Review: The Spectacular Spider-Man (PART ONE)

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers.

2007 wasn’t exactly a banner year for Spider-Man fans. Between the massive disappointment that was Spider-Man 3 and the “deal with the devil” retcon in the “Spider-Man: One More Day” comic book storyline, a lot of fans (myself included) became disinterested and disillusioned in the Web Head. As selfish and narrow-minded as this may sound, it felt like Spider-Man was dead to me.

But on March 8, 2008, I tuned into Kids WB to watch some Yu-Gi-Oh (yes, I was one of those nerds) and this promo appeared during the commercial break. This promo for the one hour series premiere of The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon had me I had never heard of this show but when I saw some of the clips, I was curious to see if it was any good. So I decided to tune in and I was won over by the overall quality of this Spider-Man show. The action, the characterization, the writing, the style. For a Spider-Man fan like myself it was so good to see so much love and effort poured onto just two episodes of an animated series.

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Supervising Producer/Story Editor/Writer Greg Weisman who is well known for creating the cult classic Disney Afternoon series Gargoyles. His goal for the series was not to create any original characters but to use and draw inspiration from every other Spider-Man adaption. Adaptations are a tricky thing especially when it’s a character whose story is well told. But Weisman and his team of writers (Nicole Dubuc, Kevin Hopps, Matt Wayne, Andrew R. Robinson, & Randy Jandt) did a great job of balancing all of the story elements to the Spider Mythos while adding new ones (some of which have made it to other Spider-Man adaptations including the comics). Judging from the writing in each episode, you can tell that they all tried to nail down to the core essence of each character while sewing the seeds for their growth down the line. Furthermore, Weisman made the decision to change the race of several minor characters such as Elizabeth “Liz” Allan from Caucasian to Hispanic. Some “purists” may cry foul over this change but by creating a diverse world of characters, it better represents our own diverse world.

Next is animation veteran Victor Cook who served as Supervising Producer/Supervising Director for the series. The challenge set by both him and Weisman was to utilize the show’s budget/resources to truly capture Spider-Man’s agility and movements when he’s fighting bad guys. This meant that the art style had to be simple enough to accommodate the free flowing animation. Lead character designer Sean Galloway did a great job with creating the art style for this series. A lot of people loathe the squash and stretch aesthetics of this show but I really appreciate the expressive facial animation is and the charming simplicity of the art never betrayed the iconic looks of each character. Kudos must be paid to the Episodic Directors (Jennifer Coyle, Dave Bullock, Troy Adomitis, Dan Fausett, Kevin Altieri, Michael Goguen, and Victor Cook) for how immaculate the action scenes are in motion. Each confrontation between Spidey and his foes are incredibly impressive in their use of superpowers, abilities, and weapons on an epic scale that had never been accomplished on a Spider-Man animated series.

The music is sensational. Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuiston and Lolita Ritmanis, the composer team also known as Dynamic Music Partners were in charge of the music for this series. Rather than try to emulate Danny Elfman’s score from the Spider-Man movies, the Dynamic Music Partners opted for a combination of guitar-heavy riffs and orchestral accompaniment for the creation of character specific themes. And the theme song by The Tender Box is so damn good. From the lyrics to the instruments, the whole song is catchy and it perfectly matches the intro sequence directed by Victor Cook.

The original plan for the series was that to release three to four episode story arcs on DVD  but they would be re-edited into one cohesive story with additional footage. Only one DVD, “Attack of the Lizard” was ever produced and it ended up getting phased out with a perfunctory “Volume One” re-release. Still, the story arcs and episodes themselves were respectively named after school subjects and terminology of each subject. The idea being that each episode ties into the education of Peter Parker. Let’s start with Mr. Parker’s favorite subject.

Biology 101



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“Survival of the Fittest”, the first episode of the series, is jam packed with so many great things and sets the foundation for the entire series. Having spent the summer break as Spider-Man, alter ego of Peter Parker, foils an attempted robbery committed by Flint Marko and Alex O’Hirn. Unbeknownst to Spider-Man, a shadowed figure is watching all of this on a live feed and tells his henchman Hammerhead to summon the Enforcers.

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The next day, Peter with his newfound confidence arrives at Midtown Manhattan Magnet High School and meets up with his friends Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn. Peter, determined to break the nerd clique, asks Sally Avril out but she and Eugene “Flash” Thompson humiliate him in front of the entire school.

Meanwhile, an aerodynamic engineer named Adrian Toomes is outraged at Otto Octavius for letting OsCorp steal his life’s work, anti-gravity technology. That is until Norman Osborn arrives and says OsCorp has nothing to apologize for. Toomes accuses him of theft but Osborn threatens him and has security escort him out of the facility. Toomes turns to Octavius and declares that he no longer blames him for the theft of his work.

