This episode airs well after the tragic news that Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes has been cancelled, to be replaced with the vaguely retooled Avengers Assemble instead. So I have to write this review for my favorite cartoon knowing that its parent company already plans to take it out back and shoot it once it finishes its 52 episode order. I’m definitely feeling the Spectacular Spider-Man flashbacks from two years back, when that show was also hitting its stride while heading to an uncertain future, as well as the fact that the rest of the season has already aired overseas. This show’s fate is more certain, but it’s no less disappointing that it’s just one of a growing list of top-quality super-hero shows to be axed for mysterious or unfair reasons.
“Nightmare in Red” reminds us that it’s never the wrong time to introduce a new storyline and a bunch of new characters to an already ambitiously complicated season. We find Bruce Banner on leave from Avengers duty, where he explains (to his faithful bro Hawkeye, who’s on sentry duty) how he’s allowed Hulk to roam free as an Avenger to demonstrate that Hulk can be a benefit. As a result, he only gets to be Bruce Banner once a month, which he’s determined to enjoy to the fullest with a quiet day of fishing. Meanwhile on the Helicarrier, General Ross arrives (along with his sidekick Talbot and Doc Samson) to harass and bully Maria Hill into turning over the sample of Hulk blood that SHIELD’s been sitting on. I love that Hill is way passed buying Ross’s crap about wanting to take down Hulk once and for all, knowing full well he wants to harness it as a weapon (hey, just like in the movies!) I wonder if Ross came off as too much of a cartoon bad guy here, but he’s kinda always been that way, so it’s fine.
The episode then kicks up the conspiracy as a few new players enter the fray, all with sketchy backgrounds. First up is the Winter Soldier, an evil super-spy who’s infiltrated the Hellicarrier to steal the Hulk blood. (Well, ain’t that a coincidence?) This allows him to unleash the second player and the episode’s major villain, the Red Hulk, who proceeds to wreck the Helicarrier for the umpteenth time as Hulks are wont to do. (Hilariously, and fittingly, Maria Hill believes it’s the same Hulk with a new paint job rather than a separate gamma-powered monster.) But shockingly, this Hulk burns with fire when he gets mad. The third player is the Falcon (voiced by Lance Reddick), who rounds out this coordinated attack by storming the mansion and drugging Banner so he can’t Hulk out. It’s become a tradition to have a future Avenger show up at the mansion and soundly trounce whoever happens to be there (Hulk, Cap, and Black Panther all took a turn in Season 1). This time we get Falcon beating up Hawkeye, but the bowman prevents the wingman from making off with Banner. That doesn’t matter much, since the Red Hulk soon busts in and captures Banner anyway.