Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sketched TV: Ultimate Spiderman

Get out your invisible webshooters and web shooting motorcycles(yup those are real) we're reviewing the Ultimate Spiderman cartoon!

This post will be a little different as I'll be talking about the boring and uninspired character designs. The Ultimate Spider-man from the comics is slender and acrobatic.  Even though he's strong, he should look smaller, because even with his powers, he's still the runt of the superheroes. Also, why does no one  show off his toes instead of going for that generic footy? 

These are my thoughts after the first three episodes they've shown thus far.  I'd like to say it's too early to tell, but so far It's a fairly ok Spider-Man cartoon but a pretty poor Ultimate Spiderman cartoon.

If you don't know the story already, Peter Parker gets bit by a radioactive spider and gets super duper spider powers.  This is suppose to take place in the Ultimate Universe™, in which he's still in High School when all the crazy supervillains hit.  In this new cartoon, Nick Furry has recruited Spidey to get special  S.H.I.E.L.D. training and lead a team of teenage superheroes similar to himself including Nova, Power Man, Iron Fist, and White Tiger.

Let me state right off the bat that I am probably not the target audience for this.  I'm guessing they're going for that younger kids to teen demographic with a lighter sillier Spider-Man cartoon.  They've obviously taken cues from the Teen Titans series from a few years back, but like an ametuer artist copying manga for the first time, they worry too much about the surface detail without capturing any of the underlying form.  Every five seconds, even mid-fight, Spidey has to cut away for some cutesy unfunny bobble-headed animation explaining something that doesn't need to be explained.  It's very goofy(or really annoying) and for a kids cartoon, it's not bad.  Nothing like Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, but it's passable.  But it's the Ultimate part of Ultimate Spider-Man I have issue with.
Power Man is obviously the big bruiser, funny and medium height. He's basically Cyborg from Teen Titans.  I generally like Power Man in the cartoon. And they obviously need to make a Power Man/Iron Fist spinoff show.
This was advertised as being Ultimate Spiderman as in Spiderman from the great Brian Michael Bendis run of the Ultimate Spiderman comic, which I LOVED.  I've been collecting it for years and love the writing, the characters, the feel, the way they handle old myths in new ways, and the way they make it funny but at the same time incredibly sad and moving.  Bendis is not afraid to kill characters, and when he kills them, they stay dead.  Suffice it to say I was very excited when they first announced this, especially with the killer voice cast.  But this show has absolutely nothing to do with the comic.

Ok, not absolutely nothing.  The designs for Peter Parker, Nick Fury, Aunt May and Harry Osborn are still intact. He still goes to Midtown High, and it's true they were exploring giving Spidey S.H.I.E.L.D. lessons(from Captain America no less) when they decided(SPOILER ALERT IF YOU'VE BEEN HIDING UNDER A ROCK) to abruptly kill him off in the comic run.(END SPOILER ALERT)  And granted, I wanted to see that story line when it was cut down before it could even start.  But this in no way feels like the Ultimate Spiderman I know and love.

Iron Fist I made taller and slimmer, because he is the strong silent type.  He stays quiet, rarely gets angry, and only opens his mouth to spout some words of wisdom. If you look at a lot of characters, the taller you get,t he more tranquil you are.
Mostly it's from the fact that he's a completely different Spidey. He doesn't sound like Ultimate Spidey. Not that I'm whining he doesn't sound like the exact voice I pictured in my head (although he is voiced by Drake Bell, who was the main character in Superhero Movie, so take that as you will. And one wonders why they couldn't get Sean Marquette, who voiced Spidey in the Ultimate Spider-man videogame, or Josh Keaton, who voiced Ultimate Spider-man in Spider-Man: Shattered Universe, both of which I thought did a great job.), but  he doesn't sound like Spidey because he's dumb, stubborn, whiny, and over-explains waaaay to much.

And this is Spider-Man, who's whole schtick is inner-monologue!  Peter Parker is a kid genius who invented web-shooters and worries waaaay too much about adult things he's not old enough to worry about yet.  But cartoony Ultimate Peter Parker is cocky, and just wants to goof around.  He's a kid being a kid, there's no conflict there. And if you want to make Spidey a fun-loving kid in a goofy cartoon, that's fine, but the main theme of Ultimate Spider-Man(or what I personally got gleaned from it) is that Pete is a kid struggling to be an adult in a grown-up world.  This almost feels like pre-Uncle-Ben's-death Spdier-Man.

Heck, he doesn't even LOOK like Ultimate Spiderman.  Instead of going with the elongated cartoony look(which I've always been a fan of) they chose to go for a much blander and realistic look.  He has the basic features of the Ultimate Peter's face and the bare minimum of the Spider-Man costume, but there's no contrast, no detail, no definition, no emotion.  Spider-Man is a tiny kid who's fast and agile, and he should look it. He's still in high school, and he should look a little runty.  This looks like any average guy could be under his costume.  Y'know what this reminds me of strangely? The costume from Spider-Man Unlimited, the bland before one.

Anyone remember that show? Seriously tell me the difference.
And it's not just him, I had trouble caring about any of the character designs.  They had a few seconds of Norman Osborn and he looked like generic Businessman #4.  There wasn't even a hint of the goblin in him.  The only one I can really say is ok is Power Man, who is generally funny, and is at least a bit bigger than the other heroes to stand out.

