Ben 10 Ultimate Alien: Volume 1 (DVD)

“I can’t help it if I’m famous.”

First there was Ben 10, then there was Ben 10 Alien Force. After laying waste to would-be tyrant Vilgax and ridding the universe of the Highbreed menace, it was time for the series to get rebooted again, this time as Ben 10 Ultimate Alien. It’s not a total reinvention, but more like starting off a new story arc for the Alien Force characters, taking their lives in a new direction. Rest assured that despite all the changes, Humongosaur is still Humongosaur.

Sixteen-year-old Ben Tennyson (Yuri Lowenthal, Naruto) wields the Ultimatrix, a device that allows him to transform into any one of ten super-powered aliens. With his energy-manipulating cousin Gwen (Ashley Johnson, Phenom) and his metal-absorbing pal Kevin (Greg Cipes, Teen Titans), Ben has gone hero time and time again, saving the Earth from evil aliens. Now, he has some new challenges to deal with.

This episode list can be uploaded directly to your plumber’s badge:

• “Fame”
Ben’s life is turned upside down when his secret identity is revealed on the internet. Now, everyone knows about him and all of his aliens, and he’s an overnight celebrity. He also must stop an alien fugitive who has escaped from a creature named Aggregor (John DiMaggio, Futurama).

• “Duped”
Using his new Ultimatrix combined with his Echo Echo persona, Ben is able to split himself into three separate Bens, to deal with his many responsibilities at once. When side villains the Forever Knights show up with a new scheme, having three Bens around suddenly isn’t such a good idea.

• “Hit ‘Em Where They Live”
Now that Ben’s secrets are out, the unthinkable happens as three former enemies team up with a plot to attack Ben’s parents.

• “Video Games”
A video game developer approaches Ben with an offer to create a blockbuster video game based on him. Meanwhile, abrasive TV commentator Will Harangue (DiMaggio again) wants Ben’s public antics stopped, and will do anything to stop Ben—on live TV, of course.

• “Escape from Aggregor”
Ben and friends meet the second of Aggregor’s five fugitives, who fills in the backstory of who Aggregor is and why they’re on the run from him.

• “Too Hot To Handle”
The third alien fugitive is trapped inside impenetrable armor, and Kevin tries to help him gain his freedom. Doing so, however, proves to be more dangerous than anyone expected.

• “Andreas’ Fault”
Alien con artist Argit returns, tricking the Forever Knights into working for him. Ben and company investigate, discovering another the fourth of Aggregor’s fugitives is involved.

• “Fused”
The fifth alien fugitive shows up, and gets trapped inside the Ultimatrix. Now, he and Ben are fighting for control of Ben’s body as Aggregor finally shows up in person.

• “Hero Time”
After saving the life of a popular actress, Ben is confronted by veteran superhero Captain Nemesis. The star crimefighter doesn’t like new kid Ben stealing the spotlight, so he challenges Ben to a public “hero contest.” What could go wrong?

• “Ultimate Aggregor”
Aggregor finds a powerful energy source that could make him unstoppable, so now Ben, his friends, the five alien fugitives, and a few other familiar faces all converge on the scene to put an end to Aggregor’s scheme, whatever it might be.

Although its not a complete reboot, Ultimate Alien introduces three new elements to the show that carry it forward—the Ultimatrix, Aggregor, and Ben’s newfound celebrity.

At the end of Ben 10 Alien Force, we all said goodbye forever to the Omnitrix, only to have it replaced by this new device, the Ultimatrix. What this means is that Ben still has all his alien personas that we all know and love, but now he can boost their power by upgrading—for lack of a better word—them into their “ultimate forms.” For example, in the season premiere, Ben is fighting the villain in his Spidermonkey form. When the villain proves to be too much for him, Ben hits the Ultimatrix a second time and transforms into Ultimate Spidermonkey. Now he’s a giant gorilla with massive spider legs, and he’s stronger than little ol’ Spidermonkey, and able to bring the pain to the bad guy. Sounds pretty cool, right? The problem is, this whole “ultimate” business doesn’t change things that much. Ben doesn’t “go ultimate” as often as you’d think, and only a fraction of his aliens get the ultimate treatment. This element of the series could probably be excised and the plots would remain the same. I know that in the past I’ve argued that Ben 10 is more than the “created only to sell toys” show it appears to be at first, but I can’t help but think that’s the case with the ultimate aliens.