Back at school, Professor Aaron Warren offers Peter and Gwen an internship at Dr. Curt Connor’s lab, the same lab where Peter was bitten by a radioactive genetically engineered spider. Both accept as Peter goes to Harry’s apartment, talking about how things will change now that he has a paying job. When Norman overhears Peter bragging about his new endeavors, he congratulates Peter and chastises his son about not getting offered the internship. From out of the blue, Toomes, now wearing a suit with metallic wings, razor sharp talons, and his own anti-gravity harness kidnaps Norman.

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Aside from the color scheme, this version of the Vulture (Robert Englund) looks like a modernized version of the original.

Later, Peter (now shoeless) goes to the lab at ESU where he meets up with Gwen. He’s reunited with his close friend Eddie Brock who now works with Dr. Martha and Curt Conners. Eddie tells Peter that the internship is unpaid so he goes to his back up plan of  selling pictures of Spider-Man to the Daily Bugle. Peter wall crawls his way into the Bugle to meet with its Editor in Chief, J. Jonah Jameson but he is kicked out almost instantly as J.J. steals his idea.

Having spent the entire day humiliated at every turn to improve his life, Spider-Man goes back to Harry’s home to pick up Peter’s shoes and notices Norman under attacked by the Vulture once more. When Spider-Man tries to stop Vulture, he is fired upon by the Enforcers in their attack chopper. Fancy Dan and Ox distract the Web-Slinger on a rooftop as Montana tracks him down in the chopper. Spider-Man defeats two of the Enforcers and makes his way back to the Vulture. Norman’s limousine escapes in a parking garage causing Vulture to set his sights on Spider-Man for interfering. Killing two birds with one stone, Spider-Man uses his webbing to tear the Vultures wings into the back propeller of Montana’s choppers. While Vulture is grounded and two of the Enforcers are still webbed, Montana has escaped. When Peter returns home, his Aunt May gives him a strict curfew to ensure he doesn’t come home late again. Having accomplished nothing he set out to do, Peter is still content with his life and eats a slice of pie his Aunt May made for him contemplating this, “Tell me there’s something better. Go ahead, try.”

Instead of retelling the well told origin story of Spider-Man, the producers wisely shifted the focus onto Peter Parker’s life in and out of the costume. Peter’s bad luck and his constant complaining about his problems makes him relatable while being Spider-Man is a liberating power fantasy. They captured both parts well and the fact that they made both personas separate but equal deserves recognition. Spidey taking down the Enforcers and the Vulture feels exhilarating as the outstanding animation (not art style, animation) looks fluid in motion. So many plot points for upcoming episode like Peter learning to take photos of Spider-Man and Peter’s internship at ESU are set up and introduced within the 21 minute run time, it’s amazing that none of it messes up the pacing. In addition to villains like the Big Man, Hammerhead, Vulture and the Enforcers, we get to see Shocker, Sandman, Rhino, Doctor Octopus, The Lizzard, Venom, and Green Goblin (also Sin-Eater had this show gained more episodes to do that storyline) in their pre-villainy. It’s a great first episode that sets the tone and style for the entire series.

In “Interactions”, Peter Parker tutors with Liz Allan with disastrous results. Meanwhile, Spider-Man fights Max Dillion after he gets electrocuted falling into a tank full of Dr. Conners’ genetically altered eels and bioelectric sludge and becomes Electro. While not as strong as the first episode, this one is still good as it introduces more elements and characters that would be featured later on in this series. Liz Allan is a stuck up cheerleader who has no interest in science but as she spends time with Peter, she begins to open her mind only to neglect Peter for her cliche the end of the episode. While hinted at in the first episode, Dr. Connor’s limb regeneration experiment using Lizard DNA is brought to both Martha and the audience. And then there’s Electro…
 Okay look, a huge problem of the Spider-Man villains from the Lee/Ditko/Romita comics is that the villains are nowhere as interesting as their gimmicks. They all followed a simple formula where an already nasty bad guy acquires superhuman abilities but they only use them for revenge or nominal crimes. For instance, Max Dillion is a cruel electrician who gains his powers in an accident and becomes Electro to rob banks. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sticking to a storytelling formula but if you use it too much, your story and characters become predictable. Thankfully, this take on Electro is more inspired and Crispin Freeman’s vocal stylings gives sympathy for Max’s plight.

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Electro’s design maintains the classic silhouette of Electro’s suit from the original comics, with the electricity surging from his head replacing the star-shaped mask.

