Tony and Daniel: Popping Culture: The Spectacular Spider-Man

In the first edition of Tony and Daniel: Popping Culture in two years, we talk about The Spectacular Spider-Man, a cartoon that was unjustly cancelled after two seasons and remains, in our opinion, possibly the greatest single showcase of the Spider-Man mythos in history.

The_Spectacular_Spider-Man_(TV_series)_logo

Daniel:  Are you a big Spider-Man fan? Give me a brief history of your relationship with the character.

Tony: Of course, like many young boys in the 80s I followed the familiar trajectory of starting to read comic books with Batman then getting into Spider-Man and probably following that next with X-Men. I got into Spidey comics when Todd McFarlane was doing the art chores with his classic upturned McFarlane feet and the spaghetti webbing stuff and the huge eyes on the mask. I ate it up. So much energy and detail in every panel, it looked like a cartoon only it was how cartoons should have looked. What I mean is the art had a dynamic, hyper-detailed energy behind it and unlike all the American cartoons I watched on TV and most of the other comics I read it had a really distinct personality to it. I could tell a McFarlane page when I saw it. But beyond the art what really got me hooked on Spider-Man was what everybody likes about him: he was us. If you slipped on the mask and had powers you’d be Peter Parker. You’d wisecrack while you were battling baddies and you’d always try do the right thing because you let your Uncle Ben get shot and for that you must never stop suffering. But really, Spider-Man is that perfect balance between the dark grit of Batman and the light fun of Superman. Plus, Spidey is always getting shit on by life, even sometimes by the very people he saves, but he never stops trying to help people. I think everybody likes to think that’s what they would do if put in that situation. So even his suffering is some sort of martyrdom wish fulfillment.

Wait, did you say brief?

For the most part I liked the animation on the show, it’s not a Bruce Timm level of perfect design but it’s fun and works with only one minor caveat: I’ve never really liked the way the forearms interlock with the biceps on this show. They show a weird line which makes the arms look sort of like the way Barbie doll arms interlock. Drives me up a wall (pun…neutral) when I’m looking at it. Any quibbles with the art style of the show?

Daniel: While I do think that the designs aren’t as immediately recognizable as Bruce Timm’s (though, we’ve been given hundreds of episodes and twenty years to get acquainted with Timm’s stuff, while we only got twenty-six episodes of Spidey,) I do think that they’re perfect for the show. There’s a fresh quality to them that fits the high school setting. It feels new and youthful, whereas a lot of Timm’s stories were about legendary adults living out their new legends. It’s a world of statues, and it’s a world that’s very lived-in. Spec Spidey’s world was new. In time, Peter Parker would get the well-worn chin of Timm proportions that he always deserved, though.

I did have a huge problem at first with Peter’s eyes, which seemed like hollow discs. The more I watched, the less of a deal it became. But I remember watching the first two episodes and being like “What happened to that poor boy’s eyes? WHAT DID YOU DO TO YOUR SON, RICHARD PARKER?” Now, it fits.

Who is the most underrated character on the show? Personally, if they made a show called The Spectacular Shocker, I’d watch it for ten seasons.

Tony: God help you, Daniel, that show would be terrible…  I would be into a Curb Your Enthusiasm style show revolving around J.J. Jameson curmudgeoning the shit out of his day to day superhero infested life.

What major Spidey storylines or characters would you have loved to see them attempt for the third season?

Daniel: A Hobgoblin story would’ve been so, so rad. I also really wanted to see Peter go to Florida and fight the Lizard again. That’s what I thought it was building up to, with the Conners leaving NYC at the end of Season 2 and all. A Carnage storyline would’ve been cool, but only if it was really well done. Carnage has a great design, but I don’t necessarily need Venom’s gritty reboot when the show already has a perfectly good Venom.

I wish we could’ve seen Scorpion. He’s one of my favorites. He’s stronger and faster than Spider-Man and can climb up walls, but he’s also always been a little dumber. With the kinetic animation style of the show, I eagerly awaited the day that they’d get to conclude an episode with a seven minute Scorpion/Spider-Man brawl.

