Ever since acquiring Marvel Animation in 2009, Disney hasn’t exactly earned the best track record in its attempts at revamping the Spiderman animated franchise. On top of 2012’s Ultimate Spiderman receiving mixed reviews since it’s premiere, 2017’s Marvel’s Spiderman series has also garnered more than its fair share of criticism.
Why? Well, they both are said to take ownership of the compelling web head’s story, only to strip it’s complexity for the sake of “children’s entertainment”. Child-targeted content breeds relatively-successful merchandising efforts of course, and we all know that Disney is built on a foundation of toy sales.
A bit of backstory . . .
Before Disney took charge, 2008’s Spectacular Spiderman was praised by many for acting as a bridge between the young and older generations of Spiderman fans. Its take on both its primary and secondary characters are chock-full of complexity and growth. Its narrative also follows the base material under the same name fairly closely, while adding its own distinctive edge—a fine balance that most reboots as of late have not managed to embody.
Ultimate Spiderman followed as Disney’s first attempt of taking the wheel of the Spideymobile. Fans were already personally offended at the cancellation of its beloved predecessor, but to add insult to injury, many argued that its 2012 reboot stripped away any essence of character growth. Instead it was claimed to be conceived upon hip-plus-marketable calculations to garner the widest possible appeal to youngings (although based on its early reviews, I think that someone on the R&D team forgot to carry a 1).
Finally, fast forward 7 years to 2017 and there was a glimmer of hope: emerging out of Ultimate Spiderman’s 104-episode ashes were interesting character designs followed by talk of a Spiderman series that would unite old and new fans. News spread like wildfire, and soon enough fans were optimistic that a series would finally live up to its 2009 rendition.
Then late 2017 rolled by and the pilot of Marvel’s Spiderman (alternatively known as Spiderman 2017) graced the small screen.
Were the predictions correct?
Not by a long shot.
You could here the hearts of veteran Spidey fans break all over the world (or North America at least). The first, second, and third impression of the series were unfavorable at best, and cartoon fanatics everywhere began ranking this new series lower than its former counterpart. Disney Television Animation received a third-degree burn courtesy of De ja vu in reliving the disdain of 2012’s Spiderman relaunch.
Well, allow me to say that I’ve just completed Marvel Spiderman’s entire first season, and am here to come to its rescue!
No, the series is definitely not as emotionally complex as Spectacular Spiderman, and no it doesn’t even come close to emitting the same amount of swag as its beloved predecessor—I mean, just listed to this theme song:
But to place this under the Ultimate series would be a crime. Sure, I’ll admit it has a rocky start, but what series doesn’t struggle to find its footing at first? It takes a while to settle into its stride, but it does get there eventually (A.K.A. halfway through its first season).
The series’ characters are not very complex at first. Peter Parker himself is not entirely relatable to start with either—jokes falling flat plus high-and-mighty demeanor is not an ideal combination. However, as time passes he and his peers become much more likable.
Selecting Horizon High as the series’ main setting is an interesting choice, as it provides an environment where Peter can showcase his quick wit and intelligence—highlighting his greatest qualities at best. It’s also incredibly encouraging to see that Peter’s friends are deeply invested in science without compromising an ounce of coolness.
As the pilot mentioned: Science is the new currency, which is the basis of this series. At times where Spiderman cannot pull something off, Peter Parker comes to the rescue with his resourceful and science-incorporated ideas. In this rendition of the web head’s story, our hero is not all about his spider-inspired abilities; instead, half of Spidey’s battles are won because of Peter’s unique mind. Unlike previous Spiderman cartoons, the line between Spiderman and Peter Parker is much more blurred as their personas heavily bleed into one another. Or rather, Peter doesn’t shed his civilian form completely when he changes into his red-and-blue body suit.
The series also explores many storylines unseen in modern Spiderman cartoons. The Spider Island arch was intense with incredibly high stakes. In this plot, along with those preceding and following, Spiderman does not hesitate to ask for help from other masked heroes along with his civilian friends (albeit, they are one in the same). He welcomes a helping hand, and completely understands that Gwen, Harry, Anya, and Miles are smart, strong, and able to stand their ground.
The past two Spiderman cartoons did not necessarily follow suit. While Ultimate Spiderman introduced a superhero team to work alongside Peter, they were portrayed as heroes first and civilian peers second. In the series-in-question’s plot, Peter calls upon his friends while in costume willingly as he understands that they are capable of plenty.
This is showcases a whole new take to his attitude, in which he knows where his weaknesses are and how others’ strengths can make up for these frail attributes. Additionally, unlike the Ultimate series, Marvel’s Spiderman isn’t afraid to focus more on Peter’s personal life rather than shining 95% of the spotlight on his literal hero’s journey. Our protagonist is the intelligent, nerdy, high-school student, Peter Parker first and crime-fighting Spiderman second. For the first time in a long time, the glamorous hero suit is taking a backseat to Peters day-to-day shenanigans. And although this take may not be for everyone, I see it as interesting in refreshing in the realm of superhero cartoons.
So to answer the question posed in the title of this article, does this series deserve all of the hate that it has been receiving?
By no means.
Is this the best Spidey cartoon out there?
By no means (but it definitely deserves a higher ranking than Ultimate Spiderman).
Spiderman 2017 is above being a mediocre series. It is an exciting watch that carries substantial more charm than the heavily manufactured Ultimate Spiderman. Its secondary characters are admirable and three dimensional. Despite their unnaturally high IQs, they feel like real individuals; in that rather than having a single overpowering trait that defines each of them as a whole, many descriptors can be pooled to describe their personalities—an anomaly in the arena of animated series.
So, to all new and old Spiderman fans alike, I personally invite you to give this series a shot. Approach it with an open mind, and try to disconnect from the high expectations left behind in 2009. We are almost a decade past this point, and as glory as the past is, it’s called the past for a reason. It’s about time to start looking forward (the chances of Spectacular Spiderman returning with a third season is miniscule anyways).
So from one cartoon fanatic, and Spectacular Spiderman fan to another, I honestly recommend this series if you are looking to fulfill a Spiderman fix!