The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"The Spectacular Spider-Man" - The Complete First Season

Okay, I realize I am reviewing a DVD that came out over five months ago, but bear with me. I wouldn't be doing this if the series was not... spectacular.

I am holding in my hands my copy "The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete First Season." I bought my copy at the Best Buy in Northridge, California the day it was released. I actually had to walk there from the house I was renting a room in because it was about a week after I got into a terrible car accident which left my car in the shop for a month. But I didn't mind, the exercise was good for me, and it was this particular show.

A little background on my personal connection with the web-head. I've been reading Spider-Man comic books since I was old enough to read. My very first comic book was a reprinting of "Amazing Spider-Man #39-40," which was when John Romita Sr. took over the art duties from Steve Ditko. It was also significant because it was the first time we learned the identity of the Green Goblin. Ever since then, I've been reading the character off and on, but always keeping up, and never abandoning him.

I have mixed feelings on the movies. I am that rare breed who enjoyed the first movie more than the second one, and I've already mentioned my problems with the third in a previous entry. But, although I have issues, I think the movies had a mostly positive affect on the character. Although I am not upset about the reboot.

But, as far as television goes, I don't think he ever really had a great TV show. The 1967 cartoon was well before my time, so I'll admit my own bias in that it is dated and beyond cheesy. The 1981 solo cartoon was goofy, but fun... although not the slightest bit sophisticated. I know some people will hit me for saying this but "Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends" didn't do anything for me. It wasn't terrible, but, I just don't like cartoons from the 1980's. And then there was the Fox Kids "Spider-Man" cartoon, which I will admit that I despise. I barely saw any of "Spider-Man Unlimited" and the 2003 MTV cartoon just handcuffed itself too much to the movies and didn't have that sense of fun.

So, in early 2007, I heard there was going to be yet another cartoon based on Spider-Man. My first thought was a giant "meh." Then my friend, Greg Weisman, of "Gargoyles" fame told me that he got the gig. Let's just say I got a lot more excited after that.

But enough about me, let's talk about this DVD.

First and foremost, this series is one giant love letter to Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr. The stories have that classic feel while taking place in a contemporary setting. These are Peter Parker's High School years, and while I know some people groaned when they heard that, and accused Weisman of "kiddifying" Spider-Man, keep in mind, this is where Lee and Ditko started out with the character. This is where Brian Michael Bendis decided he wanted to explore his interpretation of the character also. Weisman doesn't "kiddify" Peter Parker by depicting his High School years anymore than Joss Whedon "kiddified" Buffy Summers by starting her out in High School. So, now that I have fed Greg's ego by comparing him to Joss Whedon, let's move on.

The theme of the series is "The Education of Peter Parker." Peter starts out as that teenager who thinks he knows everything, I fault we all had as teenagers which the more mature of us have grown out of. He has never faced a supervillain, he has never faced defeat beyond Flash Thompson shoving him into a locker, and despite his Uncle Ben dying, life hasn't been that rough for him. You get the feeling his idea of being Spider-Man consists of beating up some hoods, every now and then, maintaining his straight A-average, and now being a big man on campus. A hilarious scene where he asks out cheerleader, and Bitch Monster from Hell, Sally Avril shows that he is anything but.

As the series progresses, Peter learns not only what it is to be a hero, but what it is to be a man. He learns and grows as his life gets monumentally more difficult. Whether it's helping Aunt May pay the bills, battling the rise of supervillains in Manhattan, coping with his best friend's drug addiction, to realizing that girls actually do like him and somehow that does not make his life any easier.

Peter Parker is played by Josh Keaton who brings this wonderfully iconic humanity to the character. All the facets are there, from the awkward nerd to the wise cracking superhero. It's definitely not hyperbole to say that Josh Keaton is Spider-Man. I've never seen the character brought to life by any previous actor in such a way.

Lacey Chabert is wonderful as Gwen Stacy, a character who has always been kind of nebulous to many people as she has previously been best known for her infamous death in the comic books. But Chabert really brings her to life and reminds us all that Gwen is a real person, not just a corpse.

James Arnold Taylor's Harry Osborn is someone I can really relate to. He wants to be the cool guy, but he tries way too hard. Of course he is overly compensating thanks to his father destroying any sense of confidence and self-worth that he has. As I said, I can relate.

And then there's Vanessa Marshall as Mary Jane Watson. Mary Jane is a very popular and iconic character from the comic books who has, unfortunately, never been depicted outside of the comic books before. Oh, there have been characters named Mary Jane Watson, but all they had in common was red hair and the name. Not so, here. This Mary Jane leaps right off the page and is every bit the hot redhead that John Romita drew in the 60's. Marshall's performance really captures her as a confident, sexy young girl with substance who probably knows a lot more than she lets on.

The rest of the supporting cast is here with Daran Norris as a hilariously over the top, but all too human J. Jonah Jameson. Deborah Strang is Aunt May. Josh LeBarr plays Flash Thompson as anything but a one dimensional jock. The aforementioned Sally Avril, played by Grey DeLisle, is just hilarious as is Phil LaMarr as her boyfriend, Rand Robertson.

And then, there are the villains.