What is one character that you would’ve loved to have seen on the show?

Tony: Tie: Spider-Man 2099 and Morbius the Living Vampire. I had a subscription to both of those comic book series when I was a kid, loved them. Spider-Man 2099 is a dude named Miguel O’Hara who lives in 2099 (Spider-Man 2101 sounds stupid) and he’s got his own cool spider-powers and his slick as hell spider suit is actually his Day of the Dead ( Día de Muertos) costume , how cool is that?  And Morbius is just a totally different type of foe for Spidey. He’s a scientist who biffed an experiment and subsequently became a hideous freak which has never happened before in a Spider-man comic…BUT… this time the accident at the lab turns the future bad guy into a science vampire, which is different, right? It basically makes Morbius exactly like a regular vampire only all his dweeby fang magic stuff is explained away with hard-hitting comic book scientific speculation. Make mine Morbius, excelsior!

How did you feel about some of the rewriting of various characters’ origins? Like Eddie Brock being Petey’s childhood friend as opposed to some guy who worked at the Bugle etc. I had no problem with that change, made Brock and Parker’s relationship feel closer which in turn made the Venom/Spidey stuff more intense. But did any of these or other changes irk you at all?

Daniel: Nah, not really. I’m pretty easy when it comes to characters being changed around to make for a better show. I heard that people got so angry when they turned Montana into Shocker and all I could think was “Really? That’s the hill you want to die on? The Montana hill?” Montana’s a cool character, but I would much rather see him put on a Shocker costume and continue insulting Spider-Man with various colloquialisms than watch him “surprise” the web slinger with lasso tricks. I know that “lasso Montana” is classic Spider-Man, but it doesn’t really work as a gimmick in the year 2008. It would be like someone trying to use “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan’s two-by-four and American flag persona in modern WWE. It’s quaint and nice, but he’d only make it about two minutes before literally being cannibalized in front of thousands by Brock Lesnar.

A character that I wish we’d gotten an origin story for is my boy Silvermane. Such a cool guy, and then he suddenly has that awesome robot suit. I’m sure that people got mad about that too, but man, I’m so into that kind of stuff. All I need is a flashback to the pre-Spider-Man days of NYC when Silvermane got his robot outfit made. And then he’s all like “Thank you for your help, PROFESSOR SMYTHE.” My hands would fall off from all the joyous clapping that I’d be doing.

The theme song is super catchy and charming. Give me the scientific reasoning as to why.

 

Tony: My initial reaction to the theme song was one of mild repulsion. This was due to the vocal, and its markedly mall punk snotty quality. I was like, “Harrumph, I will thank you sir to leave your puckish attitude, gelled hair and septum piercings back at your food courts and humorous t-shirt haberdasheries.”   But by the second episode I was slightly bobbing my head along and by the third episode I was full on unabashedly singing along. The song just nails the Spider-Man mood and motif. It starts out with a little slightly creepy guitar picking then launches headlong into a propulsive marching rock beat which climaxes with the irresistible sing-along part: “Spectacular, spectacular..Spider-Man” and then post climax we return to that slightly creepy i.e. spidery-sounding reverb drenched guitar picking. Seriously, with that melody you could sing anything and make it stick: “Avuncular, avuncular…Vonnegut.” “Immaculate, immaculate…conception.”  See?

One thing I will confess, I hate the Green Goblin’s voice in Spectacualr Spidey! Hate it. It just feels like a low rent knockoff of Mark Hamil’s brilliant Joker voice. What are your favorite and/or least favorite voices in the show?

green goblin

Daniel: Keith David and Kevin Michael Richardson are two of my favorite voice actors in the world. Keith David can go from stoic and paternal to enraged and terrifying in a matter of seconds, and Kevin Michael Richardson has unmatchable vocal charisma. People trashed him for his Joker in The Batman, but his mix of high pitched manic laughter and low, ominous growling totally worked. Both guys helped to make Tombstone my second favorite villain on Spectacular Spider-Man.

