Cartoon Corner: Marvel’s Spider-Man (2017): The Hobgoblin Part 1 + 2 Review

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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.  

Cartoon Corner: Spider-Man: The New Animated Series: Mind Games Part 1 +2 Review

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Spider-Man No More!

I don’t know if this series is obscure, but I never really see people talking about it, which is a shame because I actually think it’s pretty good. If I were to rank the Spider-Man cartoons, this one would probably come in as third for me. Originally developed for MTV, this cartoon was more aimed at teens than previous cartoons, hence the stories mostly revolving around Peter’s college life and the fact that we get actual guns and a couple of deaths (The violence is never graphic, but in one episode a guy does get electrocuted to death, so yeah the gloves are very much off with this series).

There are two things that I think hold back this series, one it’s pretty short-lived, only lasting thirteen episodes and the other is the animation. This show was animated using CGI and cel-shading, which might work nowadays, but back in the early 2000s the only other place you’d find graphics like this is on a Playstation 1. There are some good bits of direction, with some nice angles and shots and on occasion a good use of colour. Then again we also get plenty of fast zooms and slow-mo shots, just so you know this was made in the early 2000s. My favourite part about this series though is the writing and the characters. I really like the cast they got for Peter (yes it’s Neil Patrick Harris), MJ and Harry, they all have great chemistry together, though that’s helped when they have some great dialogue between them.

On to the episode though, we open part one with an armoured vehicle moving two prisoners, the Gaines Twins, a pair of psychics whose parents were experimented on by the KGB. The Gaines Twins manage to get free and use their psychic powers to get their guard to shoot the driver (I mentioned this show has a body count, didn’t I?). Of course Spider-Man turns up and though he struggles against the Twins’ mental onslaught he manages to overcome them and send them packing back off to jail. With the villains of the week neatly tied up, Peter goes about his usual routine. As Spider-Man he flirts with MJ and does probably the stupidest thing he’s ever done, which is push MJ off of a roof. Of course he catches her, but anyone who knows anything about Spider-Man mythos or Gwen Stacy (or even anyone who saw Amazing Spider-Man 2) will know how monumentally bad an idea that was. Anyway, after risking the life of one he loves Peter heads to college were he flirts with Indy, a character created for this series who’s a reporter for the local TV station.

Of course we can’t have things going too well for are misunderstood webslinger and there’s news of a villain breakout. Spider-Man takes the bad guy on, though a part of the building’s sign does get blown off, injuring Harry whose on the street below. Things get worse as Spider-Man learns that Kraven the hunter is back in New York and he’s teamed up with another villain, who had an appearance earlier in the series, Silver Sable (yes I know Silver Sable isn’t really a villain, but she is in this show’s continuity). Spider-Man manages to take out Sable, but Kraven gets away, leaving the webhead worried that the hunter will go after the people he cares about in order to get his revenge. Of course Spider-Man goes straight for MJ and, as they talk, he comes to a decision. Peter unmasks to MJ, which is when Kraven shows up, killing MJ with a poisoned dart. MJ dies in Peter’s arms and at her graveside a strange man talks Peter into taking his anger out on Kraven.

It’s at this point that I should mention this episode has had a disjointed feel to it. There had been numerous scenes that have ended, well, oddly, either ending too soon or the next scene having so little connection that it feels like a different episode. We’ve also kept going back to the image of Spider-Man on his knees from when he was fighting the Psychic Twins and you may have just guessed what’s going on here. Yes the whole episode has been a dream, the Twins were never beaten and have been invading Peter’s mind, building his worst nightmare in an effort to drive him into such a rage that he’ll kill Kraven for them. It works too, Peter swinging off to, as he put it ‘tear Kraven apart with his bare hands’. Did I mention this cartoon was darker than a lot of the other Spider-Man cartoons? Well it’s only going to get darker from here.

The second episode begins with Spider-Man taking on Kraven. There’s no joking, no quips, just a ruthless silence as Spider-Man lays into Kraven. Things hit alarming when Spider-Man makes a noose out of his webs and starts hanging Kraven! Of course it’s at this point that Spider-Man begins to notice some inconsistencies. He sees the sign that got blown up in part 1 through the window and its completely intact, also earlier Kraven mentioned that he hadn’t seen Spider-Man in a while. Peter lets go of Kraven and starts to put two and two together. He manages to track down the Gaines Twins with some help from Indy and while the Twins have MJ hostage, Spider-Man keeps them on the phone long enough that he can sneak up on them.