"And this is Luke Ca-"

"Power Man."


"If he's gonna be Spider-Man, I wanna be called Power Man!"

Honestly great way of explaining a taboo from the older comics era.

They've barely touched on anything in the Ultimate Spider-man universe. Mostly they've been focusing on the Avengers stuff(gee I wonder why), such as Nick Fury, the Helicarrier, and Dr. Doom.  They haven't shown off any classic Spider-Man villains, except for a glimpse at Doc Ock they're surely waiting to reveal in a later episode.  I really can't understand why they would pick the Ultimate universe if this was the direction they were going.  Why not just repurpose it as the Spidey and his Amazing Friends reboot? Throw in Firestar, Ice-man and the Human Torch for good measure.  Or Spidey and the Teen Avengers? That would make more sense.

Nova should be shorter becuase he's short tempered.  He's this ball of energy, is probably the strongest of the team, and is constantly trying to prove he's as better than the rest. Making him tiny and giving him a chip on his shoulder explains his anger, provides contrast for the test of the cast, and adds conflict. 
But when you're advertising Ultimate Spider-man, well, to paraphrase a popular meme, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."  I mean, have you read the Ultimate Spider-Man comics?  They are dark as all hell. SPOILER ALERTS YOU GUYS Gwen Stacey was killed by Carnage! Mary Jane Watson got turned into a giant red Yeti by one of Peter Parker's clones!(she got better) The Shocker, the lowest tier villain and normal punching-bag for Spidey, who's been fought and easily captured a dozen times, finally snaps, kidnaps the teenage Spidey, and beats him to within an inch of his life. END SPOILER ALERT These are not kids' stories. And honestly, I am not telling the producers to interject some brutal seriousness into this Spider-Man kids show.  I'm just letting them know that this is not Ultimate Spider-Man.

I'm starting to miss the spectacular cartoon Spectacular Spider-Man.  The characters had amazing exaggerated designs, the animation and fight scenes were incredible, and they had a great way of taking pieces of the classic Spider-Man mythos and spinning them(pun intended) into new and fascinating ways.  It had this perfect way of making stories funny while giving them weight.  Peter was constantly struggling with everything, and was generally worried about real-world problems instead of whining about nothing. Y'know what? Just go watch that.
I actually wouldn't change much with White Tiger, she seems to be the only level-headed one on the group, so she should look fairly normal. I might give her sharper points because claws are kind of her thing and she has a sharp wit. Notice I haven't changed the costumes, I think that's for another post.
Ok, final thoughts: There are a few funny bits, especially with Agent Coulson as principal(played by the actual agent Coulson no less!), but on the whole, Drake Bell's constant barrage of whiny quips gets old after awhile  He could be ok, if they'd let him stop talking for five minutes.  I am sure kids will love it and it will give the producers an excuse to make a myriad of marketable merchandise, but it is not at all an Ultimate Spiderman cartoon, so anyone hoping for some Brian Michael Bendis writing will be plum out of luck.  The action is pretty good, or would be if it wasn't constantly broken up by the chibi nonsense, killing the flow.  Had this another title, I might be interested in the story of Spidey and the Teen Avengers.  But so far it has no real substance.  I'm hoping it's going to get better, but it's no Teen Titans, no Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and certainly no Spectacular Spider-Man.

Oh, and Marvel mash-Ups, FYI, Superhero Memebase called. They want their schtick back.

THE GOOD: Spiderman and his amazing friends! Power Man! Agent Coulson! Iron Fist! It's cool to see heroes that don't get a lot of limelight in mainstream cartoons. Is it too much to hope for A Moon Knight appearance? I'm kind of hoping this spins off into a Marvel Ultimate Alliance-esque videogame. Also, Stan the Man lee as the janitor!

THE BAD: Not Ultimate Spiderman at all. Drake Bell's voice gets annoying after 22 minutes of whining. Very kidsy, super hammy, trying to be Teen Titans without any kind of real substance.  Visual designs are boring and lackluster, and for a show that's supposed to have J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah, he barely shows up.

 THE VERDICT: I am a die-hard Spider-Fan but I don't know how much more of this I can watch. It's not doing it for me.  I'm sure some people, kids especially, will have fun with it, but it's more 60's Spiderman than 90's Spiderman.  Here's hoping it improves in later episodes.

SHOWS LIKE IT: Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Superfriends

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: The last episode had them stealing jets from the Helicarrier(becuase apperently, no one keeps an eye on their jets) to go to Latveria to capture Dr. Doom because Spidey wants to prove he's a better hero than Nova.  Part of the reason why I like Spider-Man as a character, and as an extension Peter Parker, is that he's a thinker.  He might be headstrong when it comes to protecting the people he cares for, but ever since his Uncle was shot, he knows never to put people in danger or overstep his boundaries for personal gain because, say it with me, With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. This not in Spidey's character at all. Why would he think that it would be ok to go into a foreign country and snatch Dr. Doom for no reason? What would be his moral justification for showing up Nova? Peter should be smarter than that.  That's not Spider-Man, or at least not the Spider-Man I'd want to watch.


  1. That Spidey drawing at the very top is badass!!

  2. Thanks! It took a lot of work to pull off!