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Cartoon Graveyard: Arachnotopia

May 14, 2009

Cartoon genres tend to come in cycles.  As a show becomes a hit, myriad others in a similar vein will crop up to fill the void that is morning TV, and as they age attention will shift to other genres. Some waves, like the funny animal shows cranked out by the ton by Hanna-Barbera, never really end. Others, like the blatant toy advertisements of the eighties, prove mercifully short-lived. Superhero cartoons,  on the other hand, ebb and flow over time. Consider the many animated incarnations of good ‘ol Spider-Man. He was there for the first wave of TV superheroes in the sixties, and his eponymous adventures made up for their crappy animation with the world’s greatest theme song. After that, as interest in superheroes fluctuated, the webslinger would periodically return to TV. Comics fans remember with irony-tinged fondness the highly nonsensical Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, in which Spidey teamed up for no goddamned reason with Iceman and Firestar (if you don’t know who that is, there’s no reason why you should).

Ancillary Revenue Streams Awaaaaaay!

Ancillary Revenue Streams Awaaaaaay!

Another version in the nineties formed a formidable one-two punch with the X-Men on Fox, and a short-lived revival later on MTV got mixed reviews (the less said about the live-action series from the seventies, the better).

Lo and behold, we find ourselves amidst a cinematic superhero boom, so here come the cartoon capes. Once again Parker leads the pack with The Spectacular Spider-Man, one season already aired and a second on the way.

Title The Spectacular Spider-Man
Network CW / Disney XD
Premise Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.

Before getting into the show itself, it’s worth noting that the show just jumped ship from the CW to Disney XD, aka “Toon Disney cynically rebranded to capture the male demographic.” They’ll air the second season at some point, though you wouldn’t know it from their highly shitty website. This isn’t unheard of; old-Nickelodeon stalwart Doug made the move to the Disney Channel in the late nineties, albeit in a retooled, much less beloved form. It’s doubtful such a fate will befall Spider-Man, but the move ensures one thing: no one will watch this show ever again. Moving to a digital cable channel consisting mostly of reruns fo cancelled series = slight drop in viewership. Farewell, Spider-Man, we hardly knew ye.

note the kiss of death in the lower right corner

note the kiss of death in the lower right corner

What? Oh, right, the actual show, It starts off on the right foot by showing our hero in high school. Smart move. Being the first solo teen hero was part of Spidey’s appeal from the getgo, and watching him learn the ropes makes for good story possibilities. The origin story presented here is about half comics half movie. The web-shooters are once again mechanical, but the show reenacts the spider bite scene nearly verbatim, sans Mary Jane (Bruce Campbell and Macho Man Randy Savage are also sadly absent). Her role is taken by Gwen Stacy, who with a much nerdier Harry Osborn fills out this show’s version of the Harry Potter Trio. You know the drill: male hero, male best friend, and female best friend, who will eventually start a romance with one of the guys. I realize J.K. Rowling didn’t exactly invent the idea, but hers is the most famous. Use of a Trio often indicates lazy writing, but the people behind this series get credit for busting theirs up via a dramatic plot twist midway through the season. They also deserve recognition for having the Spectacular Spider-Balls to blow through the Green Goblin and Venom story arcs in a single season, back-to-back. They pull it off nicely, but damn, guys, you might have wanted to space those out more.

incidentally, this guy is inadvertently responsible for, like, half the villains so far

incidentally, this guy is inadvertently responsible for, like, half the villains so far

The visuals are decidedly cartoony, but the animation is solid, especially in light of the constant re-use of images endemic to the nineties series. Voice-actor nerds will recognize veterans like Kath Soucie, John DiMaggio, and Phil LaMarr, the latter as the world’s deepest-voiced high schooler. Most importantly, the writers bring their A-game. Along with the usual superhero battles and witty banter, we get long-running storylines, interesting characters, and demonstrations the decisions have – le gasp – long-term consequences, some times negative ones. In short, a good source of superheroic action-adventure. It’s not high drama, but no one’s asking it to be.

Final Judgement: This sure would be a fun show to watch IF ANYONE COULD WATCH IT!

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