We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
This is THE Spider-Man cartoon. How’s that for an opening line? There’s no real reason to bury the lead on this one because it’s just too damn good. The Spectacular Spider-Man is Marvel’s latest animated outing for the webslinger. The first season aired on CW 4Kids before the second season was relegated to Disney XD. This show and Transformers Animated made Saturday mornings fun for me for the first time in years (well, I’m sure my DVR enjoyed the morning, at least). But what made it so special?
Animation veterans Victor Cook and Greg Weisman (creator of Gargoyles!) developed a show that “gets it.” As much as I enjoyed Fox’s Spider-Man show back in the day, it has not aged well. This one is poised to stand the test of time in a serious way. Once again, we see Peter in high school balancing all the teen angsty stuff against his double life, often with less than stellar results. It’s very Ultimate Spider-Man in all the right ways without being a straight adaptation of Bendis’s 10-year-old relaunch. The show borrows heavily from the new comic, but also draws elements from classic Lee/Ditko Spidey and the feature films and has plenty of new ideas to keep things fresh.
Each season is broken down into very distinct arcs, much like a comic book, with an overall plot driving the season toward its conclusion. Rather than giving Curt Conners four minutes of screen time before he goes all Lizard, we get to know him first, making his turn that much more tragic. Eddie Brock plays a supporting role almost from the very beginning before becoming Venom. In fact, if I had one complaint about the show, it’s that Eddie’s turn to the dark side came a bit too fast for my liking. Yes, he had reason, but he went from frat brother to psychopath like someone flipped a switch. All was forgiven once the Venom story really hit its stride, but it still rings hollow in the beginning for me. The rest of the show, on the other, is nearly flawless. The classic mystery of the Green Goblin’s identity is modernized beautifully, as are all the interpretations on classic Spidey villains.
On the home front, Peter has his Aunt May, Jonah Jameson, Norman and Harry Osborn, and a bevy of beauties vying for his attention. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be hoping for a pumpkin bomb to blow Liz Allan to pieces by the middle of season two, but then again, maybe not. Regardless, there’s more than enough drama out of the costume to keep you interested whilst waiting for the spandex-clad shenanigans to begin anew. In fact, sometimes the action at the school is even more engaging than the action at the warehouse.
Josh Keaton stars as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and heads a phenomenal voice cast featuring seasoned pros like Clancy Brown, Phil LaMarr, Kath Souce, Steve Blum and John Di Maggio along with cameos from the likes of Robert Englund, Nikki Cox, and Tricia Helfer (returning to her role as Black Cat). Another surprise is Lacey Chabert as Gwen Stacey. Apparently she does a ton of voice work and somehow that’s managed to slip under my radar.
But what of the action? It’s great, too. Remember in the ’90s cartoon where Spider-Man would never throw a punch? All he did was jump around and hope something would fall on the bad guy. Not here. The action sequences in Spectacular are, well, pretty spectacular. Sometimes, they’re downright brutal. The animation is fluid and smooth, and the fights are beautifully designed. This Spider-Man fights like Spider-Man should fight. It’s watching the comics come to life in a way very similar to that phenomenal train fight in Spider-Man 2, only EVERY fight is that good. The writers pulled out some new tricks for Spidey’s arsenal I’d never seen before, and I have seen a LOT of Spider-Man.
The solid voice cast alongside sleek character designs and some of the best action and direction I’ve seen on TV in more than a decade make this a must-see. Luckily, the first season is available on DVD. The second season will be soon, but they insist upon releasing the individual arcs first as “volumes” for some inane reason. Wait for the full season and snatch it up. At 20 bucks, you can’t afford NOT to see it.