And so Spider-Month (and a half) comes to an end with the latest incarnation of Spider-Man in animated form. I really wish I could end this month a high note, but if I’m honest this series has been a mixed bag for me. At this point I’ve watched the whole of first season and while I certainly enjoyed the later half of the season a lot more than I did the first half, the series still feels like its trying to find its feet in a lot of areas. I do like the voice cast and the animation steadily improves as the series goes on, the main problem with this series comes down to execution, but I’ll get into that more as I go through the review.
Concept wise, the series has a lot of good ideas. We are back to following Peter early on in his Spider-Man career, while he’s still in high school. Thankfully this time we have a brand new setting in Horizon High, a hi-tech science school where only the best and brightest get to attend. Peter manages to get in, just as his best friend Harry Osborn is kicked out. Harry’s dad, Norman, sets up the Osborn Academy as a rival to Horizon High and a place to mould Harry into what Norman wants in a son. The conflict is set and it puts a reasonable strain on Peter and Harry’s friendship. Also there’s the fact that Norman believes Spider-Man to be apart of the Jackal’s spider army. How best to sum up the Jackal for those not familiar with him? He’s a crazy person who’s into clones. He also likes to make Spider-Man’s life a misery and in this continuity is the guy who developed the spider that gave Peter his powers. Now the Jackal subplot does built into probably my favourite arc of this series, the Spider Island arc. I loved the comic and while the episodes are a very loose adaptation it’s still a fun and exciting story with the tension ratcheting up and up until its just Spider-Man and a handful of friends versus an entire city of mutated spider-people. I would be covering that arc here, but its five parts long and while my reviews have a tendency to go on for a bit, I can’t justified making a review that long, not with everything I want to talk about, so instead we’re going for the two-part finale to the series.
Now before I get into the episode it does require a couple of spoilers for the Spider Island arc, so if you’re interested go watch that now and then come back. Done that? Good, here we go. So in the aftermath of Spider Island, Harry knows that Peter is Spider-Man and is reasonably upset about the fact his best friend has been lying to him. Also Norman Osborn is suffering from the ill effects of the first test they used to try and cure people of the virus that was turning them into spider monsters. Also in order to save the city and spread the final cure across New York, it meant letting a bomb go off that destroyed the Osborn Academy, another thing Harry is mad about.
The two-parter starts with Peter trying to talk to Harry, but he doesn’t want to listen. Before they can continue an explosion goes off downtown and Peter has to rush off to save the day. At the site of the explosion he finds Doctor Octopus kidnapping Max Model (science guy, head and founder of Horizon High). This does bring me to one of the issues with this series, some of its plot points are, well, lacking. Doc Ock is a great example of this, the series gave him a four part arc chronicling his rise and fall, from getting his metal arms fused to his back, to trying to be a hero, to getting blamed for creating a hundred-foot lizard, to joining Osborn Academy and then turning to villainy at the end. All the beats are there and on paper it makes logical sense, but it lacks the impact it should have. It’s not helped by the fact that the last episode of the arc is focused on Peter, Harry and another character, Gwen Stacy, trying to track down Jackal’s lab and Doc Ock doesn’t turn up until the last five minutes. It’s just BOOM, he’s a villain now, moving on. This series has a habit of just throwing in villains almost at random and while sometimes it tries to give them pathos and a back story, the focus is always somewhere else so the villains tend to just get glossed over. It’s a real shame as Spider-Man has one of the best rogue’s galleries there is (after Batman’s of course).
Anyway back to the fight, Doc Ock has several other villains that have turned up throughout the series under his mind control. This includes Rhino (third appearance this month and a half, he’s doing well), Vulture, Spider-Slayer and Steel Spider. Doc Ock gets away and in the process of chasing him Spider-Man takes down Vulture, Steel Spider and Rhino one after the other, though the taking these villain on one after the other is exhausting. Also I’d like to point out that the action is pretty good in all of these fights, its fast and fluid and shows how far the series has progressed since some awkward animated moments at the start of the series. While all this is going on though Harry has been trying to find a cure to help his dad and as his dad grows weaker decides to start testing things on himself (which can only end well).
