Monday, 22 October 2012

My Favourite Spider-Man

is (by far) the one from the 90s cartoon.

“Why can’t I be one of those galaxy helping superheroes?  Why do I end up in the sewers?  You don’t find the Fantastic Four in a sewer.  Or the Avengers.  Never have I seen the Avengers in a sewer.  Or the Defenders.  Well, maybe the Hulk.”
~ Spider-Man, in episode 1, Night Of The Lizard.

Here is my overview of Spider-Man, Season 1.

It’s surprisingly good.  Considering the others of its ilk.  Fantastic Four is unbearable, with poor animation and terrible scripts.  The Incredible Hulk is just boring.  And while X-Men is okay, it’s so po-faced, the animation is sometimes shoddy and any episode about Jubilee is shoot-yourself-in-face nauseating.  Whereas Spider-Man has excellent animation (only let down by its bizarre insistence on throwing in the occasional CG cityscape shot, long before computer animation on a TV budget was remotely doable, so that everything turns into amorphous blocks), the plots are always exciting, the characters are well rounded and the dialogue is witty.

It takes a couple of episodes to get used to Spider-Man’s incessant babble, but once you do, you’re hooked.  Peter never shuts up, ever, whether alone or not, and Christopher Daniel Barnes, the voice actor, handles this brilliantly and he’s genuinely funny.

So, the premise:
Peter Parker is a college student studying science in New York, a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle and, oh yeah, Spider-Man.  We don’t get his origin story, although he is briefly seen getting bitten by a spider on the starting credits.  He makes a joke about having radiation in his blood in episode 2, and has a ‘great responsibility’ flashback in episode 5, but that’s all we get this series, and in this age of endless superhero origin story films, what a relief!  His powers are an ability to stick to walls, a spider sense and strength and dexterity.  Added to this he happens to be a bit of a genius and has invented ‘spider tracers’ and ‘web shooters’, but he regularly fails to change cartridges (like every episode).

