Spider-Man Romances In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six - Part Seven - Part Eight

Spider-Man finally made his way to the big screen on May 3rd 2002 (Christ, 5 years ago today!) , after a 40-year wait. Considering how embarrassing the Batman franchise had made superhero movies, Marvel had a hell of a lot riding on this franchise – you’ll notice since it became a success, everyone of his Amazing Friends seem to be getting their own movies.

The movie actually got Spider-Man right – which was practically a miracle at the time. Given that the only ones that had even come remotely close where the original Superman movie and X-Men, I am especially thankful that Sony got the franchise. God knows how terrible it would’ve been if Warner Bros. Or Fox got the rights to it…

The movie shows the classic story – boy is bitten by a genetically altered spider which gives him the ability to cling to any surface, superior strength, speed and reflexes and a strange sense of premonition. He immediately uses these powers to win some money to impress the object of his desire – Mary Jane. The movie is a lot better than a lot of people give it credit for – in regards to other comic book movies, only the sequel, X2, Batman Begins and the original Superman movie top it – considering how many superhero movies we’ve had, it’s quite an impressive feat. The romance is of typical Hollywood flavour – right until the last scene in the movie, in which Peter realises that his responsibilities as Spider-Man outweigh his own happiness. I remember the film getting a lot of flack for not having him get the girl but it’s just the perfect ending for me. It also sets up the sequel perfectly.

But before we got a sequel, we got a new Spider-Man cartoon, taking place after the movie. It was greatly hindered because of the upcoming sequel but it’s romantic relationships were superior to TAS in my opinion. The original movie set up some great ideas for it’s sequel and in turn, this show, but the characters were rarely allowed to progress or grow. Add this to the fact too many things were tailored to the MTV audience and you have a show that simply isn’t for everyone. I don’t think the show deserves the bashing it seems to get online from the fanboys however. If you look up the none fanboy reviews about the show, the majority of them are pretty positive. The DVD reviews usually recommend picking up the set, and if you’ve ever been tempted, I would recommend you do so. Personally, I enjoyed the show a hell of a lot more when I watched it again on DVD, mainly because the episodes were actually in order and thus less confusing to watch and secondly because the set is sweet – the transfers and features are outstanding.

The main premises of the show entails Peter keeping his secret from MJ, the girl he loves but knows having a relationship with her would only jeopardise her safety and his best friend Harry, who believes Spider-Man killed his Father, unaware of the fact his Father was The Green Goblin.

Please note, the retrospective covers the show in the order the episodes are displayed on the DVD, because both the airdate and production orders contain a glutton of continuity errors.

The show opens with the characters pretty much in the same place they were after the movie – Harry and Peter live together but MJ and Peter are now a awkward around each other – you get the feeling that neither of them quite know what to say to each other when all they really want to do is just blurt out their feelings for each other. He can’t because he has a secret identity to keep and her safety to think about and she won’t because she doesn’t want to get burned again after the incident at the graveyard in the first movie. She even hints in the first episode how frustrating she finds it that Peter won’t follow his heart whilst he is in the middle of one of his nerd speeches.

After rescuing her from Turbo Jet (don’t ask, another lame MTV villain) we see that not only is she still smitten with Peter, MJ clearly still has her spark for Spidey. There’s a somewhat confusing kiss between her and Peter at the end of the episode which honestly baffles me – nothing is made of it after it takes place. The only explanation I can think of is to give the episode a happy ending. Any thoughts? As mentioned previously, I think the relationships in this show are better, if only because both MJ and Peter (and Harry for what it matters) are more interesting in this show.

The leading lady gets a much better voice in Lisa Loeb who honestly brought a lot more to the role than anyone gives her credit for. She manages to bring sympathy to the character and really helps make her likeable, which is more than can be said for Kirsten Dunst. She’s quite the sweetheart – you actually want Peter to end up with her. Her design however, is a little… awkward. They couldn’t give her long hair because of the difficulties the animators had with it, but she’s just got a weird shaped head! Her clothes are much better this time around – no stupid cowboy boots but sadly, the majority of the women in the show had much better models than Mary.

