Spectacular Spider-Man

Pretty much any time I talk about Spider-Man on this blog, I use one of two points of reference. The first is the original comics themselves (the Silver Age comics of the 60's and 70's). The second point of reference is a short-lived children's cartoon from 2008 to 2009 called The Spectacular Spider-Man. Its first season aired on The CW network (part of Warner Bros. network), and the second season aired on Disney XD. The series was developed primarily by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook, and was produced by Sony.

Despite referring back to this series repeatedly, I've never actually written a review of it. Recently, however, I re-watched the series (by introducing it to my 8-year-old daughter and her friends), and thought maybe I should actually write a review of. Put simply, Spectacular Spider-Man is probably the single best adaptation of Spider-Man that has ever been put on a screen. It's not only the best Spidey animated series, but it might even be better than any of the Spider-Man movies, including Sam Raimi's movies and Marvel's recent Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Spectacular Spider-Man is a better adaptation than any of the Spider-Man movies.

High school drama for all audiences

The show is a children's cartoon and its high school setting is definitely targeting younger kids. But it is surprisingly well-planned, well-written, and well-executed for a children's cartoon, and the teenage drama suits Spider-Man exceptionally well. Any Spidey fan, regardless of age, should be able to enjoy this show.

On the surface, the series seems to take a lot of inspiration from the Ultimate Spider-Man line of comics. This was a little bit off-putting for me at first because I don't particularly care for the Ultimate Spider-Man storylines or aesthetics. However, Spectacular won me over by remaining very faithful to the original comics as well. Spectacular manages to take the best elements from every incarnation of Spider-Man, combines them, and modernizes them into a 21st century setting while delightfully capturing the spirit of the original 60's and 70's comics. Plot elements and themes are pulled from the original comics, from the Ultimate comics, and also (being produced by Sony) from the Sam Raimi movies. It even makes a few successful homages to the 1990's Spider-Man: the Animated Series that ran on Fox and had been, up till this point, the gold standard for Spidey on TV (at least, up until the last couple seasons go completely off the rails).

Spectacular takes the best elements from every incarnation of Spider-Man,
while remaining spectacularly faithful to the original 60's and 70's comics.

Spectacular even replicates some scenes straight from the panels of the comics. The infamous "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot." scene is transferred verbatim. Other scenes such as Spider-Man removing the Venom symbiote in the church tower, and channeling the thoughts of his friends and loved ones to help him lift himself out from under collapsing metal beams are also faithfully replicated.


Spectacular [BOTTOM ROW] replicates panels from the original comics [TOP ROW] almost verbatim.

Other adaptations have also replicated (or paid homage to) specific comic book panels. For instance, The Animated Series of the 90's also had the "Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot!" scene, and the symbiote bell tower scene, and so forth, and many of its episodes are loosely based on issues of the comics. Homecoming had the "trapped under rubble" scene. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movie had the Green Goblin being impaled by his glider. And so forth.

What separates Spectacular from these other adaptations is that Spectacular manages to maintain more of the nuance and texture of those original comic panels.

And it isn't just the faithfullness to the source material that I like. The show is also generally well-written, with some clever (and not-so-clever) uses of things like symbolism and foreshadowing. The characters are all well-written and well-performed. The animation may have exaggerated body proportions, but it's very fluid, expressive, and is full of nuances in facial expressions and body language. There are some parts of the show that have some cheesy dialogue that reminds me that it's a children's show, but overall, the show is immensely watchable by adults and children alike.

There's some quality writing, including foreshadowing, symbolism, and misdirection.

If I haven't made it clear already, this show is fantastic, and I absolutely adore it! The next section will contain minor spoilers, and the sections after that will contain major spoilers! So if you haven't seen the show yet, then I highly recommend that you buy the DVDs and watch it, then come back to finish reading the review. You can maybe get through the next section ("Friends and Lovers") without too much spoilers, but sections after that will be spoiling major story threads, including what I consider to be the single biggest spoiler in the entire series. Suffice it to say: I love what the show does with Gwen Stacy, I love what it does with Mary Jane, I love what it does with Harry Osborne, and I love the depictions of most of the villains! If you haven't watched the show yet, then read on at your own risk!

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Marvel Spider-Man - title

I'm a pretty big Spider-Man fan in general. I watched the cartoons and the movies, and I play the video games as they come along, but I've only actually read a few dozen individual comics. I did, however, play the shit out of all my Spider-Man action figures as a kid! I do, however consider myself to be a Spider-Man game aficionado.

When I'm out in public, I often imagine myself web-swinging to get around. What would I swing from? Are those lampposts close enough that I could swing from one without face-planting on the pavement? I also often wish that I could hang upside down from the ceiling when I'm bored or waiting for something. As such, I pay very close attention to the way that Spider-Man moves in video games, and the quality of a given game is usually predominantly determined by how elegantly it handles movement.

