Ultimate Spider-Man (Disney XD)

The new "Ultimate Spider-Man" animated series sets itself up from the beginning to tell a different version of the Peter Parker story than we've seen before. After soloing for a year, Spidey's approached by Nick Fury offering S.H.I.E.L.D. training with other young heroes so he can become the "Ultimate" hero. Peter accepts (or we wouldn't have a show), spinning Spider-Man's second year in costume off in a direction we've never seen.

I'd prefer a Spidey solo show with the classic villains, but we already had that show recently. Unfortunately "Spectacular Spider-Man" -- whose head writer is now in charge of the excellent "Young Justice" -- got cancelled in the Sony/Disney business deal that gave the Spider-Man animation rights back to Marvel. And, I have to admit, now that all the properties are under one roof for the first time maybe ever it would be foolish for Marvel not to do a show that includes as much of their rich universe as possible. In this case, it's mainly by partnering Spidey with White Tiger, Nova, Power Man & Iron Fist -- Yes, Luke & Danny are teenagers in this version. (One assumes that means Luke didn't get his powers in a prison experiment.) -- but also including villains like the Frightful Four and Doctor Doom, and an episode featuring Iron Man and the "Iron Spider" armor from Civil War.

There are some great people involved in this show: Brian Bendis has a producer credit, Jeph Loeb, "Man of Action" (Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Duncan Rouleau & Steven T. Seagle) who have already created two hit shows have writing credits, and Paul Dini wrote the two-part pilot. The show is aimed younger than "Spectacular" (but not nearly as young as "Super Hero Squad") and is more comedic: Peter talks to the camera a lot, and there are a lot of "Teen Titans Go" and "Family Guy" style asides. I thought the first two episodes, "Great Power" & "Great Responsibility" were a good start. The jokes were mostly funny, and balanced well with Peter's sense of responsibility without getting too serious. (For instance, the main reason he considers turning down Fury's offer is that he knows he'd feel responsible for the safety of his partners.) Dini has Peter tell about his origin, friends and powers mostly through brief asides. I especially enjoyed the one about how Harry Osborn & Peter became best friends.

However, I haven't felt the later episodes kept that balance so well. I don't mind Peter being a little less responsible in this version, but he's out-and-out reckless & goofy in some of them and sometimes I think they'd be better off with fewer, funnier jokes rather than the "if you didn't like that one there's another one coming in three seconds" school of comedy. They're already overusing the "Scott Pilgrim" videogame graphics during fights gag, and Fury's getting dangerously close to becoming every ineffective adult in "Ferris Bueller". On the other hand, there's a neat update of the old S.H.I.E.L.D barbershop elevator, and Agent Coulson (posing as Peter's school principal) wanting to bring the full weight of the agency into balancing the school budget was pretty funny. (Fury: "He's gone native!") There's also a drop-dead funny "Super Hero Squad" gag in the "Iron Spider" episode.

The animation is very good; I think people who think the animation in "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" is too simple will like the look of this show better. (Those people are wrong, by the way, but that's a different rant.) It's a fun show, and I do like it even though I'll like it better when (if?) they tweak the comedy/action/drama balance a little bit. Of the shows in DC & Marvel's weekend animation blocks, however, I have to rank it as my least favorite. Not because it's a bad show, but because the other shows are SO good. My ranking is "Young Justice" (the last few first season episodes were brilliant), then "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" (though I worry about what the back half of this season will be like when the USM crew takes over from Chris Yost), then "Green Lantern" (which is VERY close to being second) and finally "Ultimate Spider-Man". Give it a try, especially the pilot if you can find it, and let me know what you think!


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