Story By: John Semper
Written By: Mark Hoffmeier and Doug Booth
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)
THE PLOT: After being discovered by the Kingpin while attempting to relay information to Spider-Man, Alister Smythe has gone from making Spider Slayers to literally becoming one. So Spidey has that to handle. Oh by the way, Mary Jane and Harry are engaged.
LONG STORY SHORT: Kingpin reveals that he’s kept Spencer Smythe alive in cryogenic status all this time, which ends Smythe’s feud with Spider-Man and strengthens his feud with Fisk. Smythe goes into hiding with his frozen father, while MJ reaffirms her love for Peter and breaks up with Harry.
MY THOUGHTS: This is a very good “one-in-done” type of story that deals with a lot of continuity without being bogged down in it. It works well enough on it’s own but also very much requires the back history of Smythe’s character, as well as the relationships between Peter, Harry and MJ as well. This works solid as a mid-season turning point, because it really is. As said with the “Man Without Fear” episode review, the show continues to build off of everything that has been escalated from the start of the series, and produces ramifications and consequences that are nice cap-offs to the various storylines. This one works even better than the last episode in continuing the Kingpin storyline which has been bubling to the surface over the course of the series and certainly within the last three episodes. But this feels like an appropriate third part to what was initially just a Daredevil two-parter. Now that Spider-Man knows who the Kingpin is and Fisk’s son Richard is in jail, Kingpin terminates his relationship with Smythe. All’s well that ends well, right?
As it so happens, no apparently. To be quite honest, this is one of the episodes I forgot about when reflecting on the series as a whole. I did remember the end sequence with Smythe leaping down the elevator shaft to save his father, and Mary Jane’s break up with Harry and subsequent chat with Spidey, but the rest was a blur and fairly fresh to me when going back to review. While this episode doesn’t set the planet on fire, it’s a very important episode and well done at that. It goes beyond the plot threads, this again is an example of mimicking the classic Spider-Man comics where Peter’s romantic life is at the forefront of his mind, and the supervillain aspect is secondary to the audience’s interest, or at least my own. Don’t get me wrong, the Smythe plot was very interesting, as Smythe is an interesting character. He hasn’t been in this current season as much as he should have though, which may be why his plot comes in second to the Mary Jane storyline, which has been addressed in nearly every single episode since the start of the second season.
The Smythe storyline was good though, accomplishing a number of things. First and foremost, and this was mentioned on Marvel Animation Age’s review, it gave the show the design of Smythe that had been shown by the Toy Biz toyline since right before the series even began. I remember for years until this episode being eternally confused, and to this day I still sort of am. It may be in congruence with the Hobgoblin toy thing where it was just a mistake with the manufacturing order. In any case, it at least put that to rest. Second, this made the Kingpin out to be an utter scumbag. The guy not only kidnapped and mutilated the guy who he previously fired (granted Smythe was trying to sell him out, and stupidly while still in the same room) but his stunt with Spencer Smythe was simply Draconian. Nevermind that he did this whole thing on a whim, but it matched a certain trope that Kingpin has come to rely on in the show. That is to say, the guy likes to dangle something desirable in front of a needy person, string them along ever so slightly while slowly wearing them down to ruin and basically destroying them when it suits his needs. He was behind Spencer Smythe trying to work up enough money to get Alistar his hoverchair, he was behind Peter getting his new job, and nevermind his dealings with Norman Osborn. It’s also thematically viscious that he has Smythe turned into an all-superior version of something he and his father created and failed to perfect. He’s a perfect crime boss, but it never hit me until now what an out and out evil person he truly is. It works really well.
