Written By: Stan Berkowitz, Marv Wolfman and John Semper
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)
THE PLOT: Spider-Man has begun robbing jewelry stores across town, and a mysterious masked maurader monikered Mysterio makes it his mighty mission to capture the web slinger. Wait, isn’t Peter Parker Spider-Man? Then how’s he at the scene of one of Spider-Man’s crimes?
LONG STORY SHORT: To the surprise of no one, Mysterio turns out to be the cause of Spider-Man’s crime spree as a means of revenge. Spider-Man, with the help of Lieutenant Terri Lee, nabs and unmasks the crook, revealing him to be special effects man Quentin Beck.
MY THOUGHTS: This felt like a very 60’s-ish type of story for a Spider-Man cartoon, just further expanded upon. The plot is well trodden territory with no surprises or innovations. It was almost as if it really was an episode from the 60’s show re-done in the 90s show style. However, that doesn’t automatically make it a bad story or even a story not worth telling, especially when considering the context that this episode originally aired in. The last Spider-Man cartoon was at least ten years prior to this, so introducing new audiences to Mysterio and providing his range of abilities to their knowledge is perfectly acceptable. Now this is a very, very linear story. It’s told very straightforward from A to Z. At the same time it’s a lot like “Night of the Lizard” in that it’s made much more entertaining due to Christopher Daniel Barnes’ performance. Once again, CDB delivers with a perfect combonation of wit, charm, embarassment and incredulity as both Peter Parker and his alter ego. If anything, what this episode does right is start to combine Peter’s costumed life with his romantic life and have them collide at his expense. I found myself really liking the MJ subplot because it felt natural to the character, rather than the story which is a good thing. Mary Jane had nothing to do with Mysterio or Jameson or Detective Lee, yet by nature of Peter being Spider-Man she pays the price of a neglected date and Peter nearly quits due to this unfortunate turn of events. Now, for Peter to quit over a bad reputation and a missed date seems a little childish at first. But this episode continues the idea that Peter has been Spider-Man for a few years at least. We get the origin somewhat shoehorned in the episode, but it served a purpose. All this goes back to Peter’s character and characterization which makes the episode more engaging. I really couldn’t give two figs about the plot. Mysterio, while an entertaining villain, has a flat-out stupid reason to hate Spider-Man. (But a reason nonetheless) He’s a means to an end which is to challenge Peter’s stalwart vow to use his powers responsibly, and while I reiterate how simple the plot was, it reached a very serviceable point by the end.
Modernization was the key word in this episode, as several classic tropes were seen updated to fresh and hip 90s status. We see more of Mary Jane, coming off from her cameo at the end of the last episode in very flattering scenes that are brief but establish her character suitably. From the last scene of her as a hot red-head greeting Peter at the door after a night of Smythe-Robot wackyness, we next see her in tight workout gear doing aerobics while flirting with Peter. If she were more like her initial appearances in the comics, she could’ve come off as shallow if she had that eternal good time seeking quality about her. The scene where she hangs up on Peter does a good job of showing she’s not only extremely attractive but also very independent in her own right. I don’t think the final scene at the end of the episode made much sense in how she was talking about believing in herself or something to that effect. It came off as the writers wanting to come back to her character and not leave her mad at Peter, but being pressed for time as in making her get over it. Still, I liked her character bits in this episode and I didn’t mind the voice actress as much as I thought I would once again. I think Sara Ballentine gets a little too much flak, in that as an early John Romita-esque MJ voice, she’s perfect. Where she loses fans I think is when her character needs to come off as more mature, basically as the wife of Peter Parker. Its a lot like how I see Brian Drummond and Chris Sabat in their repsective performances as Vegeta in Dragonball Z. (blasephemous as it is to mention anime on a comic book website) They can portray one aspect of the character perfectly, but not the other. Ballentine can do flirty, but not necesserily adult; not fully mature.