The fight makes it up to the rooftop where Spider-Man grabs the Gaines sister by the neck, but because of her psychic blast he lets go and she falls off of the roof. Spider-Man turns around and…both the Gaines Twins are stood behind him. They’ve messed with his mind again and it was actually Indy who fell off the roof. Indy is in a coma and hospitalised, Harry ranting about how Spider-Man should just go away and even MJ has lost faith. Peter isn’t feeling too good about the superhero half of his life, but he has one last thing to do, stop the Gaines Twins, which he does (Okay the sister drives a petrol tanker in a high voltage box and blows the whole warehouse sky high, but same thing). The Twins out of commission Peter decides that there’s no point to Spider-Man and he doesn’t want to hurt anyone else. As such he puts his costume in a case and throws it into the river.

Admittedly this is a heavy couple of episodes and for the recently teenage me that first saw this episode it was both mind-blowing and shocking, to think that superhero lives weren’t always happy or at the very least get a happy ending. Still, next season the first episode would no doubt be about Peter realising that Spider-Man had to carry on and he’d get his suit back. Except there was no second season, this show was cancelled, meaning this two-parter is the last story of the series. It’s a pretty depressing note to end on and making me regret that wish I had about Spider-Man getting a conclusion to his story. However, that’s also kind of why I like this series, I mean I definitely need other versions of Spider-Man’s story in my life, but as one of many, I like what this series does. It tackles things from a more mature angle, it’s not afraid to put Peter and Spider-Man through the ringer and it doesn’t have its hands tied by usual ‘you can’t do that in a kids’ show’ censorship. This cartoon won’t change anybodies world and a lot of the stories are pretty standard Spider-Man fare, but they’re well told (they just need better animation). Anyone who’s curious should definitely check this series out, it’s worth it. For the final week of Spider-Month (and a half) we’re taking a look at the most recent version of the webhead’s adventures, get ready.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Cartoon Corner: Ultimate Spider-Man: The Symbiote Saga Part 1 + 2 + 3 Review

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“Midtown Marauders Rule!”

Oh Ultimate Spider-Man, I don’t want to say the series was doomed from the start (mostly because I think it did pretty well for itself considering how it started), but this series was never going to have it easy. I mentioned in my review of the Spectacular Spider-Man episode that that series was cancelled after Sony made a deal with Disney and Marvel. That meant Marvel could make its own animated Spider-Man show, which is good, but whatever they made would have to follow and, more worryingly, replace Spectacular Spider-Man (a show I’ll remind you I referred to as quintessential Spider-Man). People were ready to hate this show before it even aired and after watching the first season I was in complete agreement with them. Ultimate Spider-Man has many problems, but by far the biggest crime it has is that it doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man show.

A lot of this series’ problems come from its core concepts. In the series, or the first season at least, Spider-Man is recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel Universe’s super secret spy and peacekeeping organisation. He’s put together with a team of other young heroes and then goes about doing what Spider-Man does, saving people and making his own personal life hell. Now the problem with this concept manifests itself in a lot of different ways. For one we don’t get to see much of Peter’s home life. Spider-Man is an everyman hero, part of the fun of watching him and a great deal of our investment comes from seeing Peter struggle with his dual life and how being a superhero impacts on that. This series forgets all about that and instead gives its attention to whatever other hero or villain is making a cameo this week. It strips Spider-Man of some of his uniqueness, heck you could put any hero you want into the lead role here and it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Even the novelty of seeing Spider-Man on a team is wasted as his teammates hardly ever make an impact on events. They’re just there, they might occasionally make a joke or have a spotlight moment, but we never really learn much about them other than surface-level stuff. So much of this show is flash instead of substance and that is so infuriating. Also it’s another step away from Spider-Man’s everyman appeal when he’s suddenly a super spy with all this backup and technology at his disposal. Don’t even get me started on the fourth wall breaking gags, which during the first season were near constant and drove a number of people crazy. That’s not Spider-Man style of humour and it never has been (now if you wanted to make a Deadpool cartoon, sure, that would work). All of these problems build on top of one another until you have a show where you question if the people behind it have ever even seen anything Spider-Man related before.

However, I have gone back to the series since and, well, while the series was never really good (well, not by the standards of the shows I’ve already covered), but it did get decent, which brings me to today’s episodes. This three-parter comes from towards the end of the series as a whole and in the one constant of the Spider-Man cartoons, it’s apart of a long ongoing plot. Our first episode begins with Peter on the phone to MJ, his best friend, over the various seasons Peter has been promoted to a S.H.I.E.L.D. instructor and so he isn’t at Midtown High anymore. MJ misses him, oh and Harry Osborn, his other best friend, is still in a coma after an incident with Anti-Venom. Okay, explanation time. Anti-Venom is one of Venom’s offspring, it’s a symbiote with similar powers to Venom, plus the added power that it’s toxic to symbiotes. End explanation. Anyway Peter hangs up and heads inside the S.H.I.E.L.D. base to find Agent Venom. Explanation time again (why do I get the feeling I’ve made a mistake and I’m going to be stuck explaining stuff for half this review?), basically Flash Thompson, Peter’s old school bully, bonded with the Venom symbiote, but instead of going all vengeful and crazy, he’s found a way to control it and use it for good. End explanation.

