1994 Spider-Man Double Review-“The Return of Hydro-Man” parts 1 and 2

This is the big one. Oh Yes. The one where Mary Jane is revealed to be a water clone.

Credits (Part One)
Story By: John Semper
Written By: Eileen Fuentes & James Krieg
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)

Credits (Part Two)
Story By: John Semper
Written By: John Semper and Meg McLaughlin
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)


THE PLOT: After finally starting on their much delayed Honeymoon, Peter and Mary Jane are attacked by Hydro-Man, back from the dead mysteriously. With the help 0f the Black Cat, Spidey manages to track down where Bench had kidnapped her only to learn that Mary Jane somehow acquired water powers just like him!

LONG STORY SHORT: Hydro-Man kidnaps Mary Jane again, forcing Peter to use the clues from a recurring nightmare Mary Jane described to figure out where to go. He’s lead to an underwater base where the married couple are introduced to Professor Miles Warren. He exposits that both Hydro-Man and Mary Jane are clones, made to further his research in the cloning field and to be proverbial Adam and Eves for each other.

“What? You didn’t know I had a Driver’s License?”

Peter: “Our marriage…these last few weeks with you, our honeymoon…these have been some of the best times of my life. I don’t ever want them to end.”

Mary Jane: “They won’t tiger. Not as long as I’m around to love you.”

MY THOUGHTS: So here we are. At possibly the most notorious storyline of the series. In terms of causing a sheer affront at the fanbase, this ranks above having the Hobgoblin appear before the Green Goblin, giving Morbius sucker-hands and yes, making Electro the God-like son of the Red Skull. No matter what I may have said before, this is certainly the factor where even fans of the show will throw their hands in the air and proclaim “Right, this show sucks AND THIS IS WHY.” Bottom line is that I don’t think the show ever gets more controversial as it does in this two parter.

And I absolutely love it.

This is the most emotionally charged episode of the series ever, beating out Turning Point in my opinion. While that episode’s third act was high on adrenaline in the second half, there is a definite pall of worry and concern going on throughout this two parter which I will admit isn’t readily made apparent on the onset. It is there however, starting from Mary Jane’s very weird and abstract nightmare and continuing throughout Hydro-Man’s stalking of her. The mystery of where she’s been and how she came back was destined to be answered sooner or later, and the fact that it was later makes the entire story all the more heart wrenching once it’s done.

This isn’t a flawless episode by any means, so getting all the negatives out of the way now, there were certain contrivances that threatened to grind the episode to a screeching halt. The brevity of Spider-Man happens upon the clues to Mary Jane’s dream is a bit too convenient, even though it is a 22 minute cartoon. Doctor Connors dream machine came out of nowhere and you wonder when he had time to take hypnotist classes. Finally, Black Cat may be the biggest offender in showing up randomly and leaving just as quickly at the start of part two. It’s explained away why she’s back, yet at the same time you get the feeling that all of her scenes were leading to the awkward one between her, Spider-Man and Mary Jane. A pure Marvel Knights moment to be sure. There was also a lot of reused footage with Hydro-Man, predictably so, but at this stage in the series it’s to be expected.

But back to the heart of things. As I said before, this is the most tragic Spider-Man episode to date, probably ever, and it really does earn the kudos a majority of fans just do not seem to be willing to want to give it. I can understand the main contention with the episodes, the fact that the Mary Jane Peter married was a clone and not the real one. It’s the exact same situation with the comics, where Spider-Man was “revealed” to be a clone and Mary Jane had to deal with the fact that she didn’t marry the real Peter Parker. In my opinion the switch-up makes for a more engaging and compelling story to wrap one’s head around. Before explaining, I should also point out that the whole reason this was done was to have the Peter/MJ marriage in the show without it having to be permanent. While I don’t really like that idea, I do find it more preferable than the comic book version of retconning it away.

Another reason why I think fans tend to deride this episode is that it shows a real distance from the Morbius fighting, Tombstone slugging days of the past seasons. Season 5 in its entirety is a different animal than the rest of the series altogether, and at the risk of sounding presumptuous perhaps a lot of fans feel that this sort of evolution into marriage with water clones just isn’t something they wanted to see. However that’s the reason why I and other people I know really enjoy it. There has been a growth from the earlier seasons, and these episode illustrate and underline it. Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship is at the very center of this two parter, and that makes you give a damn about what’s going on in the episode. I will be the first to admit that Mary Jane’s character growth in the series never achieved the full extent of its possibilities as it could have. She could have been made a bit more three dimensional. That being said, one can’t say that they didn’t devote any time to her character, with episodes such as “Doctor Strange”, the entire Harry/MJ/Peter love triangle of season three, and Peter’s guilt and grievance over MJ in the first half of season four. We feel like we know Mary Jane by this point in the series, so her marriage to Peter matters to us because she’s been a major factor in his life, the very life the show follows, for a long time now. So whenever she’s in danger or something’s going on, we as an audience aren’t really concerned as to whether or not she’ll be killed, but we are paying attention, if nothing else to see how Peter will react.

That’s what makes the revelation that Mary Jane is a clone all the more shocking to us. Again, compare it to the comics where it was Spider-Man who was thought to be a clone. The outright fury from the fans was justified because they felt as though they spent their time, money and interest on someone who, due to our perspectives on clones in science fiction media, didn’t really matter. That sense of feeling cheated can be understood. But the idea of Peter’s WIFE being a clone is something which could, and did, lead to an utterly remorseless series of events which would guarantee an emotional investment and reaction to the story. That from a creative writer’s standpoint is music to one’s ears.

