Let me start by saying it’s important to remember (now more than ever) that Spider-Man is not like any Avengers team-mate you’ll ever meet. It’s why so many of us disliked his tenure on the super team over the past few years, because even when he was a team player, he was still an obvious solo act. And no amount of Earth-shattering catastrophes or leadership and combat skills will ever stop Peter Parker from being a snarky improviser at the drop a hat, or the… uh, sound of a “thwip”.
With that in mind, this is purposely a different animal than The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and it’s in that where we see Marvel’s first real counter-attack to DC Comics‘ own block of animated programming on a rival network. Marvel thought ahead of their competitors by virtue of having an Avengers film and a Spider-Man film in production for some time. Buzz from one medium will power the other; children are definitely going to want to see the new Avengers movie mere hours after waking up to watch the cartoon, and the same goes for Spider-Man. This is especially important due to the shaky confidence of so many movie-goers and casual fans in the upcoming reboot. The fact of the matter is, the weak opinion of those casual fans isn’t going to matter when they’ve already bought the tickets to see the film because their children and young family members are clamoring for it. And it will be easy for them to do considering how fun this “new” incarnation of Spidey really is.
I very much miss The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon. It was a dynamic, streamlined turn for the cartoon Spider-Man that served more to update his original 60s incarnation than to serve or comment on any current comic version or story arc. By being such, it actually served as a better ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ than this new series does. But that’s not a strike against this new show by any means.
Film Roman has taken cues from their two other Marvel endeavors to provide an animation style that adjusts itself depending on the character instead of having to model established characters using a single style. This is equal parts interesting, adventurous, brilliant, and annoying; the supervillains look like they just stepped out of the Avengers cartoon, but Peter’s face (under the mask) is perhaps a bit too Super Hero Squad-esque. They even managed to toss in some CG renders for a few featured vehicles, which calls back to Marvel’s Iron Man: Armored Adventures. All that said, the animation as a whole is actually better than their callbacks in many respects (check out Agent Coulson, for example), even when it doesn’t need to be, so certain style choices are only a minor bumps in the road. The differing design work actually aids in scene/action construction and moment’s of character building, which is why I used the word brilliant — it’s something you only notice if you’re looking for it.
To compliment the animation, the voice is really well done. Just when I thought I’d miss Josh Keaton, Drake Bell does a great job conveying both Peter’s mild awkwardness and Spidey’s natural sarcasm. And there are some wonderful heavy hitters lining out the supporting cast, with the spotlight going to J.K. Simmons and Clark Gregg reprising their roles as J. Jonah Jameson and Agent Phil Coulson respectively, doing great work. Tom Kenny does great work here too as Dr. Octopus and Dr. Connors — key characters who are so different that it’s hard to believe they come from one actor. A great addition is Greg Cipes as Iron Fist; just hearing him say “Namaste” before/after charging into a fight will make you smile.
Iron Fist is just one of a few new teammates Spider-Man has been burdened with courtesy of Nick Fury. It’s with this addition, apart from the “Ultimate” name, this version of Fury, the addition of Agent Coulson, and the inclusion of a younger, more energetic May Parker, that this is not an animated Ultimate Spider-Man comic by any real means. To that end, the spider that bit Peter is said to be radioactive, not genetically enhanced via Oscorp‘s Oz wonder drug; Peter is in high school yes, but apparently not interning as webmaster for the Daily Bugle, etc. It’s changes like that, along with the addition of equal-aged teammates, that makes one realize that somewhere along the way choices where made to make this more the quintessential Spider-Man animated program rather than a nicely-packaged adaptation. While this may seem ridiculous, it makes for easier, funnier, more fluid storytelling. The only rules the writers have to follow are those applied in the show (and whatever marketing requires), which could be quite a lot to work with. And Marvel certainly has learned a lot from DC’s previous animated exploits.
I say that because, well, it’s obvious considering the creative forces behind it: The Avengers cartoon? The Marvel-ized Justice League cartoon(s). Ultimate Spider-Man? Well, that’s easy… it’s a Marvel-ized Teen Titans. Complete with Anime-esque observations/declarations, and even the young cast of heroes defending a city. Nova seems a good Robin stand-in, White Tiger is Raven, Power Man is definitely Cyborg, Spider-Man – both powerful and naive – passes as Starfire, and Iron Fist is Beast Boy, complete with Greg Cipes‘ voice work! This isn’t a problem, it works. And as so many other shows and animated programs have shown, just because this is what was delivered to us initially doesn’t mean it’s not going to change rather quickly; look at how The Clone Wars and The Batman adjusted and evolved over time, due in no small part to fan outcry.
This is going to be a fun show, and I honestly hope it outlives the required amount of time to sell The Amazing Spider-Man to theater patrons and eventual home media consumers. Things are amping up in the Avengers cartoon, and we can only hope right now that it’s quality spills over into this show in some form or fashion. Unlike Cartoon Network, Disney XD does fans a solid by running the block late in the morning to the afternoon, and again during prime time on Sundays, for now until the eventual scheduling change. That’s more than enough chances for DVRing or direct viewing. And before anyone flies off the handle about the nature of the show, just remember how many team-ups, crossovers, and outlandish cartoons we’ve had featuring the web-head and – as always – enjoy it for what it is. It’s a fun time.