Friday, March 1, 2013

Leniency on the 90's Spider-Man animated series?

OK, here's the set-up for this. Greg, a blogger with whom I'm familiar with has some strong opinions on Spider-Man. One of them being that he loathed the 90's animated series, which itself was a very "love or hate" thing with Spidey fans. For instance, Greg hates it alot, but people like MadGoblin from "Spidey Kicks Butt" had mostly good things to say about it. Doug Walker hated it when he watched it in the 90's, but Spider-Man/comic book fan Lewis Lovhaug gives it praise to this day. Me? I loved it as a kid: it was my first big exposure to Spidey, and for that I am eternally grateful. However, watching it as a teen and a young adult...it REALLY doesn't hold up very well. I remembered the show being as exciting to watch as "Batman" at the time it was on. Now I see that it, like Doug Walker has said, was trying to do that sort of thing but, for the most part, did it so poorly. I can spot it's many flaws whenever I see 'em now, 'cause they are so numerous and so glaring. But at the same time, I can see the good the show did as well and cannot ever bring myself to really hate it like many other people do. It still has a place in my heart for being my gateway to Spider-Man, after all.

But does that mean I should show it totally leniency? Well, 'how bout this? Greg once compiled a laundry list of complaints about the show, many that I agreed on but others that I was more understanding of. I'll go over that and address what I think of those complaints, and then I'll address my own issues with the show that he missed. Here goes:

 - The Hobgoblin before the Green Goblin!: Oh boy, this one was rather infamous. During the show's first season (there were five of them!), there was a small story arc about the Kingpin spreading his criminal influence in New York by teaming up with Spencer and Alistair Smythe, and Norman Osborn of Oscorp. The Kingpin also sought to take Oscorp from Osborn, ensuring that Osborn would keep working for him. However, Norman Osborn wasn't taking any of that. So he was going to become the Green Goblin and sabotage the Kingpin's whole operation, trying to take over the crime of NY for himself. It'd be very much like the Green Goblin vs Big Man feud we got in "The Spectacular Spider-Man." But the guy running the show (John Semper's predecessor) had the bone-headed idea to make Norman become the Hobgoblin rather than the Green Goblin, since Green Goblin was irrelevant at the time the show was being made. Everyone, up to Stan the Man himself, disagreed with this: Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin, no one else! However, a toy line featuring the Hobgoblin was already being made, so Hobby had to be in the show. So eventually a compromise was made: the show ended up having Norman Osborn plotting to take out the Kingpin by creating and selling Goblin gear to this anonymous punk, who became the Hobgoblin to do Osborn's bidding. Of course, Hobgoblin ended up double-crossing basically everyone so that he could take over as the Kingpin, so Osborn and Spidey had to work together to stop this. It's really jarring considering that in the comics, the whole point of the Hobgoblin was that he was taking up the Green Goblin's legacy, and so there was this huge mystery about who he was under the mask. Here, we didn't know who he was but that wasn't really an issue since he was the first Goblin supervillain to show up on the scene, leading Spidey to contently think of him as "Hobgoblin." But y'know what? I think they made this one work out. They got to build towards Norman's descent in madness and becoming the Green Goblin, and give Hobgoblin the screen time he needed to be an awesome villain: probably the best villain on this show. Now the handling of the Green Goblin that came later? We'll get to that later on down the line, but for now let's just say it's kind of a letdown.

- Horrendous voice acting, especially Mary Jane!: Giving one example of horrendous voice acting to justify the claim that the whole show had horrendous voice acting, are we? For one thing, MJ's voice (by some person named Sara Ballentine, if anyone cares) was indeed terrible and the delivery atrocious. That, along with MJ's hideous appearance, actually managed to butcher the "Face it, tiger: you just hit the jackpot!" moment. And for another thing, while there were some terrible performances in the show, it was usually a case of horrendous voice direction rather than truly bad acting. Greg has gone on to realize this, seeing as the voice director, Tony Pastor, had a terrible resume and was not a good, experienced voice director. At all. Out of the whole cast, there are about three performances that I found to be perfect in spite of the direction: Roscoe Lee Brown as the Kingpin, Mark Hamill as the Hobgoblin, and the always great Jim Cummings as the Shocker. ("SHOCKEEEEER!" XD) Everyone else was either bad or misdirected. For misdirected, let's look at Christopher Daniel Barnes as the main character. Throughout the show, he had great comedic timing for Spidey's various one liners. But that was all he was good at. For his regular moments, he sounded bland. For his dramatic or angsty expository moments, he spoke in a forced, whispery voice and talked at a ridiculously rushed pace. And for his "emotional moments", good lord was he a ham! His yells were over-the-top and ridiculous, most famous being the abovementioned yell at Shocker and of course "MARY JAAAANE!". Even when he almost got it right in a scene where he chews out Madame Web, he ends it with a needless "DO YOU HEAR MEEEEE?" Years later, Barnes would return to voice a version of Spidey in the "Shattered Dimensions" video game, under expert voice direction by Jaime Thomas, and he was natural and fantastic in the role. Another great example of a great voice with poor direction was Ed Asner as J. Jonah Jameson. Brilliant casting! Asner has a perfect grouchy, gravelly voice for this character. This should be great, right? The one problem: his performance is too restrained. He usually just grumbled and made angry declarations like a normal guy. JJ is not a normal guy: he's supposed to be super-animated and over-the-top. He's been so since the early comics, and it's faithfully represented in the performances of people like Darran Norris and (of course) JK Simmons. Asner wasn't allowed to go over-the-top all that much in this role, something that allegedly bothered him. And I know he can do over-the-top shouting delivery: just check out the beginning of this video!  So we had a Spidey who went too over-the-top and a Jameson who didn't go over-the-top enough! Yeesh! We also had several great talents like Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Neil Ross, Greg Berger, Jennifer Hale, Hank Azaria, Dorian Harewood, etc. all giving hit-miss performances. And other than MJ, two other crowning examples of bad voices would be the incredibly irritating and unconvincing Aunt May, and the gratingly whiny Harry Osborn. The latter especially bugs me. I mean, they had Rob Paulsen on the show voicing Hydro-Man for three episodes! While that performance wasn't bad, it was the wrong character for him to be voicing. In my opinion, Paulsen would've made a great Harry! But instead, we get a whiny voiced guy who sounds like he always has a stuffy nose voicing him and that gets real annoying.