Max Dillion’s condition is unstable leaving him stuck in a green insulated body suit. Max’s mental condition also grows unstable as he’s unable to lead a normal life and do normal things like drinking a lousy cup of coffee. After his encounter with Spider-Man, Max goes berserk on the Conner’s lab demanding a cure and takes up the name “Electro” since he can no longer be Max Dillion. The fight in the third act is great in terms of scale as it escalates from the lab, to the top of a radio transmission antennae, and in an olympic swimming pool. After Spidey beats Electro, Curt and Martha Connors pick up the broken pieces of their lab and Curt the now electrified lizard formula.

In “Natural Selection”, Dr. Curt Connors transforms into The Lizard while Peter makes a choice between helping his friends and help his financial problems. The episode started out fine with Peter still unable to take good Spidey pictures but when Curt’s regeneration serum regrew his arm back, that’s when things got interesting. Seeing Curt reconnect with his family and friends just by hugging his son Billy or losing an arm wrestling contest was very touching. But by the end of the first act, Curt’s skin had turned scaly, his mind regressed, and the transformation into a full blown monster took hold of him. The torn lab coat and pants look as it feels like it was lifted straight from the comics. 
But instead of having the Lizard side of Connors take control of his cunning mind, they went with a more primitive route as the reptile DNA overwhelmed his mammalian DNA turning Curt into a mindless, rampaging monster.

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Dee Bradley Baker provides the voice of Curt Connors and the vocal effects of the Lizard. It’s very impressive.

Peter bails on helping to make the gene cleanser and becomes Spider-Man to stop The Lizard. But after failing to stop The Lizard in the Subway, Spider-Man doubles back to ESU and retrieves the gene cleanser serum to remove the reptilian DNA from Dr. Conners. while Eddie spots long, dark and scaly at the Bronx Zoo. Spider-Man’s quick thinking saves Curt but on the next day, Gwen, Eddie, and the Connors are outraged at Peter after seeing his photo on the front page of The Daily Bugle. They all lose their trust in Peter believing he ditched them to take pictures and make money. As he’s let go from ESU, Peter grabs one of the gene cleanser vials and returns home frustrated at how depressing his life had become. It’s the classic Parker Luck scenario where no matter what Peter or Spidey gets right, something far more wrong happens to him or Spidey as a result. Blaming the unforeseen events that gave him his powers, he almost drinks the serum until he notices the family photo of Him, Aunt May, and Uncle Ben. Realizing that Spider-Man saved Curt and his family, Peter hides the vial under his desk deciding that Spider-Man is still needed. It’s nice, subtle moment reminding Peter that with Great Power comes Great Responsibility without ever uttering those well known words.

Economics 101

In “Market Forces”, Peter Parker meets J. Jonah Jameson who wants to buy his pictures of Spider-Man and meets with the members of the Daily Bugle bullpen. Meanwhile, Montana dons an experimental suit he stole from Tri-Corp to finish off Spider-Man as “Shocker”.

This version of The Daily Bugle has a lot of familiar elements that Spider-Man fans will recognize but feels distinct in its execution. Aside from J. Jonah Jameson who was introduced in the first episode, Peter got to meet Robbie Robertson, Ned Lee (the Korean-American incarnation of Ned Leeds) but got pretty bold with Betty Brant. In the comics, Peter and Betty dated and had a falling out (I won’t go any further into that because comics are weird) but it’s nice to see the show both pay respect to their infatuation, while also bringing up the fact that Betty is almost twice Peter’s age. The best aspect of this Fall Formal plot point Aunt May trying to set up Peter with Mary Jane Watson, a girl with a “wonderful personality”. That line and the way people cringe at it is a running joke of this series.

I really like this version of the Shocker. In the comics, Herman Schultz became the Shocker after he invented his sonic gauntlets and decided to drop banks with it. Substituting Schultz with Montana might have pissed off so fans of Herman but I thought it was an interesting choice. Shocker’s design is similar to the costume from the comics but with bigger googles for expressive face gestures and large vibrators (Stop snickering!) with CGI effects. But the big difference that gives Montana his edge is a sense of responsibility to kill Spider-Man which ties back to Peter’s own personal obligations. Their fight in the derelict theater was great as Spidey beat Shocker by tricking him to level the entire building on top of himself.

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Jeff Bennett’s southern drawl accent makes Montana/Shocker sound cool.

I also like this version of Harry for going against the well known version from the comics and the films. Instead of being a popular and handsomely rich teen, Harry’s an outcast. A meek kid who’s best friends with Peter and in this episode, Peter forgets to tutor him because he’s too pre-occupied being Spider-Man. Having flunked his calculus test, Harry returns home whining about his problems but his father tells him to “cowboy up” and take responsibility for his actions. Norman then goes to meet with Hammerhead, revealing that he helped them steal Montana’s Shocker suit from Tri-Corp as they’re OsCorp’s competitor. Hammerhead sets up a meeting with the Big Man via speaker phone who wants Norman to create new supervillains in exchange for ample funding for his experiments.

