It would be hard to argue that any comic book superhero has enjoyed a more sustained popularity over the last five decades than Spider-Man. The Marvel Comics character, the mainstay of that company's flagship publication The Amazing Spider-Man, has been spun off (no pun intended) into numerous other venues, from cartoon and live action television shows to a rock album, a series of wildly popular theatrical movies, and even a recurring part in the old PBS series The Electric Company.
The Spectacular Spider-Man is a current incarnation of this comics legend that takes its name from a now-defunct spin-off comic book title. It's a half-hour cartoon series, aimed primarily at kids but with some postmodern nods to adults, and basically offers an early 21st century update of the original Spider-Man comic books. Here, Peter Parker (voiced by Josh Keaton) attends high school with Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacey. Bully Flash Thompson is also around. Parker lives at home with his Aunt May, and moonlights as the crimefighting Spider-Man whenever he can. As he battles colorful super-villains, he's taking snapshots of himself for the newspaper Daily Bugle. Several of the classic characters from that fictional periodical are here, including Betty Brant and the obnoxious J. Jonah Jameson (voiced hilariously by Daran Norris).
The series is light and fun, with a nice sense of humor. As such, it captures the essence of Spider-Man fairly well. Each episode is relatively self-contained, although certain plot points connect the episodes into a larger whole. The animation strikes me as bright and colorful - and certainly competent for a weekly television program. The characters are presented with some awkward angularity at times (with Aunt May looking thoroughly horrendous), but at least it's consistent and uniform in presentation. As an old comics fan, I enjoyed this updating of the Spider-Man mythos, and I certainly imagine that it will entertain its core audience: adolescents.
I'm recommending this title on its content alone. But it must be said that, similar to their early treatment of the Storm Hawks cartoon series, Sony is really gouging fans of the series with their home video releases of The Spectacular Spider-Man. Only three episodes are on this disc. Without commercials, that's a runtime of approximately 69 minutes. And, to make matters worse, there are no significant extras on the disc. Parents will find repeat play value, I'm sure, but older fans of the series might want to hold off for a surely-inevitable season collection.
The three episodes contained within this second volume are:
Villain Hammerhead supplies another villain with an electrically charged suit. He goes after Spider-Man under the moniker Shocker. This is a fun episode. A battle in a dumpster leads to a recurring joke about Peter Parker's hygiene that works well.
While Peter Parker and Harry Osborn try out for the football team, Hammerhead, Osborn's father, and Doctor Octopus infuse villain Marko with silicon, creating the Sandman. This episode nicely balances cartoon hijinks with teenage melodrama.
The Invisible Hand
Hammerhead, Osborn's father, and Doctor Octopus experiment on another thug, this time creating the Rhino. Meanwhile, a school dance is on the horizon. (Reading these three synopses, you'll see a definite pattern operating in this program.) This episode ends with the introduction of Parker's paramour Mary Jane Watson.
Sony gives these episodes of The Spectacular Spider-Man an anamorphic widescreen presentation in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that likely represents its original television broadcast. Overall, the programs look great: colors are bright and details are strong. There are some artifacts present with lines during quick action sequences, but it's only a minor fault.
Two audio tracks are available here: an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 and a French language Dolby Digital 2.0. The English language track is the default and sounds very nice, with always clear dialogue and a fairly dynamic mix.
No subtitle options are made available.
A Previews sub-menu has trailers for Spectacular Spider-Man Animated Series, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, Gym Teacher, Open Season 2, and Storm Hawks.
And that's it for extras.
This volume of The Spectacular Spider-Man offers 3 episodes of the colorfully fun animated series. I'm recommending the disc purely for its content - but Sony is clearly going for a shameless cash grab here; with a paltry 69 minute runtime and no significant extras, I'd suggest it might be worth waiting for a potential season collection of the series.