Main Characters:
  1. Peter Parker/Spider-Man ~ our hero.  I love Peter, he’s constantly entertaining.  
  2. J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle ~ Peter refers to JJ as his ‘Moriarty’.  This rivalry is a lot of fun, but more on Peter’s side than JJ’s.  In fact, JJ’s involvement with every single plot this season (apart from the Kraven one) does get a bit tiresome.  Still, he does have a vaguely decent reason for his actions: he has sworn to keep the city safe from people who hide behind masks and think they’re above the law (because his wife was shot by one).  And no matter how many times he claims Spider-Man is a criminal, he follows the truth, so he always retracts the false stories once the real evidence becomes known.  You gotta respect a newspaper man with that much integrity.
  3. Aunt May ~ Peter lives with his dithering elderly aunt, who happens to absolutely hate Spider-Man.  Although Peter moons on about her and how she has been a mother to him, her relentless and illogical hatred for Spider-Man pretty much kills any sympathy the audience can have for her.  An example of what a bitch she is: when she sees the party aftermath at Harry and Peter’s new place, she has a seizure and tells Peter he’s not ready to live alone, forcing him to move back in with her.  I am just waiting for her to die so Pete can be FREE.
  4. Joe ‘Robbie’ Robertson, editor of the Daily Bugle ~ one of the only people in the city who stands up for Spider-Man.  There’s not that much to Robbie, but his ability to stand up to JJ makes him pretty cool.
  5. Mary Jane Watson ~ a theatre major and niece of Aunt May’s best friend Anna Watson, May repeatedly tries to set Peter up with her, but Peter is always busy, although they do eventually have their blind date.  MJ is over-emotional and totally self-obsessed (her first words to Peter are ‘Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot’ which pretty much kills her for me, especially as I was already invested in his relationship with Felicia), and frankly, I just want to punch her in her smug face.  For some reason she fancies Peter, but although Peter is excited by the attention MJ gives him, he continues to date Felicia at the same time.  Which brings me to…
  6. Felicia Hardy ~ one of Peter’s classmates.  She’s rich and her mother funds science research, so she’s a bit of a target when it comes to supervillains.  Peter tutors Felicia but wants to date her.  At first she’s reluctant to change the nature of their friendship, but after he runs off in the middle of this conversation, she’s impressed that he has the guts to stand up to her.  Although she is also dating Flash ‘all hands’ Thompson, she is far more drawn to Peter’s charms and even forgives him when he leaves her in the way of a Spider Slayer (giant robot).  She also has a soft spot for Spider-Man, who rescues her twice this series.  Felicia is great.  At first seeming to be a superficial bitch, she quickly reveals deeper layers and I am totally rooting for these two to make it work.  Screw MJ.
  7. Wilson Fisk/Kingpin ~ controlling most of the crime in the world, Kingpin wants Spider-Man eradicated.  Although he is behind several plots this series, Spider-Man is unaware of his existence and even, as Peter, saves Fisk from the Hobgoblin.  Kingpin is a decent threat and a well-played character, but knowing more than the hero is always irritating for an audience and I sure wish Peter would wise up and notice what is going on.
  8. Alistair Smythe ~ to cut a long story short, Smythe’s father is (possibly) killed trying to destroy Spider-Man, so Smythe blames Spider-Man (though it is really more Kingpin’s fault, but Smythe doesn’t know that).  Kingpin hires Smythe, who is forced to work for Kingpin until he succeeds in destroying Spider-Man.  Smythe is trapped and only lives to avenge his father’s death.  He’s a decent enough sympathetic villain and his relationship with Kingpin is deliciously complicated.  He hates Kingpin and is stuck working for him and yet he craves Kingpin’s attention, as if Kingpin is his new father figure.  Part of me is rooting for Smythe.
  9. Eddie Brock/Venom ~ a reporter at the Daily Bugle, he continually loses out to both Peter and Spider-Man (which is greatly amusing), eventually getting fired.  The culmination of this arc is when Spider-Man rejects the alien symbiote and it joins with Brock, their mutual hatred of Parker turning them into Venom.  This arc is beautifully paced, building up over half the series and probably the strongest story of the season.

Recurring Characters:
  1. Norman Osborn ~ a rich industrialist and inventor, owner of Oscorp who has weird black hair with red stripes, because that’s a thing.  He hates Kingpin who is financially crippling him.  Knowing where Norman’s story is eventually headed makes him a fascinating character to watch, but boy is he a shitty dad.
  2. Harry Osborn ~ son of Norman (you can tell because he is the only other person in New York with weird stripy hair), one of Peter’s classmates, he is painfully neglected by his father and mostly follows Flash around, so shocks Peter when he asks if they can live together.  Harry is a sweetie and pretty much ignored by everyone in the show, including Peter, so despite not having much to do, makes it on to my radar as a character I’m rooting for.
  3. Flash Thompson ~ another of Peter’s classmates.  Flash is your typical jock and he hates and bullies Peter and yet he idolises Spider-Man which makes for mind-bending fun.  He is trying to date Felicia, which makes him hate Peter even more and it’s always a pleasure to watch Felicia put him in his place.  Felicia ROCKS.