- 90% of the series was stock footage!: Actually...this is entirely correct. Even in the first season, which had the best and most original animation, they often resorted to stock footage. An instance that stands out to me is in the second part of the "The Alien Costume" two-parter, when Kingpin and his henchman find out that the Promethum X rock they obtained was useless. It ends when, all of sudden, Kingpin is in a different room than he just was, pointing his finger at Smythe while saying "he knew it!". See the image to the left? That exact scene was used in an earlier episode when Smythe first became Kingpin's main lackey. Recycling it like that was blatant and incredibly lazy. WOW. Did the budget for this series really suck that much?

- No Gwen Stacy!: I guess this would be a big one, considering how quintessential Gwen has become to Spider-Man lore. To be fair, "no Gwen Stacy" isn't entirely accurate seeing as she did show up in an alternate dimension in the very last episode of the show. But for most of the show, I guess they chose to have Felicia Hardy playing the Gwen role for whatever reason. Maybe it was the same reason as putting in Hobgoblin before Green Goblin: they didn't feel Gwen was "relevant?" That'd be stupid since some characters are ALWAYS relevant: Gwen Stacy is one such character. In any case, Felicia was a fun and likable supporting character.

- No Betty Brant!: Unlike the Gwen Stacy complaint, I find this one stupid. I mean...who really gives a shit if Betty Brant is in a Spidey series or not? Does she really NEED to be there? Unlike Gwen, she has not become a staple of the Spider-Man mythos. In fact, so many people refer to Gwen as "Spidey's first love interest", forgetting that technically Betty was! To be fair, I'm not too surprised. In the early comics, it was pathetically obvious that she was a Silver age Lois Lane ripoff. Same job, same role, same grating dumbass personality, and even a double initial name! Betty was never compelling as a love interest, which is why she was ultimately discarded as one and grew into something better. And outside the comics, what has Betty ever really done? She's a minor supporting character in the movies, a comic relief character in the "Ultimate Spider-Man" comic series, and that subplot with her and Peter in "The Spectacular Spider-Man" lasted 3 episodes before getting cut down before it even really went anywhere because she's "too old for him", thus reducing her to a background character. Really, Betty Brant does not contribute much that some other character could already contribute. She didn't need to be here and she isn't missed.

- Electro being the Red Skull's son!: Ugh. I know, right? I'm all for reinventions of characters, but not when they deviate too far from the spirit of the source material, as I'll mention later. And making Electro a super-powerful and destructive German mutant and son of another notorious Marvel villain....that's really stretching it. Plus, it was too little too late to even bring in Electro at that point anyway. Having the rights to him now doesn't justify this.

-Lame dimensional portals!: Chalk this one up to Executive Meddling. I'm positive that this came about because they weren't allowed to kill off Mary Jane and Norman Osborn. Strange seeing as how in the series finale, they used a variant of it to kill off the main villain, but whatever. My biggest issue with this one was that they used the Spot to introduce it into the show. So essentially, they made a throwaway joke villain like the Spot more pivotal to the series than the likes of Doc Ock or the Lizard. Wow, what potential did the writers see in that guy?

-Norman Osborn being the Kingpin's whiny bitch!: I don't know what went wrong here, but they really went here. Norman Osborn, Spidey's quintessential Big Bad, was made the Kingpin's whiny bitch. Like I said, in the first season Osborn was planning on bringing down Wilson Fisk the Kingpin to get him off his back and protect Oscorp. In his appearances in that season, he was portrayed as a ruthless businessman who didn't take anyone's crap: not Spencer Smythe, nor Hobgoblin, nor Spidey, or even Fisk. And he never had time for his son Harry, despite wanting to think of himself as a good father. This characterization was most likely used due to the initial plans to make him the Green Goblin. But that didn't happen. By the next season, Norman Osborn was suddenly as much of a spineless wuss as his son! His desire to take out Fisk was dropped and instead he was living in constant fear of Fisk's oppression. He was constantly in a state of stress and anguish, whining about how things weren't going his way. And whenever there was a threat, rather than trying something to fight it off or bail because it's the smart thing to do, he reacted like an absolute terrified coward. Yes, that's right: Norman Osborn openly showing fear. There was also the notion that he'd "turned good" ever since reconciling with Harry at the end of the Hobgoblin two-parter, and was only driven to madness and evil by all the stress he had to deal with, and the lab accident that "created" his split personality. All things considered, he was usually a pretty swell guy and a decent father, too. Yeah. this portrayal was disgraceful. It really didn't help that Neil Ross' vocal performance was all wrong. Rather than sound like an underhanded tycoon, he sounded like a decent gentleman. And that really started to reflect the mischaracterization of Osborn. Thank goodness we have versions played by Willem Dafoe and Alan Rachins to make up for this. Heck, I'd even take Steve Weber over this one! (His Norman, not his Goblin, mind you.)

-Doc Ock being Kingpin's buttmonkey!: This one's just as big as the Osborn one. Doctor Octopus is Spider-Man's regular arch-enemy: his second greatest villain after the Green Goblin. He's also one of the first villains I knew about when I first got into Spidey, the others being Hobgoblin, Scorpion, and Venom. And yet here he's yet again a pawn of Kingpin, who was this show's main villain. In his first appearance, Ock was decently portrayed. This show invented the "Octavious as Peter's science mentor" angle that "Spider-Man 2" went with, but Ock was more arrogant and less sympathetic in this show. His voice was by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and it sounded great...except that they made him speak with an accent that could never decide what accent it was supposed to be. See what I meant about inept voice direction? Anyway, after starring as the main villain of one episode in the first season, he returned in the two-part second season premiere when the Kingpin broke six supervillains out of prison and had them form the Sinist...er, "Insideous" Six, a group that Ock himself formed in the comics. In these episodes Ock was still the field leader among the villains, but Fisk was calling the shots. Ock did not like working for Fisk: he made this vocally clear. I'd swear that was meant to be foreshadowing that Ock would bail on Kingpin and take complete control of the group from then on out. And yet the story ended, and...nothing. Ock's betrayal never occured. But Ock's characterization was still strong in these episodes (I particularly liked his scene with Aunt May, and his exchange with the unmasked Peter), so I could forgive it. I could not forgive how they treated him in the next three seasons. His third appearance was based on both the "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" and "Attack Of The Octo-Bot" stories from the comics, and again he was working for Kingpin. Again a "Ock as Starscream" hint was dropped, but nothing came of it because he was defeated by a child. By a child! After that, he was impossible to take seriously. So he became the Kingpin's flunkie full-time, and whenever he was opposed to Fisk's plans, Fisk had to just mildly threaten him and he'd obey. What a load of bullocks! To see a great evil genius supervillain reduced to little more than an elite mook...again, disgraceful.