This is actually something that I appreciate about Ultimate Spider-Man, the later seasons at least. Because this series is more recent and isn’t covering the standard Spider-Man in high school stuff, it gives the series the chance to use some of the newer continuity for Spider-Man. That means we get more recent additions like Anti-Venom and Agent Venom turning up and while neither character gets the same amount of depth they have in the comics I at least get to see them on screen, which is something. Back to the episode though Agent Venom has finished recovering from a battle in an earlier episode and is eager to get back to action, which means he goes out swinging around the town. Spider-Man follows and as is the law of superheroes, two minutes after that they get attacked by a super-villain. This time it’s Michael Morbius, who in this continuity is a hydra scientist and he manages to steal a bit of Venom’s suit.

Morbius is developing a brand new symbiote with the help of Doctor Octopus, well I say help, he’s actually got the good Doctor as a hostage. Anyway Agent Venom can track the part of himself that Morbius stole, though Flash is having a bit of trouble controlling the symbiote, and then a fight breaks out. If you’re going to watch this series you need to be prepared for this, lots and lots of fight scenes. Since the show isn’t interested in developing or even exploring its characters in any significant way we’re left with fight scene after fight scene, which sometimes can be very entertaining, other times it drags on into tedium. Back to the episode, Doc Ock infects Morbius with a serum and turns him into a vampire monster and Morbius infects Doc Ock with the new symbiote, the Carnage symbiote. Morbius escapes and Spider-Man manages to get Carnage off of Ock, but the Carnage symbiote reveals that it can operate by itself. Then there’s more fighting and more fighting and for a change, more fighting. Eventually Flash gets the symbiote under control and together with Spider-Man they blow Carnage to bits. Unfortunately that’s exactly what Carnage wanted as now the symbiote has spread over half of New York and started taking over the general public.

Part 2 of this arc is probably my favourite. It has a level of scale that almost makes up for the lack of personal stakes, almost. Half of New York have been turned into Carnages and that includes some of the heroes, like Hulk. It’s one of the small advantages of Ultimate Spider-Man, because pretty much every major Marvel hero makes a guest appearance at some point it can easily call on those heroes when its having an event. That means we get Captain America, Iron Fist (teen edition), Cloak and Dagger turning up to help Spider-Man and Venom take on all the Carnages. Things take a turn for the worse though when Harry wakes up, as Anti-Venom. This is both good and bad. On the good side Anti-Venom can strip away the Carnage symbiotes and resort people to normal. On the bad side, he’s kind of obsessed with Venom and wants to strip Flash of his symbiote. It becomes a race across New York as Spider-Man and the other heroes try to lure Anti-Venom to the heart of the Carnage symbiote while fighting off the army of Carnages and keeping Venom as far away from Anti-Venom as possible. The heroes fall one by one, even Venom being knocked unconscious, until it’s just Spider-Man and Anti-Venom, but they do make it to the heart of Carnage. Anti-Venom wants to purge the heart of Carnage, but its too much for him and may mean his host dying if he goes through with it. Spider-Man unmasks in an attempt to get through to Harry, this should be a big emotional moment, but unfortunately it’s undercut by the fact that these versions of the characters have very little depth and I don’t care much for either one. However, when Harry agrees to sacrifice himself with Anti-Venom to stop Carnage, that does manage to drag up some emotion thanks to some good voice acting. Of course Harry survives, though Anti-Venom is gone and now Harry knows that both Peter and Flash are superheroes.

Part 3 of the story continues with the people of New York free of Carnage, but the symbiote itself is still around and making its way towards Midtown High, where MJ went earlier to use the emergency broadcast equipment. Harry goes and gets a suit of armour so that he, Peter and Flash can take on Carnage, which has covered the school. There are two things I want to mention here, firstly a pretty funny extended Stan Lee cameo where he’s fighting off the Carnage symbiote with a mop and second the transformed school just keeps giving me Evolution vibes. Maybe it’s the red goo everywhere, or that we keep getting different critter versions of Carnage showing up, like the little spider versions or the wasp forms. Back to the story though, in a move that could have been awesome, Carnage has taken over MJ and transformed her into the Carnage Queen. Also Morbius returns and takes control of Carnage Queen. After another extended fight Spider-Man frees Carnage Queen of Morbius’ control and they manage to defeat the living vampire. Then Harry, Flash and Peter all unmask to get through to MJ and get her to break free of the Carnage Queen. Again, should have been really emotional, but the show has never given me a proper reason to care for these characters, so it isn’t.