In “Competition”, Peter Parker and Harry Osborn try out to join the Midtown Mustangs Football team. Meanwhile, Norman Osborn along with the nebbish Doctor Octavius begins working for the Big Man as Flint Marko transforms into Sandman after their experiment implanting sub-dermal armor into Marko’s skin goes wrong. I mentioned earlier about the old school bad guy formula where the bad guy gets superpowers and uses them for nominal goals. This version Marko falls in line with that but the thing is that Marko’s simple desire for money has a charming simplicity to it that lines up well with his personality. He’s a small time crook with a myopic viewpoint (which is explored in Season Two). When Hammerhead tells Marko to use his powers to get even with Spider-Man, he refuses, stating that revenge is for chumps and all he wants is a “big score”.  Not every adaption needs a drastic reinvention and Sandman (along with his buddy Rhino) benefits from being simple. His visual design is recognizable from the comics and the sand shifting animation effects are effectively creepy.

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John DiMaggio, the voice of both Sandman and Hammerhead, has great range when it comes to voicing tough New Yorkers.

After apologizing to Gwen on the bus for flaking her on the night of The Lizard, Spider-Man intercepts Sandman robing an armored car but the pair crash into a construction site. While their first encounter was limited given that Peter had no web fluids in his shooter, this fight had plenty of cool visuals like Sandman throwing girders and Spidey taking a dive so that he could trap him in cement from a nearby mixer.

The football team subplot was kind of predictable for Peter although the fantasy of Spider-Man scoring a touchdown was humorous. Seeing Harry “cowboy up” to upgrade his social status was compelling to watch. The Spectacular Spider-Man is all about its titular star but it was nice seeing these supporting players interact like Harry impressing Flash at the Silver Spoon Cafe or Glory Grant breaking up with Kenny Kong because he’s immature. Stuff like this gives each episode room to breath for the high octane action and fleshes out the world. In the end, Harry joins the football team and Peter shares an ice cream with Gwen.

In “The Invisible Hand”, Peter tries to convince Betty to be his date at his High School Fall Formal but Aunt May intervenes. Norman Osborn continues his work creating big bads for the Big Man as Alex O’Hirn is given a titanium resin armor makeover becoming the Rhino. This the design of this Rhino is based on the Aleksei Sytsevich version from the original comics while the name Alex O’Hirn comes from the Ultimate Marvel Comics. Much like his buddy Sandman, he’s a bad guy who gets even badder with his newfound abilities but instead of petty theft, he’s all about revenge against Spider-Man. Again, there’s nothing wrong with simple characterization and simple really is the best word to describe Rhino. On the surface, he’s not that interesting but the combination of comedic timing, large action set pieces like the fight in this episode across the streets of New York.

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Clancy Brown’s tough guy voice for Rhino is simple, but effective at making him funny yet formidable.

The Fall Formal date subplot with Peter trying to ask Betty Brant was kind of awkward since Betty previously shut him down. But I liked that Aunt May was acting as the voice of reason suggesting that Peter should date that girl with the wonderful personality. What I really loved was J. Jonah Jameson protecting Peter Parker when the Rhino was threatening his life. It’s such a small, sweet little moment that’s following by Spider-Man webbing him to the ceiling giving him the appropriate nickname “Pickle-Puss”. Figuring out his weakness, Spider-Man gains a clue about the Big Man’s identity as he was told his name was “Mr. Lincoln.”
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With his chances of dating Betty shot down by Aunt May, Peter asks Bugle reporter Frederick Foswell for information on this “Mr. Lincoln” and took the fight to L. Thompson Lincoln or as he prefers, Tombstone. In the comics, Frederick Foswell is the Big Man secretly living a double life as Daily Bugle reporter while Lonnie Lincoln was an albino thug working for crime bosses like Silvermane. This version of Tombstone never referred to himself as the Big Man. Frederick Foswell knows plenty about the seedy New York underworld but he’s not posing as the Big Man. Greg Weisman never planned on having Foswell to be the Big Man incognito because it didn’t make sense in the modern context of the series.