- Tombstone's Joker rip-off origin!: "Fall in there a second time and your hair might turn green!" Yeah, hanging a lampshade on it doesn't make it any less of 
a rip-off (a vaguely racist one at that!) but it was funny to hear Spidey address it all the same.

- Crappy CGI Backgrounds!: They looked cool at the time? -_-

- Super Soldier Black Cat!: Yes, yes, YES. God, I hated what they did to Black Cat. I stated earlier that Felicia Hardy was a good supporting character. Knowing that she was to be the Black Cat was why I think the idea of setting her up as a regular character was a stroke of brilliance. We'd get to see her go from a sheltered snob into a strong, quick, competent thief who would have a love/hate affair with Spidey. But what did we get instead? Some contrived story involving Felicia's father that tied into the creation of Captain America, and ended up using the same super soldier formula that created Cap on Felicia, to make her the Black Cat. Say WHAT? Yes, Black Cat had super soldier strength now, and a muscular design to boot. She was a vigilante heroine rather than a thief, her love/hate affair with Spidey was instead an incredibly forced and annoying partnership that abruptly ended halfway through the season when she went off with Morbius (ugh!), and Jennifer Hale's vocal performance turned incredibly irritating, making the character come off as irritating too. The "sexyness" was soooo forced. Gah, how is it that they got Felicia right but Black Cat wrong? That was supposed to be the culmination of her character, and yet it was her ruination instead! It's a shame we'll never see what was to become of the younger Black Cat in "The Spectacular Spider-Man": she showed way more promise yet got cut short of it too soon.

- Anna Watson being a bitchy old harpy!: You will hear absolutely no argument from me on this one either. This was a complete derailment of a character's personality, made the character annoying and her scenes unbearable to sit through, and it just made no goddamn sense! Isn't Anna Watson a friend of May Parker? Isn't that how the matchmaking between Anna's niece and May's nephew came about in the first place? WHY does Anna hate Peter so much in this show? Why is May friends with a woman who openly insults her nephew? Why doesn't she, or Peter, or even MJ tell her off more? Why is this character even here if all she's going to do is bitch like the one-dimensional bitch that she is? Please make it stop? Make it stooooop!!!!

- Giant "Uber Cool" Goblin Glider that just so happened to be a $30 toy on the shelves!: I mentioned the Hobgoblin toy line before, right? Like it or not, cartoon shows make for great vehicles to market toys. Should we really be that surprised by this one?

- Dormmamu and Morbius being way too prominent!: I only remember Dormmamu being prominent twice. Twice in the same season, in fact! The first time I can let slide because it was Dr Strange's day to guest star. The second time was inexcusable. WHY bring back Baron Mordo and the Dread Dormmamu in episodes that don't feature Dr. Strange, but DO feature Venom, Carnage, Iron Man, War Machine, and Madame Web already involved? That's overkill, and Dr. Strange's villains have no place as a recurring presence on a Spider-Man show. They're way too weird for Spidey to be dealing with. As for Morbius...I'll talk more about him later, but yes: he was way more prominent than necessary. One story with him as a villain was enough.

- Madame Web with crazy Beyonder powers!: Who cares about the powers? How about Madame Web in general? That old crone was obnoxious as fuck. Always popping up to whisk Spidey away into her dimension and give him lessons that he could probably already learn on his own or offer cryptic advice that doesn't help anything. Her attitude was also insufferably arrogant and holier-than-thou. And yet she was given special treatment because Stan Lee's wife was voicing her. Now to be fair, her purpose was that she was testing Spidey and preparing him for the ultimate challenge that awaited him in the last season. But seeing as that turned out to be a Spidey version of "Secret Wars" and one big Clone Saga reference, it was lame and not all that necessary to build it up so much. Personally, I'd rather she not been here at all.

- That lame, lame, LAME series finale!: I...actually disagree with this one. Clone Saga references aside, I thought the series finale was as good as it could be for this show at least. I mean, we had Gwen Stacy (finally!), the Kingpin getting busted in at least one reality, Spidey going up against himself as the final showdown, an appearance by Uncle Ben, Spider-Carnage offing himself, Spidey getting to meet his creator Stan Lee, and Spidey accepting himself for what he is and appreciating his life for once. It's not perfect, nor is it one of the best series finales ever, but I thought it was handled well. Plus, in the second-to-last episode, we got this gem of a line that summed up what just about everyone thought of how the Clone Saga was being handled.

- Hydro Mary Jane!: Bleh. This story should've never happened at all. It started the whole clone ordeal, brought back Hydro Man as a villain (a clone Hydro Man actually, but the original was annoying enough in one episode: we didn't need another Hydro Man for a two-parter!), included a pointless mention of the overexposed Smythe, had MJ being as unengaging as ever...and oh look, she's a water clone too! And we see her melt away, leading to a hilarious freak-out from Spidey. If this story had been taken out of the show and it had just been the real MJ whom Peter had married, then that loose end of the real Mary Jane wouldn't be left dangling. Everything would've been tied up nicely. But Semper just had to throw in the Deus Angst Machina.

