If you’re new here, as you must surely be since no one outside of our friends, family, and Houde (Hey Buddy!) seem to have discovered this site yet, my name is James Mitchell and I’m the co-creator of this burgeoning webcomic. One of the exciting things for me about beginning this project is that I am provided a place to rant like a madman about comic books. Well, another place. I spend a lot of time arguing with folks on various messageboards, but this will be my first ever blog post aside from a test run before we launched. While the strip will tend to hop subjects between comic books, dating, and general life I hope to keep these posts centered on comic books. Today I feel compelled to address the apparent demise of The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series by Greg Weisman. A cartoon about comics. Close enough.
Today Marvel Animation announced the launch of Ultimate Spider-Man: The Animated series. It promises “never before seen stories” and “team ups with other fan favorite Marvel Super Heroes”. Though not explicitly stated, the title certainly seems to indicate some connection to Brian Micheal Bendis’ ongoing series Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, formerly known as Ultimate Spider-Man. With well over a hundred issues to draw from they would certainly have plenty of material to build upon and a loyal fanbase to appeal to, but I wonder just how much influence Bendis’ work will have over these stories. Will I be sitting here a year from now listening to Peter and Mary Jane talking back and forth in Bendis dialogue?
“You’re not Spider-Man.”
“I totally am Spider-Man!”
I guess I’m just a little worried about how Ultimate is this show is going to be. I don’t read Ultimate Comics. I stopped reading Ultimate Spider-Man in particular around the time they tried to make a Clone Saga that wouldn’t suck. I have to say, I didn’t feel like they succeeded in that venture. But to be honest my frustration with that series had been simmering for some time before that. Spider-Man never seemed to solve his own problems, established villains were “Ultimized” as jokes and beaten in mere panels, his supporting cast seemed to shrink to just MJ and Aunt May, and the drama in Peter and MJ’s relationship seemed forced at times. I don’t mean to torpedo this project before it even launches. I mean, they’ve only gotten so far as the announcement and here I am nay-saying. I guess I speak from the frustration I feel about this announcement almost certainly putting the final nail in the coffin of Greg Weisman’s fantastic Spider-Man cartoon.
Ultimate Spider-Man’s mission statement was to modernize the Spider-Man mythology for a new, and presumably younger, audience that wouldn’t want to wade through decades of confusing continuity. In many ways I feel that Weisman accomplished this goal better than Bendis ever did. Gwen Stacy acted like Gwen Stacy instead of becoming a streetwise, knife toting instant-orphan. Mary Jane retained her early party girl demeanor with a hint of the deep, compassionate person she would later become rather than being transformed into “brainy Janey” for no apparent reason. Harry Osborn gets to establish himself as Peter’s best friend and a character you empathize with in his own right so that when his life goes horribly awry you actually feel for him, rather than appearing in a handful of issues before being shipped off and returning as a big orange hulk for Peter to melodramatically angst over.
Even minor supporting characters were given an incredible amount of depth for what is ostensibly a children’s cartoon. Flash Thompson was a merciless bully towards Peter most of the time, but he’s brave, proud, and had the integrity to forfeit his prized state championship when he learned that a teammate had cheated to win it. He even goes out of his way to help his favorite punching bag Pete get out of a (symbiote induced) funk when he sees that Peter is going to alienate his friends. Flash from Ultimate Spider-Man was an unrepentant dick who was the butt of a few rather unfunny gay jokes. And that’s about as far as he ever got through 100 issues. Rand Robertson, Sally Avril, Liz Allen, Sha Shan Nguyen, Hobie Brown, and Glory Grant round out Pete’s schoolmates. And each of them (with the exception of poor, running gag Hobie) are fleshed out, unique characters. Betty Brant, Ned Lee (not Leeds in this cartoon), Frederick Foswell, Robbie Robinson, and J. Jonah Jameson are all present, interesting, and in character. Jonah is more entertaining in this cartoon than he’s been in YEARS in any of the comics.
The villains in this show were simply fantastic. Their motives and methods are explored thoroughly. Characters who will become villains are introduced and developed weeks or months before they begin to wreak havoc on Spider-Man’s world in garish costumes. You feel true empathy for some of these characters while feeling the appropriate contempt for others. The Green Goblin subplot in particular takes a full two seasons to draw to a wonderfully satisfying conclusion that answers all the questions and establishes him as a truly frightening arch-nemesis.
Of course, any good Spider-Man story needs a strong portrayal of Peter Parker and Josh Keaton doesn’t disappoint. His voice alternately delivers strength, vulnerability, humor, sadness, desperation, and determination. Spider-Man is written as a fully realized and flawed individual trying his very best to be the hero his Uncle would want him to be. He stumbles from time to time both in the mask and out of it, but has the inner strength to do the right thing even when he’s personally worse off for it. He’s a wonderful protagonist that you can’t help but root for. THIS is the Peter Parker that Sam Raimi in the movies and so many comic writers throughout the years have failed to accurately capture in their attempts to make him into an “everyman”. Everyman apparently meaning total schmuck to most writers.
This show was visually unique, the action scenes were dynamic, and the voice acting was spot on. The writing was funny, clever, and managed to please even die hard Spidey fans by respecting the source material. Every part of this show was clearly crafted by people who care about these characters and wanted to see these classic stories reach a new generation. If Marvel really wants to get more youth interested in their properties then canceling this series was the wrong move. The idea of never seeing the Hobgoblin storyline that they began to put into place for next season towards the end of last season truly saddens me. If you’ve never watched the show, pick it up on DVD (or pirate it off the internet, what the hell do I care). You won’t be disappointed. Those of you who think I’m ranting about the wrong Greg, stay tuned. I’ll get to Rucka’s decision to leave DC soon enough, but right now I just had to get some stuff off my chest. I hope you return work soon, Mr. Weisman. I loved Gargoyles as a kid, I loved Spider-Man as an adult, and I can’t wait to see your next project.