In the end Ultimate Spider-Man has some pretty cool concepts, especially in the later seasons where it tones down the fourth wall jokes and instead focuses on involving bits of the Spider-mythos that had yet to make it to the screen. Unfortunately the show is never interested in developing or exploring its characters beyond the most shallow of tried and tested tropes. The only reason I’m interested at all in any of these characters is because I’ve cared about them in other, better shows. All that leaves the show is it’s action and some fun ideas, which makes this a decent mindless-action cartoon to waste a bit of time on, but a poor Spider-Man cartoon. Next Time we’re going into three dimensions with some New Animated adventures!

See you in the new year!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

The Infallible Fish Reviews: Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

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“I’m from another dimension…another, another dimension.”

The best Spider-Man movie ever! I’m not even joking with that. Now I know I’m meant to be reviewing an episode of Ultimate Spider-Man today, but I’ve seen this film and people need to go see it, right this instant. As such Spider-Month is now going to be a Spider-Month and a half, I’ll get to Ultimate next week. So, back to this being the best Spider-Man film ever made, because while there are parts I love about all the previous Spider-Man films (Except Spider-Man 3, no, I tell a lie, I do like the Sandman stuff in that film, shame that’s pretty much the only part of that film I like, but anyway), all the previous Spider-Man films have their flaws. The Raimi films are incredibly corny in retrospect and Toby McGuire takes being a dweeb to a whole new level. The Marc Webb films are just, well I feel like apologising ‘cause they could have been great, they had so much potential and then it all got squandered. Homecoming is probably the most fun Spider-Man film, but it’s hamstrung by the fact that it removes nearly all of Peter’s core motivation of his Uncle Ben except for one brief mention. Into the Spider-Verse though? It doesn’t put a single foot wrong, beginning to end, I love every single second of this film.

This film understands it’s characters down to a cellular level, and considering the amount of Spider-Characters in this one that is a real achievement (See DC, this is how you do a team movie with no build up!). You get to understand each and every one of the characters, even if they don’t get much time in the spotlight, though everyone gets a least one moment to truly shine. Every character, from the heroes to the supporting to the villains gets something to show you what’s going on inside their heads and it’s a glory to behold. From Miles feeling the weight of the expectations on top of him, to Peter B struggling to find his way back to the man he used to be and even Gwen’s crushing guilt. I love each and every person in this film and is it too early to start petitioning Sony to give each of them their own film or should I wait five minutes?

As for the story, it’s pretty simple, but then it needs to be to fit everything in and that doesn’t mean the emotional and comedic moments hit any less hard. Our story starts with Miles, an ordinary kid struggling between the expectation of his police officer father and the elite school he’s found himself attending. One night while he’s out with his Uncle Aaron, putting his artistic talents to use, he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and wakes up with his trousers suddenly a size too small and incredibly sticky fingers (Ouch, sorry Gwen, that had to hurt). Tracking down the spider that bit him, Miles comes across the one and only Spider-Man, whose in the middle of a fight with Green Goblin, Prowler and Kingpin, the later about to turn on a Super Collider that, as per sci-fi law, will destroy New York if left on for too long. The Collidor gets turned on, there’s an explosion and Spider-Man gives the key to destroying the Collidor to Miles, making him promise that he’ll destroy this place. Then Kingpin kills Spider-Man (spoiler). Miles does try to be Spider-Man, but he’s not very good at it and when he goes to Spider-Man’s grave, he finds another Spider-Man, Peter B Parker, from another universe.

See when the Collider turned on all sorts of dimensions were opened up and Spider-heroes from across the universes were pulled into Miles’ world. There is Spider-Gwen, from the universe where Gwen Stay (Peter’s first love) got bitten by the spider rather than Peter. Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage in the role he was born for) a Peter from a dark and gritty world where he’s a dark and gritty private eye, he becomes fascinated by a rubik’s cube and this whole colour thing. We also have Peni Parker who is psychically linked to a spider (who’s her best friend forever) and they fight together in a giant robot. Then there’s Spider-Ham from a universe of talking cartoon animals (and quite a bit of Looney Tunes inspiration). Now the Spider-heroes can’t stay in Miles’ universe (it’s literally killing them), they need to use the Collider to get back home and then destroy it before the whole of New York becomes an Escher sketch.

Now of the many things that makes this film great is the way it can balance both its comedy and its drama. On the one hand this film is hilarious, there are so many quick, sharp and just plain witty jokes, there were times I was struggling to breathe I was laughing so hard (the end credits scene is the funniest end credits I have ever seen). Also can I just take a moment to just say it feels like forever since I’ve seen some really good slapstick. The slapstick in this film is spot on, from the timing to the exaggeration to everything about the execution, I definitely have the feeling that the people behind this film were Looney Tunes fans. There’s also a plethora of funny lines and I need to see this film again just to hear all of Nicolas Cage’s lines. However this film can also which from comedy to drama and it does it perfectly. Whether its Gwen talking about not wanting ‘friends’ anymore or Kingpin remembering his family or Miles with his Uncle, you feel the pain and struggles of these characters. There’s a beautiful moment where Miles has just lost someone important and complains that the others can’t possibly understand and Gwen just reminds him that they’re probably the only people who could.