Regardless, Tombstone mercilessly thrashed Spider-Man in an impressive display of control and explained that so long as Spider-Man continues to thwarts the Big Man’s operations, he’ll keep creating more super villains for him to fight. He then offered Spidey a job but naturally, Spider-Man refuses and Tombstone retaliates by calling the police to arrest Spider-Man which prompts the Web Head to flee in disgust.
 Meanwhile at the Osborn residence, we find out that Oscorp is building the special prison cells to hold each supervillian as they’re caught, meaning Norman is getting paid from both the creation and incarceration of each supervillian. Despite this win-win scenario, Norman asks Hammerhead to slow down production on the creation of new bad guys as people may get suspicious but Hammerhead objects stating, “we cool off when the Big Man says we cool off”. 
 Although the Tombstone confrontation and the rift between Osborn and the Big Man’s operation was interesting, the best surprise of this episode happened at the very end when Aunt May set Peter up with his date to the Fall Formal, Mary Jane Watson. The producers did a great job setting up the reveal of Mary Jane to be like her first appearance in the comics and the pay off was perfect. Peter opens the door to meet his date and saw an elegant, stunning woman on her door step saying that same magical line from her debut in the comics:

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Perfect.

Chemistry 101

The teaser for “Catalysts” starts in media res with Spider-Man getting defenestrated from Tombstone’s charity gala by the Green Goblin. Then the whole episode flashes back to the start of the night at the Fall Formal. All of Peter’s classmates are stunned by his dance partner, Mary Jane Watson. Actress Vanessa Marshall does a great job voicing MJ matching the characters energy with her raspy, suggestive voice.  It’s fun watching the entire group of classmates react differently towards MJ. Mostly the ladies being totally jealous of her with the exception of Glory who gets back together with Kenny Kong just as Harry turned his back to get drinks. Ouch. Furious at being dumped, he goes to his locker and drinks a vial of globulin green formula.

The design of this version of the Green Goblin is strikingly similar to how he’s portrayed in the comics. His glider, exploding pumpkin bombs (complete with terrifying screech upon detonation), razor boomerangs, and finger lasers are also dead on in their design. The Goblin’s gravelly voice provided by Steve Blum and his jovial personality belies his insanity (Which in itself, belies the cunning genius of the person behind the mask.) He steals the experimental glider at Oscorp, convinces the Big Man’s low level lackeys to join him, and the Goblin raids the charity gala L. Thompson Lincoln is hosting.

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“Oh well. Your loss…OF LIFE!”

J. Jonah Jameson and his son, Astronaut John Jameson are at the event but as the elder Jameson calls the Bugle to send Parker to take photos, the younger Jameson gets zapped for his heroics. Peter leaves Mary Jane behind to “take pictures” but she promises to have the last dance. While Sally tries to put her down, Mary Jane ends up dancing with her boyfriend Randy (Very) Robinson and soon after, becomes a big hit at the dance. The students even crown Mary Jane under the write-in candidate “the red haired girl who came with Peter Parker” as the Fall Formal Queen with Flash as her King. It’s a hilarious moment as every one of Peter’s friends and even the school principal is stunned with disbelief.

The fight between Spidey and the Goblin is fantastic as is started from the gala and made it’s way to the New York City skyline. Each of them trading blows and quips with each other really cemented their rivalry that immediately clicked with me. Spidey does web up the Goblin but he ends up escaping as Spidey doubles back to disarm a big pumpkin bomb from blowing up the Big Man and everyone else at the gala. Spider-Man saves everyone, including the Big Man who points out the irony that Spider-Man did the kind of paid, dirty work the Big Man would’ve asked him to do for free. Typical Parker luck.

Speaking of Parker Luck, Peter returns to dance and finds everyone except for Mary Jane and some faculty are still in the gymnasium. Feeling down for watching Mary Jane dance with another boy, she reassures Peter and they share one last dance together, alone.

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In “Reaction”, Spider-Man is still on the hunt for Green Goblin but finds trouble when Dr. Otto Octavius becomes the latest victim of the Green Goblin’s war on the Big Man. A freak accident at Oscorp melds Octavius exoskeletal harness to his spine and molds his mind into the megalomaniac Doctor Octopus.

 

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“You can thank me later, dude.”

While the design of this version of Doctor Octopus bears some semblance to the one Alfred Molina portrayed in Spider-Man 2 and his origin falls in line with other versions (mad scientist gets his mechanical arms permanently welded to his body and uses his talents for evil), but this portrayal is unique by giving us more time with him before he turned to a life of evil.  Throughout earlier episodes of the series, Otto Octavius a pitiful, coward with only a hint of aggression when Norman was berating him and he imagined retaliating against Norman with his robotic tentacles. But when the Green Goblin staged the freak accident that melded Otto’s extra arms to his spine and unhinged his mind, he becomes the nom de guerre Norman used to demean him. Peter MacNicol’s performance captures both sides of the Doctor Octavius so well.

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“Yeah, I can get used to this.”

