Monday , October 26 2020
MTV does Spider-Man.

“This is So Not Spandex!”

Thanx to its bounty of repeated reruns (“Music videos? That’s for Digital Spin-off MTV!’): I was able to catch two eps of the new Spider-Man animation series last night. It’s probably the best of the televised webhead shows to date – not a big stretch: remember the live-action series with Nicholas Hammond? – though Mainframe Entertainment’s use of CG imaging “processed in a classic animation style” (whatever the hell that means!) produces decidedly mixed results. The action scenes are undeniably cool, but every time things slow down, the characters move like marionettes underwater.
With an eye towards its core audience, the series has been set during hero Peter Parker’s college years at Empire U., a period when the young science whiz was still a big nerd but given room to joke about it. As usual, basic webhead history gets rewritten yet again so that characters are introduced during this stage in his life: so Lizard-To-Be Curtis Connors, for example, becomes a science professor (sans family) and Peter his assistant. The series is set a year after the events in Raimi’s Spider-Man, and we get to see Peter’s roommate Harry Osborn still steaming over Spider-Man’s hand in the death of his father. Over the past year, public sentiment has apparently turned against our hero – as have the police, who think nothing of shooting at Peter whenever the opportunity affords itself. That’s the fickle public for ya.
Peter Parker is voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, who has a better way with an in-fight quip than Tobey Maquire. This being MTV, ol’ Petey gets a slightly racier field on which to work. At one point battling the Lizard (an appropriately cast Rob Zombie), he asks the reptilian supervillain, “Know where I can get a little tail?” Yeah, I did a Beavis snicker at that ‘un.
The series has been overseen by comics writer Brian Michael Bendis, who also does Peter Parker for Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man along with the current Daredevil series. Nice to see Bendis’ name as Co-Executive Producer, but on one level his name on the credits just has to make some comics fans nervous: Bendis is presently gracing some of Marvel’s most fannishly popular titles, after all – what happens to those books if he totally succumbs to Hollywood’s siren call?

This kind of mass exodus has happened before. In the 80’s some of the era’s most popular mainstream comics creators turned to screenwriting; if they returned to comics, their output was significantly reduced. Bendis has made no secret of his Hollywood ambitions – he even wrote a graphic novel devoted to his earlier misadventures in the screen trade – so I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name attached to a big-budget long-underwear movie in the future.
The series that Bendis is currently shepherding, though, bears the mark of his comic scripts: straightforward, sometimes minimal plots packed with plenty of character-enhancing snappy patter. The new series expands on the ever-tempestuous romance between Peter and Mary Jane Watson (Lisa Loeb), giving both characters moments of awkward adolescent expression and self-protective banter; we also watch Harry (Ian Ziering) as he slowly learns about his supervillain father’s past.

The two episodes I watched last night (MTV airs ’em back to back) featured the Lizard and a sexy cat burglar named the Talon; in both cases, the plots revolved around their involvement with Harry: in Ep One, the Lizard attacks the Osborn heir out of desire for vengeance against the father; in the second, Talon seduces the hapless Harry (one of comicdom’s biggest patsies) for her own nefarious purposes. I’m guessing that boy does a meltdown before the season’s up.
The series is a lot more respectful to its source than I would’ve initially expected from MTV. The violence is a trace more graphic than the comics (in one moment, for instance, we get to see a thug leave a bloody imprint after the Lizard has flung his body against a two-way mirror), but not as extreme as Aeon Flux. If you can get beyond the occasionally distancing computer animation, it’s a decent superhero tele-adaptation – preferable to watching a former Von Trapp kid don that web-bedecked suit, anyway.
But – hey – why no Spidey theme song?

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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