A new Spider-Man cartoon is finally here and, after 4 seasons and 104 episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man (*shudder*), can this incarnation of the well-known wall-crawler be at least passable? Let’s find out in:
MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN – HORIZON HIGH: PART 1 + PART 2
But before we launch ourselves into this new series, I want to lay out my thoughts of the different Spidey’s that have led us to this point. As you can probably have already guessed, I am less than fond of Ultimate Spider-Man, the unbelievably lackluster predecessor to this series, which drew little from the actual Spider-Man source material and prioritized merchandise and guest stars over a compelling narrative. It is insult to injury that this was the replacement to the amazing Spectacular Spider-Man (wait, that sounds a bit confusing…), which drew heavily from Lee/Ditko’s original comic books and engaged the audience through complex characterization and running plot lines. Whilst the animation did take a little bit of getting used to, it is still widely considered as the best Spider-Man cartoon to date.
Now we have to look at more recent sources that have helped shape this new cartoon. First and foremost, we have Homecoming, which I have to say, stands out as the joint best Spider-Man film for me (obviously joint with Spider-Man 3, that dance scene was incredible!). Whilst there are some flaws, I do feel like it got to the heart of Spidey and, after seeing these episodes, I feel like it will influence the cartoon quite significantly. Then we have Dan Slott’s hugely divisive run on Amazing Spider-Man. Seeing as he is a consulting producer on the show and Horizon is featuring quite prominently as Pete’s school, I feel like he has quite a sway in the direction the characters will be taken down. As long as this is managed, I don’t see it being too big of a problem. I was actually quite a fan of Slott’s run until shortly after Spider-Verse, so I’m kind of fond of characters such as Max Modell. But his input definitely needs to be managed, so we can get a Spidey cartoon that covers all eras and not just his.
With that out of the way, let’s jump into it. This is Horizon High…
Plot: Part One: Picking up two weeks after Pete got his powers, Spider-Man’s trying to take down some Vibranium thieves, but he’s still pretty inexperienced and runs into pigeon problems. Fortunately, a memory of Uncle Ben reminds him of a valuable lesson, one we’ve heard a hundred and one times over and is still inspiring, and he throws himself back into the game. But things only get worse when the Vulture shows up, fighting him and escaping by threatening the lives of cops. Pete meets up with his old friend Harry Osborn, who goes to a school for geniuses known as Horizon High and he wants Pete to consider going. Pete knows he can’t though, due to the financial strain it would put on Aunt May. On that day though, Max Modell is coming to school and Peter has to rush to finish helping out. News breaks that Horizon is offering a place to a student at Midtown smart enough to crack an equation set by Modell, and the slimy, Slytherin-wannabe Alastair Smythe is determined to get in. During Modell’s presentation, Mr. Smythe sabotages a techno-machine-thing and frames Harry for it. Spidey is forced to save the school from the exploding device and Pete uses Max’s equation to put out the flames. This results in Modell offering the place to Pete instead, which annoys the Smythe’s and leads to Harry’s suspension. The Vulture kidnaps Modell and Spidey saves him, beating the winged antagonist and having him arrested. Harry is determined to have his place back, just as Peter joins his dream school.