The fights between Doc Ock and Spidey were impressive. The first fight in the Oscorp lab had both of them running up walls with Spidey providing witty banter and it all was cool. But the second fight where Doc Ock was trying to retrieve a longer lasting power source for his harness at Tri-Corp was truly inspired as both men tried to outsmart the other. and ending up at Coney Island provided plenty of action and visual gags like Spider-Man hitting Doc Ock with a tray of candy apples. Seeing Doc Ock figure out Spider-Man’s holding pattern and take Liz hostage at the top of the rollercoaster felt like a classic Spider-Man moment. An ultimatum the bad guy offers Spider-Man to choose save a person he loves or to stop the villain. Of course, Spider-Man does both.

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Meanwhile, John Jameson and the are of his space shuttle make a successful launch into outer space. Peter and Liz got to hang out which in turn, caused her to broke up with Flash for being jealous that she spent the day with Peter. Gwen meanwhile grows suspicious of Harry’s belligerent attitude towards her after finding him unconscious after his football game. While Peter believed Harry to be fine, both agree to talk to him in light of the constant strange behavior going on in his life. Hammerhead confronts Norman Osborn about the Goblin messing with the Big Man’s operation and for trying to kill Otto Octavius. Norman denies Hammerheads allegations that he’s been working with the Goblin stating he’s a common enemy who must be stopped before it’s too late.

“The Uncertainty Principle” concludes the first Green Goblin arc of the series. As Spider-Man sees no sign of the Goblin on the night before Halloween, Colonel John Jameson struggles to land his space shuttle after getting hit by debris. Later on, Green Goblin captures Hammerhead in an attempt to win him over but he refuses out of respect for Tombstone. Gobby then tells Tombstone and Spider-Man (separately) that he has a jump drive stolen from Hammerhead containing incriminating evidence of Tombstone’s crimes.

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Foreshadowing?

In pursuing the Goblin, Spider-Man notices him sneaking into the Osborn residence. Doing a bit of sneaking himself, Spidey spots Norman Osborn coming out of a secret passageway and believes that Norman is the Goblin. Some time afterwards, Peter Parker calls Harry and invites him to the Bleecker Street Halloween carnival. Harry accepts but never shows. Meanwhile, John succeeds in landing his damaged space shuttle at Cape Canaveral and  J. Jonah Jameson couldn’t be happier. Peter tries to sell his Spider-Man photos but J. Jonah Jameson refuses telling him to try selling them to the Globe because he wants his son on the next front page.

That night, the Green Goblin breaks into Oscorp with Norman Osborn looking right at him. Meanwhile at the carnival, Peter (in his very convincing Spider-Man costume) notices the pumpkin bomb screech in the fireworks displays and heads to Green Goblin’s obvious trap in an abandoned factory. Tombstone and Spidey confront a helpless Hammerhead dangling over a vat of molten steel but Goblin’s trap is sprung as the factory turns into a pure bedlam.

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“Aww. This is embarrassing.”

It’s a great fight scene showing how formidable and vicious the Green Goblin can be. The Goblin limps and flies off after Spider-Man deflects one of his pumpkin bombs back at him but Spider-Man goes over to the Osborn apartment to confront the Goblin. There, he discovers that the Goblin was…Harry Osborn! Norman walks in with no limp and reprimands Harry for stealing the experimental Globulin Green performance enhancing drug from Oscorp. Norman explains that while Harry was used the Green to excel at Football, the nasty side effect of the drug resulted in Harry passing out and creating the Green Goblin persona from his subconscious mind. Shocked as this discovery, Norman and Spider-Man agree to make the Green Goblin disappear out of fear that the Big Man would harm Harry. While all of this is an interesting twist to the classic Green Goblin story, it doesn’t end here. The Green Goblin mystery thickens in Season Two and I’ll cover that in Part Two of my review.

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This story arc is an interesting take on the storyline where Harry Osborn spirals into drug abuse. (Amazing Spider-Man #96-98)

The next day, Jonah learns from Robbie that the Globe’s cover story on the Green Goblin and Peter’s photos trounced the Bugle’s cover story about John’s space shuttle landing. Jameson becomes infuriated at this news. He decides to lock Peter down with an exclusive contract and meet with the public’s demand by publishing a new front page story. “Tomorrow’s Headline, ‘Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?” While Jonah has hated Spider-Man in previous episodes, this subplot involving  his son’s getting ignored by Spider-Man best portrays his hatred for the web-head in a way that’s completely understandable. At Midtown High, Peter learns that Mary Jane has transferred to his school and learns from Gwen that Norman has taken Harry on a sabbatical from school so he can receive the help he needs. It’s a bittersweet moment for Peter and for everyone. At the end of the episode, John is interviewed at the shuttle hangar when he spots a black goo moving on the bottom of his shuttle.

