Saturday, October 16, 2010

'The Spectacular Spider-Man' - Season One (2008)

Starring Josh Keaton, Lacy Chabert and Ben Diskin
Developed by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook

Marvel Comics' Spider-Man has been a cartoon mainstay for a while.  After the much-loved 1990s "Spider-Man" series, he disappeared from the airwaves until 2008, after Spidey gained a massive boost in popularity from the live-action film series that was a huge blockbuster success. 

"The Spectacular Spider-Man" borrows elements from a variety of incarnations of the character.  The first season takes place not too long after teenage nerd Peter Parker (Josh Keaton) was bitten by a genetically-altered spider that somehow imbued him with superhuman abilities.  He becomes the spectacular Spider-Man, swinging around the city and stopping crimes.  Parker also gets a job as an intern at the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Dee Bradley Baker) with his friends Eddie Brock (Ben Diskin) and Gwen Stacy (Lacy Chabert).  He also tries to help his best friend Harry Osborn (James Arnold Taylor) up his grades at school.

But Spider-Man has become a major problem to the criminal element in New York City.  Mob boss "Mr. Big," aka Tombstone (Kevin Michael Richardson) concocts a plan to keep Spidey out of the way: he hires Dr. Otto Octavius (Peter MacNicol) to create an army of super-powered villains to keep Spider-Man occupied (or destroy him entirely, whichever) to allow crime to take place in the city once more. 

Peter begins to run into problems being Spider-Man, since it often means he has to let down his friends in order to save the day.  Since he can't just tell them that he's off saving lives as Spider-Man, it becomes harder and harder for them to maintain their faith in Peter as he continually ditches them. 

The first season of "Spectacular Spider-Man" is broken up into several arcs:  In the first, Spider-Man defeats several villains while attempting to keep his job as Dr. Connors' lab assistant.  Things come to a head when Connors uses an experimental gene therapy to attempt to regrow his lost arm, and turns into a vicious lizard creature.  Unfortunately, stopping the Lizard means harming his relationship with the Connors, Eddie and Gwen, who all think that he ditched them in order to make money taking pictures for the Daily Bugle.

In the second arc, Peter tries to avoid meeting Anna Watson's niece, Mary Jane (Vanessa Marshall) whom Aunt May (Deborah Strang) describes as having "a wonderful personality."  Meanwhile, several new villains appear in the city, including Shocker, Sandman and the Green Goblin.  Tombstone delivers Spider-Man an ultimatum: Stop fighting crime, or the fights with the super-villains are going to get worse and worse.  When Peter finally meets Mary Jane (who turns out to be a gorgeous, feisty redhead) and takes her to the prom, he's forced once again to choose between his own happiness and doing the right thing as Spider-Man.

The third arc is an adaptation of one of the most famous and popular storylines in Spider-Man's history.  When an accident forces a premature space shuttle landing, some kind of living black ooze is discovered on it.  The ooze is sent to the lab of Dr. Connors, where it somehow manages to bond itself with Peter's Spider-Man costume.  The new black costume enhances his powers considerably, but it also seems to begin affecting Peter's behavior.  He becomes short-tempered and selfish, snapping at his friends, more violent and vicious with his enemies... and even accepts Tombstone's proposal to give up fighting crime.  Ultimately, he discovers that the creature feeds on negative emotions, and has been manipulating him, and manages to separate himself from it.  But the creature doesn't stop there: it finds a new willing host in Eddie Brock, who thinks Peter and Spider-Man have ruined his life.  Now, Eddie calls himself Venom, and is out to hurt Peter and everyone he loves for revenge.

"The Spectacular Spider-Man" is a pretty well-written and intriguingly animated take on the Spider-Man character.  It borrows a lot from the comics, but also mixes in other interpretations like the "Ultimate Spider-Man" comics and the live-action movies (specifically, the origin story which is almost line for line from the first Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire flick).  The character designs are fairly simple and lack detail, but the show makes up for it with excellently-designed, fluid movements.  Spidey's battles are visually quite impressive, and that kind of stuff simply wouldn't be possible on this show's budget if the characters were loaded up with detail.

The voice cast is decent.  Josh Keaton makes a fine Peter Parker/Spider-Man, although he sounds a little too old for the character's age in this incarnation.  I probably wouldn't have cast Peter MacNicol as Dr. Octopus, either, but he does okay.  The actors are fine, but no one really knocks it out of the park in any way.  Still, the quality of the writing and animation make "Spectacular Spider-Man" a fun watch.  It's a shame the show only lasted two seasons before being canceled for, of all reasons, a contractual dispute over the character's rights ownership.