Yeah…I’m pretty bad at this blogging thing, but I’ll do what I can. This time around, I think I’ll talk about good ol’ Peter Parker–the amazing, spectacular, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. As I said in my Top 10 Superheroes post, my love for Spider-Man began with Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Eventually I watched some of the old stuff. We all know those are pretty bad…except for maybe Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. I had a lot of fun with that one.
Well, a month or so ago, my love for the Wall Crawler flared up again, so I decided to finally watch his three cartoons that have come out in this new millennium. Not counting Unlimited since it started in 1999, and I don’t really feel like re-watching it.
Chronologically first up is one of the shortest Spidey cartoons to ever come out, Spider-Man: The New Animated Series. Obviously, companies like to cash in on their successes by adding to them. That’s why when Avengers rocked the box office, there were Avengers books as far as the eye could see. Back when the first Spider-Man movie did well, we got this brand new darker cartoon that wanted to follow the film’s canon (for all of about two episodes). When I say “darker,” I mean it. Despite the darkness of Spider-Men past, this one gets pretty grim. Quite a few of the villains bite the dust, and Spidey himself almost kills a love interest (by accident). Again, this isn’t new for Parker, but this is still the darkest Spider-Man cartoon ever. Being on MTV’ll do that.
Being on MTV’ll also pretty much guarantee a premature death for any cartoon. Canceled before its time, it ends on one hell of a cliffhanger. As for the style, I’m not one of those that automatically hates a cartoon because it’s CGI, but something feels off about SMTNAS every now and then. I like that they tried to emulate Mark Bagley’s style, and for the most part it does work. It’s hard for me to explain, but it’s too…forced sometimes (I guess that’s what I’m looking for). The voice work is mostly pretty good, and the Spidey quipping is good as always. The opening theme sounded like something out of Tekken 3, though. I also hope Indy shows up again in the Spider mythos at some point. She was fun. Oh, and the scene where Peter, Indy, MJ, and Harry go out to dinner was probably the funniest part of the whole series to me. Harry Osborn was gold here.
One thing that’s really odd about this one, though, is a good many of the villains are Russian. Silver Sable, Kraven, Pterodax, the Gaines twins…I don’t know what they were going for with that theme. New Cold War, maybe?
Now, I haven’t watched SMTAS since I was a kid, but I’m aware of the problems it faced–limited budget, heavy censorship, enemies within the company, etc. So, until I re-watch it, I will claim that The Spectacular Spider-Man is the best Spidey cartoon. I hate that it got canceled when Marvel re-acquired the TV rights to Spider-Man. Spectacular lived up to its namesake.
The character design was done by Sean “Cheeks” Galloway (one of my favorite artists), and the series drew from all past forms of the character. Tidbits from the old toons, the comics (both 616 and Ultimate), and even the movie-verse found their way into the mixing pot. Story-telling and characterization are top notch too. The first couple episodes introduce at least five future villains and set up the characters’ relationships really well. Sadly, much like the MTV cartoon before it, it ends on some big cliffhangers. Yes…multiple. Dangling plot-threads galore. At least it got two seasons instead of just one (weep, Unlimited and SMTNAS…weep).
Since I mentioned the funniest scene from SMTNAS, I’ll do the same for here. For Spectacular, though, I don’t have just one scene that I thought was the funniest. Just pick any time Rhino was onscreen. Whenever he showed up, I knew good times were ahead.
Basically, Spectacular is everything right about Spider-Man. It’s funny, it’s decently dark, it’s action packed, it looks damn good, and the romantic tension is awesome.
Now we come to the redheaded stepchild–the still airing at a surprising 52 episodes and counting, Ultimate Spider-Man. Okay, so I don’t hate USM. I actually enjoy it. It’s such a step down from what came before, though. I know Marvel didn’t want to make another Spectacular, and I know Disney wants to cater to children, but dammit! If there are any DC fans reading this who don’t quite get it, it’s basically like canceling Batman: The Animated Series and replacing it with Beware the Batman. Again, I enjoy both, but the predecessor is far superior in every way.
My biggest problem is the humor. It misses more than it hits, and Parker constantly taking breaks to speak to the audience gets old fast. They’ve basically turned him into Diet Deadpool…which the creators are probably aware of since one of the better episodes of the series involve Spidey and Deadpool teaming up. The art style and animation also fall flat sometimes. I honestly don’t know if that’s just me, or if that’s how it feels for everyone else too.
I’ll talk about the stuff I do like, though. The world of UMS is big. Since it’s tied into the latest Avengers and Hulk cartoons that’s a given, but I’m honestly surprised at the amount of characters that have shown up so far. I also like the Osborns here (even though I like them more in Spec–never mind), and MJ’s design looks cool too (even though she looked better in–oh yeah, I said never mind). Voice work’s pretty good, and the fight scenes usually have more good than bad.
And those are my thoughts on the three Spider-Man cartoons of the new millennium!