Sunday, March 11, 2018

The New 'Spider-Man' Animated Series Spins the Mythos with Mixed Results

The Spectacular Spider-Man was an awesome show.  From 2008 to 2009, it ran for two seasons before being abruptly cancelled, breaking the hearts of its viewers.  For many, it’s the pinnacle of Spider-Man cartoons.  It’s smart, sentimental, and exciting; and despite being primarily kid-oriented, it succeeded in being universally appealing to Spidey fans of all ages.  In my mind, the 90’s animated series is slightly better, but it’s most likely due to nostalgia and the fact that, among all Spidey cartoons, it was the closest to reflect the comic books.  However, as a show per se, The Spectacular Spider-Man has the superior quality.   It’s for that reason that, since a season 3 is looking to be impossible, it’s my benchmark to whatever new Spidey cartoon is out there.

I didn’t like and follow Ultimate Spider-Man because: a.) it was crafted to exclusively entertain kids, and thus, it was too goofy and juvenile; and b.) it was the show that was made in order to replace The Spectacular Spider-Man.  However, the subsequent Spidey cartoon caught my interest.
Debuting in 2017, in just the same year in which Ultimate Spider-Man wrapped up, Marvel’s Spider-Man – or just Spider-Man – showed promise with its first few episodes.  In fact, a sense of optimism grew in me that this could be the spiritual successor of Spectacular Spider-Man.  But after watching the entirety of season one, this is disappointingly not the case.

Nowhere is Spider-Man as well-written and action-packed as Spectacular Spider-Man.  Some episodes are even somewhat bland.  And then, there’s this feeling that there’s no vision and enthusiasm behind its production, giving off a hint that the prime motivation for its creation is simply due to a corporate mandate (that is, to reboot Spider-Man in the small screen to tie up with Spider-Man: Homecoming).
Nevertheless, it also can get fun, engaging, and intriguing.  It has its share of strong episodes.  And there are storytelling moments where it effectively uses its premise and inherent elements to affect an emotional impact.

A noteworthy aspect of this show is how it fundamentally shakes up the established Spidey mythology.  It takes particular components from the mythos and spins them into something that is both familiar and new.   One notable example is that, aside from Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, characters like Anya Corazon (Araña/Spider-Girl), Miles Morales (Earth-1610 Spider-Man), Alistair Smythe (Spider-Slayer), Herman Schultz (Shocker), and Aleksei Sytsevich (Rhino) are of the same age as Peter Parker, and are either his classmates or students of the rival school, Oscorp Academy.  Moreover, all of them are super geniuses like Peter, and are capable of making Tony Stark levels of technology.  What I think of this fluctuates between “that’s cool” and “that’s absurd.”
Twists like that prove to be a double-edged sword.  Sometimes, through them, the show is able to reflect freshness and potential.  It doesn’t have to rely on adapting popular Spidey arcs, but it instead has the opportunity to tell original, surprising stories and explore new character dynamics.  Furthermore, in relation to doing things differently, it is then able to make genuinely funny jabs on iconic details of the mythos (e.g. throwing a Spider-Man costume to the trash can a la “Spider-Man No More!”).  On the other hand, its attempts of flexibility and novelty can also sometimes yield messy, ridiculous, and unbecoming results.

In relation to this, its reimagining of the characterizations work both ways as well.  Sometimes, the results are interesting (e.g. Hobgoblin, Sandman, Doc Ock), but sometimes, they’re awful (e.g. Kraven, Vulture, Rhino).
To sum it up, again, Spider-Man is no Spectacular Spider-Man.  However, it’s enjoyable in its own right, though the quality of enjoyability is more certain to work on kids.  Adults, on the other hand, won’t necessarily find it quick to enjoy.  As for me, after watching all 25 episodes, I generally like the first season.  Despite its flaws, I think it still emits promise for greater things in the future.  Thus, I will definitely check out season two – especially because it’s going to follow the “Superior Spider-Man” storyline (the first time it’s going to be adapted).

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