Part Two: We pick up shortly after Part One, and Spidey’s got into a bit of trouble with the Scorpion. After one of the stupidest moments I’ve ever seen in a Spidey cartoon (like seriously, why does Spidey have to use a Metro card to get past the barrier – he’s Spider-Man! Just jump!), he manages to take out the scaly scoundrel. Peter returns to Horizon High, where the recently excluded Harry has asked him to pick up some experiments from, and he meets the esteemed Doctor Octopus, who’s looking a tad younger than he usually does (I don’t really get this – is he a child genius or does he just look young? Let me know what you think it is). Peter has to move Harry’s belongings out of his old lab, which now belongs to our favourite wall-crawling nerd, but he discovers a mysterious contraption that Harry’s been working on that closely resembles a pumpkin bomb… Peter is then introduced to classmates and future Spiders Anya and Miles, who strike him as a bit out of his league. Out of ideas, Pete decides to use his lab to creative a new Spidey suit (kind of like what he did in Big Time), which he is forced to break in when a weirdly animated Spidey Slayer attacks. The villainous robot escapes though when Spidey is forced to save Miles. Afterwards Peter discovers that May is having money troubles, which are only exemplified by his position at Horizon. Fortunately Max allows Pete to join the payroll as his personal assistant. The Horizon crew go to Midtown to investigate Harry’s framing, but are encountered once more with the Spider Slayer! Spidey uses Harry’ bomb to defeat him, bringing into question just what Harry’s up to (I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume he’s becoming a Goblin… but that’s just my guess. Either that or he’s going to become the next Trapster?!). Peter finally returns home and tells Aunt May a white lie about a scholarship, so she doesn’t have to worry about him working. And with a final inspiring speech to the previously mentioned pigeon, Peter goes out into the world as Spider-Man!
Thoughts: After this pilot was released, I saw a lot of people online calling it ‘decent’. After years of sub par Spidey cartoons, I was willing to take ‘decent’. But now I’ve seen the first two episodes of this series, I’ll change that to ‘decent, with potential’.
For a pilot, the plot moves forward at a good pace, introducing us to all the characters and scenarios that will come into play in future installments. In fact, a few aspects are held back, such as Gwen Stacy and the Osborn Academy, which is to presumably allow the audience time to breathe instead of being bombarded with an onslaught of exposition. The Vulture and the Slayer do their jobs fine as villains, but I’m left with the feeling that we’ll be seeing more of them. As for who they’re working for, it’s probably either Norman Osborn or the Jackal. I’m hoping for the latter, as I’ve always had a soft spot for the Joker wannabe considering the Original Clone Saga was the first Spider-Man comic I read.
There’s a nice blend of the old and the new at play here. We have classic characters such as Liz and Harry alongside the newbies Miles, Max and Anya. Whilst I can see the early inclusion of these newer heroes ticking off a lot of the fan base, I think that as long as they don’t become the focus of the show, it’ll all be okay.
Robbie Daymond does a pretty good job as Peter/Spider-Man – nothing amazing for now, but I can see him growing into the role. He definitely feels like a better fit than Drake Bell was. The decision to focus on the science-loving aspect of his character is quite a smart one, and allows us to see a facet of the character I feel is far too often ignored in Spider-Man adaptations – his intellect. However, the constant narration, technobabble or not, gets a little overbearing at times. I get that the writers want the younger audience to understand what’s going, but actions often speak louder than words.
What really did surprise me with these episodes were some of the quieter, subtler and more poignant moments littered throughout. At the end of episode one, we do feel the bond between Peter and Harry through their interaction in the coffee shop (but on a completely separate note, that music in that shop is irritatingly loud!). The flashbacks are quite cleverly done, with Ben’s attempts to shape his young nephew inadvertently shaping the hero he is starting to become. I feel like this Spider-Man is quite immature and inexperienced at times, seeing as he’s only just becoming the hero he’ll one day be, so this allows a lot of room for character growth and maturity. Such moments were absent in Ultimate Spider-Man, so I’m quite pleased to see them popping up in here.
The animation is hit and miss. It takes a lot of influence from anime – in the way that sometimes it’s fluid and exciting, in other times it’s stagnant and dull. I will forgive it for now as it is early days, but I am hoping they sort it out. The worst animation in this two-parter is definitely the Spider Slayer, which is poorly rendered and feels out of place in this 2D world. Fingers crossed for improvement.
So all in all, this isn’t the greatest 44 mins of entertainment, but it is definitely a step in the right direction after years upon years of Ultimate Spider-Man. Inconsistent animation and overbearing exposition aside, this has the potential to be a genuinely interesting Spider-Man cartoon. But only time will tell. So for now I’m giving these first two episodes a: