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"Spider-Man: The Animated Series" Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/12/2003

Even though I love movie adaptations of comic books, the animated series’ that are based on comic books tend to leave me flat most of the time.  They usually evolve out of a way to cash in on the success of a movie adaptation, and they seem rushed.  They are also formatted to appeal only to kids in many cases.  That is fine, but as the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Spike TV’s The Strip has proven, there is a market for cartoons that appeal to an older demographic.  I think Stan Lee has always known this, and that is why MTV’s new version of Lee’s Spider-Man is probably one of the most adult animated comic book adaptations I’ve ever seen (I know Lee’s “Stripperella” is a comic book too, but the book evolved after the development of the TV show.  Besides, that show plays for laughs, and this one doesn’t.)


MTV’s “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” picks up where the movie left off (I know what you are thinking…cash-in.  Lee was developing this series before the movie came out though, and it took the success of the movie to get the ball rolling on it.)  Peter Parker (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) has gotten comfortable with being Spider-Man, but he now has to make adjustments in his real life.  He is attending Empire State University and freelancing as a photographer at the Daily Bugle.  He still pines over Mary Jane Watson (voiced by Lisa Loeb), and wonders if turning her away at the end of the movie was a good idea.  They both hang out with Harry Osborn (voiced by Ian Ziering), who still hates Spider-Man for killing his father.  Even though he is a hero, he is considered a fugitive to the law, and is constantly being chased by the police, led by Officer Barr (voiced by Ed Asner.)


In the first episode, called “The Party,” a nerdy friend of Peter named Max Dillon (voiced by Ethan Embry) tries to become part of the cool crowd by pledging a fraternity.  They haze Max, but do not intend to let him in.  When the joke of hazing him ticks him off, he runs out in embarrassment and is electrocuted by a neon sign.  Instead of killing him, it turns him into Electro, a villain who can electrocute people with his hands.  He immediately decides to take his revenge out on the kids on campus.  His targets are mainly his tormentors, but there are a few innocent victims as well.  Spider-Man comes in and saves the day, which unfortunately includes killing his old friend to save the people.  The last shot is at Max’s grave, but a street lantern lights up, which means we probably haven’t seen the last of Electro.


In the second episode, called “Sword of Shikata,” an eccentric animal collector hires a hunter to capture Spider-Man for his collection.  The wealthy businessman Richard Damien (voiced by John C. McGinley) pays $2.5 million to Shikata (voiced by Gina Gershon), a martial artist/swordswoman who is so fast that she can deflect bullets.  Damien wants Spider-Man alive, but after she fights the web-slinger the first time, she decides she wants to kill him.  She turns down Damien’s money, and Damien sends his thugs (the lead thug Raymond is voiced by Clancy Brown) to kill Shikata.  With a little help from Spider-Man, Shikata defeats the thugs and is more than ever determined to fight Spider-Man to the death.  Just so Damien doesn’t get in the way again, she kills Raymond and decapitates Damien.  Mary Jane, who had been cast in an independent movie that Damien was producing, comes into his office to talk about her role.  She sees his severed head on the floor and calls the police.  At that time, she discovers that Shikata’s sword is the source of her power.  When MJ sees Spider-Man and Shikata later fighting on the street, she tells Spider-Man the sword secret.  He destroys the sword, which makes Shikata turn old and die.  Spider-Man and MJ kiss right before he once again has to avoid the police, prompting possible sparks between the two in the future.


The show is not your kiddie Spider-Man series.  People actually are killed (it’s not graphic though), there is blood, and there is adult language.  It’s very action-packed, and the voice work is good.  Harris has done enough good work to make me not picture Doogie the Webslinger, but Ziering as Osborn does conjure up images of Steve Sanders from “Beverly Hills, 90210.”  Loeb as MJ is okay, since the only acting work I’ve ever seen her in was her cameo in the remake of The House on Haunted Hill.  The villains were great, and the upcoming ones sound promising.  Embry, Gershon, and McGinley were all perfect for their roles, and in future episodes, we will have Virginia Madsen as Silver Sable, Michael Dorn as Kraven the Hunter, Eve as Cheyenne/The Talon, Michael Clarke Duncan as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (a role he played in Daredevil), and Rob Zombie as Dr. Curt Connors/the Lizard.  Even Stan Lee will make an appearance the villain Frank Elson.


The action is cool and exciting, but I did have one problem with the animation.  It was computer animated, and even though Pixar seems to have mastered it, the animation by Mainframe Entertainment, the company that animated this show, looked a little stiff to me.  I would have rather had it be hand-drawn than animated the way it was.  I actually started getting a little used to it by the second episode, but that may have been because the second episode was better than the first one all around.

I don’t know if “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” will satisfy comic book geeks, since I’m not aware of any liberties they took here, but I think they will like it overall.  As a general fan of Spider-Man, I liked it.  It didn’t suppress the adult content to be more fitting for kids, and I liked that.  The animation takes a little time to get used to, but if they keep up the action and interesting characters, I’ll forgive it.  I will look forward to crawling onto the couch to watch this show every Friday (or one of the million times MTV will rerun it.)


Get the DVD of the 2002 hit movie starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst:

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Try to catch this show every week...

If a better show is on, tape this one...

If nothing else is on, maybe this will be good...

If this show is on, change the channel immediately!


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