At SXSW, Marvel brought with them a sneak preview of the Ultimate Spider-man debut episode. Specifically, it was the 2nd half of the show marking one year after Uncle Ben’s death. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think that the first part is all about setting up Peter Parker’s origin, so I’m actually glad they went with the second half to showcase what the show will be. I’m not sure how one is spoiled by reading about a premiere episode, but I will still say this to caution my readers.
Spoilers for the show will be discussed in detail below.
Ultimate Spider-man part 2 starts off with the dialog you see in the beginning of this trailer with “J Jonah Loudmouth.” Immediately you can see that the show is going to present Spider-man as a much younger character personality wise than many of the college centered version from the older shows. The immaturity is so much so that he actually delivers the words “cranky pants” in his internal monologue about J Jonah Jameson.
From his web swinging around town, he comes across the typical random car hurtling in to a building. In Spider fashion, he saves the car with a few well placed webs and then proceeds to face off against the villain. This time it’s the Trapster and they start off old west style with a stare down. Some fisticuffs occur with a nice Adam West Batman styled “KRAK!” thrown in for flavoring. In fact, you can see a lot of the fight in the video below.
With the Trapster neutralized, S.H.E.I.L.D. then proceeds to swoop in and clean up the mess. This is highlighted when Nick Fury appears out of absolutely nowhere to survey the damage. Seriously, Batman couldn’t have popped up in better fashion. Unfortunately for Spider-man, when the Trapster’s tank exploded, the neighborhood was coated in the ensuing blast. This get’s Nick Fury in to a tangent about how Peter Parker is nothing but a clueless rookie that needs to live up to his “great power” with the responsibility of training appropriately for it.
They even pan over to an animated version of the Iron Man test flight scene from the movie to show how great heroes aren’t great without training. That Captain America would have taken the Trapster out in 10 seconds. To punctuate this even further, the Trapster escapes the S.H.I.E.L.D. clean up crew and Nick Fury is forced to show Spider-man how it’s really done.
He takes out his gun and shoots a flag pole off it’s perch high above the action. This pole then bounces dramatically around to finally crash down on Trapster’s head knocking him out cold. “Be a better hero” Fury says and it seems to be the prevalent theme for these first few episodes. In exchange for considering joining up with S.H.I.E.L.D., Spider-man is given a new web slinger to better showcase what they are offering.
From here on we get to see Peter Parker’s personal life. They go in to great detail setting up what we can expect from his friends, his family and his school life. Aunt May isn’t a loving and doting old house wife. She’s a go getter with an absurdly active personal life. So much so, that it allows Peter to come and go as he pleases. Mary Jane is a journalism student.
Flash Thompson is the dumb meathead jock that loves Spider-man but makes Peter Parker’s life hell. His big claim to fame for the first episode is locking Peter in a locker. Fortunately, Stan “the Janitor” Lee always shows up to help Peter out.
Harry Osborn is the good friend we know and love. He helped Peter out when he was stuck in the rain and his dad Norman seems to be more attached to the witty young friend than his own son. While I have no confirmation of the back story, Norman Osborn doesn’t seem to readily know of Parker’s spider based talent. Norman just seems to like the kid a lot more than his own son.
This of course will be played up greatly as Norman and Dr. Octopus are presented as shadowy villains controlling many of the bad guys Spider-man will be going up against. The first of which are the Frightful Four that come crashing through the wall of the school cafeteria.
See, when Spider-man was fighting the Trapster, he got tagged with a tracking device. Classic Spidey tracer style, just you know, in reverse. Once they had arrived in classic fashion, they demanded Spidey show himself. With no movement from the hero, Parker gets singled out by the Whizzer. Peter needs an on the spot plan has to get hashed out, and after getting knocked around a bit Peter finally gets to showcase his leadership skills in dire situations.
He starts a food fight.
The ensuing chaos allows Peter to get in to costume and come running out to save the day. The fight gets chaotic with lots of damage. Harry Osborn gets knocked unconscious, The Frightful Three are knocked around in a number of comedic ways that only a food fight could deliver. One in particular is when Mary Jane kicks a plate of jello towards a running Thundra and she slips and crashes in to the Cafeteria serving area.