Psychology 101

In “Persona”, Peter discovers that the Conners lab is housing the alien life form from Colonel Jameson’s shuttle. When Eddie denies him access to look at the black goo, he goes that night as Spider-Man and finds Black Cat there. After a playful fight interpreted by “Dr. Conners”, Black Cat takes off empty handed while Spider-Man unknowingly makes off with the alien as it attaches to his suit. It turns out that “Dr. Conners” was the Chameleon, a master thief and master of disguise who was also after the alien life form. Using the inventions and special effects provided respectively by his henchmen Quentin Beck and Phineas Mason, the Chameleon goes on a crime spree imitating Spider-Man. With the life form with bonded to his suit, Spider-Man has no other option but to team up with Black Cat to stop the Chameleon and clear his name.

While she made a brief cameo in the previous episode, it’s nice seeing Black Cat do the sexy cat burglar/ femme fatale thing she’s well known for in the comics. That fight with her and Spider-Man in Dr. Conners lab had some very cool uses of both characters agile moves. “Don’t get your goop in my hair” line is golden.

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“Don’t get your goop in my hair.”

 

Tricia Helfer delivered a great, sexually suggestive performance as Black Cat. From trying to win over Spider-Man to a life of crime to kissing him at the end of the episode, you can tell they had a lot of fun with this character. It was also nice seeing the Chameleon make his official debut in this episode along with the pre-super villain duo of Quentin Beck and Phineas Mason. Their plan to impersonate Spider-Man lead to some cringe worthy lines in Spider-Man’s voice such as “My Insect Early Warning System’s Tingling!”. And I loved seeing J. Jonah Jameson so vindicated with the anonymous photos of “The Spider-Thief” leading him to say “I’m as giddy as a school girl”.

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If Spider-Man represents great power coming with great responsibility, then the Black Suit is absolute power corrupting absolutely. In this episode, the symbiote can transform in and out of Peter’s street clothes, increase Spider-Man’s strength and webbing, and even compensate for weight distribution. But they only showed a faction of the negative side effects Peter’s actions as the suit begins to influence Spider-Man to start thinking selfishly and act more aggressively against his foes. Even the Spider-Signal insignia at the end of the episode turns black, the symbolizing the alien taking over. It’s a small thing, but it speaks volumes.

In “Group Therapy”, Doctor Octopus enlists the help of Electro to break himself, Vulture, Sandman, Rhino and Shocker out of Ryker’s Island prison to take revenge against Spider-Man. As Peter Parker loses himself in the power of the Black Suit, he puts his personal life aside to take on the Sinister Six…or does he?

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There have been many variations of the Sinister Six in the comics but this incarnation is the earliest formed in any Spider-Man animated series. I appreciated that none of the members ever referred themselves and that the Bugle ended up giving them their name. Still, the Six were a force to be reckoned with in Times Square as they fixed any weakness Spider-Man used to exploit which sent him hiding in the sewer. The scene where the Six “celebrated” at a restaurant was facnianting as each member’s agenda clashed with each other. But despite all their frustration, the Six’s mutual hatred of Spider-Man brings them together under Otto’s leadership.

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Peter’s corruption to the Black Suit’s influence continues as it intertwined with Eddie’s own descent into madness. Eddie called out Peter’s decision to sell photos of the alien and not call the cops but Peter shrugged it off. Peter then blew off everybody close to him who was calling him to visit his Aunt May at the hospital after see suffered a heart attack. Then on a “date” with Mary Jane, Eddie drove on his motorcycle like a maniac, endangering both of their lives as he explained his entire history with Peter to M.J. in an attempt to get back at Peter.

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The coolest, creepiest part of this episode and the most showing of Peter losing control to the Black Suit is when the suit took over Peter’s body and on by one, picked off the Sinister Six in Central Park. It’s a cleverly staged fight sequence as the Black Suit used each of the Sinister Six’s abilities, weapons, and weaknesses against each other without quips. Peter wakes up completely sore and reads the front page of the Bugle saying that Spider-Man took out the Sinister Six. Peter realizes that his suit is some kind of symbiote and he’s the host body. The episode ends with Mary Jane shows up and shocks Peter with the news that his Aunt suffered a heart attack.

In “Intervention”, Peter Parker succumbs to the dark temptations succumbs to the dark temptations of the black suit by accepting the Big Man’s generous offer in order to pay for Aunt May’s medical bills. He also cuts ties to all of his friends, even violently dissing Eddie Brock. But after some words of wisdom from Flash Thompson, Peter realizes that the symbiote is negatively affecting his personality. The struggle between Peter and the symbiote goes from a battle in a church bell tower to a mental war within the Web Head.

