1994 Spider-Man episode #52-“The Prowler” Review

When Hobie Brown is stupid enough to accept an offer from the Kingpin, he becomes the Prowler! But *gasp *choke* the Kingpin betrays him! Can Spider-Man help him learn his lesson of true friendship?

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

THE PLOT: Petty thug Hobie Brown is sent up the river by Spider-Man after robbing Spidey’s fiancee. Saving Richard Fisk’s life in prison, he’s rapidly released through the machinations of the Kingpin and is given a battle suit as a reward. Calling himself the Prowler, he seeks the power he feels he has always deserved, exacting revenge on his former boss Iceberg and Spider-Man.

LONG STORY SHORT: The Kingpin fixed the suit to where it would harm Brown unless he worked for him. Seeking Peter Parker’s help, Brown and Spider-Man manage to prevent the suit from causing a nuclear explosion. Brown reaches an epiphany, and leaves to make amends with his ex-girlfriend Angela.

“Kwami from Captain Planet! I should have known…”

MY THOUGHTS: …*sigh*. I’m not entirely sure what to say about this episode. It’s a struggle to come up with a full summation when you get the feeling that the writer didn’t even think it through when he sent the script in. This is one of the defining episodes of the fourth season unfortunately in that there’s just not that much to it whatsoever. It’s forgettable, adds little to the mythos, and doesn’t really endear anyone to go out and catch the Prowler’s adventures in the comics. As appreciable as one-and-dones are in a show such as this, “The Prowler” may be the first episode that could have been cut out from the series’ roster of episodes entirely. “Partners” was an atrocious episode, but at the bare minimum it at least brought back Smythe, Scorpion and effectively solidified the Spidey/Black Cat partnership as well. This does nothing other than establish that Peter and MJ moved into a crummy apartment, and that could have been explained away with one line in the next episode. As for an introduction to the Prowler, this is an epic fail.

Hobie Brown is one of the embarrassingly few black characters in the comics with a somewhat original back story. Originally he was just a struggling window washer trying to make ends meet by both projecting his architectural genius and providing a good living for his girlfriend Mindy (NOT ANGELA. MINDY.) He came up with the idea of the Prowler by assembling different parts of his window washing utensils, posing as a criminal and having his civilian identity turn the stolen loot in to make himself a hero. Long story short, he’s helped by Spider-Man to come to the conclusion that this was a stupid idea, especially for a guy without powers. While he retires from a very short life of crime, he dons the Prowler costume every now and then to help keep the city safe. All and all he’s just a normal guy, and what’s striking about the original Prowler story in ASM #78 and #79 is that Hobie was very much an analogue to Peter Parker. Both are the same age, have girl troubles, money troubles and want to use their brainpower to help better their own lives. The obvious difference aside from the super powers was that Hobie’s a black guy, and this is very much played up in the original issues which came out in late 60s/early 70s. Groan inducing as that may be, I really like that Prowler two-parter and it’s the reason why I like Prowler as a character. He’s unique in conception, relatable and not specifically a character where race is an inherent factor. Going back to how it was handled in the issues, it had more to do with people’s reactions during a racially turbulent time period. J. Jonah Jameson of all people snapped at a guy giving Hobie a hard time simply because he was black, which was the start of certain political and social leanings being introduced in the Spider-Man books at the time. It is dated, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically cringe worthy. I recommend getting Essential Spider-Man vol.4 to read up on Prowler’s first appearance and see what you make of him yourself.

Compare that comic book origin to this, and you have a recipe for missing the effing point. Hobie Brown is not some dime-a-dozen thug looking for a big score. The character as portrayed in this episode is almost a mirror image in contrast to the original comic book version. Granted, both desire a feeling of power and go about unethical ways to get it, but there is a clear difference between robbing people and returning the items under false pretenses, and wanting to control the mob and trying to kill Spider-Man. Another contrast: In ASM #79 Prowler thinks he’s accidentally killed Peter Parker. The guy freaks out and runs away in despair, never meaning for things to get that far. In this episode, Hobie thinks he’s killed Spider-Man for at least a day or two and is happy about it.

Still hangin’ with the homeboys.