At one point, Spidey comes across Flash Thompson looking to do anything he can to help out. Even knowing how petty this is, he then asks Flash to hide in a locker to ambush the attackers. Locking Flash in was a dirty thing to do, “but man that felt good.”
The Frightful Three scene was full of action as the Three never really were defeated. They were knocked around plenty but the fight never left. The only reason they fled the scene was because the police showed up. Apparently they weren’t paid enough to fight cops. Kind of an odd contract if you think about it. I mean fighting a super powered Spider person in a school full of children? Covered. Police officers? Not worth it.
So, they left and this series of events taught Peter a valuable lesson. He has no idea what he’s doing. To make matters worse, all of this chaos that happened to him today led him to forget the only thing May had asked him for. To get a cake for today. Something nice to celebrate Ben. Man he dropped the ball.
With such a crummy day of ups and downs, the only thing Spider-man could do is look for help from S.H.I.E.L.D. He then webs off for the helicarrier floating above Manhattan and jumps off the tallest building he can find to try and shoot his way up to it. His own webs unfortunately can’t make it and in a last minute bit of trial and error, he tests the new S.H.I.E.L.D. tech he was gifted. It seems to be a lot better than his own formula as he finally made contact with the floating airship.
The carrier then attacks the perceived intruder and Fury then shows up out of nowhere again to save Spidey’s hide. The show ended with Spider-man asking Nick Fury for help.
Ultimate Spider-man seems to have a lot of potential behind it. The outfit is done incredibly well with a lot of emotion behind Spidey’s eyes. While I’m not entirely sold on many of the designs for Peter Parker’s personal life, I think what they are doing in the animation side is really interesting. Man of Action Studios is behind the animation so many of the characters draw upon a Ben 10 art style.
The tricks in animation are what’s making me pull for this show a bit more than some of the more established cartoons like Young Justice and Avengers. In a Teen Titans manner, the animation switches wildly to adopt many different techniques during the more mundane story points. We’ll see deformed character styles, use of real imagery, effects that only ever get used in trailers. Something new seems to always be readily available and it kinda showcases a lot of the comedy that Spider-man brings to his life.
The people involved in the project are equally impressive as Brian Michael Bendis is writing episodes and maintaining a role as Creative Consultant for the show. The three Joe’s, Casey, Kelly and Quesada are all involved in various forms and most important is Paul Dini’s role in the show. Paul has been tied to all the good DC Animated Universe titles and will hopefully work his magic to make Spider-man just as memorable. How strong his role will be is questionable though as he’s also tied up with the new Hulk cartoon as well.
I wouldn’t say I’m overly impressed with the dialog options and concepts the show is throwing around. Calling J Jonah Jameson a “cranky pants” delivered in a straight tone is a bit odd even for Spider-man. The dialog had more than a few sigh inducing one liners like this that really had me wondering what a full season would have in store for it. While the animation points are impressive, they all seemed to come out as bullet points instead of working a real narrative through the show.
Meanwhile, the show doesn’t seem to have a connection to any one timeline in the comics. The plot is moving like the comics with the active role in Parker’s life that Nick Fury takes, however it’s not close to a literal translation. It seems to be picking and choosing the best of the Ultimate and regular comic story lines and combining them in to something new. I don’t think the show will be able to hit many of the heart wrenching moments from the comic, but instead we get to see Spider-man wearing the Iron Spidey suit at some point in the first season. I won’t ever argue against fan service.
The underlying theme will be Spider-man’s involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the many people that will involve. Meanwhile Norman Osborn will be the main instigator. Currently, he isn’t the heartless sociopath the Ultimate universe created. While the attack at the school was orchestrated by Osborn, the battle ground was unknown to him. As soon as he found out his son’s school was attacked, he attempted to stop the Three for Harry’s sake.
I left the preview impressed with many of the directions this show is taking. The show was very entertaining despite the few fumbles in some of its execution. It has a good sense of humor to it that really isn’t played up enough with the character. I still can’t get over how impressive the eyes were on Spidey’s costume. It’s interesting to see scenes with Steve Ditko style eyes quickly change over to Mark Bagley’s style. What’s fun is to see the way they showcase the action in movement of Spider-man through manipulations of the eyes. It’s something that doesn’t get focused on enough and it’s very well done here.
Ultimate Spider-man will premiere on Disney XD on April 1st.