Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr With everyone’s favorite webslinger swinging back into theaters this July, ComicsVerse is taking a look back at SPIDER-MAN’s greatest adventures. From the big screen to the small screen to a simple comic panel, we will find out how this ol’ Web Head has evolved since he first webbed his way into our imagination. Today we will focus on SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. Since 1967, Spider-Man has seen his fair share of reboots and revivals in the world of animation, with each new entry giving their own depiction of the iconic webslinger. While reception to these cartoons has ranged from good to polarizing (ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN), two shows, in particular, are viewed the most favorably: 1994’s SPIDER-MAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (TAS) and 2008’s THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. Growing up in the early 2000s, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN helped further my love for Spider-Man as a hero. Weaving a complex narrative around Peter Parker’s sedentary and superhero lifestyles, director Greg Weisman (GARGOYLES, YOUNG JUSTICE) mixed drama and emotional stakes with a sense of fun in what should have been a long-term series. Sadly, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was canceled after two seasons. On top of that, considering the mixed reception toward the now-finished ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, it is safe to say we still miss his former incarnation. Nevertheless, here are six reasons why THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN remains the best depiction of Spider-Man to date, even above his 1994 counterpart. 1. Holds Up Better Compared to BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, the 90s SPIDER-MAN show has begun to show its age. The combination of 3-D buildings alongside standard 2-D animation might have been a novelty for the time. Nowadays, those shots look like something out of an early PS1 game. While the dialogue remains strong, the pace of which it was spoken was ridiculously frantic. This, in turn, leaves the voice actors little room to catch a breath in between sentences. Arguably the biggest flaw of SPIDER-MAN: TAS is that it was a victim of extreme network censorship. The animators were unable to show Spider-Man throwing a punch. Even words such as “death” or “die” were heavily toned down. READ: Counterargument! Here are five reasons why SPIDER-MAN: ANIMATED SERIES is the wall-crawler’s best-animated outing to date! NYPD officers carried laser weapons, the Sinister Six was retitled the “Insidious Six,” and no one could even mention the presence of blood or injuries via violence. The last of which drastically altered the character of Morbius the Living Vampire, replacing his thirst for blood with plasma-draining hand suckers. Even by animated censorship standards, this was ridiculous. Not only is THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN unbound by such restrictions, but the animation style holds up in comparison. While the cartoonish look might contrast with such mature dialogue, there is a sense of fluidity that makes the animation work for both character interactions and action sequences. Ironic, considering how the animation was initially seen as a turn off for some fans when the series began. 2. School Is Back In Session By placing him back in high school, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN returns Peter Parker to his “down on his luck” character roots. We see Peter struggle with relatable issues such as romance, school, and friendships, all the while caring for his Aunt May. Taking place three months after Ben Parker’s death, Peter is depicted as old enough to realize the importance of responsibility, yet young enough that he can still make stupid mistakes. Sometimes Spider-Man’s interactions with a villain might accidentally cause them to move further down the wrong path. Other times, Peter will perform actions out of motivation to provide for his family. However, only to violate the trust of others in the process. The impact of his double life is felt throughout the entire series. Spider-Man distances himself from friends and remains conflicted on whether his powers are worth keeping. He is an imperfect being who does not always make the right decision. Nonetheless, he continually strives to overcome his own weaknesses. 3. Developing ALL Of The Characters Spider-Man’s character is one defined by his relationships with friends and family. This is something this series utilized in multiple aspects of Peter Parker’s life. Alongside Peter’s friendship with Harry Osborne and Gwen Stacey (the latter making her first debut in a Spider-Man adaptation), we saw how classmates like Flash Thompson and Liz Allen went from antagonizing the protagonist to being his close friend and love interest. Other narratives included the build-up introduction of Mary-Jane Watson, Harry’s gradual decline into addiction, and the deterioration of Eddie Brock’s friendship with Peter. Another explored relationship is Peter’s job at the Daily Bugle, from which he forms a close bond with J. Jonah Jameson and the Bugle staff. This allows for an exploration of Jonah’s character and the people he cares about under his anger-prone exterior. Most notably throughout is his son John Jameson. We see how Jameson’s feelings allow him to care for Peter’s well-being while tying directly into the rationale behind his antagonism towards Spider-Man. READ: Spider-Man has been adapted for animation for nearly 50 years. Here is a recap of his many, MANY appearances. On the other side of things, SPECTACULAR also focuses on Spider-Man’s relationship with the NYC criminal underground and its leader, the mysterious “Big Man of Crime.” From here we learn that the supervillains Spider-Man fights are in fact funded creations of the Big Man, a.k.a. Tombstone, as a means of distracting the cops from his criminal operations. Such a narrative element not only makes Spider-Man’s presence a catalyst for the emergence of such individuals, but it