Spectacular Spider-Man tells the story of Peter Parker at his truest form. He’s 16, he’s in high school, and he’s a superhero. WHAT TO DO! Fortunately for Pete, he’s got his good friends Harry and Gwen to help him out from bullies like Kong and Flash. However, with a new Kingpin of crime in town and a whole slew of super villains, how is a kid supposed to balance the time between going to school and saving New York from constant threat?
Spectacular Spider-Man is good for many reasons. For one, the animation is wonderful. While the characters themselves might look a little goofy, the animation during the fight sequences is so clear and smooth I think it rivals that of any other animated program of today. It needs to be that good because the moves Spider-Man does during his fights are all acrobatic and aerial, and the animators capture that with pure and crisp accuracy. Second, as much as it deviates from the comics, it remains true in spirit and heart and makes consistent references to the actual continuity. On top of putting in a large majority of familiar villains and name references (Miles Warren in season 2 is my obvious favorite), Peter spends the entirety of his time taunting his villains as they battle, which is something the movies were severely lacking in (outside of the occasional “Hey, Gobbie!”). It’s important to remember that Parker is a young guy of 16 years old, and he’s really scared when he goes out there and battles super villains. His taunting is what helps him ease his edge and get into the rhythm of things, as well as distracting his opponent from recognizing that he’s just a kid. The show captures these elements perfectly.
The best part of the show, however, is how deep it really is for a kid’s show. The thing is, I might obviously be over reading this, but during the entire Green Goblin arc, I took it as one large metaphor for drug abuse. I actually wrote an entire essay based around that single principle, and now I’d like to copy and paste said article for you to enjoy (now with pictures). All I hope to illuminate is how great this show really is if you aren’t into it and possibly show that a children’s show can be more than just a children’s show:
Warning: MASSIVE Spoilers Ahead
Maybe I am digging too much into a kid’s cartoon, but as I watched The Spectacular Spider-Man’s Green Goblin arc I began to notice an underlying identity crisis, which is true to the age of the protagonist. But it wasn’t even in Spider-Man that the identity crisis was happening. Peter Parker was 100% clear on who he was at that point, what was important, and what he needed to do. This is nothing like the average 16 year old. Even if a 16 year old is sure he is on a certain path for the rest of his so-called life, he usually has some kind of issues he needs to deal with. Spider-Man is only dealing with what is good and right at this point. This is why the black costume/symbiote will be important to fleshing out his character: Peter Parker needs to walk both sides of the line. 16 is a confusing time full of hormones, and the fact that Parker can only see the light is a bit unrealistic because everyone at some point has to look into the dark part of their souls. However, in the character of the Green Goblin (who in this version of continuity is actually Harry Osborn first) is nothing but an identity crisis and a perfect character for kids to relate to (although I doubt a 16 year old is still getting up to watch cartoons, it is an important lesson for kids to see at a younger age in between ads for cereal and toys).Continued below
Harry Osborn is a geek in all senses of the word. He has crappy hair and dresses in a sweater vest to school. He doesn’t get enough love from his father, and his mother is gone. He wants one of the popular girls to like him, but for some reason she only has eyes for this one jock (who is reminiscent of a mongoloid who would be in Genghis Kahn’s army). He’s also good at science! EW! So Harry begins to try and branch out. He tries out for the football team and makes the cut (even though Peter tries out with him to make him feel comfortable and is inevitably better than him, which causes a rift between the two friends (oh, and did I mention the only other geek girl (now portrayed by Gwen Stacey, who was always viciously supermodel hot) only has eyes for Parker?)). With this, he eventually gets the girl of his dreams, and all the jock friends. He gets to take them to the Fall Formal in his limo and promises to take them all out on the town afterwards. However, as soon as Peter arrives at the Formal with Mary Jane (who causes great chaotic rifts in the high school social structure), Harry and his money become second to nothing in the eyes of the popular crowd. Not only that, but at the dance, his girlfriend’s ex shows up and wins her back with only a single rose. So with a shattered home-life and a close taste to what he wanted in high school gone on an important social function, where does Harry turn? The only place to turn: The Globulin Formula (or, in simple metaphor, drugs). With a single chug of this green chemical, Harry grows in strength and his dark side is fully unleashed as he, a 16 year old boy, takes the role of one of the most maniacal villains in Spider-Man’s history (Green Goblin is to Spider-Man as the Joker is to Batman, although the Green Goblin’s motivations have always been more clear than the Jokers). Of course the chemical is actually creating a schizoid personality in him that Harry can’t control but feels the need to embrace. Of course, Spider-Man eventually assumes the Green Goblin is actually Norman Osborn, but it is clear from the beginning that it is Harry who couldn’t take the pressure of his high school life.
