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Spider-Man on MTV
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2003

Format: TV
By:   Mainframe
Genre:   Superhero Action
Review Date:   July 31, 2003
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

There's a "Spider-Man" cartoon on MTV. I found it surprising -- the only thing weirder than seeing a "Spider-Man" cartoon on MTV would be seeing a music video on MTV. As I watched, I expected a teenage girl to appear in a bubble at the bottom of the screen and go "I'm Kristin from New Jersey and I think Spider-Man is cool because he rocks! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

MTV used to be a hotbed for animation, with not-for-children animation like "Aeon Flux." But that was back in the old days, when a jackass was a person who hurt himself doing stupid things, not a show about people who hurt themselves doing stupid things. "Spider-Man" might be the first show to get me to watch MTV for a whole 30 minutes since "Remote Control."

One of the good parts of the show is that one of the guys in charge is Brian Michael Bendis, the writer of Marvel Comics' "Ultimate Spider-Man." How novel; someone from the source directly working on an adaptation. I don't really know if the series exhibits any of Bendis' particular writerly skill. But the dialogue of the main characters, all young college age, doesn't seem stilted and Spider-Man's lines are very funny.

So far, the show's opening montage ("You think being a superhero is hard? Try going to college" or something like that) has dealt with Peter Parker's troubles moreso than the actual series, which has been mostly action-stuffed. It's more actiony than the Spidey cartoon from the '90s. That one really got into Peter Parker's emotional stuff, and was really good. But it's most notable to me for figuring out a way to bring the The Punisher to a Saturday morning cartoon. So far the only angst on the MTV cartoon is Harry Osborn's, who spends every moment when he's not with the other characters mumbling "Spider-Man killed my father...."

My compliments on the voice casting. Spidey and Harry are played by former TV "dramedy" actors. Neil Patrick Harris, the actor who's probaby sick of people thinking his name is Doogie Howser, is a good Pete. Ian Ziering is born to play rich brat Harry Osborn. He had lots of practice for the role, since Ziering played rich brat Steve for several decades on "90210."

Everyone else is played by musicians. Mary Jane Watson is Lisa Loeb, who sang "Stay (I Missed You)" in that movie where I learned to hate Ethan Hawke. Rapper Eve is Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. Rob Zombie will play Curt Conners, the Lizard. Consider this a suggestion that they get Marilyn Manson to play Morbius, the Living Vampire. (Actually I'd rather hear Alice Cooper. C'mon. He's available.)

The only non-musician villain is Kingpin, played by Michael Clarke Duncan in a neat bit of synchronicity with the "Daredevil" movie (he's black here, too, but he's drawn as the sumo-size comic Kingpin with different flesh-tone).

Unlike "X-Men: Evolution," which is good in its right but pretty different from the source, this series is perfect for people whose only exposure to the characters is the Spider-movie. The series seems to directly sequelize the movie -- the three main people are in college, Harry's father is dead, Pete and MJ are just friends. The strongest episode I've seen takes a well-known Spidey enemy from the comics and recasts him as a troubled college kid.

The animation is all done on them new-fangledy computers, like "Final Fantasy" and "Reboot." The Spider-Man scenes are awesome -- totally cool. Spidey fights and zips around on his web line in energetic, dizzying style.

Spider-Man vs. Bad Guys In A Car is a classic set piece in the comics, done and redone lots of times. In the above-mentioned episode, it's a thrill ride.

But the animation backfires during the non-Spidey scenes. Every character moves like they're doing The Robot, and they all have wandering, googley eyes. Too bad Spidey can't be Spidey the whole time. So really, it's good that the show is action-centric and not talky. Otherwise, it's like staring at video game cut-scenes and you can't make them stop.

So now "Spider-Man" is all big-time, on MTV, with celebrity voices. Good. But it seems way over the heads of the MTV audience. I hope it lasts despite its total lack of people going into alcoholic comas or groping each other in hot tubs.

RevolutionSF news editor Joe Crowe really feels like an old fart.

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