I've reviewed games up to this point, but I'd like to try out something different this time around.
I've always been a huge Spider-Man mark. I spent my childhood reading and collecting comic books, mostly Marvel, and Spider-Man was always my number one favorite character. Though the charm of the character actually had less to do with the superhero alter ego Spider-Man and more with Peter Parker, the man behind the mask.
I've seen all Spider-Man moves that have been made, even the horrible pre-Raimi films from way back when, but I haven't been that satisfied with even the modern versions. They've had their moments, and I'd probably name Raimi's Spider-Man 2 as my favorite, but they've all missed some of the important ingredients that make Spider-Man Spider-Man to me.
I think a big reason for my general dislike of the films is the fact that none of them have really nailed Peter's character all that well. Raimi's Peter Parker was too much of a melancholy, dejected nerd, whereas the Peter in Mark Webb's movies is too much of a cool skateboarding kid, with little to relations to the Peter Parker character at all, outside of his name and superpowers.
The Peter Parker in the comic books is this mix of a brilliant scientist nerd and a witty sarcastic superhero that blends together better than any other comic book character, in my opinion, but you can't just put together those two personality traits and expect magic, there is an art to it.
A while back I was really, really sick with a flu that I thought was going to kill me. I was basically bed ridden for a week with nothing to do, so I thought what the heck, I'll watch the entire Spider-Man animated series from the 90s, since I have all five seasons on DVD. If I'm going to die, I might as well die happy.
Re-watching the series made me realize just how well the Animated Series, written by the brilliant John Semper, Jr., nailed the Peter Parker character, and mastered the art of building the character the right way, getting it right with all the nuances necessary.
There are also lots of other reasons I love the series, and considered it to be better than the movies - in fact I'd say that each individual season is better than any of the movies.
The early to mid 90s was a dark time for the Spider-Man comic books; a lot of the kids who grew up reading comic books had grown up, and Marvel was having a tough time following the trends. The struggle resulted in an attempt at a more mature Spider-Man, one that was a bit darker and grittier. It was a failed experiment since it stripped Spider-Man from the fun, playful qualities that people had fallen in love with.
Enter Spider-Man The Animated Series.
Existing in its own canon, The Animated Series was allowed to be classic Spider-Man: it involved the classic villains, Spider-Man was his old school self with all the oneliners and clever comebacks, and it had this feel of a 60s Spider-Man comic, but with a successful update.
It's not perfect, it has its flaws, but it's still pretty damn good, so let's take a look at what makes Spider-Man The Animated Series so enjoyable, even to this day.
John Semper, Jr. grew up a massive fan of Spider-Man. He wasn't just someone who kinda liked it as a kid - he loved it. And when he got hired to hired to work as the head writer for the animated series, it was a dream come to true, according to him. The love really shows throughout the series, since every character is loyal interpretation of those in the comics. They're not carbon copies, however, and new twists are often added to them. This is a good thing, since it keeps things fresh, while still feeling familiar, so a fan of the comics will have something to look forward to, while feeling at home at the same time.
Massive praise also needs to be given to Christopher Daniel Barnes who voices Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Barnes is still, in my head, the voice of Spider-Man, and no amount of Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield can change that. I haven't seen the Civil War movie which features yet another Peter Parker. Barnes, also a massive fan, understands the character and really knows how to play both Peter Parker and Spider-Man - which are slightly different, and that is also a thing the movies have gotten wrong. Whether or not Parker's in his tights and mask fighting bad guys has an effect on his confidence, and this is well portrayed by Barnes.
The rest of the cast doesn't deserve any less praise, however, since I don't think there is a single bad voice acting performance in the series, at least not from the meaningful characters. I just get a personal kick out of the fact that even though it's a kid's show, the actors put work into their performances and seem to have a good time, even though they probably would have gotten the paycheck with less effort, too. I don't watch TV nowadays, but I do remember some god awful voice performances in kid's shows back in the day that I thought were terrible even as a five year old.
The actors in Spider-Man The Animated Series take their roles seriously, and I commend them for that. Even if a superhero show calls for some extremely cheesy lines at times, but it's really just a part of the genre.
Mark Hamill, as far as his voice acting career goes, is best known for magnificently voicing the Joker in Batman The Animated Series, but his role as the Hobgoblin the Spider-Man series deserves just as much praise.
The stories are often familiar from the comic books, but Semper adds his own touch on things, and moves the familiar plot lines along to a new direction, so nothing is directly copied from the comics, either. I'd like to note that when Spider-Man gets his black alien costume in the comic books, it was never canon that the suit affected his behavior - a plot line used in Raimi's Spider-Man 3. It was actually in the Animated Series where that aspect of the story was written, and it's since become this accepted canon that the black suit turned Peter into an asshole.
The cast of villains is a Spider-Man who's who from the Lizard to the Chameleon to Dr. Octopus to Hobgoblin and Green Goblin to Electro to Venom and Carnage.. the classic villains are pretty much all there. There are some voids, but at the same the Animated Series manages to take some less interesting characters such as Morbius and make them both interesting and crucial characters to the storylines.