Now, let’s talk about the animation. Even if you’re not a Spider-Man fan, even if you aren’t interested in comic books in any shape or form, if you love animation you need to see this film. The style and artistry in this film is beyond anything, this may just be the best-animated film I have seen all year. The use of colour is breath taking, the speed with which it moves and the way it can switch from broody and sombre to bright and vibrant. Each character gets their own style and the way they blend seamlessly together. I…I don’t have the words, you have to see this film. So stop reading this and go, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is quite possibly the best Spider-Man film made so far. It’s smart, it’s funny and heartfelt. It understands all of it’s characters and gives each of them the chance to shine. Go see this film!

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Cartoon Corner: Spectacular Spider-Man: The Invisible Hand Review

Blog Spiderman Invisible Hand Review Title

“Ta-dah! Say my name and I magically appear!”

Ah, Spectacular Spider-Man, you poor, glorious soul. This was a series cut down in its prime. For those that don’t know the story of the series, or rather the behind the scenes story of the series, here’s the basic bullet points as I understand them. Sony had bought the rights to Spider-Man a while ago and produced two enjoyable live-action films (though in retrospect while they are a bit corny, they’re still fun. We won’t talk about the third film though). Sony set their sights to producing an animated TV series and hired Greg Weisman to make it for them (he’s worked on a couple of shows you might have heard of like Gargoyles and Young Justice. Yeah, he’s that guy). Anyway the show carried on for two exceptional season and people where liking it (well, there was a bit of backlash against the art style, but I’ll get into that). At this point Marvel was doing pretty well for itself, the MCU had really taken off and Marvel having just been bought by Disney at the time had the muscle behind it to get back all the franchises it had sold during the 90s. Of course Spider-Man was one of the first franchises Marvel wanted back and while Sony fought over the film rights, the animated series was placed on the sacrificial alter. As such the Spectacular Spider-Man was put in permanent limbo with Marvel and Disney working on their own cartoon. It’s sad that the series didn’t get to continue, but we do have two amazing, sorry, Spectacular seasons and I’m just grateful for that. So let’s get on with this.

Now last year in my review of the Batman the Animated Series episodes Feat of Clay part 1 and 2, I referred to that series as the quintessential Batman series. For me Spectacular Spider-Man is the quintessential Spider-Man series. If you want to get to the root of the character of Peter Parker and what he’s all about, you watch this series. Greg Weisman even called the series the ‘Education of Peter Parker’, as the series covers his early years as Spider-Man and chronicles as he learns and grows as a hero. It’s also why the episodes of the series are often split off into arcs with each individual episode title taking itself from subjects like biology and economics. Today’s episode, The Invisible Hand (which I think is an economics term) is from the second arc of the first season. Previously we’ve had Spider-Man facing off against the criminals of the local crime boss ‘The Big Man’, who in turn has turned to Norman Osborn and Dr. Otto Octavius to create ‘super-villains’ to take on the Wall crawler. The episode starts with Otto trying to warn The Big Man’s hired thug that the impenetrable armour he’s about to apply to said goon can’t be taken off, ever. Norman in turn warns Otto to get on with it, he’s involved in this because he wants to make super soldiers on mass and the Big Man’s troops make handy lab rats. Otto applies the armour and presto; we have a Rhino.

Now I mentioned the art style and while I admit that it does take some getting used to, it works for the series. The art is very stylised, but the models are all actually pretty simple, that makes them incredibly easy to animate. This is probably what Spider-Man the Animated Series needed to help with its budget problems, and as proof our first shots of Spider-Man in this series include an epic car chase, with the web head surfing on the bonnet of a car and webbing said car between two buildings. It’s a fun, fast and pretty flawless scene and why I love the animation of this series so much. This superhero work done, Peter swings his way to the Daily Bugle where he can get on with some of his personal life. There’s a dance coming up at school (which has been talked about since a few episodes prior) and Peter wants Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary, to be his date. Now, Betty is four years older than Peter, which on the one hand points for going deep cut with the Spider mythos as Betty was the very first love interest of Peter, on the other hand be very careful Peter, you’re edging into extremely awkward territory. Peter is ecstatic when he gets Betty to agree to think about it and starts boasting about it to both his Aunt May and his friends at school.

That is one other thing about this series, I love how it weaves its story together. Sure you have the villain/problem of the week for Spidey to deal with, but you’ve also got stuff building up across the arc as well as across the whole series. There’s tonnes of little plot points and character interactions that bump into one another and stack up to make one flawless cohesive hole. Actions have consequences in this series, When Peter snaps a photo of his Spider-self fighting the Lizard in an earlier episode, he gets kicked out of an internship because, as far as the Connors see it, Peter ran out on them making a cure for the Lizard to go take pictures and make money. This is even paid off in a later episode where Norman Osborn tells the Connors to take him back.

