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 traditional supporting characters Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, and Gwen Stacey. Parker's future wife Mary Jane Watson 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.
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 (Aunt May, especially, looks 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.
Volume Five of The Spectacular Spider-Man contains episodes 14 - 17 of the hit cartoon series. They are . . .
Blueprints - Spider-Man battles Mysterio during a winter storm. There's some nice humor about Peter Parker obsessing over his costume, which wasn't designed for cold weather. Look for a cameo by Stan Lee as "Stan" early in the episode.
Destructive Testing - Kraven the Hunter and his lover Calypso travel to New York City to hunt Spider-Man. This one's interesting, as some scientific intervention creates a strange creature-version of the classic Spidey foe.
Reinforcement - A Christmas-themed episode sees Spider-Man do battle with a newly-reconstituted Sinister Six. A battle in a mall choreographed to the music of The Nutcracker was a humorous touch.
Shear Strength - A New Year's Eve- themed episode sees Spider-Man tangled up with the Master Planner (secretly a super-villain he's fought before in the series).
The secret of the Master Planner informs these four episodes, as does the continuing love triangle between Peter, Gwen, and Liz. The quality is consistently good, and I don't hesitate to continue recommending the series. The only caveat is that the first season of The Spectacular Spider-Man was eventually released as a 2 DVD set after four individual discs of the same episodes were previously made available. I see no reason why this wouldn't happen again with these second season episodes, so fans of the series may want to hold off on this single-disc release.
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 for each episode: 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 link in the menu system provides access to trailers for The Spectacular Spider-Man, Playmobil: The Secret of Pirate Island, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Open Season 2, Monster House, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, and Astro Boy. And that's it for extras.
Four wintry holiday-themed episodes of The Spectacular Spider-Man are certainly recommended in my book. The only caveat is that these episodes will likely be included in a future season box set (as happened with the first season episodes), so fans of this cartoon series may want to wait for that.