- Bad forced angst!: Speaking of which. This complaint...
I personally think it's needless. Sure, this show had bad forced angst. But the thing is...ALL incarnations of Spider-Man have bad forced angst as some point or another. It's a 50/50 chance thing. Sometimes the angst feels genuine and emotional, othertimes just whiny and unnatural. The original comics had forced angst from Peter at various points. Several of the stories would end with him boo-hooing over what a shit life he has because he has to take on the responsibility of being a superhero. The movies have many mopey or crying scences. And yes, even "The Spectacular Spider-Man" had moments of forced drama, Peter's time wearing the symbiote and relationship drama with Liz and Gwen being prime offenders. Or maybe in the end, what angst you find bad and forced is entirely subjective and depends on your tolerance for it. And I personally hardly minded it.

- Stupid lame portrayal of vampirism!: The network censors and executives strike again with this one, not that it's a defense for the show going with it's portrayal. To quote a review: "Despite the fact Morbius was an interesting character, both before and after his transformation, from his origin episode up until his joining Blade to fight vampires in later season, it was incredibly difficult to take Morbius plasma draining seriously. He’s a vampire and vampires drink blood. Any child knows this, the censors should too." As creepy as the visual of the suction holes in Morbius' hands is, the way they're used to "drain plasma" from people was laughably bad, as were his declarations of "I hunger...for plaaaasmaaa!" It never sat well with me when I was a kid, and it's only gotten more ridiculous with age. Morbius, you suck because you don't suck!

- No proper resolution at the end at all!: Except for the whole "For once I like my life, I like myself, and for the first time ever, I wouldn't want to change anything about me!" thing? Are people really hung up on the fact that we didn't get to see Peter and MJ reunite? Who the Hell cares? Peter wasn't interesting on this show, MJ wasn't interesting on this show, their relationship wasn't interesting on this show! Can't we have the hero get his happy ending without having to "get the girl" as a prize in the end? I certainly don't think it ruins anything.

- Peter looking bulkier than Spider-Man!: Okay, this was really distracting. This show's Peter's design had slicked hair, a handsome face with a square jaw, and was very well built and muscular. That's not how Peter is supposed to look. Peter Parker is a scrawny, lanky science nerd! And indeed, the design/model for Spider-Man actually looked less muscular than the one for Peter. Spidey had the build that Peter should always have, yet his build apparently changes when he's out of costume? I mean, even in a flashback to his origin where he's a high school nerd, he's a muscular nerd! And we're supposed to believe this guy was picked on? Check out his shirtless scenes too, where we can see his bulky muscles in all their glory. Yeesh! Just 'cause Christopher Daniel Barnes is doing the voice doesn't mean Peter has to look like Prince Eric. Except Prince Eric wasn't so goshdamn muscular! So seriously, what was the deal?

- No Sandman!: A shame to see a whole Spider-Man show run without a classic villain ever appearing. Hydro Man was a really poor substitute. But oh well.

- Overabundance of guest stars!: Ah, now this is one of my biggest problems with the show. This show is called "Spider-Man". It should not be used as a vehicle for showing off as many other Marvel superheroes as possible. In this show, we had Nick Fury, the X-Men, the Punisher, Blade the Vampire Hunter, Doctor Strange and his enemies, Daredevil, Iron Man, Captain America, Red Skull, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, and the Beyonder all appearing! Why not throw in the Incredible Hulk and Thor while you're at it and be done with it? Crossovers with guest stars once in awhile is fine, but it gets old when it's done constantly, over and over again. And this brings me to a big problem that John Semper had: he didn't seem to understand his limitations, or how to properly execute continuity. He seemed to think that bringing in character and then re-using them again later on = continuity! When in truth, just because you can bring back certain characters to use in stories doesn't mean you should! He did this with Spidey characters like Morbius, the Lizard, Madame Web, Smythe, Silvermane, and Hydro Man among others: characters who would be best left off being dropped at a certain point instead becoming overexposed. And with guest stars, we saw Nick Fury, Storm of the X-Men, the Punisher, Blade, Mordo and Dormmamu, Iron Man, and Captain America on more than one occasion, even though one was really all we needed. This is supposed to be Spider-Man's show. Why couldn't it just stick to the Spidey stuff? Oh, that's right: 'cause Semper's a hack. Which is a subject I will be tackling at the very end of this list.

- "Sinister" is too scary: how about "Insideous?": This just stumps me. Just a WORD like "sinister" would scare kids? Huh? Shows like "Batman" and "Darkwing Duck" have used it before and I doubt kids lost any sleep over it. What's truly baffling is that this call was made by the network even when the Marvel Animation studio's "X-Men" cartoon could get away with using Mr Sinister at the same time! This is beyond dumb and confusing.

That's it for Greg's list. Now let me bring up some issues of my own:

- Character Misrepresentations: Let it be known that I'm not a "This character must be EXACTLY like he/she was in the source material or else he/she is ruined!" type of person when it comes to adaptations. I don't like that sort of elitist snobbery. When translating something from one storytelling medium to another, things will change. This is especially true with comic book characters. In the comics medium, there is no single definitive characterization for a character because there is no singular definitive writer: the comics and their characters get written by several writers that come in and out of the business. So I understand if liberties are taken with how such things are portrayed. Where I draw the line is when the core spirit of the character and their basic essentials that should always be there get absolutely buttfucked and thrown down the crapper. (I'll actually only forgive it if I feel like the core spirit and essentials of the original character were bad, thus the change is an improvement. Yes, we people will be hypocrites)  For instance, I think that all the major characters in the "Spider-Man" movies are valid interpretations of the characters even if they differ from the comics portrayals. In this show, however, I often felt characters were seriously misrepresented. Let's go back to our old pal Norman Osborn. As Greg has stated, he felt more like a good man gone bad than a bad man gone nuts. His mental illness was portrayed all wrong. His demons are meant to have always been there before the lab accident: all that did was bring them out to the surface. Stan Lee has said that he's a Jekyll/Hyde type villain in the duality of his personas: how one is a calm, stoic and civilized man while the other is a cackling psycho, with the latter being the man's true nature. It was not literal Jekyll/Hyde Smeagol/Gollum schizophrenia, but that's what the show gave him. The movie did it too, but at least that had a little bit of ambiguity in those scenes, and Dafoe's Norman was clearly a jerk from the word go. This show's Norman just was a pitiful whiner, and this character is not supposed to be that at all. (I did love it when the Goblin persona called him on this, though: "Quit whining, Osborn!")  There was also Mary Jane Watson. As a kid, I found her to be a terribly boring, unengaging, unappealing character. Her flaky girly manchild voice and her design (bright red hair, bright red lips, pale blue eyes, a manly jaw, a yellow sweater, purple jeans, and cowboy boots? ICK!) were just atrocious, and I remembered her more for Spidey constantly screaming her name than I did for anything she did. I cared nothing for her character and her and Peter's romance. Boy did that change when I got exposed to the other versions of MJ: she was nothing like that bore from the 90's cartoon! The core spirit of her character just wasn't in that show. The same can be said for characters like Aunt May, Anna, Liz, Doc Ock, Electro, Professor Miles Warren, Vulture, etc. They just didn't the core spirits of these characters.