Anyway, as per the Parker Luck, the super and normal halves of Peter’s life have to intersect with disastrous consequences. Case in point the same time Aunt May goes to talk to Betty about dating her nephew, the Rhino turns up looking for Peter. One thing I want to comment on is the little moments of character that show just how much the writers of this series get the characters. Take Jameson as an example, his first reaction to the Rhino storming into his office is to come out shouting and blustering, though quickly falling quiet when the Rhino lifts him off the floor. Now Jameson may be a horrible boss and incredibly prejudiced when it comes to costumed heroes, but when he spots Peter he lies to the Rhino, saying that he never comes into the office. This gives Peter the chance to suit up and swing in to take on the Rhino.

I do love the fight with the Rhino, not only does it show off the action that the series is so good at, but it also shows off how smart Peter is and how unstoppable the Rhino is. Spider-Man throws everything against Rhino and none of it works, nothing gets through his armour (though I do like Spider-Man’s horrified reaction when he lures Rhino into charging at a wall, thinking that might stop him, but Rhino goes straight through and plunges several floor down to the pavement. Not even that can stop the Rhino though). However, as I mentioned, this shows off the smarts of the wall crawler and when Rhino keeps stopping to have a drink, Peter works out how to beat him. Rhino’s armour is impenetrable, so that means that his face, the only uncovered part of his body, is sweating for his whole body. Spidey uses this to create a steam tunnel in the sewers and trap Rhino down there, finally putting a stop to the big oaf. Rhino even gives away the identity of the Big Man as he becomes delirious.

Peter rushes back to the Daily Bugle, where Betty turns him down for the dance and Jameson rants about how much damage Spidey has done to his office. Determined to make something go right (you’ll be lucky there Parker), he swings off to confront the Big Man, L. Thompson Lincoln. Now the Big Man may be the smartest crime boss in any superhero story ever. He’s not worried about heroes, they could never stop enough crime to truly damage his income, but they do make the various small timers under his control frightened. Except, when Spider-Man is off fighting a big nasty super-villain, the small timers feel beneath the webheads notice and can get on with crime. As such the Big Man makes the following offer, as it stands the Big Man will continue making super-villains to keep Spidey busy so his employees can get on with their illegal business. BUT, If Spidey comes to work for him however he can still be a hero and even get paid for it, all he has to do is look the other way when the Big Man says so. It’s an unfortunate choice of words and further proof that these writers really gets Peter Parker, because he will never look the other way, not again. As such, rather than having some big fight, Big Man calls in the police and tells them Spider-Man just broke in and threaten him. Considering Spidey webbed Mr. Thompson’s security to the ceiling the police are inclined to believe him rather than the masked vigilante. While the Big Man may have won the fight, Peter remarks that at least now he knows there’s a war.

As I said before, this is the quintessential Spider-Man series. It understands the characters completely, it’s smartly written and filled with fast and fun action. I also like that through the series we not only get nods to classic mythology, like the flirtations with Betty, but we also get to mix in other version of the Spider Mythos. Take the Venom arc for example, Eddie Brock in this series, rather than being some random rival photographer who blames all his failings on Peter because he happens to be there, in this series Eddie is Peter’s childhood best friend, who slowly loses. If you want to see the very core of Spider-Man, watch this series. Next Time we get to see what replaced this series as we go Ultimate! (Oh boy).

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.

Cartoon Corner: Spider-Man the Animated Series: The Alien Costume Part 1 + 2+ 3 Review

Blog Spiderman Alien Costume Review Title

Radioactive Spider-man! Wait, radioactive? Is that really a good thing?

Spider-Man the Animated Series. There are two cartoons that form the foundation of my love of superheroes and cartoons in general, Batman the Animated Series and what we’re looking at today (also why where cartoons in the 90s always called ‘the animated series’ and how come we don’t get that anymore? Just a random thought). Some of my earliest memories are of sitting down on the rug in my living room and watching this show, it enraptured me so, yeah, the nostalgia is caked on pretty thick with this one.

I imagine it’s that way for a lot of kids of my generation and while I will always hold this series up as one of the two best Spider-Man cartoons ever produced (we’ll get to the other best next week), I’m not blind to it’s flaws.

Let’s start with the animation. Positives first, I do really like the character models and designs, you know aside from the overly 90s fashion sense, but overall the still images of this series look great. The problem comes in when the animation is moving, which is kind of a problem for something that’s, well, animated. Don’t get me wrong there are moments when this show is beautiful, and I’ll get to those, but they’re also kind of few and fair between. This series has a bad habit of reusing animation sequences (the most notorious one I always remember is the fact that whenever the Lizards swings this tail the scene always magically transports into the sewers to smash the same wall over and over again, no matter where the scene was set). Also you’ll get lots and lots of talking heads and shots that are just zoom ins or outs of still images. Don’t even get me started on all the CGI buildings that manage to find their way into nearly every episode. I get why they did it, a mix of the show having no budget whatsoever and having access to all this new fancy CG technology, but it was still new and they hadn’t quite worked out how to integrate it into a show yet.

