By Jason Marsh Larouche
With the second season of The Spectacular Spider-Man underway, voice actor Josh Keaton sheds light on this year, where the show is going, and how the character has impacted his life.
Since the mid-sixties, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation has been adapted for animation several times. The versions that stand out most prominently are the original ’66 series, NBC’s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and Fox’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series. However, what made The Spectacular Spider-Man last year stand out from the rest was that the writers had taken the character directly back to the beginning: high school. Keaton sees the Lee-Ditko stories – those of a high school kid who, by accident, gains spider-like abilities and must suddenly juggle a semblance of a normal life with out-of-the-ordinary criminals like The Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus – easily translatable because of the timelessness of those tales.
“When you think about it, ” Josh elaborates, “the biggest change between that era and this one – or at least from a story telling perspective – is the advent of cell phones, internet, or instant communication. Once that detail is worked in, the Ditko-Lee stories still make sense for today’s audience because the overall themes they deal with are pretty universal.”
An actor since childhood, Josh has an extensive body of work. He has provided voice work for animated shows like the short-lived Back To The Future cartoon (which saw him behind the scenes hanging out with lead actor Dan Castellana, better known as Homer from Fox’s The Simpsons), as well as animated movies like Disney’s Hercules (the teenage version of the Tate Donovan-voiced hero), and projects like Metal Gear Solid 3 and No More Heroes. “The process differs from job to job. Sometimes it’s just me and one or two other actors, and other times they’ll get as much of the cast as they can fit into the room. Given the choice, I always like to work with actors [because] there’s no real substitute for interplay and chemistry between actors.”
Like any child, he grew up reading comic books, and names Spider-Man as one of his favorites alongside Wolverine, Batman, and The Punisher. In fact, he sees a parallel between the neverending juggling act of identities in Peter’s life, and his own situation.
“I relate to Peter because I was pretty much him in high school (obviously without the powers). I was and still am a computer/science geek. I couldn’t get a date to save my life, and had been pegged as a dork by the popular crowd (and that’s pretty much for life). At the same time, however, I was a teen actor and had a life and set of friends completely separate from my school life. I was ‘cool’ in this life. This ‘double-life’ was pretty much the main reason that I loved reading Spider-Man growing up, and my portrayal of Parker is pretty much myself in high school with a spider of awesome thrown in.”
However, acting is not the only means of expression or release for Josh. “I’m a [R & B] musician/singer, so I’m always in the studio in one way or another. If I’m not working on music, I love watching movies, playing video games, working on my cars, and, most recently, working around the house; I’ve really gotten into the whole handyman and landscaping thing as well.”
The series covered the first three months of Peter’s junior year in high school, and this season will continue that year. As for fans who long to see this character progress to college, Josh comments, “Give the full five seasons that Greg [Weisman] and the rest of the team are hoping for, you would actually see Peter graduate. The show starts in his junior year, and five seasons would take him to graduation. Then – if the demand for the show is still there – the plan is to make direct-to-DVD films with Peter in college. These movies would tackle some of the more mature themed Spidey stories.”
This season picks up immediately following the events of the season finale, which saw the first defeat of former friend Eddie Brock, now Venom, and the first kiss between Peter and childhood friend, Gwen Stacy, voiced by Party of Five alum Lacey Chabert. Also thrown into the mix is an expansion of the fledgling web-slinger’s rogues gallery. “Kraven [The Hunter], Mysterio, Silvermane, [and] Silver Sable will make appearances, as well as a few others with some cameos thrown in for good measure.”
Overall, Keaton confesses given the opportunity to portray Marvel Comics’ original hard-luck kid is a labor of love. “I really can’t say that there’s one thing I hold the most dear about playing Spider-Man. I think that if I had to choose one thing, it makes me incredibly happy to know that I’m reaching the people who were like me in school. The comics got me into the character and hopefully this incarnation of the show and character will introduce Spider-Man to a whole new set of lifelong fans.”
Look for the first season in three separate volumes on DVD, and check your local TV listings for the second season.