- Kingpin's Misuse: I enjoyed Wilson Fisk's character in the first season. Yes his "hidden Technodrome crime HQ building" was dumb, but I still got the sense that he's the guy who controls New York's crime and villainy. Then the moment the second season started with the "Insideous Six" story, he descended quickly into generic bossing for supervillainy rather than behind the scenes management of crime. The first sign of overexposure came when he turned up in the X-Men two-parter, a story that did NOT need him. He was then featured in the "Tablet of Time" two-parter, which set him up for some character development at the end when his wife had it with him and left him for good, which seemed like a blow to him. His next appearance comes...nope, it's not ever followed up on or spoken of again! He's back to being the generic big bad guy! He got one more chance in the "Framed" two-parter, which revealed a bit about his background with his father and how he rose as a crime boss, showed the animosity between him and guest star Daredevil (whose father he killed), had Spidey learning of his identity as the Kingpin, and featured his son Richard. After such a big story for Fisk, what was the follow-up? Smythe ceasing to work for him, Richard Fisk never showing any thoughts of vengeance on his father in his only other appearance, and when Spider-Man finally confronted him face-to-face, it was in the Spot episode! That was it: he stopped being interesting for me. Even worse is that was that he was just so overexposed as the 
Big Bad of the show behind almost every major bad thing that went on. He was for this show what Norman Osborn became in the comics. It's not cool when he does it and it wasn't cool when Fisk did.

- Morbius' Character Derailment: When Michael Morbius first became a vampire and a villain on the show, I thought he was very interesting. I could forgive the plasma suckers in his hands: I loved him when I was a kid. The main reason being that he was one of my earlier exposures to an Anti-Villain. He had come to the US to do research on a cure for a plague that infected his home country, but was a tragic victim of his own mistakes. I sympathized with him and totally understand why he wanted to go back to being normal but could not fight the hunger that was now a part of his natural instincts. I wanted to see him get stopped before he hurt anyone, but at the same time I wanted to see his desire to be cured come true. I thought that making his vampirism get created from the same radioactive neogenics that created Spider-Man was a nice touch too, and helped to make him more compelling. For a villain who was such a bore in the comics, this was an improvement. And then in the start of a two-parter which followed off of the Man-Spider three-parter that already featured him, Morbius decided that he wanted to give into his hunger and deliberately hurt others. He also decided that he wanted to turn everyone in the city into vampires. To inflict the same curse he has upon countless innocents. And why did he want to do this? The reason he gave was LITERALLY that "I woke up tonight and realized that I like being this way! I want to stay a vampire and to continuously satisfy my hunger! And I want to make everyone just like me!" Err...WHAT? That is terrible, terrible lazy writing and a total destruction of previously established motivations and characterization! He turns around afterwards, but only 'cause he's "redeemed by the power of love." Him shouting "I WILL LOVE YOU ALWAYS!" to Felicia was horribly cheesy. When he reappeared in Season 4, I hung onto hope that he'd be interesting again, but to no avail. He was now a boring hero and a boring boyfriend for Felicia. Our plasma addict got a raw deal.

- Silvermane's role in general: We already had Kingpin on the show. If Silvermane was to be featured, he'd have to be a minor rival to Kingpin, which is what he started off as. But then he became a major villain in a two-parter. He came up again when his dumbass daughter was running his gang. Then again when Smythe went to work for him and he was an evil talking baby who turned back into an old man. (Don't even ask!) And then again when his name was mentioned by Miles Warren, revealing that he was working for him. Thankfully nothing came out of this since the series ended shortly afterwards. This whole while, the character was boring and had a really grating voice. His overuse shows how Semper never got how to do continuity!

- The Lizard's Badass Decay: The Lizard usually works best as a one-shot villain at best, because most other stories to feature him are repeats of the first one. 
In this show, the Lizard was the villain of the first episode, "Night Of The Lizard", which was a damn good episode: probably the series' best. But of course Semper had to bring him back many times over. How did those return appearances go? First he gets owned by a young Silvermane. Then he gets made the king of a race of sewer-dwelling talking lizard men. Finally, he becomes a good guy during the Secret Wars since the Hulk still wasn't available. Way to tarnish the Lizard's good name!

- Lame youth-draining Vulture: Since this was a 90's cartoon, they used the 90's take on the character. And I hate that take on him. The Vulture is a bald old man with a crooked nose who puts on a costume with wings. That's why he's called the Vulture! Giving him youth-draining powers and turning him into a handsome young man with a full head of hair ruins the image completely! This version of Vulture was really annoying, and not written very interestingly.

- The Neogenic Nightmare: Past the initial 13 episode first season, the seasons started to have titles for their story arcs. Season 2 was "Neogenic Nightmare", Season 3 was "Sins Of The Fathers", Season 4 was "Partners In Danger", and Season 5 was "Six Forgotten Warriors" AND "Secret/Spider Wars". I bring up the "Neogenic Nightmare" arc because that was the one where the show took it's first decline. The first half of it was fine: the "Insideous Six" two-parter, the Hydro Man episode, the X-Men two-parter, and the Man-Spider three parter that it was all building up to. By the time that was done, it felt like the story was complete. But then there was the Morbius two-parter, the Tablet of Time two-parter, and the Vulture two-parter. And during those ones, Spidey's neogenic condition returned, threatening to turn him into the Man-Spider again! Now 
it was really starting to wear thin. Another example of Semper just not knowing when to let things go.

- The handling of Green Goblin: Green Goblin got it bad on this show. We already talked about his Norman Osborn persona, but what about the Goblin himself? His design was good, but the bad voice direction hampered Neil Ross' performance. His voice was 
an imitation of Dennis Marks' take on the character from the 80's cartoons (where Neil Ross had previously voiced Norman, a "good man gone bad" in those shows too). That's not bad in itself and 
he does a damn good imitation, but his laugh was awful and the voice would go through a variety of pitches, never staying consistent. In his first appearance it was perfect up until he got unmasked, 
at which point he suddenly starts to sound like he's inhaled helium (particularly memorable is the squeaky "Stooop staaaaaaring at meeee!"), then it sounded annoyingly high-pitched in his second appearance, dropped to sounding deeper than it was in his debut in the following episode, was high pitched again in a flashback at the start of the following episode, was back at a normal pitch in his fourth appearance, and sounded high and whiny again in his fifth and final appearance. That's right, 
he only had five appearances. Two of which he was a ghost or hallucination, and Harry was the Green Goblin in the present day. Harry was just laughable as the Goblin, his insanity was forced, and his voice was unbearably annoying. You thought Harry's voice was bad already? It's downright harmful to the ears when he's trying to sound evil, particularly in a scene where Smythe provides him with robots and he cackles "Excellent! Eeeeeexcellent!" Yeesh! Oh, and Norman Goblin felt kinda...gay for himself at times. I mean, always talking about how he "just wants to make Norman happy?" I got all sorts of wrong vibes from that! All in all, Green Goblin just didn't feel like the great adversary he's supposed to be. In fact, I was surprised to learn that he was Spidey's arch enemy, given how little he was exposed on this show. Spidey's number one villain totally deserved better.

- Smythe's Misuse: Alistair Smythe was another character whom I loved what this show did with. I loved that he became the Kingpin's main henchman who built all the machines and devices for him, and thought that the characters played off each other very well. I really enjoyed Kingpin's delivery of the name "Smythe!" for some reason. When he turned into Spider-slayer himself and turned against the Kingpin upon finding out that his presumed dead father Spencer could still be saved, it felt like the culmination of his character was near. But instead, we saw him receiving similar treatment as Doc Ock. He became an overexposed thug working for whomever the plot demanded he work with all in the name of "saving his father", which he never got any closer to and never succeeded in doing once the show was done. Yet another sad waste.

- Landon replacing Smythe: Just...why? If Smythe had to be replaced as the Kingpin's main lackey, then why replace him with this minor bigot from the X-Men two-parter who now looks like Two-Face and whose character now has nothing to do with mutants whatsoever? Because we have to bring back any character possible in order to strengthen the continuity, that's why! Ugh. Landon was a boring character and a really poor substitute for Smythe. And with David Warner doing his voice, we once again had a great talent wasted by piss-poor voice direction and bad delivery. I mean, why the heck did he slur his words so often as he did?

- That horrible Venom and Carnage two-parter: I honestly enjoyed "Rocket Racer" and "The Spot" better than these episodes. At least those ones, particularly the latter, were so bad they were funny. Not so with this two-parter. As I mentioned before, it had Venom and Carnage, Dormmamu and Baron Mordo, Iron Man and War Machine, and Madame Web all included at once. What I didn't mention is that it derailed Eddy Brock's character by having him suddenly thinking of himself as "fighting for the innocent" like he did in the comics. I enjoyed how Brock/Venom was handled in the first season and loved that they dropped that stupid aspect of his character. Bringing it in now is stupid because it does not add up with how he was portrayed before, which was as a selfish slimeball. Meanwhile Carnage, a lame villain to begin with, is made lamer by having to "drain lifeforce" from people rather than kill them. It's Morbius' plasma hunger all over again! And how does the story end? With Venom being redeemed by the power of love, of course! Towards a woman we just saw in these episodes, and spent little time with Brock on-screen. LAME. And Venom's "blue and red highlights" color scheme was even worse here than it was in his debut.

- Hobgoblin's pussification: This is one that really gets me. Like I already said, Hobgoblin was probably this show's best villain. Great design, great voice performance by Mark Hamill, and strong characterization that was dead-on accurate to how the character was portrayed in his original comic appearances. I enjoyed him in his debut two-parter, 
I enjoyed him in the X-Men two-parter, and I enjoyed seeing him again in the third season. But then he was unmasked and revealed to be Jason Phillip Macendale, the guy Felicia was currently dating. Now aside from the fact that Macendale was a terrible imitation of the original Hobgoblin in the comics, him being Hobby on the show isn't the problem seeing as Roderick Kingsley was not yet revealed as the real Hobgoblin at the time this was made and Macendale was acting more like Kingsley on this show anyway. The problem is that upon his unmasking, the character changed completely. He's giggling psychotically and boasting about how he was a former petty crook turned hired thug who became rich from crime. He was clearly now being set up to look as undeserving of the Goblin mantle as Green Goblin was saying her was. Then when Green Goblin came in to retrieve the dimensional transporter from him at last, Macendale launches a sneak attack...that Green Goblin disarms in a millisecond and knocks Macendale to the floor. And he goes down just like that! What 
a wussy! Then both Macendale and Felicia are forced to come along with the Goblin, who makes them both damsels in distress tied over a vat of chemicals. During this period, Macendale pathetically tries to bribe his way out of it by offering to pay the Goblin, but this fails because he's not interested in money. Once Felicia and Macendale are saved, the latter whines about how he HAD to turn to crime: he had nothing before he became a crook! When asked by Felicia if he really loved her, he can only stammer "I...like things about you. Your looks...and your wealth!" At which point she turns down the putz and his ass is hauled off to jail. Considering how fun and cool Hobgoblin was on this show, I so was offended to see Jason Phillip Macendale turned into..Jason Phillip Macendale!