Also perplexing is the idea of revealing Ben’s secret identity to the world and his becoming a celebrity. This is the fantasy of what a celebrity is like, all signing autographs and doing TV interviews, while still being able to live life as normal with friends, school, etc. What we don’t see are the not-so-fun parts of fame. Shouldn’t the government insist that he turn the Ultimatrix over to them? Shouldn’t the cops come after him for vigilantism? Ben’s mom shows up in one episode, so why does she have no reaction at all to seeing her son’s face on the nightly news? I know it’s tricky to discuss realism about a show with aliens who can turn their arms into cannons, but the writers just haven’t thought this through. Haven’t we all heard the stories about fame coming with a price? Like a lack of privacy, pressure to always be “on,” or unscrupulous people who always want something from you? Ben has an adoring public, but he doesn’t have to deal with any of the other worries that come with celebrity.

The only downside to Ben’s new notoriety is that he has to put up with Will Harangue. The Ben 10 writers have made no secret of their adoration of classic Marvel comics (Trivia time: Ben’s middle name is “Kirby”), but Will Harangue is just a little too much like Spider-Man’s J. Jonah Jameson, using a lot of the same arguments and wording (“He’s a menace!”) and even going after Ben with a machine almost identical to Jameson’s Spider-Slayers. The media trying to discredit Ben could be a great source for stories, I just wish the Ben 10 writers could make this idea their own, rather than so blatantly take them from another source.

I’ve discussed a lot of negatives here, so does that mean I disliked these episodes? Hardly. There’s a lot to enjoy in these ten episodes, and most of it has to do with the Aggregor plotline. The setup is that the five fugitives are escapees from Aggregor’s captivity. As Ben encounters each one, he learns a little more about Aggregor from them. It’s a pretty ingenious way of having both a monster-of-the-week format and an ongoing arc at the same time. Plus, thanks to the Ultimatrix’s yellow setting, Ben is able to scan all five aliens and transform into them later on. He actually makes better use of these new alien personas than he does the ultimate alien transformations.

Aggregor spends most of his time lurking menacingly in the background, as the others talk about frightening he is. When we do meet him, he’s clearly a force to be reckoned with, mopping the floor with enemies that appear more powerful than him. One big question goes unanswered, though—what does Aggregor want? He talks a lot about power, but that’s not really an answer. Once he has this power, he seeks, what will he do with it? Aggregor’s end game—assuming he has one—is not revealed in these episodes. Also, there’s a somewhat vampiric nature to the character, in that he absorbs the powers of others. It’s like the opposite of the Ultimatrix. Ben scans aliens, taking their powers without harming them, while Aggregor takes their powers in a painful, perhaps fatal way. There’s also a lot of talk about Aggregor being an Osmosian, just as Kevin is part Osmosian, drawing a connection between the two of them. The final few episodes on this set foreshadow dark times in Kevin’s future, thanks to Aggregor’s machinations. So, basically, introducing the new villain is all set-up for things to come, but it’s interesting set-up, and it will definitely make you hungry for more.

With all this talk about plot and themes, we mustn’t forget the really important stuff—freaky-looking aliens shooting laser beams at each other. As usual, the show excels at big action, without it ever feeling repetitive, thanks to so many alien forms Ben has to choose from. A standout action scene is the battle at the end of “Too Hot To Handle,” in which the villain is seemingly so powerful and ruthless, that no matter what Ben, Gwen and Kevin do, they just can’t stop the guy. It’s exciting because the heroes are challenged, and really have to push themselves to an extreme in order to save the day. “Escape From Aggregor” is also an interesting one, in that the story focuses on the five alien fugitives and not our regulars, providing viewers with an all-new style of action choreography and character interaction than we’re used to.

• In “Hit ‘Em Where They Live,” three baddies attack Ben’s home after Ben’s secret identity is revealed to the world. At least two of these villains, however, already know who Ben is, so it looks to me like they could have done this anytime, whether he’s famous or not.
• So the icky-looking rodent-like alien Argit can just walk down the street in the middle of the day and knock on someone’s door, and that someone doesn’t even react to the fact that he’s an icky alien?

It’s nice to get ten episodes on this two-disc set, as opposed to the four-episode releases we were getting. The show continues to shine on DVD, with bright, vivid colors and booming sound. For extras, there’s another text-based “Alien Database” that you can read on screen, and an advertisement-ish featurette about the making of the latest Ben 10 video game.

The decision to make Ben famous is perplexing, but not so perplexing it kills the show. Although not the best the series has to offer, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in these episodes, with the promise of big things to come.

The Verdict

Ultimate not guilty.

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