginning.
While this episode is all about BIG action with A.I.M, Hydra, S.H.I.E.L.D and the Avengers all taking swings at each other in New York City, it’s the character moments that put this episode on the list. Chief among those moments is the exchange between Cap and Hulk that ends with Cap telling the big guy that he’s been watching him and that his actions define him as a hero. It’s the kind of speech that only Cap could deliver and, even in animated form, it gives me goose bumps. This one is really Cap’s episode all around between his Hulk pep talk, his one-on-one with Strucker and the fact that he inadvertently alters reality and creates the Winter Soldier.
Hawkeye is the other standout Avenger in this one, delivering some classic Hawkeye quips, coming to terms with Nat’s apparent betrayal before finally helping her get away in an effort to find Nick Fury, the one man who COULD bring some clarity to the current situation.
A pivot point for the series as a whole, this one checks a lot of boxes and deserves to make the list.
Episode 1.23-“The Ultron Imperative”
“Humanity has failed as a species.” While every episode is ostensibly the same thing as the one before, i.e. the Avengers teaming up to fight a big threat, they’re all a little different thematically and this one takes a turn handling one of the classic sci-fi themes: humanity vs. technology. Dipping its toes into the sci-fi horror pool of man having reached too far and creating something he can no longer control, we see Ultron turn into Pym and Stark’s Frankenstein’s monster.
In many ways, this animated Ultron proves superior to the live-action version we got in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron even though the two have a lot in common. Much like the film we see Ultron take over Tony’s suits, build himself a new body and get the idea that he’ll ultimately never be able to be destroyed because he’s capable of uploading his A.I. anywhere at anytime, so what’s the difference? It’s all in the setup. We’ve had time to see Ultron introduced and grow and, terrifyingly, we’ve seen him learn enough to know how to rewrite his own programming to remove blocks put in place by Pym. Fortunately, Pym saves the day by coding Ultron to realize he’s part of his own problem, shutting him down, but the shadow of his failure will continue to loom over Pym’s shoulder into season 2 and we haven’t seen the last of Ultron just yet.
Episode 1:26-”A Day Unlike Any Other”
The most cinematic episode of season one comes out swinging, hits hard in the middle and ends with one helluva cliffhanger. The final episode of 3-episode arc, “A Day Unlike Any Other” is the cherry on top of not only that arc but the season. It’s a good Avengers story on steroids, hitting the highest notes when it teams the Avengers up with Asgardians and other supporting characters from the Nine Realms in an effort to stop Loki’s conquest. Tony’s uru armor is the best of several upgrades the Avengers get as assists in taking ‘on the Prince of Lies and its forging is a scene that’s stuck in my memory for a decade.
Of course the Avengers and their new allies find a way to stop Loki and earn the respect of a well-rested Odin and head back to Earth finally putting an end to the guy who stirred the drink for all of Season 1s mischief. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, however, a despondent Captain America, haunted by his broken shield and bargain with Hela, gets zapped by a doppleganger, kicking off the Skrull Secret Invasion. Watching the series 10 years ago, this final scene absolutely blew my mind because the Secret Invasion comic event was only about 2 years old when the show was made. It was a brilliant choice that paid off in a big way in Season 2, but for now here’s to the mightiest heroes in the Nine Realms.
Episode 2.3-“Acts of Vengeance”
One great thing about Avengers: EMH is the ongoing Masters of Evil arc. It had to be mentioned at some point, but the decision to make Amora one of the series ongoing antagonists is one of the things that works the best over the two season run. Taking her revenge on the Zemo’s Masters, Amora takes it up a notch forcing Zemo to turn to the Avengers for help. The double-crosses don’t stop (Skrull Cap!) and ultimately it’s Simon Williams whose redemption comes when he sacrifices himself to stop Amora from using the last Norn stone.
It’s that Norn stone that ties to the interesting side mission taken on by Thor, Balder and Odin on Nidavellir. There the trio find that in meddling with the Norn stones, Surtur himself has been released and regained his Twilight Sword which means Ragnarok must be right around the corner. The backgrounds drawn in Nidavellir and the design of Surtur are visual highlights for the entire series. This episode is a great example of how well the series routinely balanced multiple storylines in one episode without one taking away from the other.
Episode 2.4-“Welcome to the Kree Empire”
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know I amA a huge fan of the Cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. As such, this entire second season is a treat for me, but this episode stands out in the pack because my first love on that side of things was always the Kree Empire and here they’re done right! It is without hesitation that I say that 22 minutes of EMH pays more tribute to Yon-Rogg, Ronan and the Empire than has been done to date in the MCU. Add to that the introduction of S.W.O.R.D. and Abigail Brand who are cleverly inhabiting Kang’s Damocles as their base and you’ve done enough to make me happy for 22 minutes story aside.
Fortunately, this one has a great story and Carol Danvers is the heart of it. In her first outing as Ms. Marvel, Carol kicks ass while representing Earth. She stands toe-to-toe with Ronan, stands with the Avengers and, at the end of the day, joins the team. This version of Carol stands apart from both the comics and film versions and is maybe the best of the three.
