Spider-Man In Animation - A Retrospective

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

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series premiere was relatively well received when it premiered. So little was done to promote the show beforehand that no one really knew to expect from the show. There was no big build up, no teasers online, no all out last minute interviews with the producers on the usual sites. I think they’re promotion basically consisted of sending a tape of one of the episodes to the guys at www.superherohype.com for them to review.

For what it’s worth, I personally greatly enjoyed the show. I think it takes far more bashing than it actually deserves, and it’s not really all that fair. The show never really got a chance to kick it up a notch for season two, which I personally think is a great shame. The first season of Spider-Man was much better than the first season of Justice League, The Batman or Teen Titans.

The problems with the show are clear after watching a handful of episodes – there’s not a great amount of depth here, and the characters are often confusing with their actions. The main problem I had with the show was that they weren’t beyond to grow beyond their movie counterparts, which meant that everyone acted exactly the same throughout out the season, no one ever really grew. Peter and MJ’s relationship, which was the centre point of most of the episodes, and the series itself, never really changed throughout the course of the season. MJ wanted Peter, and Peter wanted her too, but couldn’t because he chose his life of responsibility as Spider-Man, and knew a relationship with her would only result in her harm. This could’ve worked; after all, Peter works better when he is chasing MJ and visa versa and this series had a perfect opportunity to do that. Unfortunately, a new character came and threw a spanner in the mechanics, and generally caused confusion amongst the audience.

Indy, this show’s version of Betty Brant (the hell?) outright contradicted Peter’s character. I’m not talking about him sleeping with her either. I remember the uproar when they did the deed, and I thought it was laughable. Peter is a guy – why wouldn’t he wanna get laid? The problem came after that – he continued seeing her, and they were practically a couple. So why could he be with Indy, and not MJ? She still had feelings for her, and she liked him. It doesn’t make much sense…

Aside from his relationships with the ladies, which were usually entertaining despite their confusing nature, Peter was perfectly likeable. He had a garnish design (purple pants!) but he’s still the bumbling nerd we all love. The show was at it’s best however, when Peter donned the costume.

The show’s version of Spider-Man was absolutely fantastic. They nailed the look of him, a sleek yet muscular design that moved ever so gracefully with Mainframe’s 3D animation. The webslinging scenes were all absolutely stunning, easily the highlight of the show – they even took it beyond the excellent standards the movie set. There’s no doubt about it, visually, this version of Spidey was sexy as can be.

The major complaint from the show is the villains. The movies meant a lot of them were placed in an embargo (Dear God how I hate that word now) and new, original villains had to be created for the majority of the episodes. Some of Spidey’s awesome rouges gallery were MTVitised, with mixed results but there wasn’t a shred of coolness between the new villains. Most of them had horrible bland characters, stupid powers and sometimes, even most. The Talon, Turbo Jet, Shikata – no one was impressed with these villains, with good reason. They sucked, and they sucked badly.

The comic villains faired slightly better. Electro had a rather mediocre debut but quickly got his act together in his second appearance. When Sparks Fly is one of the shows better episodes, and there’s actually chemistry between the hero and the villain, which unfortunately didn’t happen nearly as often as it should’ve in this show. Silver Sable and Kingpin were pretty ho hum, despite Michael Clarke Duncan reprising his role from the underrated Daredevil movie.

One of the series’ finest comes in Law Of The Jungle, thanks in no small part to The Lizard. Rather than the Lizard man of the comics, this version of Dr. Conners alter ego was revamped as a huge reptilian and became really creepy in the process. The story actually feels like it takes place in the same continuity as the movie and the fights between Spidey and The Lizard with Harry caught in-between are all done in a spectacular fashion. Due to this show having a higher target audience and not having to put up with FOX, Kids WB or other children’s’ BS+P, they could really cut loose on the fight scenes, resulting in some sensational throw downs. Whilst it’s true that sometimes the villains and the stories were rather bland or downright boring, the fight scenes in the show always made up for it more often than not. One can only wonder how much better the series would’ve become if there were some emotion behind the fisticuffs in every episode!

By far the coolest of all the villain revamps however, was Kraven. No longer a cheesy jungle Muppet, Kraven was made into a bad ass with a serious mad on for Spider-Man. Michael Dorn provided the villains voice and made the usually lame Kraven seem threatening, at long last. Spidey vs. Kraven was by far the coolest fight scene the show ever did, as a bitter, enraged Spidey exacted his revenge on the man he thought killed his girl. The fight even has a slightly creepy vibe to it… one almost pity’s Kraven from the look of horror he shows after Spider-Man charges towards after his “I’m gonna rip you apart Kraven!” Kraven was the coolest villain the show did, without a doubt. I would’ve liked to see more of Spidey’s rouge’s done in 3D, I can only imagine how good a fight between Spidey and Doc Ock could’ve been with this crew working on it.

The supporting cast ranged from excellent to annoying. The show has the very best version of Harry I can recall seeing, a smart mouthed, witty rich kid with a lot of charm. Considering Harry is usually such a whiney annoyance, it was nice to see a change from the norm and give us an entertaining character. MJ wasn’t too brilliant, and spent most of her time as a ditzy damsel in distress making puppy dog eyes at both Peter and Spider-Man. She also has a really ugly design due to her awkward hair…

The show wasn’t marred by production values this time around. The budget was obviously quite big judging from the show’s excellent visuals and there are no obvious shortcuts to be found, such as endlessly repeated webslinging scenes and reused dialogue.

Speaking of the dialogue, the voices are top notch. Whilst Chris Barnes will always be Spidey to me, Neil Patrick Harris is outstanding as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. He plays both of them differently, but he’s not just putting on a deeper voice for Spider-Man, he’s adding another layer to the character. Peter is the bumbling nerd, awkward around everyone and Spidey is the smart mouth that never shuts up, it’s all done so brilliantly. Ian Ziering provides Harry’s voice and thankfully manages to avoid any “Exxxxceeellllennnt!” catastrophes. Lisa Loeb brings likeability to MJ and better yet, she doesn’t sound 12 years old! The guest stars are all pretty decent, with the exception of Eve as The Talon who was simply cringe worthy. It was odd to here Ed Asner as Officer Barr and not J. Jonah Jameson, especially after the new Jonah was nothing more than a poor man’s J.K Simmons. Overall, I was very happy with the show’s cast.

One of the things I liked most about the show as the music – it had a really unique rock/dance rhythm to it, not usually found in animation. I find music in cartoons has dropped in quality over the past couple of years due to the budgets not allowing for orchestras, but the music in this show was awesome, it captured the tone perfectly. There’s a really interesting feature on how the music was made for the show on the DVD, and I spoke to the composer a few months back here. I find that Marvel music is vastly under appreciated and I believe this show has some of the best music Marvel has ever produced.

Overall, much like Spider-Man: The Animated Series, I found the show to be greatly enjoyable, but not as good as I though it could’ve been. The problems between them were so similar it was frustrating - Networks censors and suits once again got in the way. I would’ve loved to see a second season of the show, away from the movie continuity and MTV, free to show what they’re truly capable off. That cliffhanger is simply dying for a resolution too. If the show was to obtain the same level of quality as the finale, I doubt everyone would complain as much as they do.

There have been rumours of a Direct To DVD movie, featuring Spider-Man battling The Chameleon who was also rumoured to be featured in Spider-Man 3. I for one hope to see this or any other DTVs, with the networks out of the way, we may finally get to see the Spider-Man cartoon we’ve had to wait so long for. The show may yet return in either DTV or a new season, but regardless, after Spider-Man 3, I highly doubt we’ll have a long wait to get Spider-Man back on the small screen, one way or the other.

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