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I love this subtle detail on the back suit where the webbing pattern disappears as the symbol grows larger.

There’s so many things that I love about this episode. Spider-Man’s origin story is well treaded territory but mixing it Eddie Brock’s past (before he becomes Venom at the end of the episode) is a bold move. I loved that both the story and emotional beats from Amazing Fantasy #15 and the first act of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man are well represented. I loved the black and white motif of Peter’s (and later Eddie’s) mind under the symbiotes thrall. I wish Eddie Brock’s decent into madness had more time to develop. He loses someone he considers a brother, he loses his job at ESU which in turn, loses his tenure at ESU all in one episode and he endangered Mary Jane in the last episode all in the course of a couple of episodes. Still, this version of Eddie Brock is far more sympathetic and interesting than the rival douchey photographer Eddie Brock from the comics. And I love Ed Asner as Uncle Ben reminding Peter that with Great Power comes with great responsibility as he among other people in Peter’s life form up to strengthen his resolve in a cool homage to the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #100.

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When you think about it, Peter Parker is hard character to nail down in adaptations because of how he’s portrayed in the source material. He’s whiny, but relatable. Intelligent, but sometimes clueless. A genuinely good person who’s crushed by the guilt of not being a better person. Keaton’s ability to change the tone of his voice whenever the story needs him to be comedic/dramatic makes his Peter Parker strike the right balance of between awkward nerd and relatable everyman. Not only does Keaton play Peter Parker so well in this episode but he’s also Spider-Man (red and blue as well as black and white), Angsty (not emo) Peter, and the alien symbiote. They’re all distinct performances and Keaton nails every single one of them. I don’t subscribe to the idea that actors are born to play roles and I know that the Spider-Man brand is the legal property of Marvel Entertainment. But in my head and in my heart, Josh Keaton is Spider-Man. Every time I pick up the latest Spider-Man or Howard the Duck comic, his Spidey is the one I hear in my head as I read the word bubbles on each page.

Later that night, Eddie Brock returns to the lab and Spider-Man having broken free of the Symbiote returns it to the containment pod. Eddie is overjoyed but his hopes of getting his job are dashed when Spider-Man freezes the symbiote in an attempt to kill it. As Spider-Man leaves an enraged Eddie, the symbiote feeds off Eddie’s anger and calls to him. The two bond over their mutual hatred of Peter Parker and Spider-Man and vow revenge against both of them.

“Nature vs. Nurture” kicked off with Spidey, back in his original costume, giving Tombstones thugs a beat down much like he did in the series trailer. Spider-Man returns to Tombstones office refusing his “generous” offer to work for him but as he leaves, Venom takes the job opening provided he can eliminate Spider-Man. On Thanksgiving day, Peter apologizes to his friends for treating and fails to make Thanksgiving dinner for Aunt May. He finds the gene cleanser from “Natural Selection” and contemplates if he should use after all he’s been through. Suddenly, he’s yanked from his house by the symbiote who declares to be poison to both Spider-Man and Peter Parker.

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“We’re Venom!!!!”

 

There was some clever misdirection in this episode as Venom threatened Spider-man that he knew who Peter loved the most. Spidey’s first instinct was to go protect Mary Jane after her run in with Eddie but Venom webbed up Gwen at the top of a Balloon Float at the Thanksgiving Day parade. Unable to detect Venom by Spider-Sense, Spider-Man got knocked out by Venom which lead to a great confrontation between old friends. Meanwhile, the Midtown High Schooler’s dropped everything (except Sally because she’s the worst) to catch Gwen from falling to her death. It’s a nice moment of characters banding together that doesn’t feel awkwardly dated as the New Yorkers rallying together against Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or contrived as the crane sequence in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man.

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The design of Venom takes the original design from the comics and ups the creepy factor. Benjamin Diskin’s performance is creepy with one mouth, let alone two.

If you’re expecting me to diss on the scene where Spider-Man tricks Venom and defeats him using thee power of friendship and self confidence, well tough. Peter defeated the Symbiote is the previous episode doing this and by the internal logic of this series, he could easily do it again. As a superhero, Spider-Man’s defining trait has never been about being stronger or hitting harder than his foes but by outsmarting them. While Spider-Man buried the symbiotic under cement, Eddie Brock vanished without a trace.
With Aunt May out of the hospital and the Stacy’s pitching in for Thanksgiving dinner,  everything seems right in Peter’s world. But as Peter walked Gwen to the door, she kissed him.

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“We know who you love that most.”

It’s a sweet moment to cap off Season One. It’s not a cliffhanger, but a tease for what the future may hold in Season Two. Speaking of teasing, click here for PART TWO of my The Spectacular Spider-Man review.

 

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