Back in ’08, Marvel, Sony, Culver Entertainment & Adelaide Productions all worked on a Spider-man cartoon. It ran for two series, getting cancelled due to Disney’s acquisition of Marvel at the end of ’09. Let’s take a look at the series and see how it holds up.
for those of you who don’t know about Spidey’s origin, science fan, Peter Parker, gets bitten by a radioactive spider. He develops super powers. Uses them to try and make money, learns to use his powers responsibly after he lets a criminal go and his uncle Ben is killed. Spectacular opens shortly after he’s gained his powers and lost his uncle. Spidey finds himself facing his first real challenge as a crime fighter, the Enforcers. A trio of criminals made up of Fancy Dan, the Ox & Montana.
There are two pretty significant flaws with the story telling. The first is that things frequently move too quickly. The series is very fast to introduce new villains or to give old ones super powers or to bring in new characters in general. There’s no real time to do anything significant with the old characters before new ones come in. Which really hurts the series when they try to have big moments where things really change for someone. Take the first episode. Not only are we introduced to the Enforcers, but also the Vulture and a whole slew of supporting characters. There are parts of the series that take things more slowly, but a lot of it is painfully hyper. And I have ADHD. The second issue is that the series tries to tie everything together to an absurd, heavily contrived degree. Basically every single villain in the series comes from the Big Man’s experiments. A lot of them are also strangely connected to Spidey or Peter Parker or someone Peter happens to know very well. It’s almost like this Spidey lives in a world of super contrived coincidences.
With that being said, this series is pretty good at capturing the aesthetic of the comics. Well, some of the comics. It blends the big action sequences with life trampling on Peter and his school drama. It may very well capture the Spider-man aesthetic of the late silver, early bronze age better than any other adaptation has. I also like that it’s more light-hearted and less melodramatic than a lot of other adaptations about the character. It does make for a refreshing change.
The characters in this series are pretty mixed. They do a good job of capturing Spidey’s quips, banter and general attitude. They also do a good job with him as Peter Parker. They do a nice job with Gwen and her father and all without any horribly written retcons about how she had an affair with Norman Osborne. Why must you get horrible writers on your books, Marvel? But I digress. The villains in general are the issue. Most of them are pretty bland. They had a chance to do something interesting with the Green Goblin, but they decided not to. In general, they’re like flat caricatures of the comic versions. Venom might be the one who suffers the most. This series tried to make him a tragic figure, with Eddie Brock starting out as Peter’s close friend and elder brother figure, but his shift to a villain isn’t very well handled. Not only that, but they also try to have him as a deadly foe who knows all of Spidey’s secrets and hates him. As a result, his motivations are confused and inconsistent.
I don’t really like the art style in this series. For me, the characters just look too exaggerated with some being absolutely tiny and others being over-muscled monstrosities and yet others being practically spherical. Then we have the eyes. They have no irises. They’re just overly large, circular pupils inside the white space. Even putting aside the style itself, there are some issues. Let’s talk about Aunt May. You may know her as Peter’s sickly, frail, elderly aunt. In this series, the only thing that makes her look like any of that applies to her is her white hair. She looks relatively young and healthy. She doesn’t even have a single wrinkle. Which could have worked if they were doing something different by having Aunt May, but having her be fairly healthy and not as old as she is normally. But her poor health becomes a plot point so it’s more that the artists couldn’t be bothered to draw someone who looks elderly. Now, to the series’ credit, the action sequences do flow pretty nicely.
Truth be told, when I first watched this, I hated the English acting so much that I switched to the Spanish dub. However, when I do these reviews I like to talk about the original cast. So I went back and watched it in English. Josh Keaton is horrendous in this but the problem isn’t relegated to him. James Arnold Taylor, Benjamin Diskin, Steven Blum, Alanna Ubach, and Deborah Strang are all really bad. I don’t know if it’s poor direction or just bad casting, but the result is that it’s pretty painful to listen to. The music is pretty decent, though. So, there’s that.
So, that’s Spectacular Spider-man. When all is said and done, it’s actually the second best Spider-man cartoon I’ve ever seen. It has a real sense of fun. The writing aesthetic is generally good and it captures the hero and some of the biggest supporting characters well. That being said, the pacing is overly hectic, trying to tie everything together gets ridiculous, the villains are under-developed, I don’t care for the art style and I don’t recommend watching it in the original English. If I’m rating the English version, I’d give it a 5/10. For the Spanish version, I’d bring it up to a 7/10. For a kid’s cartoon, it does do a good job.
Next week I’ll continue December’s extra reviews with Spaceballs. Until then, enjoy your holiday season whether you celebrate Hearth’s Warming, Hogswatch, the Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Christmas, or any other holiday.