1994 Spider-Man #16: “Hydro-Man” Review

A new C-List villain makes his appearance to RAIN in on Spider-Man’s parade!

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

THE PLOT: Various robberies across town have Spider-Man baffled, as Mary Jane is confronted by the perpetrator. He turns out to be…her old boyfriend?!

LONG STORY SHORT: Morrie Bench turns out to be a whacko who can’t take a hint. Oh yeah, he has water powers as well. Spidey fights him until he dies by being led away from his water resources by Mary Jane herself.

MY THOUGHTS: Right from the beginning I have to say that this has always been one of my favorite episodes. Not even where childhood nostalgia is concerned, once Brad put these up on the Crawlspace I immediately watched it as soon as I could. And the quality remains. This is honestly one of the best episodes the series ever did in my opinion, largely due to the fact that the portrayal of Hydro-Man is so downright creepy and disturbing that it’s a total gear shift from the buffoons we were shown in the last episode.

Seriously, Hydro-Man makes this episode entertaining from top to bottom. And when I say he’s creepy and disturbing it’s not meant to be in a “Joker/Two-Face/typical Batman villain” kind of way. He’s not insane. He’s not even really all that evil. He’s realistic. The entire plot is ripped from a Lifetime television movie, where MJ is the protagonist, Bench is the antagonist and Spider-Man/Peter Parker is the plucky male friend whom the female lead couldn’t give too figs about. But it’s done so well that it feels like a mid-80s Spider-Man comic at the same time. The way Spider-Man was still the protagonist, but in a way wasn’t and the use of flashbacks and character and science all felt like the tone of the comics in the era where the world of the superhero got a little darker and hit closer to home. If this episode were part of the Alien Costume saga, or if Spider-Man at least decided to briefly wear a cloth version of the black costume, then it would all have been perfect. But as it stands, this is still a damn fine episode and a personal favorite of mine as well.

What’s interesting to me is that a lot of reviews I’ve found in the past concerning this episode dismiss it pretty quickly. I’m not really sure why that is. Sure, this is definitely a filler episode smacked in the middle of the Neogenic Nightmare saga where we have two throwaway lines that remind the audience about what’s going on in Spider-Man’s world. That may be true, but who ever said filler episodes had to be unenjoyable? This definitely had a season one feel to it since it was all about the new villain. But I truly think the people who don’t really care for “Hydro-Man” are glossing over what makes this episode stand out in the series. I’m not even talking about what happens at the end of the fourth season, I mean this episode by itself.

Looks like he’s DRUNK on his own power!

For one thing, the animation is just top notch all the way through.  The water effects are all gorgeous in it’s varied liquidity, and they all look natural and realistic which is an especially nice feat considering what type of show this is. Not just the water effects, the body language of the characters and their character models all looked great. I really liked Hydro-Man’s design in that he had a built upper body but it wasn’t Herculian. Too many of the designs in this show were just typical body builder types, to the point where it gets stupid to look at (See the comments section of the “Battle of the Insidious Six” Review for a particularly funny example!) In this episode, Bench looks like a real guy. He has muscular arms and chest but he has a double chin and a dipping gut. He doesn’t look out of shape, he just doesn’t look 100% idealized. And that’s very refreshing, especially for a villain where it makes sense. Villains never see things through all the time so it would be logical for that to apply to how they take care of their bodies.

Other instances of great body language are of course the Spider-Man webswinging scenes. Most of Mary Jane’s scenes were nicely animated too, with her gasping for air whenever she hits the water, and her messing with her hair in the scenes with her and Peter. This episode looks like it was really taken good care of, and the animation is just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’ve been defeated by SCIENCE!”

As said before, this one really felt like an Amazing Spider-Man issue to me, and the dialogue contributed a great part of that. Not every one-liner Spidey made was all that clever, but he certainly had his moments. His rhetorical answer to Mary Jane asking what he was doing in Central Park was a very “Spidey” kind of remark, and him saying things like “Hold it Kimosabe!” and “Kumbaya!” at the sight of the super geyser really felt like classic Peter Parker one-liners. That’s his voice; it’s the type of things he would say, and when you feel that the source material is being properly translated in the smallest and simplest of ways, it makes the viewing experience all the more enjoyable.

