Aaaahh, what have they done to Ben 10?!?
Teenage Ben Tennyson (Yuri Lowenthal, Naruto) wields the Omnitrix, a device that allows him to transform into any number of superpowered aliens. Working with a secret organization called the Plumbers, Ben helps monitor and control alien activity on Earth. In this new series, Ben’s cousin Gwen (Ashley Lawrence, Phenom) and Kevin (Greg Cipes, Teen Titans) head off to college, leaving Ben with a new crime-fighting partner, Rook (Bumper Robinson, Futurama) an uptight, always-follows-the-rules type.
This episode list comes with extra tentacles:
• “The More Things Change”
Ben is partnered up with Rook for the first time, and discovers Undertown a community of aliens living deep underground, all while under attack by a sinister pursuer.
• “A Jolt from the Past”
Ben and Rook attempt to stop an enemy from using electricity-based aliens as a power source.
• “Trouble Helix”
In this episode-long flashback to the original Ben 10 series, Ben, Gwen and Grandpa Max (Paul Eiding, God of War) visit Omnitrix creator Azmuth and must save Azmuth’s world from an attacking mechamorph.
• “Have I Got a Deal For You”
Ben tries to do the right thing when caught up in a conflict between an alien con artist and an alien animal rights activist.
• “It Was Then”
Ben suspects a series of recent animal attacks is related to his old enemy, Dr. Animo.
• “So Long and Thanks for All the Smoothies”
Comic relief villains the Vreedle Brothers return, having gotten ahold of a weapon so powerful it could destroy the entire universe. Ben must go to extreme lengths to stop it.
• “Hot Stretch”
There’s flirtation in the air as a cute girl alien steals a fusion device, with Ben giving chase.
• “Many Happy Returns”
Gwen and Kevin pay a return visit, just in time for an alien warlord to attack. Kevin’s keeping a secret, which might have something to do with it.
• “Gone Fishin'”
Ben, Max and a Plumber go on a fishing trip in undertown, where they encounter an aquatic monster.
The original Ben 10 was great fun, establishing its own superhero/sci-fi continuity over four seasons. As the target audience got older, the show matured as well, aging the characters five years for more grown-up, sophisticated adventures in Ben 10 Alien Force and Ben 10 Ultimate Alien. As that series concluded its run with yet another final showdown with big bad Vilgax, it felt like a real ending. Now, though, the show has been retooled again. The characters have been redesigned, the setting and tone have changed, and it’s a step backwards for the franchise.
First, the new look. It’s that thing where all the characters are still familiar, but they’re just different enough to pass off as something new. This makes one wonder why a redesign was needed in first place. On the more nitpicky side of things, Ben’s eyes are really distracting. The pupils are solid circles of bright green against white. There’s stylized and then there’s too stylized, and Ben’s eyes are in the latter category, giving him the ol’ “dead eyes/uncanny valley” look.
Then, there’s the world-building. In Ben 10 Alien Force and Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, creators devoted a lot of time to character development. We got to know these kids and spent time with them when they weren’t fighting evil. In this new series, though, it’s pretty much all alien-punching, all the time. Ben is apparently no longer in school, but instead working with Plumbers full-time, hence the need for a partner, so we can have buddy-cop-comedy hijinks. What this does is simplify the show, dumbing it down. I get that the creators have less than 30 minutes to tell a full story, but it’s a disservice to the character to have him exist only to fight bad guys and not give him anything else to do.
Are these new episodes terrible? No, just frustratingly simplified. Rook is a likable enough character, but it’s clear he was created as an excuse, someone to be a polar opposite of Ben. Some new Omnitrix aliens are of course introduced, two of which have similar electro-powers, which has me wondering why they can’t just be the same creature, and one alien is ridiculously made of Legos, able to take himself apart and rebuild his body into different shapes (they don’t actually use the name “Legos” but come on). There are numerous flashbacks to the 10-year-old Ben of the original series, which is fine, but it raises a lot thorny issues about the show’s already increasingly complex continuity. This season’s main bad guy, Khyber, sticks mostly to lurking in shadows. I suspect we’ll learn more about him in the next volume.
When Gwen and Kevin return in the episode “Many Happy Returns,” it’s a jolt of fresh air the show needs, as the chemistry between them and Ben still works, making this episode a highlight. It had me wondering why the rest of the show can’t be as much fun. Similarly, while “So Long and Thanks for All the Smoothies” is mostly a comedy episode, it has a cosmic mind-bender of an ending that recalls some of the more ambitious tales of the show’s history.
This two-disc set’s tech specs remain solid, with bright, vivid colors, and booming sound. The “alien database” bonus featurettes are really just a series of short promos for the show.
You know how DC Comics recently rebooted its entire line as “The New 52,” restarting some elements of the characters from scratch while keeping other aspects of their history? That’s what this new take on Ben 10 is like. The newly-redesigned aspects of the show might turn off fans, while the reliance on continuity might baffle newcomers. There’s some fun to be had here, but I’m left not knowing just who this show is for. Perhaps in future volumes, the creators will surprise me and I’ll be able to come back to this set and say “Oh, so that’s where they were going with this,” but for now, I’m left disappointed.