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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Spider-Man: The Mutant Menace (The New Animated Series)
Spider-Man: The Mutant Menace (The New Animated Series)
Columbia/Tri-Star // Unrated // June 1, 2004
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted June 1, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Program

Do you want to know how you can clear all of the women out of a party really quickly? Get two geeks engaged in a comic book debate. You might as well toss a stinkbomb into the living room and put on a Philip Michael Thomas album, because at least that way there's a certain camp factor involved, and who isn't secretly entranced by the reek of rancid eggs? I have absolutely nowhere to go with that, except to mention that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Spider-Man fan. I was always a fan of DC comics heroes, while the Marvel guys seemed kind of second-rate to me. Heresy, I know. I'm already gunning for an Anthrax-laden No-Prize.

But while I'm not a big fan of the character, I can certainly appreciate his origins and importance as a comic book character. Spider-Man was created in 1962 by comic legends Stan Lee and Steve Ditko as a teenage superhero, the likes of which had never been seen by anyone, anywhere. Gone was the all-powerful, all-knowing superbeing with a squeaky-clean, problem-free secret identity and a personality thinner than dropout's Trapper Keeper. Lee and Kirby's Peter Parker was the class nerd, a science-oriented geekboy who was a picked-on, singled-out misfit and orphan who lived with his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben.

True to comic book logic, a bite from a radioactive spider granted Peter spider-like abilities. He gained enhanced strength and agility, could stick to and climb walls with impunity, and was granted precognitive powers that warned him of imminent danger - his "spider sense". Always the scientific genius, Peter invented web spinners that would shoot out spiderwebs, an adhesive fluid that he used to swing from building to building and ensnare the bad guys. Yes, Peter had all the trappings of superhero greatness - everything except for the perfect lifestyle. Instead of being the ultimate blessing, his Spider-Man persona became something of a curse. His refusal to capture a burglar resulted in the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. His dual-identity prevented him from developing lasting relationships with anyone, and the first girl he truly loved was killed by the Green Goblin, strictly as a result of him being Spider-Man.

Peter Parker was something of an everyman, a teenager with actual issues to which young readers (and older fanboys) could relate. He wasn't perfect, and every victory seemed to be tempered by some personal defeat. His superhero existence was a daily struggle, yet he always managed to take on the bad guys with a series of good-natured quips, puns, and one-liners that endeared the characters to readers. Over the last forty-two years, he has emerged as Marvel Comics flagship character and most immediately recognizable icon. He has graced numerous animated television series, thousands of comic book issues, a newspaper comic strip, a recurring role on the 70s PBS show The Electric Company, a really weak live-action show that barely lasted a season, and a mammoth 2002 blockbuster motion picture that cleared over $800 million in worldwide revenue.

The character is beloved, but I still don't really get that into him, although I enjoyed the animated show from the 1960s (Spider-man, Spider-man, Does whatever a spider can...). The latest animated series featuring the character premiered in 2003, entitled Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, and takes its lead from both the feature film and the Ultimate Spider-Man comic currently being published by Marvel comics. It updates the character for the 21st Century, while still remaining faithful to the spirit and origins of the character. The show features some cutting-edge CGI animation, adding some 3D layering to a two-dimensional style. While the show lacks the smoothness and sophistication of a Pixar or PDI film (and really, that's beyond the realm of expectations for a weekly television series), the show's look and feel is fairly impressive. The stories, as evidenced by this collection (quizzically entitled The Mutant Menace, as there weren't really any mutants in any of them), are OK to pretty good, but nothing too impressive. There's a certain sophistication to the storytelling, but the overall tone of the series seems a little too grounded in real-world theatrics for my taste. The series is aimed towards older kids/young adults, which is a welcome change-of-pace in a genre that has a history of becoming way too kiddified (Superfriends, anyone?). Unfortunately, there's little here that presents for anything that compelling. It's a decent and ambitious show, but ultimately not very memorable.

The following episodes are included on this disc:

Tight Squeeze - "Three ex-KGB agents take a group of people hostage, including Peter and his new crush Indy. Their simple demand is that they want Spider-Man! Peter will need to use his cunning and cleverness to figure out a way to appease the agents without revealing his alter ego."

Law of the Jungle - "Peter's professor, Doc Connors, injects himself with reptilian DNA, which slowly changes him into the angry, vengeful Lizard. As the serum affects Doc Connor's brain, Spider-Man must stop his beloved professor as he begins seeking revenge on those who have harmed him - including Harry!"

Sword of Shikata - "The master martial artist/swordswoman Shikata is sent to captur Spider-Man for a wealthy man's collection of rare animals. Shikata determines that Spider-Man is too noble a foe to simply capture and they must fight to the death!"

The DVD

Video:

Spider-Man: The Mutant Menace is presented in an aspect ratio if 1.78:1, and is anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen viewing pleasure. The quality of the video presentation is remarkably solid. This is a bright, colorful show that simply bursts off the screen. The picture is remarkably detailed and vibrant, although there is noticeable edge-haloing and what appears to be some pixellation. Whether or not this is a flaw in the transfer or the result of some improper CGI rendering is debatable, but the noise is definitely present.

Audio:

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but for the most part it remains somewhat stilted. While there is some occasional discreet imaging, directionality, and depth to the sonic image, the majority of the presentation remains firmly planted in the front-center stage. LFE displays some punch, and surrounds provide for some nice background and ambient noise. Nonetheless, this is a quality audio presentation which, if not as dynamic as it should be, definitely provides for a satisfactory and entertaining experience.

Extras:

The only extras on this DVD are previews for Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Steamboy, Tokyo Godfathers, Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis, Cowboy Bebop, Cyborg 009, Memories, and Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels.

Final Thoughts

Spider-Man: The Mutant Menace isn't a bad collection of shows. Spidey fans will definitely garner a lot more out of it than I will. I cannot fault the presentation of the material, and while there are no real extras to speak of it makes for a good DVD for those on a budget. That having been said, you might want to give this one a rental first. Hey, is Doc Connor the mutant referenced in the title? If so, wouldn't he be subject to the Marvel Universe's anti-Mutant hysteria? Would he throw his lot in with Magneto? That would make for a pretty interesting miniseries, don't you think? Hey... look, wave goodbye, there go all the women.

Dammit.

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