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Our reviews of The Spectacular Spider-Man: Volume Four (published April 27th, 2009), The Spectacular Spider-Man: Volume Three (published March 17th, 2009), and The Spectacular Spider-Man: Volume Two (published March 17th, 2009) are also available.
"I'm the Spectacular Spider-Man"
Following the likes of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the classic '90s Spider-Man, and the more recent Spider-Man: The New Animated Series comes a new animated take on Spider-Man, in the form of The Spectacular Spider-Man. But can this latest release live up to its spectacular billing, or does this spider need to be flushed down the waterspout?
Facts of the Case
Editing together the opening three episodes from Season One, Attack of the Lizard begins with Peter Parker only a few months into his new role as Spider-Man. Though still learning the ropes, Spidey has already attained a certain level of fame, and achieved enough success fighting criminals to have alerted the cities uber-villains to his presence. Before long, his days of capturing inept bank robbers are complicated by the likes of The Vulture, Electro, The Enforcers, and most interestingly his mentor, Dr. Curt Connors—The Lizard.
Admittedly aimed at younger viewers, with its more action-oriented bent, The Spectacular Spider-Man is reminiscent of Warner Bros.' The Batman. And, like Batman's most recent animated outing, once you adjust to the changes in the timeline of key events and the redesign of iconic characters, the small nuances that drew you to Spider-Man in the first place, reveal themselves. Best of all, with sombre superheroes being the current trend on both the big and small screen, The Spectacular Spider-Man is a return to more innocence and fun. Oh, and Spider-Man purists will appreciate the return of his mechanical web-shooters.
Attack of the Lizard cherry picks ideas from the full breadth of Spider-Man's long history. Obviously the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko books are the prime inspiration, with Peter Parker/Spider-Man staying true to their ideals. But the writers have also taken into account Sam Raimi's movie trilogy, with visuals that sit somewhere between anime and the work of John Romita Jr. Though original Spider-Man villains such as The Vulture show up, the inclusion and use of characters such as Eddie Brock (Venom) this early on in the Spider-Man mythology is reminiscent of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series.
While Peter Parker is still the likeable high school nerd being pushed around by Flash Thompson, other characters are given something of a makeover, lending the series a fresh feel. Parker's best friend, Harry Osborn, is now as much a social outcast as Peter, though his relationship with his father Norman is as strained as ever. With Mary Jane Watson yet to make her appearance, The Spectacular Spider-Man stays faithful to Stan Lee's vision and gives us Gwen Stacy. At the outset, however, Gwen is not the object of Peter's affections, presented here as a fellow "science nerd" who, along with Peter; wins an internship at Dr. Connors lab.
Although an early subplot involving Norman Osborn and Adrian Toomes (The Vulture) presents Spider-Man with his first supervillain encounter, it isn't until the action moves to Connors' lab that things really begin to fly, when a freak accident results in electrician Max Dillon becoming Electro. This new version of Electro is freed of the campy costume worn in the comics and barely in control of his powers, upping the threat level significantly and giving Spider-Man his first real challenge.
No sooner has Spider-Man overcome one foe, when another is introduced in the form of The Lizard. Whereas The Vulture and Electro are both employed to provide extravagant superhero battles, The Lizard is the classic tragic villain of the piece, with the character of Curt Connors afforded more time for development. Portrayed as a family man as much as a scientist, with both his wife and son getting plenty of screentime, Connors' story is one of woe. That's not to say the more fantastical elements of the character are not played upon. Connors' transformation into The Lizard is shown to be a torturous affair, as his humanity is stripped away and the feral Lizard takes control, leading to the inevitable showdown with Spider-Man.
Shoehorning so many villains into a mere 70-minute run time, while also opening up the Marvel Universe to include Spider-Man stalwarts Flint Marko (Sandman) and Aunt May is one hell of a balancing act, but one the show's writers seem more than capable of pulling off. With only minimal blips (likely to be the result of editing three episodes into one film), Attack of the Lizard is a relentless dose of fast-paced action that still manages to take the time for those small, but all important, character moments.
Though not going as deep as Spider-Man 2, Attack of the Lizard ensures we "get" what drives Peter Parker. Peter's relationship with his Aunt May is a crucial part of the story, with Peter's worries over May's financial status being the catalyst that leads him to The Daily Bugle and his first meeting with J. Jonah Jameson. There's also a nice running joke regarding Parker's 10pm curfew. Clearly not impressed after finding Peter sneak in late at night for the umpteenth time, Aunt May insists Peter either be home by his curfew, or at least call her to let her know how much longer he'll be. Setting a reminder for himself on his mobile phone, Peter is often mid-battle when this goes off, which consequently sees him trying to avoid his opponent long enough to call home. It's a nice humorous approach to the May/Peter bond. Likewise, Peter's struggle to safeguard his secret identity, while simultaneously protecting his friends and loved ones, sees the character make some tough decisions that don't necessarily cast him in a good light with those he cares about most.
The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture, as one would hope and expect, is full of rich colours and is sharp throughout. This really does give the appearance of a comicbook come to life. Maintaining the high production values, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a step up from the usual Saturday morning cartoon.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the quality of Spider-Man's animated adventures can't be questioned, the DVD release leaves plenty to be desired. Special features are limited to a music video of the show's theme song and that's it. Now, with the main feature running at a mere seventy minutes, you have to question whether this offers true value for the money. I'd argue it doesn't and that Spidey fans may be better off waiting for the inevitable complete first season set.
While maintaining a great respect for the character's rich history, the creators of The Spectacular Spider-Man: Attack of the Lizard have ensured Spider-Man stays true to his Stan Lee and Steve Ditko roots, while offering a revisionist account of his early adventures. The move is a resounding success, and bodes well for the TV series that spawned this "full-length animated adventure."
A poor DVD hampers an otherwise spectacular return for Spider-Man. Sony is given a slap on the wrist for putting out such a lacklustre DVD. Everyone else involved is released. Not Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Spectacular Spider-Man" Music Video
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