This is a tragedy that not only encompasses the lives of Peter and Mary Jane, but includes Morrie Bench as well. For however unforgiving and remorseless Bench was in the series, he’s probably the show’s most realistic villain. He’s not a criminal to make money or to work with the Kingpin. He just wants this one girl all to himself, whatever it takes. Now he’s utterly selfish and ruthless with his desires, but it does give way to another great performance by Rob Paulsen who balances the character of Hydro-Man with even levels of mania and an almost puppy-dog sense of wanting. Again, this is an utter scumbag of a person. He is not to be pitied. But the circumstances which leads to his demise are circumstances which can definitely be empathized with. First off, the Hydro-Man in this episode is a clone, meaning that the real one did really die back in the “Hydro-Man” episode of season two. The fact that the clone carried the emotional yearning of the original Bench is fascinating from a SCIENCE!!! standpoint and haunting as well. As horrible of a person as he is, he is destroyed when he learns about Mary Jane’s disappearance back at the end of “Turning Point” and threatens to kill Miles Warren, everyone’s favorite college professor, to clone her. The fact that the Mary Jane clone was drawn towards Peter which we saw at the end of “Return of the Green Goblin” in season four just adds to the pathos. It’s not so much the fact that the people are clones as it is the fact that they have an expiration date which draws nearer and nearer throughout the episode. Hydro-Man and Mary Jane dying at the end may seem to come from out of nowhere, but I think it just puts the stamp on the tragedy. In all honesty, I do not think that Peter would be nearly as emotionally annihilated as he was at the end of this if the clone of Mary Jane did not die before his eyes. But it does lead to an interesting question:

If the Mary Jane water clone didn’t die, what would Peter do? Would he continue to search for the real one? And if he found her, would he still be married to the clone?

Again, think back to the comics where Mary Jane was under the assumption that the person she married was a clone and Ben Reilly was the real Peter Parker. She stayed married  to Peter, but the circumstances were entirely different. Ben had become a different person with different experiences, and Peter and MJ went through a number of emotional trials by that time in their lives. In this instance, the woman that Peter married was under the assumption that she was his girlfriend. If Peter and the clone found the real Mary Jane, not only would the real Mary Jane think that she would still just be dating Peter and not married to him, but the real MJ wouldn’t even know he was Spider-Man! This question opens up a huge can of worms which makes one wonder if the death of the clone was a lesser of two evils. Thanks to Josh Bertone for thinking up such a question.

But for all intents and purposes, Spider-Man watches his wife evaporate before his eyes. Having not seen these episodes for several years, I watched that scene over and over again just to let all the emotion out through it. Sara Ballentine does what has to be her best performance when swearing to Peter that if anything she was resembled the true Mary Jane, she loves Peter more than anything. This is the breaking point which leads to the most metal, gut wrenching, heart breaking scream that Christopher Daniel Barnes has ever given in a Spider-Man episode. As over the top as Barnes may have been in the role, and there are definitely times when he was, this is totally justified. The man watched his wife, the woman he thought he found after thinking was lost to him forever several months back, completely disintegrate before his eyes on what was intended to be their honeymoon. And it wasn’t even the real person all along. That’s not the Parker Luck, that’s Satanic Irony.

I suppose I should mention the brief, only appearance of Miles Warren in this episode. With the series airing during the Clone Saga in the comics, it would have been ridiculous not to have him be behind it. (I swear if the Kingpin had showed up I would have screamed like Spider-Man did.) That being said I wasn’t too keen on the voice. I also didn’t like how he was apparently working for Smythe and Silvermaine. One way I thought would have been great was if Smythe hired him to clone his father. That very well may have been the case, but seeing as how his father is in the Odinsleep it makes the entire plot point almost moot. There was also a lot of contempt between Spider-Man and Warren, mainly coming from Spider-Man which I felt was a little forced. Not after the big death scene, but when Warren was first introduced. True, the guy is a complete tool but it did feel heavy handed nevertheless. I did prefer this incarnation over him being the Jackal however. It made it seem more realistic and spared us the horribad version we got in the 90s Clone Saga.

In terms of pure emotional scope, I do not think it gets any better than this in the series. This two parter took the bull by the horns and made an emotionally charged epic from some of the best episodes in the series already. I find it akin to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” in the James Bond series. That movie is underrated and has a emotionally charged, chilling ending which leaves Bond at the lowest point he’s ever been in. But a lot of people don’t care for it because George Lazenby isn’t Sean Connery, that sole factor. Just like how Mary Jane being a clone is the sole factor why many people dislike this episode, there’s a ton of stuff to appreciate that gets lost in the retrospection. But by the end of this, what’s to stop Peter from leaping off of the George Washington Bridge had Madame Web not reared her unwelcome head? Besides the censors and the character franchise of course. But this episode also serves as a finale to the typical kind of episodes this series was best at telling. Several longtime supporting characters make their official bows here including Doc. Connors, Terri Lee, Aunt May and Anna Watson (the latter whom has a full circle climax in her relationship with Peter.) Felicia Hardy/Black Cat and Deb Whitman. It called back to continuity and used it to wonderful effect. Whether or not the series should have conclusively brought Peter and the real Mary Jane back together, these two episodes stand on their own in their specific quality.

And it gave us out rating system.

Part 1: 4/5

Part 2: 4.5/5

Overall-5/5 “MARY JAAANE!!!”s

Best Quote contender: (As if you had to guess)

Mary Jane: “I just want you to know one thing…if any part of me is anything like the real Mary Jane…she loves Peter Parker more than anything…more…than…anything.” *fades away*

Christopher Daniel Barnes: *as Spider-Man* “NOOOOOOOO0O0O0O0O0O0O0O0O0O0O0!!!!! MARY JANE…..MARRRYYYY JAAAAAANE!!!!!!!”

All images taken from drg4.wariocompany.com