Story By: Brian Micheal Bendis
Screenplay By: Brian Micheal Bendis, Morgan Gendel and Marsha Griffin
Directed By: Aude Paden
Music By: John Digweed, Nick Muir and William Anderson
THE PLOT: Max Dillon, socially inept ESU nerd and introvert, is constantly trying to impress the school’s resident Frat-boy Doug Riceman. However after one prank ends in (would you believe it) his utter humiliation, Max vows revenge after a freak accident turns him into the supervillain Electro!
LONG STORY SHORT: Max immediately returns to the party held by Riceman and his friends and murders him in cold blood. Spider-Man arrives and a fight ensues which ends when Peter jams an electrical cable labeled “GROUND” into Dillon’s neck. Electro disappears having completed his revenge in killing off Riceman.
MY THOUGHTS: What should first be said is that in America this was the premier episode that aired. Obviously when one sees “Head Over Heels” and finds Max Dillon decidedly normal they’ll realize that this wasn’t the first episode produced. Despite that, I can see why MTV went with airing this episode at the beginning of the show’s run, as it’s a much better introduction to Peter and his world than “Heroes and Villains” was.
When I first sat down to review this episode I rather liked it. After a string of lousy episodes, this one has a consistent tone and focus towards who it’s about and where it’s ending up. After a second viewing it’s not as polished as I initially thought, but this is still pretty solid. I find that the story with Max, while nothing new or enlightening, was done a bit better than I would have expected from this show. Even better in this episode was Peter/Spider-Man. This is the best and most entertaining I’ve found him in the entire series, and for this episode to be the first aired for so many, it unfortunately didn’t become a sign of great things to come in how the main character would be handled.
This story manages to be about Max, but the show is still about Peter. We follow Peter’s thought process with his friends, with Max, as Spider-Man and in class. The way it’s done here is exactly what I’ve been wanting from this series, and what would have made the show more memorable had it been more consistent. While Peter isn’t the cause of the episode’s problems, the way he involves himself is spot on characterization. Not just as Spider-Man, but in his civilian identity with Max and Doug on campus. It was strange seeing him so forgetful of his double identity when facing down Doug and the frat-boys, but I liked his confident nature when confronting them. It’s true to the character when recalling the Lee/Ditko/Romita eras where he does not care about impressing anybody he doesn’t like. After gaining his spider-powers, the nerd becomes the protector and he tries to help Max by relating to his situation. It’s not said on-screen, but it’s easy to spot when looking into it.
Dillon himself is more of a mixed bag. The way in which the show presents his conflict by having him constantly put himself out there and get dejected makes everything more believable. Doug isn’t bullying Max, but he does knock him down whenever Max tries to gain his favor. Doug’s a jerk but not a one-dimensional one. His kind is very realistic, and by having Electro’s origin stem from interacting with someone like him, it gives the show a more grounded feel that still remains intrinsic in the story of Spider-Man. If Flash were portrayed more like this guy, that would make for a different yet modernized version which might be interesting to see. Unfortunately Max as a character could have used a bit more development. All we see of him is how he constantly throws himself at the Sigmas hoping to be accepted. While that’s not unrealistic, it’s also a bit unoriginal. Max is your basic bullied kid-turned antagonist that’s been popular in the media since Columbine, and it makes for more of a one-and-done character rather than Electro. His dialogue is lame and the animation doesn’t give him any more personality than what’s needed for the obvious conflict to show itself in the episode. What little we got from the character in “Head Over Heels” didn’t reveal much from him, so in his central episode he’s given even less in terms of dimension. Max isn’t so much of a character as he is a construct. Even the way Max gains his powers is lazy, when he randomly decides in his grief to attack an illuminated sign. When Spidey gets involved, he’s fighting more of a plot contrivance than a fully formed villain.
All that being said, I love the fight between Spidey and Electro in the third act. It’s full of some of the best Spider-Man moments we’ve seen in the show. I love when Electro screams “LEAVE ME ALONE!” and Spidey retorts “Sure thing, right after this.” and punches him in the face. The punch is directed at the camera, making the action seem more intense. Another nice moment was when he poked on his shoulder from behind and socked him in the face with webbed hands. The best bits however came from when Spidey realized he was fighting Max Dillon. Beforehand he was totally snarking his way through the fight and pounding on his opponent. Once he recognized Max he tried to appeal to his sense of confusion, saying he knows what it’s like to have powers. It was a great turn around, and the short scene after the fight where he unmasks and looks completely forlorn is great. For one thing, he failed to get to the scene in time to prevent Electro from murdering Doug. He also had no idea whether Max was alive or dead after he disappeared. The whole scenario of the bullied nerd getting revenge in the media usually ends with a sense of regret or “It didn’t have to be this way” thinking, but because this is Spider-Man, we have a better guess as to what’s going through Peter’s head. It’s very well done.
So the final act really bumps this episode up in my mind. Overall it’s a keeper, mainly for finally nailing how Peter should be portrayed in the series. The take on Electro being a bullied nerd isn’t my favorite as it smacks a bit too much of appealing to a certain audience instead of telling a story, but it could have been done worse. Ultimately this is one of the better episodes in the series, even if that’s not saying much.