Disney's first foray into Spider-Man cartoons is a significant departure from the previous offerings (1967, 1980, 1981, 1994, 1999, 2003, and 2008). This latest reincarnation features the youngest, most immature and ill-disciplined Spider-Man to date. It uses a self-referential and almost slapstick style, with Spider-Man indulging in plenty of "to-the-camera" breaking of the Fourth Wall.
Note: This first episode "Great Power" is naturally the first half of a two-part story, with "Great Responsibility" to conclude in episode two.
|Adapted By:||Marvel Play Time (UK Magazine) #1|
|Adapted By:||Marvel Universe Ultimate Spider-Man: Great Power (Screen Cap Digest) (Story 1)|
|Adapted By:||Ultimate Spider-Man #1: Great Power|
Spider-Man swings his way to school, with in-passing introductions to Spidey-hating publisher Jonah J. Jameson and Spidey-mistrusting policemen and general public. Through flashbacks and comments to camera, we learn that Peter has only been Spidey for a year, and is still pretty new at the game. Uncle Ben's death (by shooting) is briefly shown, but not fully explained at this stage.
Pausing in his travels, Spider-Man tackles glue-shooting villain "The Trapster" (for the fourth time in his career, having failed on previous attempts). Our web-slinging hero is finally victorious, but at significant cost in damage to property and risk to bystanders. While he congratulates himself for his victory-of-sorts, Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. arrive on the scene to survey the wreckage.
Fury reveals his knowledge of Peter Parker's secret identity, and offers Spider-Man some much-needed training and equipment. But while Spidey is tempted, he does not take up the offer, instead making his belated way to High School.
At High School we get introductions to friend (not girlfriend) Mary Jane, (friend) Harry Osborn and (bully) Flash Thompson. There's no real surprises here. MJ wants to become a Journalist, and in her drive-to-succeed is prepared to take up Jameson's challenge to get footage of Spider-Man. Harry has the usual daddy issues, and Flash is a Spider-Man fan.
There's also a Janitor who looks remarkably like Stan Lee (and makes the associated Irving Forbush references). Perhaps the most "altered" supporting character is Aunt May, who (when we meet her a little later in the episode) is relatively young, hip, and active.
Now, naturally, we're going to need some more villains before we go much further. So cue corporate mastermind Norman Osborn (Harry's father of course) and his evil tentacle-wielding scientist henchman Doctor Octopus. Osborn is seeking to create a line of super-soldiers, and has plans for Spider-Man's DNA.
But those guys are for the over-arching "sinister behind-the-scenes" stuff. So we're also going to need a more immediate threat for this episode. And here they come... "The Frightful Four" (Wizard, Klaw, Thundra and... well, Trapster would be there but he's already in prison) smash their way into Peter Parker's High School cafeteria. It seems that the Trapster placed a tracking device on Spidey during their final battle. Now Doctor Octopus has sent the Frightful Four to Midtown High to engage in battle once more, with the aim of acquiring further information about the wall-crawler's abilities and attributes.
Peter Parker adopts his Spider-Man persona and engages Klaw, Wizard and Thundra in combat. MJ takes photos, Harry is injured. Flash asks Spider-Man how he can help, and gets tricked into hiding in a locker. The police arrive and the bad guys decide to quit while they're ahead.
Thinking things over later, Spider-Man finally agrees that he's out of his depth. He makes a stealth visit to the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier, and (after the obligatory "attacked by the security system" combat sequence) is welcomed onto Nick's team (with the equally obligatory "hope you survive the experience") cliché.
Critical response to the series has been mixed. Before I watched the first episode, I had read many angry posts on forums complaining that the indisputably excellent Spectacular Spider-Man TV (2008) had been cancelled while Disney swapped in this "immature rubbish" to take its place.
And so I was hyped for disappointment. I had my vitriol and insults all lined-up and ready-to-go. But there's really no cause to use them.
Sure, the critics are quite correct. This series is immature, flippant, lacking in depth, and far removed from the current mainstream comics. But it also has an unexpected charm that I am struggling to explain.
The decision to move far away from the "official universe" was probably a good one. Previous cartoons like Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994) and Spectacular Spider-Man TV (2008) have already covered the centre ground so well, there's not much room left for a new series to work in that space. Heading sideways was really the only remaining option.
The graphics are very good, the voice-acting is spot-on. The script is frequently childish, but it is fast-paced and very carefully structured. There's a competent and energetic professionalism about the whole show.
The writers have sketched out a brand new version of Spider-Man, and they plan to have some fun. This ain't "mainstream Spidey" for adult collectors with fifty years of reading history. It's Spidey for modern kids – fast, fun and loud.
I'm gonna let the kids have their fun. Three-and-a-half webs.
Introducing Characters: Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Nick Fury, J. Jonah Jameson, Oscorp, Norman Osborn, Doctor Octopus, Mary Jane Watson, Harry Osborn, May Parker, Flash Thompson, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Frightful Four (consisting of Trapster, Wizard, Thundra and Klaw). Also Stan the Janitor.
Introduction in Cameo: Ben Parker, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk.