Spider-Man In Animation - A Retrospective
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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
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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