Airing for only two seasons, The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series is one of the numerous shows cancelled before its time. With characterisation true to the spirit of the comics, intelligent storytelling, and superb action, this is one of the greatest portrayals of everyone’s favorite wall-crawling superhero and the strongest in any medium outside of comic books. This is the type of series that proves both the strength of the character of Spider-Man and the unique strengths of animated series in the realm of superheroes.
Created by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook, this is a series that nails what’s special about Spider-Man and his world. As a whole, The Spectacular Spider-Man draws its influences from the early comics. This was when the hero was introduced and focused heavily on his time as a student balancing relationships, school life, and being a hero. Voiced here by Josh Keaton, Peter really feels like the character has jumped straight from the comics and is swinging across your screen in animated form. He has all of his strengths, weaknesses, charm, and depth, which makes him an endearing character to all viewers.
The lasting appeal of Spider-Man is based upon the character’s relatability and inspirational qualities. Peter Parker has ups and downs in his personal, professional, and superhero lives, with many of his struggles based in the same issues that affect his viewers or readers. At the same time, he’s still a good person, trying desperately to live up to the ideals set by his late uncle.
All of those elements are alive and well here in The Spectacular Spider-Man. The team behind the show not only crafts compelling stories in both the superhero and personal sides of Peter’s life, but also combines them to make a cohesive narrative that excites and even frustrates in the best ways. As a result, this makes the series engaging and entertaining, with nothing ever feeling dull or superfluous. Everything is very well balanced, which allows for a far more thorough exploration of the character and his supporting cast.
Despite dealing with his early days, the show wastes no time in telling an origin story everyone knows. Instead, the series leaps into action with Peter already patrolling New York as the Wall-Crawler and then introduces his villains one by one. All the characters, from villains like Doctor Octopus, to supporting characters like Mary-Jane Watson are given time to shine and for us to learn what makes them tick. Despite the large supporting cast, each character is used in some shape or form in a way that’s relevant to the story.
While the episodes are for the most part stand-alone, they are structured into small story arcs which all make up a larger season-long narrative. The sense of continuity is used well and in a way that’s fun and rewarding when watching from beginning to end. There’s enough tweaks to the standard tropes to keep the audience surprised as well. The plotline often moves in a completely different direction, keeping you on your toes and not making any ‘jump the shark’ moments. All of this is done in a way that’s consistently fresh and filled with energy, sincerity, and a sense of fun.
Using a simplistic art style for the series, The Spectacular Spider-Man has a more youthful feel to it that may take a while to get used to. However, this helps to differentiate the series and highlights the heightened and comic book-inspired nature of the show. The use of bright colors and more cartoonish features for characters helps images to pop off the screen in a dynamic and exciting manner. In addition, tons of awesome fights fill the series, with Spidey’s iconic wit, speed, and strength on display during his many battles. Each villain tests Spider-Man in different ways, making for unique and varied action scenes.
As the show goes on, it plays with its formula more and more. An example is an episode juxtaposed with Shakespearean recitals whose content reflected the main story of Venom’s return. These breaks from standard formulas always worked spectacularly and helped distinguish it from the several straightforward superhero series before and after it. It has the type of smart storytelling and commitment to a style that puts it on par with the likes of the best superhero series like Batman TAS. It’s a damn shame the series got cancelled when it did, but the frustration is well worth the 26 episodes we got. The Spectacular Spider-Man is simply the quintessential show for any fans (or potential ones) of the character.
The Spectacular Spider-Man is available on Amazon Prime