This series, Peter battles:
  1. Lizard ~ Dr Curt Connors, Peter’s teacher, is an ‘expert in recombinant DNA’, a ‘reptile mutagenic genius’ and inventor of the ‘neogenic recombinator’, whatever any of that means.  He and Peter have been working on a way for mammals to grow back missing limbs like some reptiles can.  Testing it on himself, his missing arm grows back, but then he turns into a giant lizard.  Convinced the whole world would be better this way as there is no more pain, he wants to transform the entire race.  He’s not the most fascinating villain, his plan makes no sense and he has one hell of a temper, but it’s always nice to have villains who aren’t necessarily villainous.
  2. Scorpion ~ JJ hires Professor Stillwell to use the neogentic recombinator on moronic and diminutive Gargan, altering his DNA with that of a scorpion (‘the natural predator of the spider’, apparently).  Gargan beats the crap out of Spider-Man but before he can unmask him, he sees his reflection and realises he is still mutating.  Horrified he has become a freak, he turns on JJ and Stillwell, rampaging through the city.  Being stupid, he figures he can use radiation to cure himself and nearly causes a meltdown.  Gargan is quite funny but the fact that JJ creates him is way too far into stupidland.  Still, he’s a tragic character and a bit of pathos is always good.  Although his costume does look a bit rude.
  3. Mysterio ~ a mysterious man with a fish bowl for a head who can seemingly perform magic.  He frames Spider-Man for robbery and presents himself as the hero.  Turns out he’s Quentin Beck, a special effects man who was sent to jail after he caused a helicopter crash on a film and was caught by Spider-Man.  He’s gone nuts and wants revenge.  Mysterio is less fun than he sounds and it’s shocking how easily he turns EVERYONE against Spider-Man.
  4. Dr Octopus ~ he was Otto Octavius (who taught a 10-year-old Peter at science camp).  When trying to invent a cold fusion battery without safeguards, an explosion welds his metal arms to his spine (which somehow means he can control them with his mind) and he becomes Dr Octopus, obviously.  He kidnaps Felicia and JJ for ransom so he can continue his work.  I don’t know what it is about Dr Octopus (is it the embarrassing haircut?), but he really grates on my nerves.  He’s only in one episode this season and that was one too many.  His stupid ‘anything is justified if you’re doing it for science’ attitude pretty much sums up what a loon he was BEFORE he turned into a monster.  When he returns in later seasons, he isn’t even being villainous in the name of science, he’s just a jerk.  Still, it’s a good episode for Peter And Felicia.
  5. Alien symbiote ~ alien tar that has been alive since the start of time.  Brought back from a space mission, it covers Spider-Man, becoming a black version of his suit.  It augments all his powers (and can turn into different disguises) and he loves it, but he becomes more aggressive and violent, until he is nearly driven to murder.  BEST EPISODE EVER.
  6. Rhino ~ he’s presumably a guy in a rhino suit, although he seems to wear this 24 hours a day, and the suit appears to be made of bum.  Lots and lots of bum.  He’s super gross to look at.  His power is that he’s strong, in an unstoppable kind of way.  He is one of Kingpin’s grunts, he’s an idiot and there’s nothing to like about him.  Bum bum bum.  Seriously, ugh.
  7. Shocker ~ wearing a suit invented by Smythe, Shocker is another of Kingpin’s grunts.  His power is shooting electricity or something.  After both he and Rhino are nearly killed by the black-suited Spider-Man, they team up to kill him and are only stopped by Venom, who wants Spider-Man to himself.  Awwww.  Shocker has the second least personality of all the villains this series.
  8. Venom ~ rejected by Peter, the symbiote bonds with Eddie Brock.  They combine their hatred of Spider-Man to become Venom.  Really creepy threatening stuff.  This show is full of pleasant surprises.
  9. Kraven The Hunter ~ ready?  Sergei Kravinov was an African guide, hired by Dr Mariah Crawford to find her missing colleague Dr Reaves.  They fell in love.  They found Reaves, who had synthesized a miracle drug that could prevent disease and infection, but he tested it on himself and turned into a ‘feral creature’, whatever one of them is.  He gave Mariah the last vial but warned her not to use it in its current form.  She was immediately attacked by wild animals and Sergei saved her, but was fatally wounded (although there’s no blood or visible wound of any kind because this is a kids’ show).  She used the drug on him and he revived but turned feral.  She fled to New York to create an antidote, but, convinced she had another man, he followed to force her to return, which is where Spider-Man gets to join the party.  Uh, Kraven is irritatingly better than Spider-Man at everything, irritatingly completely insane and is followed around by jungle drums, also irritating.
  10. Hobgoblin ~ okay, try to keep up with this one.  Hobgoblin is an unidentified hoodlum given a suit and a glider by Norman Osborn and hired to kill Kingpin.  Hobgoblin fails when Spider-Man gets in the way, so Norman refuses to pay.  So the Hobgoblin goes to Kingpin instead and tells him of Norman’s betrayal.  Kingpin wants revenge so has Hobgoblin kidnap Harry.  When Kingpin doesn’t pay up straight away, Hobgoblin switches sides again, agreeing to get Harry back for Norman in exchange for a better glider.  He attacks and defeats Kingpin and takes over the empire, then refuses to release Harry.  What a bastard.  Hobgoblin is by far the most entertaining villain of the season.
  11. Chameleon ~ a hit man being tracked by SHIELD, he can change his appearance by taking a copy with his imaging device (magic belt).  (How this copies voices is unclear, since he takes the images from photographs.)  (MAGIC BELT.)  He has been hired by terrorists to stop a peace treaty.  An infuriating villain, because he has NO personality (they don’t even hire a voice actor) and he simply switches identities, with only Spider-Man on the ball enough to work out who is who (the Chameleon is ALWAYS the one with the GIANT MAGIC BELT).  Despite being the blandest villain so far, he is given the final episode of the season, which seems odd until we get to the scene where Spider-Man fights Peter Parker.  This is awesome cool and also a nice metaphor for the themes of the series as a whole.  But mainly AWESOME COOL.

