1994 Spider-Man #21-“Duel of the Hunters” Review


Spider-Man is now a MAN-SPIDER! Can New York’s shining champion of legalized justice the Punisher bring him to justice without destroying him? Or must he rely on an old…enemy for assistance?Credits
Written By: John Semper
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)

THE PLOT: Having the proverbial tables turned on him in the warehouse, Punisher barely escapes an all-powerful Man-Spider and decides he must rid the city of this menace once and for all. Meanwhile as Man-Spider does some investigating of his own accord, Dr. Mariah Crawford calls in an old pal to help out our friendly neighborhood monster…

 LONG STORY SHORT: Kraven the Hunter is brought in to save Spider-Man from the Punisher, and after a battle in the World Trade Center’s parking garage, the antidote is brought in to bring him back to normal…for now.  

 

 

Man versus Monster! Place your bets folks!

MY THOUGHTS: This is really the most peculiar episode to date that’s been covered in my reviews, and the most interesting one just on a “to watch” level. After the greatness that was the previous “Enter the Punisher” we have a solo writer’s outing by executive producer John Semper himself bringing to the table basically a horror story in a Spider-Man cartoon. It’s really nothing ever seen before or really since in Marvel animation, and it comes the closest to chasing Batman: the animated series in terms of dark, moody atmosphere. What pushes this along is the overall theme of saving lives that is fairly subdued but an ever-present undercurrent throughout the episode. Even mutated beyond control, Spider-Man still desires to protect people and bring in Morbius, thus making his convictions in the last episode that much stronger. The Punisher reaffirms his mission to save lives by killing whatever monsters threaten the innocent. Even Morbius still wants to cure himself to prevent him from attacking anyone else, and the theme is continued through the efforts of Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, the police of course, and finally Kraven and Mariah Crawford. I’m not necessarily a horror fan, but it’s an interesting way to go about the genre by setting up characters and their respective goals to prevent the loss of human life, and to have that goal bring each character through a conflict that endangers and threatens said lives. If that is what Semper was going for here, he certainly suceeded in my book.

Of course what notably adds to the effective atmosphere is the total removal of Spider-Man’s inner dialogue whenever he was on screen. Not only that, but there are a number of scenes where he is just alone and observing people so the audience is left with the forced silence and shown his intentions through his actions. It really worked, especially showing the conflicting actions of the Man-Spider from going after Morbius to going after the Punisher. It’s a lot like the Lizard, in how he went from talking to Martha Connors to attacking Spider-Man without a second thought, literally. It also made the audience know exactly what kind of episode they were in for right from the get-go with the battle in the warehouse at the very start of the episode. The Punisher is never given any internal monologue unless he’s making marks into his War Journal, so the fight with him and Man-Spider is shown to be one of extreme intensity and ferocity in the very beginning. Castle is clearly outmatched, and impneding explosions serve well to show how incredibly powerful Spidey became without either characters coming right out and saying “He’s become so incredibly powerful!” It was really good stuff.

With the heavy atmosphere of this episode, really the only negatives I can get out of the way were some of the classic 90s nonsense that has permeated throughout this second season. A number of my notes were marked down as “WTF” while watching certain scenes, but it was really due to some of the editing. For example, in one sequence Punisher literally springs out of the roof of his Battle Van into the sky as though he could fly. He didn’t have his wacky jet-pack in the scene, so WTF. Another sequence when Flash saves Deb Whitman from Man-Spider, he apparently pushes her out of the way in slow motion, as to suggestthat Flash had super speed and strength or something. WTF. Also he pushes Debrah into a bookcase which proceeds to fall on top of her, so nice going there Flash.

 Also I thought the scene with Harry and MJ was misplaced. Peter/Man-Spider observes Aunt May from outside the window at his home, screams in the rain, and then visits MJ’s house and breaks in to see her. That didn’t make much sense to me since it appeared as though right beforehand he was aware of what he had become. Peter’s motivations in this episode are very much jumbled up where you know he’s still trying his darndest to do the responsible thing despite his mutation, and yet his going to Mary Jane seemed to contradict the Aunt May scene right before it. Still, it could be just a case of his mind going further and further into the recesses of the monster side, again like Curt Connors. The really dumb thing about that scene though was Mary Jane saying she thought the monster somehow knew her. Umm…you met and conversed with Spider-Man throughout the entire Hydro-Man affair. Of course he knows you! Not only that, but there’s no question that the monster was Spider-Man since it still had his tattered costume on. So, WTF.

Finally on the “WTF-O-Meter”, one of this show’s biggest failing points is the presentation of the re-caps. The re-caps are generally all bad with their jumbled, sloppy editing of certain lines of dialogue and scene transitions. I actually think this episode’s re-cap of the previous one wouldn’t have been all that bad if not for one thing: Lt. Lee is shown to have said in the re-cap “Put out an A.P.B. for Spider-Man.” But she didn’t say that at all in that scene, or really in the episode. In that scene in particular, she was describing the Punisher’s costume. It’s even worse when the exact same line of dialogue is used in the scene with the policemen’s sketch and she says it again-for the first time. What?! Why would she do this? It’s extremely stupid, and even though it’s not a huge part of the episode it boggles the mind.