Kevin Michael Richardson plays L. Thompson Lincoln alias Tombstone alias the Big Man of Crime. He is so cold, sophisticated and chilling in his performance as New York's crime lord who wants nothing more than to maintain a status quo that is evaporating very fast. In his folly, he hastens it when he makes a deal with Norman Osborn to manufacture supervillains to keep Spider-Man distracted. The full consequences of his deal with Osborn won't be revealed until the second season.

Also climbing up to seize power is Peter MacNicol as Dr. Octopus. Once a weak and timid man, now one of Manhattan's most dangerous men with eyes on power extending beyond this city. Arrogant, power hungry, and somewhat unhinged, the good doctor is a memorable villain.

Then there is the nefarious Green Goblin, a figure who is, perhaps, an even greater threat to Tombstone's power than Spider-Man. The Goblin is completely insane, but always three steps ahead of everyone else. A trickster in the vein of Loki, and sold by an amazing performance from Steve Blum. Probably the darkest of Spider-Man's enemies, especially when his identity is tragically discovered... or is it?

Finally, rounding out the top villains is Ben Issac Diskin as Venom. Probably the most controversial since, to get this character to work, Weisman and his team had to adapt the character into something that actually makes sense. He's still Eddie Brock, he still merges with an alien symbiote. But his motives for hating Spider-Man, unlike the comic books, finally have an internal logic. It's just heartbreaking to see Eddie go from being Peter's defacto older brother to one of his most bitter enemies.

But Tombstone, Venom, Doc Ock, and the Goblin aren't the only villains here. Vulture is here, voiced by Freddy Kruger himself, Robert Englund. Crispin Freeman plays a tragic incarnation of Electro who comes to see Dr. Octopus as a father figure. Dee Bradley Baker brings us the good Dr. Curt Connors and the beastly Edward Hyde that is the Lizard. John DiMaggio is the Sandman, a petty crook with a lot of power, interested only in his big score. Clancy Brown is his partner turned brute of a supervillain, the Rhino. Man of a thousand voices, Jeff Bennett, brings us the mercenary Montana of the Enforcers, who is now the Shocker.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg in this cast of thousands.

The animation on this show is stunning. Previous cartoons featured very detailed models resulting in slow, clumsy, animation. But Wwhile Sean Galloway's models took some getting used to, the beauty in them shines in animation. Brilliantly storyboarded, and very fast. This Spider-Man moves, and he moves fast. Just watch as he battles the Green Goblin for the first time:



Did you like that? Trust me, it looks even more stunning on my big, HD-TV. The episodes are crisp, and beautiful on these two discs. The sound is very sharp, so you get to hear every single sound effect along with a terrific soundtrack. Which brings me to...

The theme song. It's very fun, very catchy, and it will never leave your head. But don't worry, it's a song you won't mind having stuck in there.

There are two special features on the second disc. The first is "Spider-Man Re-Animated" which delves into the development of the series, with interviews with Greg Weisman, Vic Cook, and most of the series voice cast. The second is "Stylizing Spidey" which delves into the animation process with Sean Galloway, Vic Cook, Greg Weisman, and various other members of the crew. While I would have liked an audio commentary, I definitely enjoyed what was there.

So, that's the DVD in a great, big nutshell. I hope that in a few months, I'll be reviewing "The Complete Second Season," although that set has yet to be announced.

In my opinion, this was the best animated series of the decade. If you love Spider-Man, you will love this series. If you're not familiar with Spider-Man, but are curious to learn more about him, this is the perfect place to start. So, if you don't own a copy yet, rush out to your nearest store, or order from Amazon.com.

Click on link below the image below to purchase it.

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Buy It Now

2 comments:

  1. I don't know what i can add to this except for a hearty "Hell Yeah!"

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  2. Though this is now my favorite "Spider-Man" cartoon too, I think the only one I outright can't stand is the 60s series. The song is fine, but the cartoon itself is terrible. Peter's voice makes him sound like a 40 year old businessman. I liked Dan Gilvezan's performance in "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends." I realize that the show was highly silly, but I have a big soft spot for it largely because of that. (My husband isn't home so I can't check with him, but I believe Wolverine's first spoken line in this or any television series was "How you doing? Want a piece of fruit?") Even the 90s Fox series had its good moments, most of which were courtesey of the voice cast. Christopher Daniel Barnes was a good Spider-Man and I can't completely hate a show that includes Ed Asney as J. Jonah Jameson and a Neil Ross Goblin. But it was unsufferably ugly most of the time. I remember one down shot of two characters walking down a hall which was so hideous it made me ill.

    Maybe I'm coming at it from a unique position because I was already familiar with Cheeks's work from "Hellboy Animated," but I still don't get why so many people were and are so up in arms about the look of the show. OK, maybe I can understand, since I hated the New Batman Adventures designs when I first saw them. It's not what people were used to, I can sympathize some with that. But it looks so good and moves so well, I don't see how people can still be complaining. Much of what I hear comes down to people thinking that a simpler style means the animators are being lazy. Animators not being lazy, by their reckoning, seems to be anime. Somehow, these people seem to miss the fact that television anime usually makes up for its level of detail by having scenes where the characters give lengthy internal monologues and the only movement is a single, repeated blink or twitch, scenes that bore me to tears.

    Got my copy when it came out. Like you, I'm hoping a season two set is on the way.

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