This is a textbook example of what the internet calls “Flanderization” where someone is represented in a way that highlights certain aspects of their personality to the extreme. It’s also reminiscent in my opinion to a lot of the current characterizations in Amazing Spider-Man itself, where the people have lost nearly all semblance of humanity aside from their personality quirks. Basically they made Hobie Brown into Tupac’s character from the movie “Juice“, and it’s really annoying.

All that being said, it is my personal grievance with the episode that may not actually be important to anyone else. That as it may be, there is still a number of things wrong with the episode. Before that however, I did like how this episode is essentially a day in the life of Spider-Man. That may be cheap considering what I said at the beginning, but “one-and-done”s generally are welcome in the series. Also Kingpin is hilarious in this, quite possibly his best episode to date in terms of character. This is the first time we get to hear him bust out laughing, and his back and forth with Hobie near the end was pretty good as well.

But consider for instance the fact that the Kingpin has this entire plan mapped out before Hobie even gets out of prison. He says that he knew Hobie wanted to get revenge on Iceberg, but we never see Hobie tell Richard that. It could have been done, but it wasn’t so it bears questioning. Otherwise when Fisk offers him gold or jewels, for all he knew Hobie could have taken those up.

Another question: Who built the suit? Landon couldn’t have done it since I really don’t see him as being that smart, and even if he is he wasn’t shown in this episode at all, nor was he mentioned. I assume he’s still recovering from getting sucked on by Morbius. (If so, how come Debra and Flash recovered faster?) And talking about the suit, who’s bright idea was it to load it’s energetic properties with nuclear power? Sure it’s a nice bargaining chip for Fisk whenever he needs it against Hobie, but what if someone shoots Hobie with a missile? The idea is too ludicrous to believe, yet it’s in there.

Speaking of ludicrous, Iceberg: the 60s Batman villain that never was serves as one big…question mark in this episode. I get that they wanted to use a crime-boss, but did they have to make up a character? They could have used the Owl who had a cameo way back in season 2, or Hammerhead. What kills me about this guy is that because they build him up as a genetically enhanced criminal, it begs the question why Spider-Man never went up against him before. Maybe it can be explained that there’s not been too much time in recent events for him to actively go after the mob, but the fact that we’ve never even heard of this guy before is hard for me to swallow. He’s basically Mr. Freeze with his henchmen in winter coats and his ice puns, and I wonder if this is not the craziest villain the show has ever done. I mean…he has frozen sideburns!

Going back to the absolute WRONG of the Prowler’s portrayal in this episode, the suit is turned into an all purpose anime fighter, complete with energy blasts, invulnerability and flying capabilities. Given the scope of this series I can sort of wrap my head around the idea that they wanted Prowler to really pose a threat to Spider-Man, but I always go back to the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Seeing Prowler flying around and shooting energy beams was lame. The animation in this episode was decent, not shabby at all but the image was still lame.

There are no words.That’s an adjective I was really trying not to fall back on, but man is it accurate. Marvel Animation Age’s review used it aptly when describing the episode, and it’s blunt yet true. I mean look at that right image. Could you get more ridiculous than that? It’s all the flash and smoke of the 90s and it’s dumb as can be when looked at with half a brain. It’s weird because the episode begins with a very low-key opening with Spidey thinking about the neighborhood and staying in touch with regular people. That should have lead into the original Prowler origin story where it’s just a normal guy trying to make things better for himself. Instead we get tripe like a nuclear powered costume and Obi-Wan Kingpinobi.

Seriously though, the BSing of the Prowler character is the worst part about this. I don’t get it. John Semper is black. He has to know how cheesy and wrong Brown’s character was in this. He got Mindy right, except she’s not Mindy, she’s “Angela”. But that’s beside the point, he made Hobie Brown into a straight up thug. I don’t care if Tuvok from Voyager was voicing him, he’s still a punk in this. Up until the last two and a half minutes, he’s a punk. And his redemption isn’t even really earned, he just had Spider-Man save his butt and all of a sudden he’s less of a jerk. It doesn’t make any sense and it comes off very forced.

All that being said, “Partners” is still worse.

2/5 “MARY JAAANE!!!”s

Best Quote Contender:

Kingpin: “I am willing to allow you one last chance to work for me.”

Prowler: “Oh yeah?”

Kingpin: “No.” *To his guards* “Destroy them.”

All images taken from Marvel.toonzone.net.