Ben 10 Omniverse: Volume 4 (DVD)

Albedo versus Ben.

This five-episode collection from Ben 10 Omniverse is something of an oddity. Three episodes featuring the villain Albedo are grouped together in one menu under “Albedo story,” and the other two are in a separate menu labeled “bonus episodes.” I guess the idea is to market the Albedo episodes as if they are a stand-alone movie, which they’re really not. The good news is, it’s more Ben 10, so that means more crazy aliens and laser beam explosions.

Teenage Ben Tennyson (Yuro Lowenthal, Naturo) wields the Omnitrix, a device that allows him to transform into considerably more than ten superpowered aliens. Ben and his partner Rook (Bumper Robinson, Futurama), are part of a secret organization called the plumbers, who monitor and police aliens secretly living on Earth.

This episode list has evolved into a higher life form…

• “The Ultimate Heist”
Albedo, Ben’s evil twin, is on the loose and, of course, impersonating Ben with a sinister scheme in the works.

• “A Fistful of Brains”
Albedo grows with power as he teams with alien bounty hunter Khyber. The two of them strand Ben on a hostile alien world while they go about their plans.

• “For a Few Brains More”
With far-out tech at his disposal, Albedo evolves into a powerful new life form. Ben and friends battle him and Khyber, taking the fight from space back to Earth.

• “Evil’s Encore”
While in the Plumbers’ prison, mad scientist Dr. Animo (Dwight Schultz, Star Trek: First Contact) flashes back to his fight against 11-year-old Ben five years earlier.

• “Return to Forever”
Disgraced TV personality Will Harangue (John DiMaggio, Futurama) teams with the remnants of the fallen Forever Knights, with both hoping to strike back against Ben and reclaim their former glory.

After getting off to a rough start, Ben 10 Omniverse is growing on me, as it’s taking on less of a comic book superhero vibe, and more of a Star Wars meets Men in Black riff. The visual redesigns and overall change in tone might turn off longtime fans of this franchise, but the creators are doing enough good with it that it still manages to entertain.

The big deal with this release is Albedo. Although described as Ben’s “evil twin,” it’s more accurate to say he’s Ben’s evil lookalike. An alien trapped in a body that looks more or less just like Ben, Albedo’s number one desire is to get back into his own body. Once he does, his next desire is to continue improving himself, transforming into something bigger and better. This all speaks to the basic desire of wanting to be better, which of course is a big part of the so-called “adolescent power fantasy” that is superhero and sci-fi adventure. With Albedo, writers have put a villainous twist on this, with Albedo not caring who gets hurt in his quest for self-improvement. All this is to say that while Albedo is sometimes written as just another power-mad villain, there’s a lot more going on with this character.

This being the fourth Ben 10 series, there’s so much continuity and so many recurring characters that every new episode is pretty much for fans only. There are quite a few shout-outs to Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, with Albedo given the ability to transform into ultimate aliens. It’s as if the creators are saying, “Hey everybody, remember when this part of the show?” Some of this continuity is good, in that it makes it feel like this is a bigger world and not just animated drawings on screen, but as it gets more convoluted it’s not so good, in that I shouldn’t have to run to my computer and go to the show’s website to remind myself who characters/aliens like Astrodactyl and Crashopper are.

With an emphasis on the bad guys this time around, our heroes don’t get as much character development in this episodes. Outside of the Albedo episodes, there’s some interesting stuff happening. What are we to make of Dr. Animo speechifying to the stuffed animals in his cell? Does this make him a goofy buffoon villain, or does this make him a creepy Arkham Asylum type? His appearance here walks a line between both. The other “bonus episode” has Ben up against two human adults who don’t have super powers, yet who are still able to make life difficult for him, which made for a different kind of challenge and a different feel to the episode overall.

In one episode, a comic relief character lazily repeats Bugs Bunny’s old “made a wrong turn at Albuquerque” joke. Come on, Ben 10 writers, you can do better than this.

Ben 10 Omniverse: Volume 4 is par for the course for Ben 10 releases: Bright and colorful visuals, clean and clear audio. Zero extras.

At one point, a character remarks that Ben has had trouble meeting girls thanks to the loss of his secret identity. Another scene has humans visiting Undertown, the aliens’ secret community. Both of these throwaway bits could easily be expanded to full episodes. That I want to see these stories means that I’m excited about Ben 10 again, and I hope they can keep churning them out.

The Verdict

Omni-not guilty.

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