REVIEW: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN – SEASON 1-2

CAST (VOICES)

Josh Keaton (Green Lantern:TAS)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls)
Grey Delisle (The Replacements)
James Arnold Taylor (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)
Alanna Ubach (Legally Blonde)
Vanessa Marshall (Star Wars Rebels)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Keith David (Pitch Black)
John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Robert Englund (A Nightmare On Elm Street)
Brian George (The Big Bang Theory)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterprise)
Peter MacNicol (Ghostbusters 2)
Daran Norris (Veronica Mars)
Alan Rachins (LA Law)
Kath soucie (Rugrats)
Crispin Freeman (Digimon)
Cree Summer (Batman Beyond)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Xander Berkeley (Kick-Ass)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Steve Blum (Wolverine and The X-Men)
Elisa Gabrielli (Mulan)
Kelly Hu (Arrow)
Tricia Helfer (Powers)
Courtney B. Vance (Flashforward)
Danny Trejo (Machete)
Miguel Ferrer (Robocop)
Nikki Cox (Las Vegas)

It would be hard to argue that any comic book superhero has enjoyed a more sustained popularity over the last five decades than Spider-Man. The Marvel Comics character, the mainstay of that company’s flagship publication The Amazing Spider-Man, has been spun off  into numerous other venues, from cartoon and live action television shows to a rock album, a series of wildly popular theatrical movies, and even a recurring part in the old PBS series The Electric Company.

The Spectacular Spider-Man is a current incarnation of this comics legend that takes its name from a now-defunct spin-off comic book title. It’s a half-hour cartoon series, aimed primarily at kids but with some postmodern nods to adults, and basically offers an early 21st century update of the original Spider-Man comic books. Here, Peter Parker (voiced by Josh Keaton) attends high school with Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacey. Bully Flash Thompson is also around, and Parker’s future wife Mary Jane Watson transfers to his school midway in the series. Parker lives at home with his Aunt May, and moonlights as the crimefighting Spider-Man whenever he can. As he battles colorful super-villains, he’s taking snapshots of himself for the newspaper Daily Bugle. Several of the classic characters from that fictional periodical are here, including Betty Brant and the obnoxious J. Jonah Jameson (voiced hilariously by Daran Norris).spidey_wp-01

The series is light and fun, with a nice sense of humor. As such, it captures the essence of Spider-Man fairly well. Each episode is relatively self-contained, although certain plot points connect the episodes into a larger whole. The animation strikes me as bright and colorful – and certainly competent for a weekly television program. The characters are presented with some awkward angularity at times, but at least it’s consistent and uniform in presentation. As an old comics fan, I enjoyed this updating of the Spider-Man mythos, and I certainly imagine that it will entertain its core audience: adolescents.ranking-the-spider-man-animated-series_cgbj

In season 2 Peter Parker’s life becomes significantly more complicated as he finds himself torn between Gwen Stacy and Liz Allan, both of whom have confessed their feelings for him; he eventually chooses Liz. Norman Osborn takes on the role of Peter’s mentor, pulling strings to re-establish his job as Dr. Connors’ lab assistant, as well as overseeing the installment of the conniving Dr. Miles Warren into the ESU Labs. Meanwhile, as Spider-Man, Peter encounters new villains Mysterio and Kraven the Hunter, leading him to investigate the activities of a mysterious new crime lord known as the “Master Planner”.fe109-spiderman-animatedWhen the Master Planner’s first scheme fails, Spider-Man is faced with a three-way gang war between the Planner’s super-villain forces, the Big Man’s established order, and the old guard of Silvio “Silvermane” Manfredi’s family. Peter’s search for Eddie Brock also leads to the return of Venom, who attempts to expose Spider-Man’s secret identity and remove his powers. Finally, when the three major crime lords are arrested, Spider-Man once again goes up against the Green Goblin, who is once again bent on eliminating the wall-crawler once and for all.