That’s enough about the animation though, let’s get on to the story and the episodes I want to talk about. One of the things that this series excels at is in its fun and exciting plots, case in point our first episode starts with astronauts puttering about on an asteroid. Of course then they pick up the wrong rock, the asteroid starts bleeding and the whole thing begins to collapse, you know, typical space exploration stuff (if you happen to live in a sci-fi serial). Of course the astronauts don’t get away completely scot-free and some black goo leaks out of its case, which in true sci-fi horror protocol, slithers into the cockpit and goes for the pilot. However bad the animation is, the sight of a shuttle careering through the skyscrapers of New York is a real hold-your-breath moment. The pilots manage to land the shuttle on the bridge, but when Spider-Man arrives the Rhino (big guy, dressed in grey with a horn on his head) is charging about trying to steal a radioactive rock. Spider-Man gets his butt kicked, but lucky for him the Kingpin, Rhino’s boss, calls him off so he can get his hands on the rock. Spider-Man saves the astronauts, but this is Spider-Man and his luck lasts for about five minutes before it turns sour. As such Spider-Man hears a noise and goes back into the shuttle only for the shuttle to fall into the river. He comes out covered in black goo and with Eddie Brock (a failed photographer who blames both Peter and Spider-Man for all his failings, he’s appeared a couple of times in the series beforehand.) claiming that it was Spider-Man who stole the rock.

Now, for however much I’ve ragged on the animation, we now come to one of the best animated sequences I think has ever been done with the character and that’s the dream sequence. There’s such a sense of unease and although the symbolism is fairly obvious with both the black goo symbiote and the spider-man costume fighting over Peter, I can’t deny it’s effective. I could happily watch this sequence over and over again, it’s beautifully done.

Now for the rest of the story arc I’m going to cover it in broad strokes, for two reasons. One the Venom storyline, which this is, is one of the most well-known and popular storylines with the character. You’ll be hard pressed to find a Spider-Man cartoon that hasn’t done its own Venom arc somewhere (except for the series before this because the character hadn’t been created back then and one short-lived series after this). As this was the first cartoon to adapt the arc though, it pretty much sticks to the fundamentals. So, Peter wakes up in a new black costume and finds that he has enhanced strength and agility, which comes in handy since J. Jonah Jameson has put a price on his head. The new suit can even change into clothes so that Peter can blend in, but it does come with some downsides. Peter is starting to act more aggressive, threatening his usual bully Flash Thompson and raising his voice to Aunt May. Then when the Rhino shows up again Peter almost squashes him flat with a reinforced steel door. Luckily Peter comes to his senses and realises there’s something very wrong.

The second reason I want to bullet point the story overview is that one of the other things I like about this series is that there’s always a lot going on, but it never rushes anything. While Peter is fighting to control himself and learning that his new black suit is actually a living creature that has taken him as host, we’ve also got the Kingpin planning to sell the rock the astronauts recovered to some unsavoury types, apparently it makes a pretty good bomb. Also there’s Jameson finding out that Eddie Brock faked the photos of Spider-Man stealing the rock and both fires Brock, again, and rescinds the bounty on the webhead’s, well, head. Of course Eddie blames all of his misfortune on Spider-Man, everything from his job loss to his eviction and starts following the wallcrawler around. Eddie is so blinded by his own grievances that when Spider-Man is fighting Shocker, a villain that tried to kill Eddie before, he actually runs in with a mace to attack Spider-Man.

Another note that I really love in this series, the voice acting. I love the cast of this series, the majority of them are the voices I hear for the characters whenever I read the comics. I really love the guy that does Peter’s voice and it’s probably straying into over-acting when he starts screaming after Shocker, but I just want to give the man a round of applause, and something for his throat because it must have been killing after that performance. Back to the story though, Spider-Man and Shocker face off in a bell tower and once again Peter finds himself on the verge of killing a villain. Deciding enough is enough he uses the bell to finally strip himself of the symbiote (he discovered earlier that it was weak to sonic vibrations). While that should be the end of it, the Old Parker Luck is set to sour and so the now jilted symbiote finds its way to Eddie. Can we say new arch-nemesis?