 So yeah, there was a fair amount of idiocy in the editing for this one. But luckily the was an even greater amount of awesomeness. While Semper’s script isn’t 100% flawless (Mary Jane: “Harry you brave fool!”) there are some very choice lines of dialogue that while aren’t exactly memorable do add to the overall nature of the episode in certain ways. As said before, the Punisher is mostly silent when he’s alone, not even making any grunts or groans when he moves around which is pretty cool. But one of the first lines he says is after Microchip questions him on what the heck happened, Castle responds “I stared the Devil in the eye…and I blinked.” That’s some pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s show, and while it may not make a whole lot of sense it’s still pretty cool. Other fun throwaway lines include Kraven’s first upon returning to NY as he sniffs and says “New York…” in a rather disgusted way. There were a couple of very interesting lines as well. The first is Microchip’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line to Punisher as he says “You’ve been at it since ‘Nam. Aren’t you tired?” Now the Punisher’s set in stone history in the comics has always been very up front and specific about this little facet. Whereas Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider in 1962 but the year is never referenced for obvious reason in the comics (it’s always like ten or fifteen years ago) Frank Castle has always been a Vietnam veteran and has fought crime ever since coming back from the war. And in the comics, or at least in the MAX version, he’s intentionally one of the very few comic book characters to have actually aged with the times. Even still, I’m still very surprised this line was put in here. I just was not expecting that little drop of history, both fictional and non fictional.

The second line worth noting is during Kraven’s attempts to keep Punisher from attacking Spider-Man. Specifically after the Francis Bacon quote where he says “Revenge is a foolish reason to hunt.” This is borderline hilarious considering A) in the comics that’s practically part of the main reason he kept coming after Spider-Man, B) it’s basically the reason in the as of this writing current comics his family SPOILERS brought him back to life, to which Kraven seems fairly cool about. That line forever distinguishes this version of Kraven who is an awesome nobleman hunter from the crazy Kraven in the comics. This might be my favorite version of the character, because while he’s not 100% a nice guy, he is on the side of the angels and works pretty well as a good guy. This show also gives us a really cool confrontation never expected in a Punisher/Kraven fight. When was this ever expected?  

To me that was one of the great sticking points to this episode and why it is really very good. It doesn’t necessarily break the rules or really bend them, but it takes the characters and completely puts them into situations which leads to interesting dynamics. Kraven and the Punisher? That’d be like…I dunno, Tad Ryerstad and Aqualad. You just don’t see that kind of match-up ever occurring, or at least I didn’t. But it works completely. It goes back to what’s said in the beginning, the characters goals driving them to unexpected places and situations.

And then there’s the climax of the episode. Ohhhh man. “Duel of the Hunters” is an episode that I always remember eagerly anticipating when it first premiered back in ’95 and loving every time I saw it, but it had been so long between then and now that I totally forgot the penultimate scene. The entire sequence of Man-Spider getting the drop on the Punisher, Punisher crashing his Battle Van and getting captured is possibly the coolest scene in the show so far, easily in the season. It’s here where the music, repetitive and overtly dramatic as it can be is at it’s best. The Spider-Man theme is done in dark trombone to which even though it’s been done before in the series it totally highlights the monster side of our hero. And when Punisher gets just splattered with webbing the music swells up and just adds to the horror effect wondefully. To sum it all up, it was awesome.

 

The ending is rather pat considering Crawford’s attempts at a cure for Spidey just exacerbated the problem, so her showing up with the correct cure was kind of random. I also thought her little speech to Punisher wasn’t really called for and could have been done better if he needed to turn to the cause of curing Spidey. But the animation is so good, none of it really matters. The whole webbed up garage was very creepy, especially with the camera being strung up as a security device. And as sure as shootin’, you can bet that the explanation of how Kraven deduced where Spider-Man was hiding was cut right out in post-2001 airings, with the trace of gunpowder from the WTC bombings still in the rubbles from Spider-Man’s webbing. I think everyone agrees that this mutation disease really really needed to end here. It makes no sense that Spidey still had pangs of pain after this happening to him because the acceleration was reversed. The plot about Morbius which was apporpriately kept to a minimum here, could still have been done in the remaining episodes. And what do the remaining episodes cover, the Tablet of Time. Ah nuts, as cool as this season has been up ’til now, I think my memories of severe quality decline will be warrented in the episodes to come for this season. But again as this episode stands, this was great.

4.5/5 “FELICIAAAAAA”s

Best Quote Contender:

Punisher: “I’m not gonna hurt him..I’m gonna disintegrate him. Blow off all the nerve endings to where he can’t even feel the pain…”

All images taken from marvel.toonzone.net

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