Following on the heels of the previously released Ultimate Villain Showdown and no doubt to capitalize on the recent home video release of Spider-Man, comes Spider-Man: Return of the Green Goblin, another hodgepodge collection of episodes from the 90's Spider-Man animated series (plus one from 1967).
Fans will recall that Ultimate Villain Showdown contained Chapters 2-5 of 'Sins of the Fathers' and Chapter 3 of 'Partners in Danger.' Return of the Green Goblin contains Chapters 12-14 of 'Sins of the Fathers' and Chapters 1 & 8 of 'Partners in Danger.' While this is somewhat confusing, the episode selection on Return of the Green Goblin is actually much better, though I can't say that I wouldn't rather have a complete arc of episodes, rather than a few here and there.
In 'Sins of the Fathers,' a scientist, who later takes the name of the Spot, creates the technology to produce inter-dimensional portals. Realizing how this technology could be beneficial for crime, several of Spider-Man's greatest enemies battle for control of it, including the Kingpin, Hobgoblin, and the Green Goblin.
In 'Partners in Crime: Part 1,' Robbie Robertson is set-up as the fall guy for a crime, and Spider-Man must uncover the real culprit and reason he was framed in order to free him from jail.
'Partners in Crime: Part 8,' is a 'bonus' episode on the disc, despite the fact it features the title of the collection. With Norman Osborn and Mary Jane seemingly lost (as seen in 'Sins of the Fathers'), Harry Osborn takes up the mantle of the Green Goblin. Anna Watson asks the Punisher to find her niece, and Spider-Man is, of course, stuck in the middle.
Having been a long-time fan of the comics, but having missed much of the animated series on TV, watching these episodes is always hit or miss. I wasn't a big fan of the episodes on Ultimate Villain Showdown, but the episodes here work quite a bit better. Each episode had some great moments – from Tombstone's appearance in 'Partners in Crime: Part 1,' which tied in fairly closely to a similar storyline that ran through Spectacular Spider-Man, to the perfect portrayal of Harry's psychosis in 'Partners in Crime: Part 8,' to a homage of the cover of the classic Amazing Spider-Man #39. However and mostly because of my love for comics, I had some quibbles. The Punisher that appears here is the lamest portrayal of the Frank Castle character ever. Mary Jane's reappearance, after having disappeared into 'limbo,' is sudden and unexplained, especially considering she was 'lost' for eight episodes. While I'm not as familiar with Jason Macendale, I can't remember him ever hooking up with Felicia Hardy, though revealing him as the Hobgoblin and completely bypassing Ned Leeds (who does make a brief appearance) is…strange, to say the least. Still, these episodes do manage to entertain, though I can only hope the animated series is released in seasons, rather than 'best-of' collections, at some point.
Spider-Man: The Animated Series is presented in 1.33:1 full frame, as it appeared on TV. The animation is quite good for a mid-nineties American cartoon with vibrant colors and solid blacks. The picture does have some visible edge enhancement on occasion, though it still looks terrific compared to what I remember seeing on TV.
Spider-Man: The Animated Series is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo Surround in English and Spanish. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout the episodes, and while surround use is infrequent, there are a few good instances of directionality across the front soundstage. Optional English Captions are available.
Extras closely mirror what was available on Ultimate Villain Showdown. In my mind, the best extra is Stan Lee's Soapbox, in which The Man spends thirteen minutes discussing the aspirations he had as a child for his future, gives some tips for writers and artists trying to break into the 'biz, how he got his start in the industry, and some other interesting tidbits. Stan Lee also provides optional introductions for the five 90s cartoons, though a few really didn't relate to the episode. There's also a Rogue's Challenge trivia challenge, with optional hints from Lee, though there's no way you can only watch these episodes and be able to answer all of them correctly. One question related to Amazing Spider-Man #13 (from the 60s) and another from Kevin Smith's run on Daredevil a few years ago. Still, it was moderately entertaining for a few moments.
The 'bonus episode' on the disc is the 'classic' episode from 1967, 'Terrible Triumph of Dr. Octopus/Magic Malice,' which was…ok. The less said about it, the better, in my opinion.
Also available are sneak peeks for a variety of Disney/Buena Vista releases, as well as a trailer for the Kingdom Hearts videogame.
The episodes contained on Return of the Green Goblin, while not without flaw in writing or presentation, are fairly entertaining and merit viewing from newcomers or diehard fans who want to revisit the series, while hoping season sets will eventually surface. While the presentation and extras are decent, the $20 MSRP still seems a tad steep to me, especially considering you get no complete story arcs.