The third and final part of this arc is probably my favourite. It moves quickly, but again it never feels rushed, giving each moment exactly what it needs to give the dramatic and emotional impact it wants to before moving to the next point. We get a run down of exactly why Venom is one of Spider-man’s deadliest foes, not only is he stronger and faster than Spider-Man, he’s able to sneak up on him without setting off his spider sense, but he also knows it’s Peter under the mask and that means Venom can make threatening visits to all of Peter’s loved ones. I also love the design of venom. Just seeing that hulking brute gives me the shivers and you feel a real dread for Peter as he faces an opponent who out-matches him in every way. The final chase between the two of them is really tense as Venom keeps disappearing and reappearing while Peter tries to lead him to where he wants. I won’t spoil how he finally beats him though, but it’s a pretty epic showdown and one that firmly lodged itself in my young mind.

All in all Spider-Man the Animated Series is flawed, especially in the animation department, but is it one of the best Spider-Man cartoons around. It has fast, action-packed stories, with a great voice cast that could really sell the emotion. Also the series had a tendency to favour longer story arcs, or having ongoing plot threads that would build into the story. It also wasn’t afraid to get weird or creative with its stories, in the later season covering everything from its own version of Secret Wars to a trip through the Spider-Verse (before it was named the Spider-Verse). Yet the series never lost the heart of the characters. This was my introduction to Spider-Man and is the reason the wall crawler is my second favourite hero of all time (after Batman of course). Next Time, things are going to get Spectacular!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.  

Introducing Spider-Month!

Spider-Man! Spider-Man! He can do whatever a spider can!

Okay, it’s December and anyone who’s frequented this measly little blog for more than a year should know that that means I’m going to go full self-indulgent and spend the whole month looking at some animated franchise that I love. So cry out in despair or cheer for joy, whichever is your preference, ‘cause I’m devoting this whole month to the wall-crawling webhead, the one and only Spider-Man! It only seems fair, last year I looked at specific episodes from the different animated incarnations of Batman (my favourite superhero of all time) so it’s only right that I look at my second favourite hero, Spider-Man. Though I do have to say that these reviews have become a touch sadder since the passing of the legendary Stan Lee. He has been a central pillar of both the Marvel universe and comics in general since I was a kid. I still can’t properly formulate the words to express what a legend the man was. I can only say he will be missed.

We’re not here to talk about Stan Lee though, we’re hear to talk about one of the characters he was a huge part in creating. Spider-Man has had many different animated incarnations, all the way from the 60s to nowadays where there always seems to be a Spider-Man cartoon on, even if the creative teams and directions change every few years. You just can’t get away from the wall-crawler. His appeal is easy to understand too, if Batman is the peak of what a human can do with no powers but an acute mind and physical prowess, Spider-Man is what your average Joe would get up to if he ever got superpowers (and the complete mess he would make). Spider-Man is an incredibly flawed character, racked by guilt over his Uncle Ben and pursuing an ideal that he can never really hold up to, he continually sacrifices himself to save the day. I know it’s always trotted out with every incarnation of the character, but there’s a reason “with great power comes great responsibility” is so synonymous with the character. It’s a good moral and one everyone should learn. And while the way Spider-Man does things is not something to be emulated (We can all see that Peter’s kind of a screw up when it comes to a work/life balance, right?), the reason he does what he does should be emulated. It’s an ideal we should all strive for.

This does bring me to the one of the problems with the character and I’m going to step away from animation for a moment and talk about the comics, because that’s the place where this problem is evident. See the problem I think the character has is the continual reset he undergoes. His story needs an end, or at least some resolution because the longer it goes on with this poor guy trapped under his own guilt for so long it stops being inspirational and starts being sad. It’s the cyclical nature of comics that things will always reset back to zero, but that means Peter never learns or grows. Over the years he’s lost his marriage, changed jobs a thousand times and even had his own company and degree taken away from him. The mistakes he made balancing his life when he was a teenager or college student go from being understandable to annoying when he’s a thirty-something who can’t hold down a steady job. At some point he needs to be shown to have figured this stuff out and stop making the same mistakes over and over again. It’s Peter’s own status as an every man that hurts the most with this. This problem doesn’t really affect other heroes as much as they’re more removed from reality, so we can accept that on some level they never change. Peter is meant to be one of us though and we grow and learn from our mistakes. The more Peter doesn’t, the less like one of us he is.

I suppose that’s why I like the animated shows so much, and the movies to a degree. No matter how popular a TV series is, it will eventually end and that means the story has the chance to give Peter a final resolution. Doesn’t always happen, but the chance is there at least. Anyway, enough ranting (though I have been saving that one for a while), this coming month I’m going to be looking at five different Spider-Man series, from the heights of my nostalgia, though an odd little entry and possibly my favourite series all the way to the current run, we’re going to look at the series as follows,

1) Spider-Man the Animated Series

2) Spectacular Spider-Man

3) Ultimate Spider-Man

4) Spider-Man: The New Animated Series

5) Marvel’s Spider-Man (2017)

On a side note I am planning on seeing the Into the Spiderverse film when that’s released in the UK, so that may get added in here somewhere if I finish the writing up the review in time.

Catch you tomorrow for the first review!