Sunday, April 1, 2012


Since the 1960s, Spider-Man hasn't gone a decade without some form of show on TV. In 1966, there was the cartoon that gave us the recognizable theme "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can..." In 1978, we had Nicholas Hammond as the live-action Spidey (although the Electric Company had the claim of having the first ever beginning in 1974). 1981 gave us a double dose with Spider-Man and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. 1995 saw Spider-Man: The Animated Series with its poor follow-up in 1999's Spider-Man Unlimited. 2003 gave us MTV's Spider-Man loosely based on the movie universe, with the better-received Spectacular Spider-Man in 2008.

Now comes the latest offering from the still new-car-smell fresh pairing of Disney and Marvel (and, if you're keeping count, the third that shares its name with an actual comic series) Ultimate Spider-Man. Executive produced and partially written by comic scribe Brain Michael Bendis, with executive production by Batman: The Animated Series' Paul Dini and the creator alliance behind Ben 10 known as Man of Action, one would expect this to truly be THE ultimate Spider-Man cartoon.

Move over, Batusi!
What we got was the answer to the question: what if Spider-Man (Drake Bell) was an anime character? Unlike previous incarnations, this show is played up almost entirely for laughs by giving audiences a 4th wall-breaking look into Spidey's mind, complete with goofily animated sequences and chibi characters. Emotional moments are brief and fleeting, and there is no seriousness to the threats Spidey faces as each battle plays out like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon from Disney's Distinguished Competition.

Spider-Toast, an invention even Yogurt the Wise couldn't even come up with.
The show has a blend of elements from all over the Marvel-verse. It taps into the movies by having the Ultimate Nick Fury (Chi McBride) assembling heroes to train into the next generation of Avengers, presenting the animated debuts of Iron Fist (Greg Cipes), Luke Cage (Ogie Banks), Nova (Logan Miller, although playing a new character and not Richard Rider) and the female White Tiger (Caitlin Taylor Love) to work alongside Spidey. There's also a brief comedic flashback to Iron Man first testing out his armor akin to the boot-jet test from his first movie. J.K Simmons also returns as J. Jonah Jameson, although without nearly as much bluster as he spouts anti-Spidey rhetoric on TV. Dr. Octopus (Tom Kenny) works for Norman Osborn (Steven Webber), much like he worked for his son Harry in Spider-Man 2, and appears to have the goth-like appearance given to him in the second volume of the Spectacular Spider-Man comic. Aunt May (Misty Lee) is the hip, younger aunt from Bendis' Ultimate comics, rather than the doting old lady from the original comics and previous cartoons. Rounding out the cast is aspiring reporter Mary Jane Watson (Tara Strong), Peter's best friend Harry Osborn and bully Flash Thompson (both Matt Lanter). Stan Lee also appears as the school janitor to spout some nonsense.

Spidey's NEW Amazing Friends. Or, is it Ultimate Friends?

Another unfortunate holdover from the comics is Spidey's ineffectiveness as a hero, the whole basis for the show. In the Ultimate comic, it wasn't uncommon to see Spidey be easily defeated by his foes, usually resulting in some outside savior to save him and defeat said foe. It seems like setting up Spidey with a team of new heroes is just paving the way for more of the same.

Nick Fury wants clean up your room.

Ultimate Spider-Man is a manic and bizarre interpretation of the animated series that in no way exhibits the lives up to the prior work of the people involved in its creation. Despite the excellent animation and character designs, the writing is where the show suffers greatly. The jokes are juvenile with only one or two actually earning any kind of laugh. If this is just a case of a show trying to find itself that's fine, but if this is the way the series is going to play out for its entirety, you're better off just skipping it and watching some of the older shows on DVD (whichever is available currently).

Ultimate Spider-Man airs Sundays at 11AM on Disney XD.