Spider-Man was thrust back into our lives in a big way this fall with the release of Sony’s Playstation 4 title Spider-Man. The game has been received with universal critical and popular acclaim, and with it many people were looking to delve deeper into the lore of our favorite web-slinger. During this time, I decided to catch up with an animated series that had escaped me during its short-lived run on Kids WB and Disney XD, but has become something of a cult classic. Enter The Spectacular Spider-Man, which ran its first season on Kids WB in 2008 before the channel was vaporized and the show was moved to Disney XD in 2009 for its second season before ultimately being cancelled.
What I quickly found in the first season of this show was the most faithful adaptation of the spirit of the comic book character on screen to date. As someone who grew up on the ’90s TV series Spider-Man: The Animated Series, I can say with full confidence that Spectacular was a significant improvement on that series in nearly every single way. Whereas that show seemed to exist simply as a way to sell merchandise and showcase every Marvel character one could imagine, Spectacular fully understands it is first and foremost a television show and it proceeds as such. The show quickly establishes this is the high school version of Spider-Man, which is personally my favorite version of the character. The Animated Series placed Peter Parker in college, as did Raimi’s movies starting with 2 and in 3. Spectacular returns Parker to his high school roots, struggling to fit in as a nerd being bullied by Flash Thompson and others. It also shows him sharing a solid friendship with Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, two characters that experience well-written arcs over the course of the season.
The cast of characters expands out from there, including the likes of Dr. Curt Connors, Eddie Brock, Aunt May, and later Mary Jane Watson. The show is so well written by writing all of the characters to have backstory and depth episodes before their big breaks. For instance, Eddie Brock starts the series as a very good friend of Peter’s, and we slowly see his animosity towards Peter grow over the course of the season before finally it ends with his becoming Venom. This is a very different play from The Animated Series, which simply pitted Eddie Brock as a disgruntled middle-aged reporter with no real connection to Peter.
This show also does a superior job of making its villains sympathetic characters. It builds up all of these people as people first and villains second. Spider-Man has perhaps the best rogues’ gallery of any superhero this side of Batman, so it should go without saying that all of the villains in this show really kick ass. The art style for them can be jarring at first, but it really grows on you over time.
Overall it is easy to tell that lots of thought went into building up these characters in a relatable and organic way. Having Spider-Man brought to life by making an excellent teen drama is really the best thing that could have happened here. I am definitely sad there is only one more season of this show to watch, but at the same time I am grateful there is as much as that. I look forward to giving this world more room to breathe, as I think this show is the best adaptation of the essence of Spider-Man there has ever been on film or television.
The first season of The Spectacular Spider-Man is currently free to stream on Vudu