“It is a big universe, Ben, full of wonder and variety and, yes, incredible grossness.”
The Ben 10 franchise keeps chugging along with another DVD release. This two-disc set contains episodes from Season Three and part of Season Four of Ben 10 Omniverse, with another round of aliens, space battles, and wisecracks.
Teenage Ben Tennyson (Yuro Lowenthal, Naturo) wields the Omnitrix, a device that allows him to transform into way more than ten superpowered aliens. Ben now does the hero thing full-time with his partner Rook (Bumper Robinson, Futurama), as part of a secret organization called the plumbers, who monitor and control alien activity on Earth.
An Undertown merchant tried to sell me this bootleg episode list:
• “T.G.I.S.”—Crossover episode! The heroic cryptozoologists of The Secret Saturdays pay a visit, teaming up with Ben for a whirlwind adventure full of cryptids, chupacabras, and a TV host who is also a yeti in disguise.
• “Tummy Trouble”—A trip to the alien Upchuck’s home world find it both under invasion from the sinister Incurseans, but also on the verge of civil war as two rival bands of Upchucks can’t see eye to eye.
• “Store 23″—Ben and comic relief goofballs Blukik and Driba go on a quest to visit all twenty-three Mr. Smoothy’s stores, only to fall through a portal unto an alternate dimension.
• “Vilgax Must Croak”—Ben’s longtime rival, would-be world conqueror Vilgax, is being transferred to a new, high-tech space prison, only to have the Incurseans take an interest in freeing the big guy.
• “Ben Again”—After a run-in with time travelling baddie Eon, Ben finds his modern-day consciousness trapped in his ten-year-old self, and vice versa.
• “Special Delivery”—To pay for damage to a neighbor’s car, Ben takes a part-time job as a delivery boy, only to run into trouble when a bunch of his old enemies show up in Undertown.
• “Rad”—Ben and Rook must transport a dangerous animal to another planet, with the help of the unassuming yet incredibly tough smuggler, Rad Dudesman.
• “While You Were Away”—Rook receives word from his home planet that an invasion is under way, only to find strange goings-on there once he and Ben arrive.
• “The Frogs of War,” Parts One and Two—The Incurseans make their move, launching a full-scale invasion of Earth, just as the Omnitrix goes haywire.
This new take on the characters, Ben 10 Omniverse has been a step down in quality from the excellent Ben 10 Alien Force, and yet this batch of episodes is nonetheless an improvement over the previous Omniverse sets.
For one, we’ve got some really fun villains in this volume. The froglike Incurseans, seen in a handful of previous episodes, make the leap to “big bad” this time around. They’re led (sort of) by Attea (Tara Strong, Batman: The Animated Series), a teen princess who’s leading the troops. She’s kind of like a mirror opposite of Ben. She’s fighting the fight because she has something to prove to her father, while Ben fights merely because of his own inherent goodness. Whenever Ben and Attea confront each other, it’s exciting, and it provides some much needed character development for Ben, missing from Omniverse up until now.
Ben’s partner/sidekick Rook continues to be dull, but he’s not in danger of overtaking the spotlight as he did when he first debuted. He even gets a few nice hero moments during the many action scenes. Yes, there is a ton of action. The Ben 10 creators have never been shy about their love for classic comics, but in these episodes they’ve also made their love for the original Star Wars trilogy, with references to it in the settings, action staging, and even a few well-placed lines of dialogue. These references are nicely placed, so that they fit in with the action and we the viewers are in on the joke.
The action episodes that further along the season-long arc are great, but some of the stand-alone comedy episodes are not as much fun. The creators can’t seem to distinguish between “space alien” and “cereal box mascot.” There’s a lot of buildup to this new character, Rad Dudesman, only to reveal him as…a cartoon duck who talks like Droopy Dog? Seriously? Also, his name is “Rad Dudesman.” Talk about trying too hard. Similarly, we get another new Omnitrix alien, Kickin’ Hawk, that’s a giant martial arts fighting chicken. If this were The Tick or Danny Phantom, that character would fit right in, but Ben 10 is supposed to more “lighthearted adventure” more than full-on slapstick comedy.
The episodes look great on disc, bright and colorful, with clean, smooth animation. The 2.0 stereo track is decent, with no apparent flaws. As with previous releases in this series, the only bonus feature is another “alien database,” that you click through with your remote.
I was initially disappointed in this new take on the characters, but Ben 10 Omniverse is growing on me. This volume has its faults, but mostly it’s a step in the right direction.