also explores how the crime boss manipulate innocent lives to obtain more power. Which brings us to… 3. The Villains Something that makes SPECTACULAR’s take on Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery unique is that it allows us to sympathize with their predicaments as characters first BEFORE turning them into villains. This is evident from the pilot. In which primary antagonist Vulture is depicted not as a monster, but rather a businessman seeking vengeance on Norman Osborne for stealing his inventions. Electro is portrayed in a sympathetic light, a regular engineer who finds himself trapped in the role of villain thanks to the accident that gave him his bioelectric powers. These characters feel like they have proper motivation for their actions, rather than being portrayed as spontaneous villains of the week. The villains are built up over time, being kept in the background long enough for us to accept them as characters within this world. Both Flint Marko and Alex O’Hirn (i.e. Sandman and the Rhino) are originally played off as comic relief figures. That is until they get their abilities, turning them from jokes into legitimate threats. Likewise, the character of Otto Octavius starts off as Osborne’s nebbish assistant before an accident fuses his mechanical arms to his body. Thus the man who was constantly being pushed around suddenly becomes the one taking charge. His actions as Doctor Octopus a manifestation of internal anger at the world. Such a relationship between the hero and his villains ensures that every battle they fight have some personal stakes 4. The Venom… Unlike SPIDER-MAN TAS, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN’s story lines were never written as separate arcs. Each episode revealed certain details that gradually expanded into the emergence of a new antagonist or direction for the characters to follow. One exception to this was the three-episode Venom arc. This three-episode arc even took some inspiration from its predecessor to explain how the Symbiote came to Earth. As one would expect, the Symbiote attaches itself to Spider-Man in the form of his black suit, subtly affecting Peter’s actions and personality as he further alienates himself from friends and co-workers alike. This setup, and the later merging of Eddie and the Symbiote into Venom, work because the show builds upon its previous narratives. This, in turn, feels like genuine character development. Upon gaining self-awareness towards the suit’s adverse effects, Peter confronts the Symbiote as a manifestation of his vulnerabilities and fears. This results in a clever recap of the “with great power” speech. At the same time, Peter’s actions throughout the season have caused a rift between him and Brock. This causes his former friend to hate Peter and Spider-Man equally. Thus, the Symbiote ends up finding a new host who shares in its need for vengeance. READ: What makes Peter Parker/Spider-Man such an endearing protagonist? The answer: like his readers, he is an everyman hero. …And Green Goblin Storylines! The Green Goblin is a character that most Spider-Man fans are familiar with and therefore his entrance should have been relatively straightforward. Instead, Weisman and the writers play upon audience expectations to keep us guessing the Goblin’s role within this world. Goblin is a total wild card, seeking to gain control over Tombstone’s empire. Often never sharing any interaction with the other villains. However, the mystery surrounding the Goblin becomes less about his motivations and more about who he is underneath the mask. As a result, SPECTACULAR turns the Goblin’s identity into a guessing game. Often making us question our own knowledge of Spider-Man lore. The narrative often takes this “whodunnit” mystery as well and revolves it around the arcs of the characters most suspected of being the Goblin. This eventually collimates in the show’s series finale. The tying multiple plot lines together while setting up more character motivations that, unfortunately, would never be further explored. 5. Josh Keaton As Spider-Man To me, Josh Keaton’s voice acting performance in THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-mAN has been the best version of Spider-Man to date. As Peter Parker, he’s brainy, studious and well-meaning when it comes to helping friends and family. Spider-Man is also a teenager who is reacting awkwardly to romance. He makes reckless decisions and lets those same friends down when they need him the most. Peter is a very flawed individual, and he does not always take the correct path when trying to make up for a mistake. Likewise, Keaton’s Spider-Man manages to strike the right balance between the webslinger’s silly and serious personalities. He makes his trademark quips while fighting burglars and supervillains to throw them off their game and laugh at the insanity of his situation. When things get dire, he drops the jokes and takes his situation quite seriously. This displays the heroic nature that one has come to expect from Spider-Man’s character. While I agree that Christopher Daniel Barnes did an equally impressive job on SPIDER-MAN TAS. It is Keaton’s voice that I hear when reading Spider-Man comics. What Could Have Been It’s something of a joke now that some of the best superhero cartoons of the late 2000’s-early 2010’s (i.e. WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN, AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES) were canceled way too early, and THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN is no exception. This series managed to encapsulate so many aspects of the character perfectly. From his relationships to the action sequences to the drama that elevated personal stakes per episode. It portrayed both Peter Parker and Spider-Man as complex, yet imperfect heroes who we still wished to see succeed. No matter what obstacles stood in their path. It is because of these strengths that I have no shame saying that THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN earns the right to join BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES as one of the best superhero cartoons of all time.