Continuing with the theme of modernity, we’re introduced to Lieutenant Terri Lee in this episode, as a fairly transparent stand in for Jean DeWolf from the comics. This is another instance of the porduction team hesistant to include a character due to the fact that they eventually die (hence why no Foswell, barely any Ned Leeds or Gwen Stacy) but I think Terri Lee’s an interesting character in her own right. For one thing she never shows any romantic affection for Spider-Man, at least none that I can recall. (She saves that for a certain dhamphir later on in the series) It makes her character more fully rounded than just another female love interest. I also like the fact that she’s a black character in a show where the cast is mostly…not black. It just makes sense when the people live in friggin’ New York, and I also like that she has a light skin tone which adds to the believability even more. (Because as we all know, all black people look like Don Cheadle in skin tone) Now I do think that her voice actor Dawn Lewiss gets a little annoying to listen to from time to time, but the character’s earnest quality to find the truth makes her more endearing. If she were just a no-nonsense hardass, it would get old. The fact that she can dish it out with Jameson while being tough but fair with Peter at the same time makes her a believable cop in a world with super powers.
Now this is four episodes in, and Jameson I think has been better established as more of a businessman than a newspaperman. If the blue suit didn’t immediately give it away, the fact that he has his own televison channel does. It’s an interesting portrayal seeing as how it’s more in line with the character’s roots from the early Ditko/Romita days with his Business Club and everything. Jameson was always a news guy in his blood, but here we see more of the millionare magnate than the blood and guts editor. It’s not as though we don’t see some of his social savvy in Spectacular Spider-Man, but here he’s almost all about the business. It makes him seem for apt for comedy, always worrying about money, riding in his limo and concerned if certain parites will go off okay. He still has his integral hatred for Spider-Man which is absolutely needed, but to look at the Jameson from the future shows and to look at the Jameson reveals an interesting dichotomy. What this series has which Spectacular Spider-Man didn’t portray nearly as much is the Jameson scenes. With Peter older, he spends more time at the Bugle working than at school so Jameson is very prevalant throughout this first season. That’s never a bad thing, as proved by one of my favorite gags when Spider-Man faxes him wih the opening line “Dear Chuckles”. It’s also great to have Ed Asner not play up a bumbling type of blowhard, just constantly irritated and annoyed. I don’t know why he so readily accepted Mysterio, but at least he called him out upon first meeting him as another freak in a mask.
There were a lot of great quotes in this episode, coupled with a number of ewually bad ones including scenes where some things did not make sense. Most noticeably, where did those cameras come from in the flashback to Beck’s arrest? What was the substance in the bucket he threw at Spider-Man which caused the bridge fire? I did like how Beck was given barely any depth and just straight up labeled as a nut. A favorite line of mine was when told he should realize he brought his arrest on himself, Beck gleefully says “That’s what my psychiatrist always told me.” As if to say, “Yeah, I’ve heard that before but I don’t like to look at it that way.” Another great line was when JJ presents on live televison with earnest seriousness the title for the story on Spider-Man’s going rogue as “Spider-Man: The Final Humiliation”. Great stuff. There was also a “talk-and-you’ll-miss-it” reference to Roger Corman which I just recently got as a semi-nod to the not-so-fantastic Fantastic Four film Corman directed. It’s lines like these which make the episode enjoyable to watch, even if the plot is typical.
One final note is that the animation was very cool throughout. It wasn’t as crisp as the pilot’s but it was nearly as good, and some scenes like the flashback sequence looked really good. Nice work with shadows and lighting effects. The designs all looks nice and round, which appeals to the eye.
Overall I enjoyed this episode a lot more than I really think I should have. It’s not one of the all-time greats or anything, but it’s a fun time waster which can entertain even the most jaded critic of the series for it’s 22 minute time span.
4 MARY JAAANE’s!!!/5
*Best Quote Contender: *Peter and Aunt May watch the footage of “Spider-Man” robbing the jewelry store*
Aunt May: “And such a lack of respect!”
Peter: *thinking to himself* “Well that I’ll cop to, but I’m not a thief.”
All images taken from marvel.toonzone.net