Like a streak of light, he arrives just in time

The traversal mechanics and physics of Insomniac's Marvel's Spider-Man are fluid and work solidly. They just aren't particularly interesting or challenging, and they aren't really as expressive as I would like. It basically boils down to "hold R2 to go somewhere". It's pulled straight from Assassin's Creed's parkour system, except that holding the same button allows you to transition from rooftop parkour to web-swinging without any effort or thought. There's a few modifiers and variations that you can perform, which add a little bit of freedom and expressiveness, but it's not much. You can web-zip to perch points, hold circle to move around the corners of buildings while wall-running, and you can jump and dive to gain speed. These things help you get where you're going faster, but you could just rubber-band the R2 button and left stick, set the controller down, and you'd get to where you were going eventually anyway.

Insomniac was inspired by Assassin's Creed's "hold R2 to parkour" traversal system.

To Insomniac's credit, however, the web-swinging physics seems much more accurate than any Spidey game since the landmark Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in on the PS2 / XBox. Webs do seem to genuinely connect to objects in the environment (whether they be buildings, lampposts, trees, or so on). The only exception that I'm aware of is when you double-tap X to zip forward. I never use this move, however, because of how it cheats the physics so blatantly.

The environment is also much more detailed and populated. Buildings have more varied geometry with lots of ledges and poles and towers for you to zip to, you can parkour over cars when running in the densely-packed streets, and the map is dotted with construction sites and road work that gives you additional locomotion options and helps make the world look and feel lived-in. Spider-Man also has a lot of contextual movements in the environment that helps keep movement fluid. He'll web-zip from fire-escape platform to fire-escape platform when ascending buildings, he'll pirouette through narrow gaps, he'll swing around poles, and so forth. In general, the animations are all exceptional, and the traversal mechanics feel really good.

Spidey transitions seamlessly from web-swinging to wall-running to contextual "spider-parkour".

Spinning webs, any size

Despite the physics being generally solid, I do feel like the game occasionally cheats to make it work. Webs sometimes seem to grow in length when attached to certain objects, and the player (and therefore Spidey) can overcome the force of gravity through sheer force of will. This allows Spider-Man to swing greater distances than he should when swinging from buildings or trees that aren't considerably higher than Spider-Man is, and for him to avoid falling into the side of a building when he continuously swings from the same side of the street. All Spider-Man games have struggled with finding ways to allow him to move around in Central Park and along the coastline. These little cheats are common ones for developers to implement, and Insomniac is no exception.

Webs seem to reliably connect to something in the environment.

To that end, I'm going to say something that might get me flamed by the internet: I think I maybe actually prefer the web-swinging concept of Beenox's Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in game.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

Spider-Man was a fairly revolutionary comic book character when he was first revealed back in the '60's. Being a nerdy, socially-awkward young teenager, a large portion of the comic-book-reading audience could relate to him in ways that they simply couldn't with characters like Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four. Peter Parker was one of them.

Finally casting an actual teenager to fill the role of Peter Parker / Spider-Man is an obviously brilliant (and overdue) move that does for this generation of young superhero movie audiences, what the original Spider-Man did for comic-reading kids in the '60's. For the first time, I can actually buy into this film version of Peter Parker as a high school student. There's a lot more focus on teenage drama and on Peter's conflicting responsibilities as Spider-Man and as a student. He flakes out on his friends, misses quizzes and extra-curricular activities. He worries about who he could invite to the homecoming dance, and worries that if Aunt May finds out about his superheroing, she might ground him.

Peter's age and his relatability to young audiences isn't the only parallel that this movie makes with the early issues of the comics. The first issue of Amazing Spider-Man included a storyline in which Spider-Man attempted to join the Fantastic Four. Homecoming is about Spider-Man seeking to join the Avengers (since Marvel doesn't have the film rights to the Fantastic Four yet). Homecoming skips over the first Spidey villain (who was the Chameleon) and focuses on the Vulture, who first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #2. This movie also throws in the Tinkerer, who was also featured in a storyline of Amazing Spider-Man #2. The love interest is even fellow high-schooler Liz Allan, who even preceded Gwen Stacy as one of Peter's first romantic interests in the comics.

Trying to step out of Sam Raimi's spider-shadow

Much like the Sam Raimi movies, the supporting cast here is excellent -- and unlike the Sam Raimi movies, the main cast is spot-on too! Sure, it doesn't have J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, and I have a hard time believing that anybody can beat Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but everyone here puts in a great effort. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark appearance is much more substantive than a simple phoned-in cameo, and Michael Keaton is absolutely fantastic as an increasingly-unhinged working-class bad guy who's simply trying to run his modest weapon-smuggling ring under the radar of the Avengers.

Instead of trying to join the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man is trying to join the Avengers.

I'm also grateful that this movie is a bit more upbeat and less mopey and brooding than the Sam Raimi films...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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