Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Cartoon Week: Is He Strong? Listen, Bud...He's Got Radioactive Blood

Like Batman, Spider-Man's been adapted into cartoon form multiple times, starting with his first series 1967, which, in its infinite glory, gave us this:

(I can actually play this on the ukulele, and weirdly enough, at a slower tempo, it sounds a lot like the M. Ward cover of "Let's Dance.")

In the early 80's, Peter Parker was a swingin' college cat hanging with his buddies Iceman and Firestar in "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends." Even as a small child, I always thought of them as "Spidey's bickering hangers-on," but hey, I was a cynical four-year-old.

The 90's gave us a "Spider-Man" that heavily referenced 80's-era comics stories and featured a ton of really awkward CGI backgrounds and recycled stock animation. Which is to say, it wasn't very good. The less said of its sequel, "Spider-Man goes to a parallel earth run by manimals," the better.

After the first movie came out, MTV released "Spider-Man: The New Animated Series." It was basically in the movie's continuity, but as a result, couldn't really use any of his villains, before they were introduced in the films. Which meant apart from The Lizard (voiced by Rob Zombie, if you can believe it), there were a lot of made-for-MTV villains. Which is about as good as it sounds. On the plus side, the animation (much, much more advanced CGI) was really interesting when moving, and Neil Patrick Harris did a fantastic job voicing Peter Parker, despite not being outwardly awesome.

But this year the reboot button got hit again, and Saturday mornings are the home of the recently-premiered "Spectacular Spider-Man." From what I've seen, it's really entertaining. It might be because the 16-year-old Peter Parker in this series:

resembles another energetic young go-getter:

In fact, all the designs resemble Bryan Lee O'Malley's "Scott Pilgrim" series, and that's fine by me. The show is light and fun, frequently humorous, and the hassles Peter has to deal with are...actually very much in the vein of the "teenager struggling with responsibility" story engine Stan Lee started and Brian Michael Bendis perfected.

Example: in one episode, to help Aunt May pay some bills, Peter enters and wins a Spider-Man photo contest, and is offered more work by the Bugle - if he gets a camera that might actually be capable of taking a professional picture. The dilemma: does he use the prize money to buy a new camera with the idea of using later income to help Aunt May, or does he stick with the original plan, which doesn't help him out at all?

This is the "real" story. On the surface, yes, The Shocker (hee-hee) is zapping the hell out of him (hee-hee-hee!), but what's really important? Peter having to make a hard choice any kid could understand.

This is why Spider-Man works in animation in ways Batman never could. Batman is a cold perfectionist. Spider-Man's just tryin' to help out, man. Bruce Wayne is a resourceful billionaire. Peter Parker's a kid trying like hell not to disappoint anyone.

It's the relatability-factor that, when you stick to the basics, makes Spider-Man a timeless, all-ages character.

(Unless he's stuck on an alternate earth with manimals. Oh, and a nanotech-costume, did I mention the nanotech-costume? God, the 90's were awful.)

Next Up: An absolutely balls-out crazy mid-90's FOX cartoon based on an underground comic. And it's NOT "The Tick."

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