Other characters of note but who are only in one episode this season:
  1. Nick Fury (and the moronic Agent 1 and rest of SHIELD’s bumbling soldiers) comes to catch the Chameleon (a plan which for some reason he lets JJ in on).  Spider-Man is pleased because Fury thanks him for his help.  It makes a nice change.
  2. Lieutenant Lee, a cop with a bit of a Spider-Man obsession.  When Mysterio turns the city on Spider-Man, Lee believes in Spider-Man’s innocence.  When Peter gives up his alter ego, Lee convinces him that Spider-Man would never turn his back.  She’s pretty cool and it’s always great to see decent female characters.
  3. Debra Whitman, as Peter puts it ‘the little sister I never had, or wanted.’  She’s another of Peter’s classmates and the only one who’s smarter than him.
  4. Glory Grant, JJ’s receptionist, seemingly added in the final episode just so the Chameleon has more identities to steal.

Season Arc:
The main theme this year is 'making the right choices', which is seen most strongly in the season arc of Peter learning to accept his responsibilities as Spider-Man even though it harms his life.  Character arcs include Spider-Man’s rivalry with JJ, Peter dating Felicia and MJ, Brock becoming Venom and the power struggle between Norman and Kingpin.  It’s all excellent.

So, I guess all that’s left is to check on the final score.

Final score:
  • Villains Cured Of Villainy: Lizard and Kraven.
  • Villains Put In Prison: Scorpion, Mysterio, Dr Octopus, Eddie Brock and Chameleon.  (We don’t see Rhino or Shocker get caught, but in season 2 they are in prison.)
  • Villains Dispatched In Other Ways: The alien symbiote is sent into space.
  • Villains Still On The Loose: Smythe and Hobgoblin.
  • Villains Spider-Man Doesn’t Even Know Exist: Kingpin.

“Yeah, okay, bye bye.  What a beautiful happy ending.  I feel like I’m trapped in a Danielle Steele novel.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the hero supposed to get the girl?  I saved the city from jungle boy and I’ll be lucky if Mary Jane or Felicia ever speak to me again, not to mention the fact that the animal kingdom walked all over my costume.  Never again do I get in the middle of a lovers’ spat.    Stick a fork in me, I’m done.”
~ Spider-Man, in episode 7, Kraven The Hunter.

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