Points to the creative team for having Skrull Cap’s hatred for the Kree force him to act out of character. And, as the episode ends, we get to see Skrull Cap put out a call making Earth the next battleground for the Kree-Skrull war.
The setup for the Skrull invasion of Earth began early in Season 1 but this episode tees up the payoff and does it so well, that I enjoy it more than the following episode, “Secret Invasion.” The episode establishes a tone of mystery and paranoia through the eyes of Ms. Marvel and by the time we get to the standoff in Wakanda, we truly have no idea who is who and are all just as confused as Carol. As the battle in Wakanda rages on, Carol and the audience only get more confused, especially when the second wave of Avengers arrive but by the time we figure out who’s who when Mjolnir cracks and Thor turns green, we realize it’s too late, but it’s still great to watch Carol and crew clean house.
For me the big pay off is getting to see Doom’s plan come to fruition. Victor is one of my favorite Marvel characters and has been poorly represented in live-action but the creators of this series get him. Doom is not a villain and he’s always the hero of his own story and he’s not going to let a group of aliens come and take over his birthright (ruling the world!), so he’s here to help clean up this mess.
I love the subtle things Skrull Cap has been doing throughout this season and him taking Hulk off the board by convincing him to turn himself in as Banner is another nod to the well-planned and well-executed Skrull strategy to take Earth by taking the strongest there is off the board. Of course there’s someone out there whose always keeping one eye open: Nick Fury is on to Skrull Cap and is about to make his play from the shadows. However, the final twist is discovering that Veranke was one step ahead of both Fury and Stark, leaving nobody in the way of her invasion. I love that the writers sprinkled in references to the Skrull prophecy promising Earth to them, a route I hope to see the MCU take when they deal with the invasion.
Episode 2.23-“The New Avengers”
There are so many good episodes in Season 2, including another half dozen or so great ones between “Infiltration” and “New Avengers” that it’s hard to skip all the way here, but this one outdoes them all, is probably the 2nd best episode of the entire series and I gave myself a limit of 10 episodes so here we are…
This episode follows through on so many threads that have been left hanging since Season 1, primarily the arc of one of the series’ great antagonists, Kang. The Council of Kangs (I couldn’t believe they went there!!!) step in to free Kang, enabling him to wipe out what they perceive to be the greatest threat to all possible timelines. Kang uses the arc reactor as a time machine and takes the Avengers off the board entirely, leaving Earth defenseless…or is it? Always the futurist, Stark has a backup plan which he activates via Jarvis. Meet the New Avengers!
It’s a wild episode as ninjas and dinosaurs and Martian machines (I’m 99% sure that we have a Killraven Easter Egg here, which is INSANE) invade NYC but the dynamic of the new team is really centerstage here. The Spidey/Wolverine interchanges are solid gold (as are all the shots of Spidey swinging through town) and it’s awesome to watch the new team quickly come together to take on and take down Kang, especially with Spidey taking the lead and an impromptu Fastball Special. This one was just one nod to comic fans after another and as much fun as any episode over the 52 episode run. Of course Spidey brings back the team, but it’s a good thing Stark expanded the roster of Avengers because as he says, the world needs heroes, and the biggest threat they’ve ever faced is just a few episodes away.
Episode 2.26-Avengers Assemble
Hands down the best episode and potentially the biggest undertaking in all of Marvel’s onscreen entertainment (yes, I think this is bigger deal than Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame), “Avengers: Assemble” is what always made Marvel Comics great to me as a kid: over the top crossover issues/events that gave us character pairings we didn’t know we loved and non-stop action. The action starts just over 1 minute into the episode when Terrax heralds the arrival of Galactus and continues on for 20 more minutes. During that 20 minutes of chaos, almost every hero the show introduced over two years appears (notably absent are the Guardians and Mockingbird), several of Galactus’ heralds show up as the Devourer finally reaches Earth!
The story of Galactus and his heralds has fascinated me since I first read about his history in Thor #168 and #169 and I’ve tracked down every trace of that story over the years: seeing them all here (well, not all of them) and seeing Galan given the reverence he deserves had me smiling when it first aired in 2012 and again recently when I rewatched it.
This episode delivers time after time: from watching the heralds work, to the Code White montage to perhaps one of the greatest Cap speeches of all time as he overlooks the entirety of Earth’s Mighties Heroes. Watching the awesome power of Galactus hold up against all of the Avengers’ heaviest hitters is a spectacle I hope to see matched on the big screen someday, but until then it stands out in my mind as one of the great big action scenes in all of comic book entertainment. If you’ve never watched a single episode of this series, you could jump straight to this one and realize the full potential of what can be done when a creative team has as much knowledge, passion and love for the source material as what this crew had. But my goodness, do I wish I knew what happened next…
With all the love for the show and the recent push to renew other animated series such as Young Justice and the X-Men, I’ll continue to hold out hope that Christopher Yost (who recently gave a look at what a potential third season might be like) gets a chance to bring this treasure back to life.