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 The 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 Eight of The Spectacular Spider-Man contains episodes 24 - 26 of the hit cartoon series. While I can't speak to this definitively, chatter on the Internet Movie Database suggests that these are the final episodes of the series. They are . . .
Subtext - An episode told en medias res, heavy on flashback sequences to flesh out the plot. It basically provides the origin of a villain named Molten Man.
Opening Night - This has a rogues gallery of Spider-Man villains aiming for revenge as the Green Goblin conspires to have the superhero imprisoned in the Vault, a maximum security institution that locks up superpowered miscreants. In addition, the school play (Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream) is finally performed, with the curious absence of Harry Osborne.
Final Curtain - An episode-length whodunit involving the identity of the Green Goblin in this series.
The quality of this cartoon series is consistently good, and I don't hesitate to continue recommending it. 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.
Sound options are the same as previous home video releases of this animated series. Two audio tracks are available 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.
An advertisement for previous editions of The Spectacular Spider-Man and a very brief spot for Open Season 2 precede the main menu. They're also available in a Previews option, along with trailers and ads for Sony Wonder Backstage Pass, Planet 51, Hachi: A Dog's Tale, Open Season 3, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Monster House, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, The Mr. Men Show, and Playmobil: The Secret of Pirate Island. Aside from these, there are no extras on the disc.
It appears that the episodes in this eighth volume of The Spectacular Spider-Man are the swan song of the series. That's a shame as this was a fun and energetic cartoon take on the classic Marvel superhero. Based upon content, I'm recommending this disc. However, keep in mind that there are only 66 minutes of cartoons on this disc (with no significant extras), and a Season Two box set is likely on the horizon - so fans may want to wait to see if that materializes.