The new Thundercats has more of an intro that this show. That saddens me, and hopefully will be fixed in later episodes.
Both episodes I’m reviewing are up on Marvel’s website as of this writing if you want to watch them before my review. Ultimate Spider-Man is Disney XD’s newest Spider-Man cartoon, having cancelled Spectacular Spider-Man after continuing it when CW 4 Kids dropped it. It has quite the pedigree, too. Man of Action, the guys behind Generator Rex and the Ben 10 franchise, are working on it. So is the creator of the comic namesake, Brian Michael Bendis, and Paul Dini as creative consultant. It’s fun, action packed, and still has a running subplot alongside one-shot stories you can get into at any time.
So why don’t I think they did it right?
Don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoyed it, but that doesn’t mean it was necessarily a good idea. First the basic plot of the first two episodes, which is all I’ve seen thus far: Spider-Man is a teenage superhero…again, who hasn’t learned to deal with collateral damage. Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, decides to help the wall-crawler by signing him up for his new superhero training program. There, Spidey teams with Iron Fist, Power Man, the more recent female White Tiger, and Nova (who isn’t Richard Rider). Fury thinks that since Spidey has been at this for a year he’s the perfect guy to lead the team. White Tiger thinks he’s nuts, Nova’s the usual jerk, Power Man thinks it’s cool, and Iron Fist is that guy that goes along with almost anything.
Meanwhile the kids join Peter in school where Peter deals with bully Flash Thompson while also hanging with his friends Mary Jane (a would-be reporter who wants to work for the Bugle because they’re the top media in the city) and Harry, who gets himself injured during a fight between Spider-Man and the Frightful Four. Often times we get a look inside Peter’s head to see what hilarious thought is passing through his head and there are some good jokes there. The actors all play their roles well, and Drake Bell does a pretty good job delivering the traditional Spidey quips. They even got J.K. Simmons to voice J. Jonah Jameson, the role he dominated in the Sam Rami films and his absence from the upcoming Spider-Man film will be felt.
Plus Stan Lee has a recurring role as the school janitor. Already fun.
So what’s wrong with this cartoon? It doesn’t really feel like Spider-Man.
I don’t know if it was the timing in my personal life or Gwen Frickin’ Stacey or what (I’m totally willing to blame Gwen–to make her watchable was by completely re-writing her character), but I never really got into Spectacular Spider-Man. It wasn’t bad, but it never really did for me. This new version is a lot of fun to watch, but Spectacular at least felt more like a Spider-Man cartoon. I think the big problem is that it’s more Generator Rex than it is Ben 10. The goofiness I like, but it feels out-of-place and I can easily see this hurting the appeal with Spider-Fan, especially fans of the comic namesake.
The original comic, while not as dark as the other Ultimate titles, still isn’t this goofy. Sure, in this version Aunt May isn’t the doting aunt who has her own private room at the hospital due to all the times she’s ended up there, but that’s the only connection. In the comic, Mary Jane was Peter’s confidant. She knew he was Spidey and was even a help to him in maintaining his secret identity or just being someone to talk to. They were also dating and almost slept together until they decided they just weren’t ready. (And once the anti-Peter/Mary Jane wave at Marvel hit the Ultimate universe that was probably for the best.)
In this toon, however, MJ is as in the dark as everyone else. I imagine the other SHIELD trainees, with Agent Colson acting as acting principal to watch over them, will soon push aside Harry (outside of the needs of the obligatory Green Goblin stuff, we even see Norman still wants Peter to be an influence on Harry, like the movies and Spectacular) and Mary Jane will soon become unnecessary to the story. (By the way, apparently they tried dating but it didn’t work out…they’ve otherwise always been platonic…SO WHY INCLUDE HER? On the other hand, no Gwen. Yet.)
My biggest problem is one I mentioned earlier: this doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man story. Had this been an original character and story about kids training to be superheroes I might have enjoyed it more. I actually, I’m still curious to see what future episodes have in store, but while I was laughing at Peter’s “daydreams” during the show and got used to the fourth-wall breaking to introduce the characters and get into his head, it just doesn’t feel right for the characters, especially one carrying the “Ultimate” name. Granted, the Ultimate Avengers movies weren’t as dark as The Ultimates and thank God for that, but it still carried the serious tone of the Ultimate universe. Unless you watched the fake blooper reel. That’s a whole other story.
I still want to watch a few more episodes, though. We only get a brief idea about the other trainees, and lot of this was still set-up. As the series goes on hopefully we’ll get more into the characters and see where the show goes. I’ll try to keep you updated via Twitter.