1994 Spider-Man episode #32: “The Rocket Racer” Review

Spider-Man “hangs with the homeboys” in an episode that introduces the villains nobody demanded to see, Big Wheel and the Rocket Racer!

Story By: John Semper
Written By: Doug Booth and Mark Hoffmeier
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)

THE PLOT: While Spider-Man/Peter Parker deals with the fallout of Felicia Hardy’s offers for a relationship, one of his science students Robert Farrell gets mixed into trouble when he stumbles upon technology originating from the Big Wheel crime gang.

LONG STORY SHORT: Farrell and Spider-Man help take down the gang, while Felicia seemingly gives up hope of a romance with Spider-Man.

MY THOUGHTS: Oh boy. This is another difficult episode to review in many repsects. The third season has certainly been rather bi-polar, with good and bad episodes literally coming right after each other. Like the Doctor Strange episode, the bulk of this is just filler with remnants of it carrying from and over the Spider-Man/Felicia subplot. But in terms of the episode itself, I have to be completely honest when I say…it’s not all that bad.

This is certainly one that’s not remembered fondly by the masses when looking back at the series, and it really isn’t anything all that special in and of itself. It was never one of my favorites personally, and not an episode I was looking forward to watching again. At the same time however, there’s nothing really horrible about this either. The plot is very straightforward and even predictable, but harmless and doesn’t really offend with too many stupid moments. Probably the out and out “worst” part of this episode was the fact that it was just an average episode dedicated to Big Wheel and Rocket Racer, two certified “D” list supervillains from Len Wein’s run in the late 70s. There’s always a chance to take no-name villains and make something special out of their initial concepts, but that wasn’t what happened here. The Big Wheel was a moustache twirling villain, and Rocket Racer was just as typical of a black guy as he was in the comics. More on that in a bit.

“Duh, it’s a purrty toy thingie!”

What’s interesting to note about this episode is how hilariously easy Felicia is and has become in the course of the series. She started out being a flirty but bourgeoise college student, but in the second season went to being someone who was easily wooed by any guy who would be around. True, she wasn’t immediately attracted to Morbius, but he gave it a second try and she was hooked. Same thing here with Spider-Man. I will never forgive her for screwing him over in the Morbius arc by stupidly suggesting he became a kidnapper because he could scale tall buildings, especially after Spider-Man saved her life (then) twice. So her, she’s all over the guy. It’s understandable after he saved her and her mother, but at some point I wanted Peter to say “Woah woah, wait a minute. Didn’t you swear hatred on me last month?” Of course one does beg the question as to the passage of time in the series. For instance, Peter has a no-paying job as a science teacher all of a sudden. Since when has that ever been brought up? But back to Felicia. I suppose she would be interested in an uppercrust doink like Jason “Phillip” after all the guys she’s run through, but it was still a little suspect. It’s like every season with this woman…

“Lousy Bugle…the print is all upside down!”

The animation in this one was weird. The models all looked slightly off, but there were some nice shadows. I suppose it’s akin to the style used in “Make a Wish”, but what bogged it down was the heavy use of repeated animation once again. Nothing more to say on that, though it’s worth noting that scenes from “Enter the Green Goblin” have now been used in the episodes, before, during and after that episode premiered.

Lastly, there’s the Rocker Racer’s storyline itself. What I gather is that the whole plot with Robert and his mother is was mainly drives the fans away from this episode. Not so much in the sense of “Why is this black guy in my Spider-Man show?” but more along the lines of “Who does this black guy think he is talking to Spider-Man like that?” Alright look, I’m not going to make any excuses for the voice acting or dialogue, because they could certainly have been better. But Robert’s story wasn’t all that intrusive to me. Granted, I didn’t love it but it was better than the Big Wheel’s plot, which really wasn’t a plot. The thing about it is that fans of cartoons and comic books always look for escapism entertainment when watching or reading them, and when serious social issues like being black in America pop up, people tend not to want to want that because that’s not what they paid for. At the same time, it’s always hilarious to me whenever people object to real life issues in Spider-Man, since Spider-Man was the first real character that could conceivably exist in the real world, and that’s why he has his fans. Peter Parker has a perpetually sick relative who constantly needs money and care, so why shouldn’t the same scenario be applicable to a black guy?

In fact, Robert’s entire character is an alternate to Peter in a lot of ways. He’s around the same age but slightly younger. He’s brilliant with SCIENCE!, and he has peers encouraging him to use his gifts towards making the lives of him and his mother better. In the midst of robbing the jewelry store, he regained his lapsed judgement and gradually worked towards acting responsibly. What’s interesting to note about the scene in his living room with Spider-Man however is where the similarities and differences are compared and contrasted. Peter knows what this kid is going through, but then again he doesn’t. Robert calls him out on not worrying about anything once Peter takes off his mask at home, and there’s very little room for arguments against that. What is the main dillema for Peter right now in this series? It’s his choice of love interests between Felicia and Mary Jane, two stunning young women. Robert had problems before becoming Rocket Racer, and he’ll have problems after this episode. The point is that both he and Peter learned what they can do to change things for the better. After Robert goes through trial (which won’t hold him since he literally didn’t do anything) he’ll apply his knowledge towards the study of SCIENCE! Peter’s case is less clear, since he always wanted to help Robert in any way, but now he is made more aware about the lives of others who turn to crime. The downside to this is that, as a filler episode, none of this carries over much into the rest of the show. But for the episode, it’s not all that bad of a morality tale.

Besides, it could have been made much worse if the comic book version of Robert’s family including the six other siblings he would had to take care of were included.

My main point is that, even if people recognize and still dismiss the central theme of the episode doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Marvel Animation Age pretty much dumped this as the worst episode in the series. My rating says different, though everyone’s entitled to their own opinions.


WORST Quote Contender: Spider-Man: “I always wanted to go hang with the homeboys!”

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

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