Semper often takes a familiar origin story for a villain, adds a new twist to it, and ends up with a completely fresh and fun take on a villain that could even be considered boring in the comic books.
Speaking of origin stories, I love the fact that the shows does not start with an origin story.
One of my biggest pet peeves with superhero movies is the fact that they start with the damn origin story that usually takes about half of the movie, never adds anything new or interesting into the character, is always stuff that we know already, and prevents new stories being told. It's always the origin story for about one half of the movie, and then an hour is dedicated to the actual new story of the movie. I hate it, and with Spider-Man we've endured this twice already. There's no reason to ever tell the whole origin story instead of a quick flashback type recap at the beginning.
Spider-Man The Animated Series starts with a new story, the viewers is taken straight into the action, and it's very much welcomed. A recap of how Peter got his powers is shown later on in the series, but it was never anything that was even necessary.
The stories themselves are very good, as well. Instead of featuring only stand alone episodes, each season is a big story arc that's split into episodes - and the seasons also interact with each other, so the show is one big story overall. This also differs from a lot of other kid's shows that are only stand alone episodes that have little to nothing to do with each other. Semper himself has said that he considered each season one big movie, and I really like that approach. The fact that you are expected to recall stories that took place in season 2, while watching season 4, makes it feel like the show doesn't insult your intelligence.
Also, in the end, at its core, the story is about Peter Parker. Being Spider-Man is just something he happens to do. This is also how the comic books are, and what I feel is a big reason for the character's success. The man behind the mask is the main character, not the mask. The best stories are the ones where the villains really interact with Peter on a personal level, and being Spider-Man interferes with Peter's personal life. I think the movies don't really understand this aspect of Spider-Man. Yes, the villains have targeted Peter's loved ones in Mary Jane and Gwen, but it needs to go deeper than that. The main character in the movies has always been Spider-Man, not Peter Parker.
In addition to the villains, a bunch of superheroes also make cameos from Wolverine to Daredevil to Captain America. This adds a great layer to the universe in which Spider-Man operates, since it doesn't feel like he's the only person in the world with superpowers fighting the villains.
The biggest positive of the series is the fact that Spider-Man's character is funny. Spider-Man's oneliners are as crucial a character trait as the fact that he ca climb walls. It's even been explained a bunch of times: Spider-Man gets nervous, so he jokes around in order to fool himself into being confident. This is something that's never really been explored in the movies, and it's my number one reason for not being able to get into them.
The show is not without its flaws, however.
As it often is the case with art on a major, commercial platform, executives can get in the way - and such was the case with this show, as well.
John Semper, Jr. butted heads with TV network executives and Marvel a bunch of times during the show's run, and was sometimes forced to make changes to his stories to please the higher ups. This lead to things like introducing the Hobgoblin before the Green Goblin, even though the fans of Spider-Man know that the Hobgoblin got his weapons and persona from the Green Goblin, not the other way around. Things like these were done pretty well, with satisfactory explanations, but it does leave one wanting to see Semper's original stories unfold the way he had planned them.
The pacing of the show can be a bit ADD at times with the writing attempting to squeeze in as much stuff as possible per 20 minute episode. The character can be mourning a death one moment, then celebrating someone's birthday the next. There's rarely a lot of time given for the viewer to let things sink in.
With it being a kid's show, it's also heavily censored; no punches to the face were allowed, guns had to fire lasers, Morbius the Living Vampire craved for plasma instead of blood, et cetera.
There's a common misconception about the show that it was censored more heavily than other contemporary cartoons at the time, which is not the case, but it does take away from the action from time to time when it's clear that the writing had to develop work arounds for stuff that they weren't allowed to show.
Though I have to say that I do like a line from John Semper, Jr. where he says that a lot of kids watched the show on Saturday mornings, so he was, in a way, responsible for raising those kids for 20 minutes every week, so he is pleased that he was able to tell his stories without going overboard with violence, or having the characters curse.
I think it's a really sweet, responsible look at writing a show for kids.
Spider-Man also narrates his thoughts at every single turn, as a vehicle to make things obvious for the kids, which can get grating at times. The narration happens in the comics, as well, and it is a character trait, but they could have eased on explaining some of the more obvious things. Especially since there's a lot of stuff in the show that doesn't treat the viewer as an idiot.
I had a great time re-watching the show, I took almost no breaks and it was the only thing that made my week long sickness bearable. I can recommend it even to older people, even though it is clearly made for kids. Of course it's campy, but it's a superhero show, so it comes with the territory. If one can look past the censorship, some of the more cheesy stuff and Peter narrating his thoughts constantly, underneath all that is a very entertaining show that has almost no dull moments at all - that is, if you don't get seizures because of the hyper fast pacing of the writing.
English is not my native language, and I owe a lot of my English to the fact that we got this show in Finland back in the day in English with subtitles, so I was able to listen to the pretty simple English while reading the subtitles, getting a pretty good grasp of the language. I learned more watching this show than I ever did at school.
Did you watch this show as a kid? Let me know.