Peter does slightly better – the head and face are pretty much perfect but he’s got a terrible taste in fashion – purple pants and a skin tight black T shirt over a long sleeved white top. The creative team mention on the DVD that Peter needed something long sleeve to conceal his Spider-Man costume which makes sense but it doesn’t really match his character and no sane man goes outside wearing purple pants unless he desires to be ridiculed by all those around him. If I ever turned up to my local drinking establishment of choice in purple jeans, I would surely be slapped and sent home to think about what I’d done. Fortunately, Neil Patrick Harris was cast as the hero and is simply Amazing. Given the difficulty a lot of folks have had casting Spider-Man, Harris is easily the best since Chris Barnes said farewell in 1998. He actually manages to voice each character differently – Peter is constantly mumbling and filled with self doubt whilst Spider-Man had more confidence about him and will proudly deliver a clever one liner. The difference isn’t night and day but Peter and Spider-Man aren’t that far apart so it shouldn’t sound too different to begin with. Harris puts in several performances that even the late great Christopher Reeve himself would be proud of.

There’s a sweet little exchange between the two of them in the amazing Law Of The Jungle in which she gives him a nice little kiss for being a good friend to Harry, but classic Peter isn’t sure how to react to it.

She’s kidnapped again in The Sword Of Shikata, which is an episode known for being really, really crap and hallow but having some of the best fights in the show’s short run. Given how utterly incredible the fisticuffs are in this show, Shikata is still worth watching in it’s own way. After putting up with lacklustre fights in the previous cartoons, it was nice to see them finally cut loose and have Spidey and his villains pound the crap out of each other.

Pete and MJ then have the awkwardness of double dating when you actually aren’t dating as Harry gets a new girlfriend in Cheyenne, The Talon, another lame MTV villain who was apparently supposed to The Black Cat before Eve was cast and the character was changed to be more like the actress portraying her. Stupid MTV.

It’s in Tight Squeeze, however, that things get a little confusing. Peter is taking hostage inside Empire 1 and strikes up a conversation with Indy the research girl. I know a lot of people, even those who like the show are iffy towards this episode but I always like the idea of Peter being stuck in the building and only Spider-Man can save the remaining hostages. There are several problems with Indy – the first one is that she’s so over the top that she’s as annoying as hell. She never had the chemistry that Pete and MJ had – it was clear which one the audience wanted our hero to end up. There’s another one of those “Awwwwww” moments as MJ runs to reunite with Peter only to have her moment stolen by Indy sticking her tongue down Peter’s throat.

Head Over Heels might sound like a good title for the Pete/MJ shippers but it’s an utterly forgettable episode in which Spider-Man must deal with an irritating fangirl who takes her obsession with him too far. There’s an amusing scene in which Peter and Mary Jane try to open up to each other but find it’s beyond them. The highlight of the episode sees MJ seeking Harry’s help for her problems with Pete and he instantly refuses, claiming that she’s trying to turn him into one of her chick friends. MJ gets kidnapped and rescued by Spidey once again and Spidey vents his frustrations again in an amusing scene in which he tries to tell her something personal about himself without exposing his secret.

“Deep down, I’m afraid you’ll think I’m just a big boring nothing. There’s not much to tell you… except for the coolest secret stuff about me. Like this!”

Spider-Man Disabled brought along the one little moment that the fanboys love to endlessly complain about for little reason. Apparently, because Spider-Man is a superhero, he isn’t supposed to get laid and the Internet cried fowl when he and Indy shared a little afternoon delight.

It does raise an interesting question though – if he’s willing to date Indy then why doesn’t he allow himself to go out with MJ? It’s the show’s most confusing plot point and it was never addressed. It’s not actually clear how much of a couple Indy and Peter were but by the time Mind Games came about, I really couldn’t care as the finale more than made for the rest of the episodes.