Ben 10 Alien Force: Volume 4 (DVD)

“Looks like I picked the wrong day to give up fighting monsters.”

This DVD is marked “Volume Four,” but it’s really the first five episodes of the second season of Ben 10 Alien Force, which of course followed four seasons of the original Ben 10. It’s best not to overthink it. Just know that this show rules.

Fifteen-year-old Ben Tennyson (Yuri Lowenthal, Naruto) wears the Omnitrix, which allows him to transform into any one of 10 different super-powered aliens. With his energy-wielding cousin Gwen (Ashley Johnson, Phenom) and his metal-absorbing buddy Kevin (Greg Cipes, Teen Titans), Ben investigates a secret plot by sinister aliens known as the highlight.

This episode list was found written on the back of a Mr. Smoothy’s menu:

• “Darkstar Rising”
An old enemy returns with a frightening new look. Before stopping him, Ben and company have to deal with an outer space cop who wants to arrest them.

• “Alone Together”
When Ben and a Highbreed end up stranded on a desert planet a long, long way from Earth, they have to rely on each other to survive, much to the Highbreed’s disdain.

• “Good Copy Bad Copy”
Ben is acting very odd around his friends, and he seems to be in two places at once. You guessed it, it’s the old “evil twin” plot.

• “Save the Last Dance”
When Ben transforms into Big Chill, the dark alien with the icy powers, Big Chill takes on a personality of its own. The last time this happened, it was when Ghostfreak became a villainous monster. Is history repeating itself?

• “Undercover”
Remember Cooper, the guy from Ben 10 season four? He’s back, and the Highbreed have taken him captive, using his genius for their own means. To rescue him, Ben and friends have to infiltrate a Highbreed base crawling with hundreds of alien monsters.

Why do I keep raving about this crazy cartoon? I mean, whenever I hear people take about their favorite shows, they’ll go off on stuff like Lost or The Office or some reality show that has the words “with celebrities” in the title, but I’m off in the corner, trying to sell everyone on Ben 10 Alien Force. When Ben 10 debuted, I thought it was an amusing kids’ show. As I kept watching, I was impressed with how the creators not only crafted a surprisingly deep superhero mythology, but developed the characters as well. I liked the show so much that when it was retooled into Alien Force, I was worried that it would lose what made it so much fun, but the new version of the show, with older characters and a somewhat more serious tone, turned out great, and my pick for the most fun show on TV. But why is it so much fun? It’s “geek cool”—aliens, laser beams, fighting, spaceships, monsters, explosions, sarcastic wisecracks, and so on.

As this new season begins, we get a lot more appearances from the Highbreed, and more info about their plans, and, more importantly, what makes them tick. We see a Highbreed taken down and pushed to the limit in “Darkstar Rising” and “Alone Together” gives another Highbreed the opportunity to sit down and actually tell us what these aliens want and why they’re doing what they’re doing. So, as nasty as they are, the Highbreed aren’t just evil for the sake of evil. More of the Highbreed’s scheme is glimpsed during a return to the abandoned military base where our heroes encountered some sci-fi craziness last season. This combination of reveals and continuity nicely rewards viewers who are paying attention and have been with the show from the start.

Speaking of reveals, we also get to know our heroes better this season. Kevin lets the others know a little more about his past, specifically his thoughts on his long-lost father. Ben’s ongoing romance with Julie, a pretty young tennis star, gets some development, as she involves herself with the trio and the alien adventures some more. Gwen continues to be the serious one in the group, but shows her softer side with her simmering romance with Kevin. I like how when he’s feeling down, she tries to help by offering him a bag full of metals, to make using his powers easier. She’s reaching out to him, but, because she’s Gwen, she’s doing so in a practical way. Well-written character moments like these elevate the show far above the simple “created only to sell toys” cartoons you usually see.

Let’s not forget the action. As usual, the animators know how to stage some really exciting fight scenes, filled with big explosions, high-stakes danger, and some surprisingly brutal hits. Those Highbreed don’t mess around. The “Ben versus Ben” fight in “Good Copy Bad Copy” is a highlight, featuring a whole bunch of the Omnitrix aliens at a single scene, instead of the typical two or three we get per episode. The big escape in “Undercover” is a blast as well, with a nice mix of action and humor.

The picture on the disc is great, with bright vivid colors, and the 2.0 sound is solid, with clear dialogue and booming effects. The only extra is a series of teasers for the upcoming live action made-for-TV movie Ben 10 Alien Swarm. There’s no footage from the movie itself, but the actors certainly look the part.

You knew this next part was coming: Only five episodes? Why not an entire season set? These are fairly short seasons, so there’s no reason to…I’m not going to convince them, am I?

Five great episodes of a great show. If you like superheroes, space opera, or just plain fun adventure stories, treat yourself to Ben 10 Alien Force.

The Verdict

Even the Highbreed would agree: Not guilty.

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