Spider-Man finally catches up with Doc Ock, who reveals that kidnapping Max was only the bait. What he really wanted was to wear Spider-Man down to make it easy to plant a mind control chip on the webhead. Now Doctor Octopus has his own Sinister Six and sets out to take over New York. Meanwhile Harry has cured his dad, who, after seeing the Sinister Six on the news, begs Harry to put on the Hobgoblin armour and take out Spider-Man once and for wall. Hobgoblin fights Spider-Man, but after learning about the mind control he manages to get through to Peter and they free the other members of the Sinister Six from Ock. Harry gets injured in the fight and the villains get away, but Harry does admit it was good for him and Peter to work together.
Our second part begins with Spider-Man and Hobgoblin working together to take down Rhino. They’re already taken out the majority of the Sinister Six and there’s only Doc Ock left, though Peter is worried that Harry blacked out halfway through the fight with Rhino. Harry goes home to sleep, but when Doc Ock attacks Horizon High Hobgoblin takes the villain down easily, before turning on Spider-Man. Thanks to the intervention of Miles Morales (the other Spider-Man, you can go see Into the Spiderverse if you want to learn more about him). This brings me to one of the other problems with this series, though it runs in a similar vein to the poor execution of the villains. While I like seeing Miles, Gwen and even Anya in the series and taking up their respective Spider-personas to fight crime, I don’t really see the point of them in this season. Miles in particular feels like a waste. He hardly ever gets the focus and often is just there to be a second pair of hands. You could take him out of this series entirely and it would make very little difference to the plot and that’s a bad sign. I also don’t think it works with this being a young Spider-Man, so much of this series is about Spider-Man learning the ropes, he’s still new to this and screws up on a regular basis, so why exactly is he mentoring someone else when he’s still working this out himself? It does make me feel like maybe Miles getting permanent spider powers should have been saved for season 2, that way Peter is more settled in his role as Spider-Man and there’s more room to give Miles some focus and development.
Back to the episode, Harry wakes up from a blackout to find himself in his Hobgoblin gear. He has no idea what he’s done, but his father questions if all those serums he tested on himself have had an adverse effect. Later Hobgoblin attacks Spider-Man again, dropping a bridge on to him, which Spider-Man has to lift off to save a bus full of people. It’s a well done scene and then just to prove my point about Miles, he turns up, says he put a tracer on Hobgoblin and then is promptly shooed away so that Peter can have a final climatic showdown with the Hobgoblin (complete waste of a character). Anyway Peter tracks down Hobgoblin and the final battle begins! It’s a pretty epic battle, but Peter is confused when Hobgoblin mentions finding out who is behind the Spider-Man mask, even more so when Harry stumbles into the fight. Turns out its Norman in the Hobgoblin costume (which makes this the second series where Norman has framed his son for being a costumed maniac.) This is the best part of these episodes and if there’s one thing this series got absolutely right, it’s Harry and Norman Osborn.
Norman is characterised slightly differently than in other series, oh sure he’s still a raging egomaniac who’s after power and control and isn’t afraid to manipulate and backstab everyone around him, including his own son. Yet in this series gives you glimpses of a good man, however brief. He’s complimentary and supportive of his son and though the argument can be made that these are just manipulating tactics, you also feel that they are in some part sincere. Norman wants his son to be a hero, it’s just that his power-mad ego means that it must be an Osborn who is the hero of New York and everyone else must either get inline or burn. If he didn’t need so much control he could be a force for good in New York.
Harry on the other hand is conflicted. He’s been on a real roller coaster ride, torn between his anger and his friendship. On the one hand he admires his father so much and hates Spider-Man in equal measure, but on the other hand Spider-Man is Peter, his best friend, the one who’s always been there for him. It’s a really well acted and emotional scene when Norman urges Harry to end Spider-Man and you can see how the decision is tearing him apart. However Harry finally stands up to his father and saves Spider-Man.
Marvel’s Spider-Man (2017) is a decent series, though it has its problems. Plot points and characters feel rushed or just included for the sake of it, which honestly knowing some of the characters involved feels like such a waste. However there are times when it gets its right, the relationship between Peter and Harry is the highlight of this series and it uses their often fractured friendship to its fullest potential. If there were more storylines like theirs woven through this series it would be one of the greats. Even without that though there’s enough to keep me entertained and watching for the near future.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.