And what were the reasons for his murderous rampage? Simply to set things right in Harry’s world. His mother was gone due to his father’s job, and his father was all he had left. However, Norman was being threatened by Tombstone, and had been bullied in front of Harry by Hammerhead. So the Goblin first tries to get Tombstone to step down as the kingpin of crime. When this doesn’t work, he simply tries to blow him up (although nothing can actually kill Tombstone, for those that know the character). Then, when Spider-Man foils this, he offers Spider-Man a partnership, but almost instantaneously tries to kill Spider-Man at the same time, and never stops putting him through trial after trial (which of course Spider-Man will survive, although by all rights and standards, he probably shouldn’t). In the next episode, he sabotages Tombstone’s lead scientist, Doctor Octavius, turning him into Doctor Octopus, who in turn becomes a megalomaniac and starts reigning chaos. And finally, in the last part of the arc, he attacks Gwen Stacy in school (although, mildly, only pushing her against a locker because it is a kids show) and tries to kill three people, two of which are trying to hurt his father, and one of which is simply in his way. He’s killing somebody just because he’s in the way! This is what pushes the Green Goblin to a dark realm. Most try and simply defeat Spider-Man. While this could mean killing, it is never specified, and they are doing it because it is what they are paid to do. They’re basically contract killers. But the Green Goblin has no real reason to kill Spider-Man at this point. Spider-Man hates Tombstone as much as the Green Goblin, he just believes in the power of the law. The Green Goblin recognizes this and decides that due to his beliefs, he must die. And it is a MUST die because at the beginning of the final arc of the three part episode, the Green Goblin visits both Tombstone and Spider-Man and tells them they will need to meet him later at his molten lava trap.
All of this leads to a good cartoon for kids to watch, but an even better cartoon for people like me to watch. With the old 1994 Spider-Man cartoon I grew up with, it spelled out everything at the end of the day with Parker’s inner monologues. There was some mildly deep stuff in it, but not like this, because the creators of this show feel the need to explain nothing. The final scene in the episode is Peter sitting with Gwen and Mary Jane (who transferred into his high school for the theater department, because apparently cartoon high school in New York is like college) and Gwen mentions that Harry is no longer going to be in school as he is traveling abroad. Then she gets quieter and says, really earnestly, “To get the help he needs.” And Peter knows what she means. And the kids have an idea of what she means: he needs to stop being a super villain. And the scene pans out on them with no happy ending, which paints an excellent scene of desperation and a reality check from Spider-Man’s super hero glamor life. And it is an important lesson to learn even if there is no monologue explaining it all: high school is a hard time, your own understanding of self identity is important, and you should never turn to drugs to solve the problem. Arguably this cartoon with that message runs a bit far and just about as ridiculous as most commercials as those that feature a kid smoking marijuana and shooting himself or his friend. But the kids that wake up early to watch The Spectacular Spider-Man need to learn that being okay with yourself is important because they won’t be the jock crowd in high school who have “life handed to them on a silver spoon” most likely. In every instance you read of a serial killer, a typical cliche is that he had a troubled child hood. Harry Osborn is a stereotypical serial killer and he makes an excellent point when he asks the masked Spider-Man what a mask really is. Peter will begin to struggle with these problems himself in the next three episodes when he dawns the black costume, and he will once again portray an important message.Continued below
And THAT, boys and girls, is EXACTLY why I think you should go out and buy this full season today. It’s a wonderful show and I absolutely adore it, so if you haven’t given it a chance yet, now’s the time. Marvel’s other animated show, Wolverine and the X-Men, also happens to be really great – but we’ll get to that review when the full season DVD comes out instead of silly volumes. For $20, this is an absolute steal.