- John Semper's Author Tract: And in that same episode that pussified Hobgoblin, there was a part that really bugged me. John Semper made it no secret that he hated Hobgoblin. He found him to be a poor Green Goblin substitute in the comics, and hated him even more on the show because he was brought in to be the show runner during the time the decision to have Hobgoblin replace Green Goblin due to the Hobgoblin toyline being made. Semper's personal "saving throw" was to have Norman Osborn be the one to supply Macendale with the Goblin gear he needed to be the Hobgoblin, the same gear Norman himself would use once he became the Green Goblin. But the way the show expressed this was odd. "They were never meant for him!" Osborn claims "There was only one true goblin: the Green Goblin!" OK Normie: so when you made those tools for Hobgoblin, they were "destined" to be yours to use as Green Goblin? And we're expected to believe this? Apparently, we were. Because when Green Goblin returned and fought with Hobgoblin, he kept insisting he was "the REAL Goblin" and referring to Hobgoblin as "Cheap imitation" "Imposter Goblin" and "faker". This makes no sense in this context where the Hobgoblin clearly came first! If anything, it ought to be Hobby calling Gobby the fake! Then it all became clear when Green Goblin broke into Macendale's home, revealing that he knew who he was. "I know that it was Norman Osborn who gave you all your Goblin equipment. And now I'm going to undo his mistake! I'm taking back everything that ever fell into your misbegotten hands!" Once you've researched the behind-the-scenes drama of the Hobgoblin, you realize that Semper (who wrote this episode himself) is using Green Goblin as a mouthpiece to voice his views. When he says he'll "undo HIS mistake!" by removing Hobgoblin from the picture, it's not really the Goblin talking about Osborn: it's John Semper talking about his predecessor. Semper hated that the previous showrunner made the decision to put Hobgoblin in before Green Goblin, so this was his way of "getting revenge" and "making up for it."  The problem is that none of this makes any sense in the context of the show. In the show, Hobgoblin was the first Goblin. Nothing that Semper had the Green Goblin say changed that. Not even ending the episode with one more "REAL Goblin!" line followed by another laugh. At least Spidey spoke MY views in that same episode: "That laugh is REALLY getting on my nerves!"

- "Turning Point": Not so much the episode itself: I actually enjoy this episode, especially compared to the many wretched episodes that came before it. But it was quite literally the turning point of the show. While I liked the first season best, I found some things to enjoy in the second and third seasons. The fourth and fifth seasons that followed this episode were just bad. Bad in a bad way. Even as a kid, I could feel myself losing interest during the fourth season, and I never even saw the fifth season until my teen years. When I did, I found it okay.

- Scorpion's Badass Decay: Scorpion, a previously threatening villain, got turned into a mundane thug who only served to further other villains' plots. AGAIN. *Sigh.*

- Poor treatment of the elderly: Seriously, what was up with how this show treated old people and old age? Aunt May was regularly senile, Anna Watson was a bitchy harpy, Silvermane was a feeble old loon obsessed with getting his youth back, Vulture was also a feeble old loon obsessed with getting his youth back, Madame Web was an old hag, even Miles Warren was made into an older man than he was in the comics...just to show he's bad? 
Start respecting your elders, damnit!

- The Boring Prowler: My thoughts on the episode "The Prowler": Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....

- Cheaper animation past Season 1: I've made it no secret that I consider the first season of this show to be easily the best. It had the best stories, the best pace, the most reasonable amount of continuity before Semper started dicking around with the plot, and above all, the best animation. For some reason the animation budget seemed better in the earlier episodes, where things wore more bright and colorful and detailed. Some episodes in later seasons like the Man Spider arc, "Enter The Green Goblin" and "Turning Point" got this quality back, but for the most part the animation got cheaper and blander. 90% of it being stock footage like was mentioned in one of the earlier points definitely did not help.

- Too much of a 90's thing!: And this is the last thing that went south after the first season. Season 1 could actually feel like classic Spidey. From Season 2 and onwards, it was very clear that Semper and the writing team was taking their inspiration from the kind of stories that were in the Spider-Man comics out at the time. The comics of the 90's. The 90's started the dark age of comic books that, in my opinion, has never really gone away. That they were looking at these modern comics (with stuff like the Symbiotes, Punisher and Blade, Doc Ock 
in metallic armor, youth-draining Vulture, Jason Phillip Macendale, Slayer Smythe, hired thug Tombstone, anti-hero Morbius, and of course, the Clone Saga) rather than starting with the older comics shows that they didn't have that much time or respect for Spidey's mythos, and so the tone 
of the show came off as very blatantly 90'ish. Not something I want to see in my Spider-Man.

- John Semper: Last thing I'll mention is the man himself, 
the show runner - John Semper Jr. This guy is not only a hack, but an incredibly arrogant, egocentric, smug, pretentious hack who has an over inflated image of both himself and the shows he works on, this one included. Actually, especially this one since he's boasted about it alot, pretty much calling it the best damn Spider-Man show ever. If you were to go read transcripts of his interviews, you'd see how much the guy kisses his own ass any chance he gets. And y'know, it's a shame. I can see where he was coming from with this show. Apparently the execs, censors, toy marketers, and other clueless crew members were always breathing down his neck in their crusade to make this show a hit with kids, to the point where inserting any sort of meaningful plot, continuity, and character development felt like sneaking something in past the radar for Semper. I can totally respect his intentions in what he was doing. Here's the problem: he has no talent in writing such things. At least, I don't think he does. And even if you believe he does have talent, that does NOT excuse his rude and unprofessional attitude. This man takes way too much pride in what he does, so much that it's actually kind of revolting. Stop kissing your own ass, John Semper...you fail. Big time.

Well, that was it. Can I end this on something positive about the 90's Spider-man cartoon show?


I don't care what you think of it, but that theme song ROCKS!

14 comments:

  1. Since you brought up Semper himself, here's another thing...

    Notice his name is in the writing credits for just about every single episode. Want to know why he did that? So he would get a bigger paycheck. Now, it is well within the rights of a showrunner to do this, since they are intimately involved with every script from start to finish. But it is still considered very bad form. Greg Weisman could have just as easily put his name on every script for any one of his shows, but didn't.

    If two writers work on a script together, they split the check in half. So Semper was taking a chunk out of all of his writer's paychecks and putting it into his own pocket. Well within his rights, but a dick move all the same.

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    1. Wow. He really wanted glory here, didn't he? I think I remember you somewhere saying that you had the displeasure of meeting the guy once. If so, however did you hold back the urge to tell him off for his BS right there and then?

