Ben 10: Season Three (DVD)

Thirteen episodes of weird-looking aliens punching each other.

Young Ben Tennyson (Tara Strong, The Powerpuff Girls) is on summer vacation, traveling around the country with his grandfather Max (Paul Eiding, God of War) and his know-it-all cousin Gwen (Meaghan Smith, Surf’s up). During this vacation, Ben has become owner of a device called the Omnitrix, which he can use to turn into any one of 10 (or more?) super-powered aliens. Since then, Ben’s fought a lot of sinister villains, and he’s saved the world several times. Still, summer’s not over yet, and he’s just getting started.

This episode list can absorb the DNA of every lifeform it meets:

• “Midnight Madness”
Ben and Gwen are thrilled to visit the world’s biggest shopping mall, but a powerful hypnotist has more on his mind than shopping.

• “Ben 10,000”
It’s a visit to the distant future, with adult versions of Ben and Gwen, who are in a crisis only their younger selves can help them solve—the return of alien tyrant Vilgax.

• “A Change of Face”
Magic-using villainess Charmcaster has cooked up a new plan to get her hands on the Omnitrix. Before it’s all over, someone will visit juvenile hall, Gwen will act very suspiciously, and many silly hats will be worn.

• “Merry Christmas”
After stumbling onto Santa’s workshop in the middle of the desert during a heat wave, our heroes wonder what’s really going on. Sure enough, someone’s being more naughty than nice.

• “Benwolf”
A mysterious storm strikes an Indian reservation, leaving a large wolflike creature in its wake. Ben would normally do the hero thing and investigate, but he’s a little distracted by the unthinkable—a cute girl.

• “Game Over”
By using Upgrade’s powers, Ben and Gwen enter a virtual world, playing a “Sumo Slammer” video game.

• “Monster Weather”
During a visit to a hippy music festival, a weather-controlling robot goes haywire, threatening to stop the music.

• “Super Alien Hero Buddy Adventures”
Ben and company sightsee at Planetary Studios (Elijah Snow and the Drummer do not have cameos) where Ben discovers his alien personas have been turned into a cheesy TV cartoon.

• “Under Wraps”
Max puts Ben and Gwen to work at a farm, which ends up in a battle with an alien mummy and the search for a rare, energy-giving mineral.

• “The Unnaturals”
At a tournament, Ben is reunited with his baseball team from back home. But someone, or something, is replacing players with look-alike robots.

• “The Return”
A NASA shuttle launch is in danger after Max realizes all is not as it seems at Cape Canaveral. It turns out a handful of nasties from previous episodes have been working together to sabotage the mission, with a familiar face from Ben’s past pulling the strings.

• “Be Afraid of the Dark”
Picking up where the last episode left off, Team Tennyson heads to outer space in a precarious last-ditch attempt to save the Earth from total darkness. There are not one, but four super-villains standing in their way, though.

• “The Visitor”
It’s yet another alien encounter for our heroes, one who knows whom the Omnitrix was originally intended for. This is one of many revelations in this episode, which might have Max saying goodbye to the kids—forever.

Unlike Ben in any given situation, I’m at a loss for words. Everything I’ve written about Ben 10 in reviews for the first two seasons remains true about this one. Let’s go down the list.

• Not just to sell toys
Stores are currently stuffed to the butt with Ben 10 merchandise, which actually might turn folks off of the show, since it could appear that the show is nothing but one big commercial. Fortunately, the opposite is true. Ben 10 is a labor of love for its creators, who consistently fill every episode with witty dialogue, outrageous designs, and well-staged action. The showrunners aren’t content with repeating the same few actions over and over, and that makes episode like mini-movies, exploring different settings and characters in each one.

• Sweet superhero action
Because we don’t see all of Ben’s aliens in every episode, and because the Omnitrix sometimes doesn’t work as it should, you never know which of Ben’s aliens he’ll turn into in any given episode. This mixes things up nicely, so that the series never feels repetitive. It also means Ben can’t just solve problems by punching them, but instead he has to use his wits as well as his powers to save the day.

• No scorecard
Continuity, continuity, continuity. This can be both a blessing and curse. On one hand, it’s good to have “world building” in a show like this, with continuing characters, plotlines and themes. On the other hand, too much continuity risks confusing new viewers. As this show goes on, and as more and more characters are introduced, it’s getting less and less newbie-friendly. This is where the show’s official Web site comes in handy, as this is where you’ll find the definitive list of who all of Ben’s aliens are and what they’re powers are, because they don’t take the time to explain all this on the show. For the Ben 10 curious, I recommend starting with the first season.

The audio and video quality on this two-disc set continues to be excellent. The colors are bright and vivid, and the sound is appropriately booming and explosive. Extras are fewer than the previous seasons. There are a couple of deleted scenes, presented dialogue-only, without music or sound effects. From there, we get a handful of Ben 10 promos that ran on Cartoon Network, a preview for the live-action Ben 10: Race Against Time DVD, and a slideshow of alien designs, some of which are truly crazy-looking. I missed the commentaries of the first two sets, which, although short, showed the care and passion that go into creating the series.

• Since when could Upgrade shoot laser blasts out of his one big eyeball?
• I can’t tell whom Ben’s video game persona in “Game Over” is supposed to be based on. Link from Zelda? One of those guys from Dynasty Warriors, maybe?
• People in Plymouth, Mass., don’t really walk around all over the place wearing those Pilgrim hats. And, as long as I’m nitpicking, it doesn’t usually get attacked by aliens and sorcerers (that I know of).

If you’ve been turned off by recent stuff in pop culture—like Spider-Man making a deal with the devil, Batman driving some huge tank called a “tumbler” instead of a “batmobile,” Iron Man hunting down and imprisoning his fellow heroes, or the Hulk having visions of giant flying jellyfish—then you’ll be glad to know that Ben 10 is a return to good, old-fashioned superheroing.

The Verdict

A galaxy of not guilty.

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