Spotlight: Ultimate Spider-Man Season One
I found out something over the last year or two that I never realized, I like Spider-Man. As a kid I was never drawn to him, but something has connected me with him in my adult life. I’m not sure what that says about me as a not quite 30 year old man or hell what it says about my childhood. One thing I did get behind back then was Fox’s Spider-Man cartoon from the 1990’s. Awhile back I revisited the entire series and I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised how well it held up.
This lead me to investigate and wade through the streams of Spidey related cartoons that were created after Fox’s ended. I decided to go with the most current cartoon, Ultimate Spider-Man. It’s still airing (season 2 as of the writing of this article) and season 1 was on Netflix. I’ve heard good enough things about it, plus there were Lego sets. What more did they need to sway me?
When I first dove in I wasn’t sure what to think. The series starts with Peter already being Spider-Man which is much appreciated. No matter how much they try to change up Spidey’s origin or update it, the simple fact is we’ve seen it done to death. I realize this is a cartoon that’s aimed for new viewers and young kids, but I’m glad they shied away from it. For those who are unfamiliar it’s as simple as one sentence, “Peter Parker got bit by a radioactive spider and developed powers” that’s it. Anyway, the show centers around his high school life as a teenager and the balancing act of being a superhero along with Spider-Man mythos mainstays Mary Jane, Harry Osborne, Flash Thompson and Aunt May.
That’s where things get weird or interesting depending on how you look at it. The series loosely inhabits the Ultimate Marvel universe but also a whole new continuity unto itself. Nick Fury (Samuel L. style) wants Spidey to join S.H.I.E.L.D. and learn some discipline. After reluctantly accepting he is placed on a team with other teenage heroes including Nova, Luke Cage, White Tiger and my boy Danny Rand aka Iron Fist. This mix of heroes to promote on the show is equal parts baffling and intriguing. Personally, I’m pleased. I think all 4 are interesting enough characters in the Marvel U that could use some more mainstream exposure. To top it off all of them are sentenced to go to the same High School with Parker as well as Agent Coulson posing as the school principle. Sadly, we get very little background on Spidey’s team or about the people underneath the masks. Hopefully this is rectified in future seasons.
Threaded throughout the series is the idea that Norman Osborne wants to duplicate the experiment that produced Spider-Man and with Doc Ock under his employ he attempts to do so in any way possible, most notably creating Venom and eventually the Green Goblin. However, other than that most of the villains you’d associated with Spidey’s rogues gallery are mysteriously absent. In their place is Doctor Doom, Juggernaut, Loki and Sabretooth but curiously almost none save Dock Ock truly have a reoccurring role. On the flipside, the heroes featured are equally strange. All I can think is that they were both trying to capitalize on the Avengers cartoon that it was paired with as well as the success of the Avengers and other Marvel movies. Guest appearances include Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Doctor Strange, Wolverine and Captain America.
Much has also been made about the show’s sense of humor and sight gags. While I’ll admit at first I was kind of turned off by it, it took a while but it grew on me. Spider-Man has been known for being a jokester, but the show approaches it on almost a Family Guy level. Spidey breaks the 4th wall constantly (even more than Zack Morris) and it seems like everything he says will get a cut away to an accurate depiction of said reference or joke. For instance during the first few episodes virtually all the fight scenes started with health bars appearing over the two characters and a timer mimicking tournament style fighting games. When you’re not use to it, the frequency in which the gags happen can be a bit overwhelming. It made me think that kids today must not have an attention span at all, but eventually your brain grows accustomed to it.
The voice acting on the show is strong boasting Clark Gregg reprising his roles as Agent Coulson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as J.K. Simmons voicing J. Jonah Jameson whom he portrayed in the Sam Rami Spider-Man movies. The animation style (which I’m not exactly sure what to call it) is sharp and fluid. It simultaneously looks slightly retro and top of the line new. Whatever it is, I’m a fan.
With the talents of Brian Michael Bendis and Paul Dini on board, it’s easy to get behind. I think the key though when going into this is not to expect classic traditional Spider-Man. I know Spidey in the regular Marvel Universe is an Avenger, but I will always think of him as a solo act. It was hard at first to adjust to him constantly interacting with a team and answering to Nick Fury. Yet if you take the show for what it is, while rather slight it’s still enjoyable. It may be the Spider-Man you want, but like Iron Man Noir it’s a complete reimaging with only some of the basics intact. It won’t ever replace the 90’s animated series as the definitive Spidey cartoon but it’s a unique twist on an old formula.
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