I do like Norman Osborn’s voice better than the Goblin’s voice, but not for your reason. Alan Rachins, who did the voice of Norman, was never booming. He was never cartoonishly menacing, nor did he ever go too subtle with it. If I had to describe his tone, it would be “I’m disappointed with you, son,” which is perfect, considering Norman’s role on the show. Steve Blum’s certainly talented, but he didn’t stand a chance in comparison.

I don’t have a least favorite. Is that okay? I feel like trying to pick my least favorite is like getting a pizza and choosing which slice is the worst. I love pizza, and even though some slices might be smaller, or have a bizarre cheese-to-sauce ratio, I’m still going to enjoy it.

If you had to show someone five minutes of Spectacular Spider-Man in order to sell them on the show, what five minute block would you choose?

Tony: I’d think I’d do that bit from the Opera episode where all the fighting is juxtaposed with the opera music and it all seems so perfectly choreographed and arranged. You get a nice sense of how art the show can be but there’s still all the charm and soap opera elements that give it its Spider-Man flavor.

What’s your favorite episode?

Daniel: “Group Therapy,” which is the first episode with the Sinister Six, is magical. From bringing the villains together and showing off their individual powers, to giving us an indication as to the extent of the symbiote’s control over Peter Parker, it does so many things at once, and you never feel gypped. Often, when you have the obligatory “One VS. All” episode, you end up with two or three villains getting in some nice stuff, while dudes of the Vulture or Killer Croc variety get shafted. They yell out “I’ll get you!”, receive a punch in the face, and are taken out of the equation. “Group Therapy” does a good job of making every member of the Sinister Six seem like an equal threat. Doc Ock is definitely the leader, but Rhino’s got some moves, too.

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN OTP, TONY. What couple do you write PG-rated fan fiction about?

Tony: My one true pairing is actually an OT3 (I had no idea about that terminology until a moment ago… thanks fan fiction reading fiancé!) and it’s between Peter Parker, Flash Thompson and Spider-Man. To explain: Flash treats Pete like crud but idolizes Spider-Man but Pete actually has a ginormous crush on Flash but of course can’t come out to him (as Spider-Man) so the solution is simple: Pete seduces Flash while wearing his Spidey duds. Then he’s faced with the tough choice of revealing that it is he; wimpy nerd boy Peter Parker who’s won Flash’s tough boy jock heart or, continue with the charade and let the guy who beats him up at school be the guy who he also trades upside down kisses with.  Upside down kisses in a Spider-Man way, not the other way. PG-rated, I swear.  Okay, okay, it’s a hard PG.

I love that Spider-Man when he’s done right is basically Archie in tights. I love the high school stuff. If you went to Midtown High who do you think you’d hang out with? Who would you date, who would you sit with at lunch? Would you and Peter Parker be friends?

Daniel: Okay, I’m sorry for this, world:

I’m going to base all of this off how I actually acted in high school. I don’t have rose-tinted glasses for that time period. I was pretty thoroughly terrible. In ninth grade and tenth grade, I’d probably hang out with Peter, but I’d ditch him at the beginning of junior year after he started getting picked on a lot. Then, I’d probably try to win back his friendship when he gained his “I’m Spider-Man and I’m dating Liz Allen” confidence. He probably wouldn’t go for that, so I’d stick out the rest of my high school tenure marveling at how cool Harry Osborn’s house is, while drinking all of the Osborn’s sodas.  I’d be cool with everyone, but I wouldn’t be invited to any parties. I’d graduate, and six years later, I’d start talking to Peter on Facebook chat. I’d talk about getting drinks some time, but he’d tell me how busy he was.

I wouldn’t date anyone in high school, though I’d have a huge crush on Mary Jane Watson for the first two years. I’d finally ask her out in Junior year, get turned down, and spend the rest of the time trying to flirt with Sha Shan and Glory Grant. I’d drunkenly Facebook chat with Sally Avril in sophomore year of college (Facebook chat will doom you,) and I’d go on two OkCupid dates with Liz Allen a few years after graduation.

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