ranking-the-spider-man-animated-series_cgbjOther new characters introduced in the second season include Calypso, Sha Shan Nguyen, Silver Sable, Roderick Kingsley and Molten Man. Quentin Beck and Phineas Mason return as Mysterio and the Tinkerer respectively.fe109-spiderman-animatedIt appears that the episodes in this eighth volume of The Spectacular Spider-Man are the swan song of the series. That’s a shame as this was a fun and energetic cartoon take on the classic Marvel superhero. Based upon content, The show was cancelled to make way for the Ultimate Spider-man cartoon which as we all know is just a train wreck.spidey_wp-01

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN (1994) – SEASON 1-5

 

 

CAST

Christopher Daniel Barnes (The Little Mermaid)
Edward Asner (Elf)
Linda Gary (He-Man)
Rodney Saulsberry (The Animatrix)
Jennifer Hale (Wreck-It Ralph)
Gary Imhoff (The Green Mile)
Sara Ballantine (Batman Year One)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Liz Georges (As Told By Ginger)
Hank Azaria (The Smurfs)
Joseph Campanella (Ben)
Patrick Labyorteaux (Yes Man)
Maxwell Caulfield (Alien Intruder)
Neil Ross (Rambo)
Roscoe Lee Brown (Babe)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Batman: TAS)
Dawnn Lewis (Futurama)
Martin Landau (Ed Wood)
Gregg Berger (Transformers)
Don Stark (That 70s Show)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
George Buza (Mutant X)
Cedric Smith (Earth: Final Conflict)
Norm Spencer (Rescue Heroes)
Catherine Disher (Forever Knight)
Alison Sealy-Smith (You Kill Me)
Alyson Court (Beetlejuice TV)
Chris Potter (Heartland)
Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek Generations)
J.D. Hall (Undercover Brother)
Peter Mark Richman (Friday the 13th – Part 8)
George Takei (Star Trek)
John Vernon (Batman: TAS)
Courtney Peldon (Frozen)
Edward Albert (Power Rangers Time Force)
Robert Hays (Airplane)
Barbara Goodson (Power Rangers)
James Avery (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 80s)
Tony Jay (Lois & Clark)
Dorian Harewood (Earth: Final Conflict)
Jack Angel (A.I.)
Jeff Corey (Conan The Destroyer)
Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek)
Richard Moll (Scary Movie 2)
David Warner (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II)
Mira Furlan (Lost)
Earl Boen (The Terminator)
David Hayter (X-Men)
Roy Dotrice (Hercules: TLJ)
Paul Winfield (Star Trek II)
Majel Barrett (Star Trek)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)

The set itself is well presented, although the artwork is a little cheap, and clearly done in a way as to mimic the style of the 90s series. Anyone who has the recent X-Men Season releases will be familiar with this. Unlike those, this one also has a slipcase. A booklet with episode synopses is also included.

Spider-Man has season-long arcs, which when viewed in succession make for great television. Christopher Barnes is brilliant as Spider-Man (especially in those fleeting moments of extreme rage), and the guests were memorable too, particularly Rob Paulsen’s oafish Hydro Man and Jennifer Hale as Felicia Hardy/ Black Cat.

The music was great too, but while Spider-Man relied on several repeated  cues,  Another thing about Spider-Man is that even after all these years I find myself being surprised by some of the plot twists, which were even more abundant upon first viewing. Thankfully, John Semper (creative head of the show) was bold enough to change much of the original stories to make them worth animating in the first place. What else? A minor triumph, but the colouring on this cartoon is the best of any I’ve ever seen. A simple praise. While the show lost its way during the muddled fourth year it had some great episodes in the last series, with one of the greatest resolution-with-cliffhanger endings in animation history. A rare treat in that its much, much better than you remember it.

Some of the best episodes were – the three-parter, “The Alien Costume”- a marvellous introduction for the ultimately underused Venom (a deliciously insane Hank Azaria)- and the two-part “Hobgoblin” are among the best in the show’s five-year run. “Night of the Lizard”, a pilot of sorts, is interesting in that there’s an awful lot more effort put into the animation than in later episodes, as is often the case.

Animation from the 1990s doesn’t come much better than this, and Marvel have yet to top it.

REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN (1981)

Image result for spider-man 1981

CAST (VOICES)

Ted Schwartz (Transformers)
William Woodson (The Naked Gun 2 1/2)
Mona Marshall (South Park)
Linda Gary (He-Man)
Stan Jones (Little Shop of Horrors)

UntitledWhen I sat down to watch Spider-Man 5000 I was expecting some futuristic Batman Of The Future-type deal, with Spidey zooming into space decked out in weblined silver, led by a computerised spider-sense. In fact, the 5000 refers to an episode numbering system, not a time period. This 1981 animated series is set straight after the ‘60s Spider-Man show, with Peter Parker now attending Empire State University. The villains are contemporary and familiar – The Lizard, Sandman, Dr. Octopus.

Untitled

The series does a great job of capturing the ethos of the comic book. Peter Parker is a teenager juggling his love life with work and webswinging. Aunt May fusses over him and there’s a running gag about him slipping into the house without her noticing. Peter’s impatient date Betty Brant gets stood up on a regular basis. Spider-Man’s quips and interior monologues ring true. For example, he calls Magneto “Bucket Head” and “Turret Top”.The series adds its own quirks as well. Peter acts clumsy and cowardly a la Clark Kent. We learn that he prefers The Beatles to disco music, can make armpit web wings to glide from buildings, and isn’t above taking money to guard a million dollar artifact. These all come across more as plot devices than attempts to develop character or build continuity.

Spider-Man 5000 retains the child-friendly, uncluttered look of the ‘60s show but adds texture to its art and storytelling. There are detailed touches like the underwater ripples when Spidey treads water, and sight gags such as a billboard for Spritz Bug Spray. In each 20 minute tale, the hero has time to discover the villain’s plan, get knocked down and get back up again for a rousing finale. The villains come across as greedy, bellowing buffoons who thrive on thievery rather than any grand master plans. Even the Black Cat is a plain burglar here, more Catwoman than Felicia Hardy. This being the early ‘80s, Spider-Man relies on the miracle power of microwaves on more than one occasion to battle the bad guys. Who knew that those reheating waves could turn sand to dust and amplify magnetic power, bouncing it back to its source?  Spidey isn’t the only character who harnesses technology in unusual ways. In the first episode Bubble, Bubble, Oil And Trouble, classic villain Doctor Octopus modifies his terrible tentacles, adding a diamond sawblade and a vibrator. That’s a sonic quartz vibrator, which zaps walls to rubble around Spider-Man. Ock wants to get his protuberances on the world’s oil supply, but before he can thwart the tanker snatcher Peter has to do his homework and compete with rival photographer Mortimer (J. Jonah Jameson’s wonderfully sniveling nephew).16174889_1836004673347908_6687458020023952722_nIn Dr. Doom, Master Of The World, the Latverian dictator forgoes a typical destructive scheme for something more polite. He brainwashes UN representatives so they’ll vote him into absolute power. Questionable tactics aside, this is the Doom we all want to see – creepy and menacing with a Darth Vader voice. Sadly, he’s defeated too easily and he just runs away at the end. Above all, 5000 has some great visual ideas even if they’re not always executed effectively. They’re the kind of ideas that get kids talking in the playground, looking forward to their next Saturday morning episode. We get Doc Ock striding over the skyline with his tentacles extended, The Lizard breeding giant monitors and other zoo lizards in the subway, blocking off the exits with crashed trains, the Black Cat tightrope walking across power lines, and Spidey wrestling a gator in the Everglades, getting magnetized to a satellite and finding himself in other imaginative scrapes.

On the downside, true believers have been up in all eight arms about the transfer quality of these discs. Clear Vision blames it on the age of the material, but the color isn’t so much faded as flickering, as if an old digital generation has been used as the source footage. Cleaning up video frames can be painstaking, but if Clear Vision wants a loyal fan base then it’s going to have to put more work into the other volumes in this series. If you don’t mind the bad flicker and odd black and white frames, this early Marvel Production will surprise you with its joie de vivre, if not its sophistication. As the missing link between the original cartoon and Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, this is a rare gem.