This episode also gives us the transition in going from Smythe being Kingpin’s “lieutenant” as the latter person puts it to Herbert Landon. This doesn’t work as well, mainly because it just drags Landon, who wasn’t a great character to start out with, into an even more one dimensional lackey. To my knowledge, it’s never said why Landon thought continuing working for the Kingpin was such an award-winning idea or if Kingpin held anything over him but it’s just random. It’s not horrible, because he’s still voiced by David “The Legend” Warner, but at the same time it’s a waste of his talents. It also gyps us of any sort of interesting relationship the two could have like Kingpin had with Smythe, although that may have been too repetitive. Even still though, it’s still a wasted opportunity by having this very vindictive bastard who tried his hand at genocide work for the Kingpin as though he were a news intern.
But going back to the concept that this episode reiterated how evil the Kingpin is, it also underlined the tragic nature of the Smythe character. He himself may be a tool, but he didn’t ask for any of this. He was basically manipulated into what was nearly slave labor for a domineering crime lord, had his mind messed with, and then his entire free will nearly stripped from him. There’s actually not a thing he does in this episode that he could be blamed for, which is why his battle with the Kingpin at the end is so incredibly satisfying. When he socks that fat tub of lard in the breadbasket ON SCREEN, it was a serious call for cheering. I didn’t like how easily he punked out Spider-Man throughout the episode, but since he was built up to be an extremely powerful being, it was almost wish fufillment to see that power turned back onto Fisk in the best of the worse ways. Especially after that stupid plot point of Smythe being physically inhibited by his transformation to harm Kingpin, to see that shoved out the window all of a sudden was great. It was sweet sweet vengeance from all the crap Kingpin really did put him through, which wasn’t built up necessarily in the bulk of the show, but something realized only in this episode. So he totally had it coming. (Landon near the end is surprised to learn that Kinpin survived the battle)
The only part of all this that really bugs me is the very idea that Kingpin had put Spencer Smythe in cryogenic containment on the very WHIM that any of this could possibly happen. No, that’s just ridiculous. Even still, Smythe is a smart enough scientist to know how to immediately get his father out of that state. So the very end of the episode with Smythe swearing vengeance on all who have opposed the Smythes doesn’t work since he could just smack his pop in the face to wake him up and walk away clean and dandy. That whole thing was a joke and undercut the drama going on.
In the Peter/MJ/Harry love triangle story, what I liked is that we got honest feelings expressed from the characters for the most part. It was in character for Mary Jane to twice leave the conversation when it got too personal, even though it was almost comical how obviously she was trying to avoid confrontation. But it was remniscent of both Spectacular Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 how the engagement was made in front of a public audience and how Peter was completley honest with her about his feelings. I think that CDB’s been given less than stellar dialogue throughout this season which has hampered his delivery, (because nothing can ever be his fault, because he’s awesome) but I love how he asked Mary Jane the simple question of if she loves Harry. If was deadly serious, with a slightly deeper intonation in his vocal range being heard, somewhat akin to his performance in the game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. It was equally good to have Mary Jane articulate why she even agreed to marry him after kissing Peter in the last episode, because until then you’re wondering what could possibly be going through her head. And it is true that Peter hasn’t been as reliable as she could like, what with being arrested and dissapearing for days at a time. Granted he has been there for her, but he’s been inconsistent. So I totally buy into her reasoning, even though it wasn’t completely sufficient reasoning. But hey, she renigs on her decision at the end. What I would have liked is for there to have been some scenes with Harry showing his affection for MJ. We’ve not really gotten that throughout the series, and for all we know he’s been continually strung along as the rebound guy this entire time. Seeing that he turns into a vindictive jerk in the coming episodes, that’s something that really could have been needed, depending on how it could have been presented.
Nevertheless, this was a fine episode. A hidden gem, I don’t predict this ever topping any “Best episode” lists, and it shouldn’t in all honesty. But it was a nice surprise, and one I would watch again. Despite some typical 90s wackyness, this is an example of the 90s show at it’s classiest in straight-up storytelling regarding its own continuity.
4/5 “MARY JAAANE!!!”s
Best Quote Contender: Spider-Man: *To Mary Jane* A winning combination! Scarlett O’Hara’s eyes and Bruce Lee’s moves! I think you’re ready for the Big Time…
All images taken from Marvel.toonzone.net