Same goes for Mary Jane. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating that while I think Sara Ballentine was slightly miscast as MJ for the show, she does do an admirable job. Of course partial credit goes to the script, but she too embodied MJ’s voice in respect to her sense of humor and stalwart independence. Going back on the idea that this is a different character than the MJ from the comics in that she doesn’t know who Spider-Man is, she still feels right to me and doesn’t feel at all contradicting. In what was one of the funnier small moments of the episode, she looks a picture of her father dressed like a 1930s mobster (WTF) and thinks on how she’ll beat whatever trouble comes her way. That felt like Mary Jane to me, and Ballentine is owed  some credit here.

But again, the big star of the show is Morrie Bench, a.k.a. Hydro-Man. I must again admit that I am really not all that familiar with him in the comics, though I do own a few of his appearances in the Venom and Marvel Knights storylines. Obviously his whole entire backstory with Mary Jane was made for the show, but it’s used to such great effect. This is a guy who is an obsessive, mentally and emotionally abusive, twisted ex-boyfriend who is just wrong on all levels. There is such a sense of raw malice in the character despite his claims that he truly loves Mary Jane, and a lot of that goes to Rob “Pinky from Pinky and the Brain” Paulsen’s amazing performance. He plays this stalker-ish, malicious tool who can’t take a hint, but he plays him so convincingly it’s a joy to see him in every scene. His design also adds to his malevolence in that he has an almost perpetual grimace to his face, as if he just has bad thoughts in mind for Mary Jane.

It’s here where I have to again champion the Amazing Spider-Cast in their review of this episode. In it, Chris Johnson said he had the impression that Mary Jane was afraid of Morrie purely on a victim-level that insinuated past sexual assault. I really don’t think that is what’s going on here. For one, Mary Jane isn’t really terrified of Morrie as she is insistant that he stay away from her. Of course she’s scared once he shows off his powers, but she still fights back at the end. I think if something were to have been inferred, there would have to have been a lot more hysterical fear coming from Mary Jane to the point where she’d be a shaking mess, unable to really do anything. Throughout this episode we’re shown how MJ is a strong young woman who can take anything thrown at her. It’s because of that that I think the Morrie backstory is all that the show says it is. He was just a pushy, overbearing loser who she finally dumped.

When he gets pissed, you get mist.

At the same time though there is a definite dark edge to the character that makes him more than what I understand he ever was in the comics. He’s still not particularly bright, but he’s not dumb. He’s ingenuity is shown at the end to where he goes and how he gets around the city. It’s that type of average, humanistic intelligence that makes him all the more sinister. (not insidious) Things like that give off the underlying sense of wrong that this guy has. This is, like Ultimate Gwen Stacy said about Eddie Brock, “a bad guy”. He’s is wrong. He is not someone to really be around because he’s just wrong on all levels. It’s not outright stated, in fact it’s rather understated. But it’s still a bad vibe. To give Spider-Man what is essentially a domestic abuser as a villain, and to give him Posideon-like super powers really gives him a serious threat and challenge to overcome.

It’s here where I have to tip my hat off to the directing as well. The storyboards and general directing make up for the other parts of this episode that add the creepy factor to Bench. The scene where he calls Mary Jane at the Coffee Bean is awesome due to the fact that you don’t see his full face at first. The creepy smile, the reflection of Peter and Mary Jane as he watches from the phone booth, all that was some heavy stuff that actually impressed and surprised me was done on a show targeted at a rather young audience. The atmosphere was decidedly creepy, and if you didn’t know who or what Bench was at first, you’re like “What the heck, is this a stalker sub-plot in a Spider-Man cartoon?” It’s all done to great effect. It doesn’t let up with that scene either. I’m a fan of the climax where Bench chases MJ across the street because there’s so little dialogue. The music is still playing, but Bench doesn’t even let out a yell or cry of exertion or pain while chasing her. One of the best scenes is where he’s hit by a car POV style and splatters all over the windshield, only to rise up again. That was a great little bit, and it showed in a subtle way how worn down he was getting. Same with the scene of him getting burned on the conveyor belt and being temporarily blinded.

It all leads to a nice ending where Bench literally dies in front of Spider-Man, MJ and the audience. Spider-Man says the reassuring line that H2O is known for it’s endless cohesiveness, but we later find out that no, the guy really did die. It’s not even all that sad of an ending considering what a miserable wretch he was.

Ned Leeds was out sick, so Robbie wrote the headline for this edition.

This one has too many good points to mark down. The only glitch I noticed was Spider-Man referring to Hydro-Man as Bench before he knew his real name. But whatever, this was awesome.


Best Quote Contender:

Spider-Man: “Did you say ‘Hydrant-Man’? The dogs must love you!”

All images taken from marvel.toonzone.net and drg4.wariocompany.com respectively

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