      Oh and sorry for using your complaint list without permission. Hope you appreciated what I had to say. I know that character misrepresentations, Kingpin, Green Goblin, Hobgoblin's pussification, youth-draining Vulture, poor treatment of old people, and 90's gimmicks bothered you too.

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  2. Semper is incredibly arrogant for someone who has precious little to be arrogant about.

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    1. Looking at his resume right now, and yeah...what has he really done that warrants such pride? "Spider-Man" is the only thing he was producer for, and I'm of the opinion that the show only declined in quality when he got more free reign. He did some writing and story editing for "Static Shock", but that show was just okay. All the rest of his work is mostly a bunch of cheesy old cartoons.

      I think his best work would be helping adapt "Kiki's Delivery Service" into English, really. -_-

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  3. http://www.toonzone.net/forums/marvel-animation-forum/221238-anna-watsons-disapproval-peter-bad-idea-bad-execution-2.html#post3098652

    I made this thread a few years ago regarding Anna Watson's portrayal, which he responded to and yeah I definitely see his "humility". More on this in a bit.

    1. Yeah, even before reading the comics, Doc Ock's debut episode definitely gave the impression that he was capable of being his own villain. Hence, I tend to be in the camp objecting to him being the Kingpin's stooge. Heck, the Kingpin barely had a role in Make a Wish and Attack of the Octobt, so why not at least let Ock get the full spotlight (which entails his loosing to a child no less :-)).

    2. As I touch on in the thread, I didn't see Anna being disapproving as necessarily a bad thing. Just that the idea was mishandled. Semper points out that her portrayal in part was based on mothers or fathers of women he had dated, and to provide conflict (which I stated wasn't bad, but the problem being how it was handled).

    Now okay, questioning Peter's disappearing habits is fine and how he isn't always there, valid. But then you have that moment in Framed where she actually buys into Peter being a US traitor. Heck, Greg B tends to use TSSM Sally Avril as an example of SM: TAS Anna done right. And really, even Sally would laugh at the idea of Peter selling out his country and anyone dumb enough to believe it.

    As others have also mentioned, SM: TAS showed more restraint with Jameson's hatred of Spider-Man, showing that Anna's feeling regarding Peter could have worked.

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    1. I was re-looking at that thread just the other day! Yeah, he came on there and went on a tirade about how much he suffered working on that show and how hellish the conditions were but he still pulled through and made something out of it, which to me just felt like more ego-stroking from him.

      1. His whole characterization in his debut was that he was a large and in-charge type of guy who does not take disrespect from anyone like the Hardy Foundation. He kept that characterization in the Insideous Six episodes where he was clearly objective to working for Kingpin. The Octobot two-parter was his jumping the shark moment. His plans to betray the Kingpin were only hinted at with one line ("Don't be so sure...") but nothing came out of it by the time a child beat him, and then from that point onwards he was a full-time goon.

      2. The problem was how it made zero sense in any context within the show. Semper using her as a strawman so he can deliver a Take That at disapproving mothers who messed up his love life is already a bad idea. The execution made it worse. Disaproval and dislike of Peter and his behaviour would be fine, but she flat out HATED him and would bitch about him every chance she got, no matter how big or small the circumstances of what Peter was involved with were. "Framed" was the nadir of this, and you're right, Sally would die laughing at the idea that Peter could even pull off the crime he was being accused of, and laugh even harder at the moron who bought it. Which would be Aunt Anna. I would LOVE to see that!

      It worked for Jameson because his character had extra dimensions beyond being hateful towards Peter/Spidey (same goes for Sall Avril). Anna had none. She was the very definition of a one-note, one-dimensional character.

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  4. To give a positive not mentioned, it's one of the few times where Doctor Doom's is handled well (The Spider-Man Solos Series in the 80s and Avengers Earth's Mightiest Heroes being the others).

    Though on a comedic note, someone likened him to sounding like Ricardo Montalban, which lead to this joke:

    Doom: I'll do far worse than kill you. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on... hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her. Marooned for all eternity, in the center of a dead planet... buried alive. Buried alive.

    Richards: DOOOOOOOOOOM!!!

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    1. You forgot the 90's Fantastic Four show's second season and his guest starring role in the 90's Hulk show. The show was bad, but Doom was AWESOME there. In fact, the one in this Spider-Man show was the same version, only they couldn't get Simon Templeman to voice him so they had Tom Kane doing him instead. I liked Kane's take, but the inept voice direction again had him speak in a weird accent that sounded half Bela Lugosi half Ricardo Montalban.

      And the strange thing is, I can easily imagine that being an exchange between Richards and Doom. XD

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    2. I'm about halfway on Doom's appearances on Fantastic Four season 2. Great casting, decent dialogue and a big threat (unlike the "Doombot" who most likely was what we saw in Season 1, as well as The Incredible Hulk Season 2). Only real downer is that the attempt to play up his status as ruler of a country felt lacking.

      Also, I meant to comment sooner, but yes whenever I recall Harry's dialogue from the series, I can't shake Rob Paulsen from my head. I almost wonder if said VA was trying to speak like him or something.

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    3. He probably was, but...gaaaah! Just listen to Gary Imhoff's voice here: http://www.behindthevoiceactors.com/voice-compare/Spider-Man/Harry-Osborn/ He REALLY failed to pull it off. Sooo annoying.

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  5. Been in a Spider-Man mood recently, having gotten some more Clone Saga trades, hence another revisit of this:

    "No proper resolution at the end at all!"

    Meant to respond to this one a lot sooner, but yeah while I did want to see Pete and MJ reunited at the time, the ending was still satisfying to me.

    It ends on a hopeful note as demonstrated with the dialogue you quoted, and compared to some of the cliffhanger endings that we got in other Marvel toons, this one felt more like an open ending than anything.

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    1. Linkara recently stated that the two-part series finale was his favorite episodes from that show. I agree with him there. I never saw it as a "LAME series finale" at all, even if Season 5 (like the one before it) was lame.

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  6. I actually like Felicia turning into the Black Cat, but the arc ended on a sour note that makes the romance in Twilight look good. Speaking of Anna, There was one time my kid brother said she reminds him of a certain character in Harry Potter, no prizes will be given for guessing who.

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