1994 Spider-Man episode #2: The Spider Slayer Review

1994 Spider-Man’s most classic adversaries are introduced in this packed episode: ROBOTS!

Story By: John Semper
Written By: Stan Berkowitz
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)

THE PLOT: Spencer Smythe, brilliant inventor under the coercion of industrialist Norman Osborn, creates a robotic “spider slayer” dubbed the Black Widow in order to locate and kill Spider-Man. Only problem is the one it locates and attempts to kill isn’t our favorite webhead, it’s Flash Thompson in a costume. The real webslinger must risk life and limb in order to save the hapless frat boy.

LONG STORY SHORT: Spider-Man manages to defeat the Widow and rescue Flash. After publically revealing Flash as Spider-Man, Eddie Brock is fired from the Daily Bugle. And upon the apparant death of his father, Alistair Smythe forms a reluctant partnership with the Kingpin of crime.

Get used to seeing this shot in the series

Get used to seeing this shot in the series

MY THOUGHTS: After the pilot episode, having established the series’ protagonist, supporting cast, Jameson and power parameters, we have in our hands a show ripe for further exploration into the long and varied history of Spider-Man and his tales from the comics.

This episode changes that up a bit. A lot a bit.

It’s interesting because there are things from the comics it changes, things it keeps the same and things that seem changed, but are actually acurate to proper lore. Confused yet? Don’t worry, because at the end of the day, whether the show is exactly like the comics or not is completely irrelevant. The fact that it tells a complete and comprehensible story is what needs to work. Fanserivce must always come after. So, does it? Uhhhh…kinda?

It’s tough because this episode more than any in the series tries to get even more established than the pilot, and because things are so packed into it it tends to come up short. Last week we were introduced to people who carried the plot forward and who were relevent to the story. This time around, we get Felicia Hardy, Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson, Spencer Smythe, Alistair Smythe and the Kingpin. Needless to say this was ambitious, because while every character has his or her history with Spider-Man that will eventually be explored down the line, their roles here complicate the episode. Specifically Felicia and Norman. Their appearances aren’t unwelcome, and yet they do little but get in the way of what’s going on on-screen. The audience can’t be 100% sure what these characters want, especially Felicia. She appears here acting head-over-heels gaga over Peter Parker for no reason at all. Well, no substantial reason. Sexual attraction? Sure, why not; he looks like Nicholas Hammond. But Felicia’s a debutante, a spoiled girl and fairly shallow. Why are we given so many scenes with her in the show? The beginning scene with her at the Bugle was necessery, but then again her mother could’ve easily filled that role. If she was so attracted to Peter and they both attend ESU together, why wait until now to go after him? And she saw why he left her when the Widow crashed into the building, to save his Aunt May. Why get upset about that? This is all beside the fact that this is a totally different interpretation of the character from the comics, but the dynamic presented is very confusing. If Felicia is supposed to be the attractive girl Peter can’t make a date with, even if she’s meant to be unlikable, why not have the audience see it from Peter’s eyes?

“Aren’t you glad son that I saved your stupid drawing of a beetle car from when you were a child?”

The point I’m trying to make is that if Felicia’s scenes were cut down to the minimum or absolute necessery, we would’ve had more appropriate scenes that explained Norman Osborn’s character. This is not the conniving, machiavellian villain from the comic books or from Spectacular Spider-Man, and rightly so. At the time this show was being produced, Norman Osborn was still dead as a doornail in the Spider-books. The personality they went with here is a mix between Dick Dasterdly and Homer Simpson, the latter in that he tries to do the right thing by being incredibly stupid and working with dangerous people. It’s very weird, at one point he appears that he really is trying to do right by the Smythes, and another time he’s outright threatening them. It was as if the show didn’t even know how to portray him, with the majority of the dialogue consisting of “Kill Spider-Man, Die, die, destroy everything”. This gets very old halfway through the episode. And what did Spider-Man do to Osborn anyway? I know he’s being blackmailed by Kingpin, which I suppose sells Norman’s maniacal fixation of seeing Spider-Man die, but at times it was pretty funny just to hear him scream.

On the flip side of things, Peter Parker/Spider-Man continues to entertain with his dry, cynical wit and appropo sense of comical timing. Again, this show gets Spider-Man down pat. Much of his one-liners carried the episode, especially in the scene with Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson. The same could be said for Jameson, who’s slowly becoming more and more lively by the end of this episode. The cheap, blowhard skinflint edges through the tough paper-man that premiered in the last episode, but both are multiple sides of the character so it’s all good. One thing does beg the question: Exactly what is Spider-Man’s status as a crimefighter in New York exactly? Is he wanted by the police? He’s obviously a mystery man, but the amount of time he’s been on the scene is rather ambigous. Jameson makes a reference that implies he’s been around for years, and if Peter’s in college that is appropriate. Yet one gets the feeling that Spider-Man has only fought purse snatchers and second story men up until now.

The last major player in the voice acting racket is Roscoe Lee Brown as the Kingpin. This is another iconic voice, that exudes power and class, and villainy all in a single performance. This was perfect casting, and a good way to introduce what proved to be Spidey’s biggest nemesis in the show.

What the “I AM THE SPIDER” storyline should have been.

Animation wise, this episode is a step down from the first episode, and yet that is to be expected. It was still rather easy on the eyes, and continues the overall designer style of the series. They clearly wanted to go with a John Romita/Mark Bagely fusion cross of styles, and it shows. Osborn, Smythe and Peter all look fairly Romita, yet the Black Widow and the future Spider Slayers are all straight from Bagley’s run when ASM was being published twice a month and Spidey was going against the new Spider Slayers then. It’s certainly a great choice of artists to mimic a style after, as those two are among the best artists ever. The series does devolve a bit in design, but for now its still pretty good.

One last thing about characterizations worth noticing was the presentations of the Smythes. It’s interesting to see Spencer Smythe written in such a flattering manner considering his immediate downward spiral into insanity after his second appearance in the seventies. Yet the very first appearance of Spencer was nothing but a noble, benevolent scientist. If memory serves, after the initial Spider-Slayer failed he simply said “Oh well, back to the drawing board.” and went on with his life. He even tried to prevent the creation of the Molten Man. It wasn’t until Stan brought him back in his third appearance where he went nuts with vengeance at being “humiliated” by Spider-Man. As you do.

Alastair’s in much better shape as well. Here he’s presented with a more natural love for his father than the insane, schlub of a guy first seen in ASM. Even after he sees his father’s supposed death he doesn’t go crazy with rage. He becomes machiavellian in his own right, but its much more subdued and makes for an overall cool character for which this series granted certain justice to. Moreso than the source material.

Overall, I can’t say I disliked this episode. It was a big step down from the previous one, to be sure. Spidey’s quips and Kingpin’s great first appearance brought it up for me. I was vacillating between a 3.5 and a 4, but I’ll be frank and stick with the former grade.

3.5 “MARY JAAANE’s/5

Best Quote Contender- Spider-Man: “Yeah, somebody has to save the guy who hates Peter Parker. Guess who?”

All images taken from marvel.toonzone.net

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