DVD Review: The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete First Season
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Distributor: Sony Pictures Television
· Dan Fausett
· Dave Bullock
· Jennifer Coyle
· Troy Adomitis
· Victor Cook
· Josh Keaton
· Lacey Chabert
· Vanessa Marshall
· Alanna Ubach
· Joshua LeBar
· Steve Blum
· Daran Norris
· Peter MacNicol
· Find out more at SpideyTV.com!
by Jeff Ritter
Published: August 10, 2009
When I was a kid, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was the highlight of my Saturday mornings. Of course, looking back at those old episodes now on the Web, the crude animation and corny stffories have not withstood the test of time very well. The mid 90s saw a regular Spider-Man cartoon that shared a strong connection to the comic book stories with its sister show, The X-Men, but both programs suffered from pedestrian to occasionally sub-par animation. 2003 brought Spider-Man: The New Animated Series to MTV with a more mature edge, but it only lasted one season.
The latest version of Spider-Man in animation might well be the best yet.
The Spectacular Spider-Man takes some minor liberties with the comic book stories, but that's to be expected. The changes are for the better. Spider-Man's cast contains both Gwen Stacy (Lacey Chabert) and Mary Jane Watson (Vanessa Marshall), as well as the usual friends and foes you'd expect to complicate Peter Parker's (Josh Keaton) life in and out of costume.
The "secret identity" moments in comic books are usually a nice break from the action and serve to develop the featured characters more than spandex-clad fisticuffs can. In animated programs, roughly 22 minutes after commercials are accounted for, scenes of Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent or Peter Parker often seem slow and boring. I know I frequently will leave the living room to refill my glass during these scenes. With The Spectacular Spider-Man, I find myself interested in the Peter-Parker subplots and the Spider-Man webslinging action equally. The writers are able to make the entire episode compelling. I was particularly pleased by the episodes in which Spider-Man had to contend with the house rules of Aunt May (Deborah Strang), who had insisted on an early curfew after one too many times coming in late without calling. Too often, simple things like curfew, calling home so Aunt May doesn't worry, or getting to class on time have no real consequences, but this show gets it right. The high school scenes with Flash Thompson (Joshua LeBar) and Liz Allan (Allana Ubach), and the Daily Bugle scenes with J. Jonah Jameson (Daran Norris) and Betty Brant (Grey DeLisle), all ring true.
The rogues gallery is classic and very well planned, culminating in a "Sinister Six" lineup that gives Spider-Man a strong challenge. Doctor Octopus (Peter MacNicol), Vulture (Robert Englund), Sandman (John DiMaggio), Electro (Crispin Freeman), Shocker (Jeff Bennett) and Rhino (Clancy Brown) are developed over the course of the season before coming together as a team, so continuity within the series frequently comes into play. The Lizard (Dee Bradley Baker) is here too--in fact, the origins of Electro and Venom (Ben Diskin) are tied to Curt Connor's laboratory as well. No Spider-Man series would leave out the Green Goblin (Steve Blum), and this series is no exception. For me, the coolest rogues are the less obvious ones, like the inclusion of Tombstone (Kevin Michael Richardson) as the nominal mobster, with Hammerhead and the Enforcers as muscle. I was disappointed that there was no Kraven the Hunter episodes, but the out-of-costume inclusions of The Tinker and Mysterio in an episode that also includes The Black Cat (Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer) and Chameleon made up for it.
I've opined before that American animation underwhelms me. I think it's a shame that the producers of various animated series make little to no attempt to utilize the artistic styles of the comic books. There are no X-Men episodes that look like Jim Lee's art, no Spider-Man that looks like Todd McFarlane or John Romita--senior or junior. There was one episode of the classic Batman: The Animated Series that gave a nod to both Bill Finger and Frank Miller. The Spectacular Spider-Man doesn't break from traditional American animation style, keeping the lines simple. Peter Parker and most of the "normal" characters are almost too simple, appearing a tad crudely rendered at times. It does, however, provide some of the most fluid action sequences I've seen short of Japanese anime. The battles are a joy to watch, with Spider-Man's super-powered acrobatics accurately animated. The power of foes like Sandman and Venom come through well. I still long for an animated superhero feature with the animation sophistication of Hayao Miyazaki or Ralph Bakshi.
Ultimately, The Spectacular Spider-Man is simply fun. The stories are familiar and well-acted, the art style is all-ages appropriate and the animation is exciting. Spider-Man fans both young and old will enjoy the series. The DVD set also includes two brief featurettes that discuss the design process of the characters, objects and backgrounds as a well as brisk look at the voice actors behind the scenes.