Monday, 2 February 2009
Spider-Man Animated - My Thoughts: Part One
Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994)
Like a great many Spider-Man, and indeed comic book fans I was originally introduced to the webhead through television, more specifically the 90's Fox Kids animated series. This, the first in a three part series of articles intends to compare the three notable modern attempts at animating Spider-Man (I am pretending that Spider-Man: Unlimited didn't exist). So without further ado, Spider-Man: The Animated Series...
As mentioned before, this series was my first foray into the world of Spider-Man, so it is unsurprising that the series has for me, the definitive version of Peter Parker. However, even with the benefit of hindsight it is clear that the producers did a sterling job. Christopher Daniel Barnes is perfect for the role, and captures both Spider-Man and Peter Parker's sense of humour perfectly, something that Tobey Maguire sadly fails to do. Although he often has trouble with portraying anger, this is a minor complaint. However, the design sadly doesn't match his fantastic voice work. Although Spider-Man looks good, Peter is far too bulky, moreso than he has ever been shown in the comics, and this unfortunately does a lot to ruin his appearance. The writers did have a fantastic grasp of his character, this is the truest portrayal of Peter Parker seen in animation, and is often more credible than the modern comic books. Overall, despite the dissapointing design, Spider-Man: TAS's Peter Parker is about as close to perfect as we have ever got.
The Supporting Cast:
Another area that Spider-Man: TAS excels is its use of the supporting cast, something that is often overlooked by modern Spider-Man writers. A primary reason for this is the very long run given to the series, the longest so far out of any Spider-Man animation. This allowed a few episodes that explored the backstory of Spider-Man's rich supporting cast, with a particular standout being the episode 'Guilty', that did a lot to flesh out the characters of J Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson. Although these episodes were fairly hit and miss, the writers should be applauded for exploring this area like no other cartoon has. The designs and voice acting are generally spot on, with Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson again being standouts, however the show often falls wide of the mark with its use of female characters. Choosing to almost totally ignore Gwen Stacey and Betty Brant, two of the most important women in Peter's life, it's version of Mary Jane is also far from perfect, with a bizarre colour clashing design, and frankly irritating voice acting. However, despite this complaint it's use of supporting cast is generally very good, and again, often actually a lot better than in the comic books.
One thing that Spider-Man: TAS is often criticised for is its poor character designs, something that I have mentioned in the previous two sections. This is something that is also true for the villains. There are many excellent designs, Shocker, Carnage and the Green Goblin to name but a few, all of which stick fairly closely to their comic book designs, and are all the better for it. However, it is when the show deviates from the classic comic book look that it often falters. Doc Ock's design for example, is an over complicated mess, and Chameleon is so bizarrely coloured you have to wonder what they were thinking. The villains backstories and motivations are generally excellent, with Mysterio being a particular favourite of mine and all of the goblins being suitable creepy, with Mark Hammills voice acting on Hobgoblin being one of the best in the series. Even minor villains such as Shocker and Rhino, despite being given very little in the way of backstory, are superbly voiced. Spider-Man: TAS must also be applauded for its use of minor villains such as the Spot, Big Wheel and Rocket Racer. Like many aspects of the show, some of these were clunkers, but I greatly admire the writers for delving into the backwaters of Spider-Man history.
By far the strongest aspect of Spider-Man: TAS, and I am sure many will agree with me here, was its fantastic use of narrative, the complexity of which had never been seen before in an animation, and has rarely been matched since. Episode to episode continuity is very tight, and there are several multi part stories, and series long storylines. The pacing within the episodes is generally good, although it is usually very fast paced this is made up for by the fact that many stories are told in multiple parts.
Pros - Strong sense of narrative, excellent voice acting, faithful to comics, good use of supporting cast and humour.
Cons - Very shoddy animation, hit and miss character designs, often ridculous censorship, some characters being far more prominent than they should ever be allowed to be (Morbius).