It’s not my favorite, but if you wanted to argue that Spectacular Spider-Man is the best animated series based on a Marvel property then I wouldn’t fight you on it. The show ran from March 2008 to November 2009 and produced a tidy 26 episodes. It was a re-telling of Spider-Man with an obvious emphasis on the Steve Ditko years, but with plenty of modern twists some coming from the still popular Ultimate Universe at the time. The designs for the characters were stylized, yet simple. The style used for the eventual Disney Infinity brand actually reminded me a lot of this show. Basically anyone I’ve ever spoken to about this show enjoyed it, and the only reason it was cancelled seems to be directly related to the Marvel acquisition by Disney. It was cheaper for Disney to discontinue the show and look to create a new one using internal assets. And since Sony still did and still does own the film rights to Spider-Man, there was probably less emphasis placed on him as opposed to characters Marvel and Disney could control.
Because of the somewhat premature cancellation, a lot of what the show was setting up was never really paid off. The final episode is titled “Final Curtain,” indicating there was at least some attempt at finality and that the creative forces behind the show considered that this was the end, but there was still so much more. Some of that is seen in this episode as Spectacular Spider-Man did an excellent job of creating lore for the series that could be referenced and built on continually. Like the comics itself, at some point that lore may have become unmanageable and the show could have suffered as a result, but it’s a shame it wasn’t allowed to reach that point as it feels like the show had at least another 26 episodes in it.
One thing this show did was lean heavy on holidays. There’s Halloween episodes, Valentine’s Day, and of course Christmas. This episode, “Reinforcement,” takes place on Christmas Eve. It’s a true episode for the show in that Christmas is just a framing device, this isn’t a true special where everything stops for the holiday. And it’s going to be a rather chaotic Christmas for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
The episode begins with Spider-Man (Josh Keaton) chasing some leads on Mysterio (Xander Berkeley). Apparently he recently swiped some high-tech stuff that can’t wait until after the holidays. Spider-Man is in a bad mood as a result and he’s pretty forceful with the thugs he interrogates at a local dive. One fellow he’s looking to speak with goes by the name of Blackie Gaxton (Steve Blum), and he’s fairly tight-lipped. As Spidey confronts Gaxton, an eye-patch wearing man is cautiously eavesdropping on the conversation before trying to slip away. Spider-Man notices him, and feeling he got what he could out of Gaxton, he takes off after him. He confronts him in the alley outside and the guy introduces himself as Patch (James Arnold Taylor) on account of his eye patch. Spider-Man wants to know who Mysterio is working for, and Patch offers up a name: Master Planner.
From a control room an older looking man watches Spider-Man via several monitors. He goes by the name of Tinkerer (Thom Adcox-Hernandez) and I just bet Spider-Man will have a joke for that name should they cross paths. He communicates with a shadowy figure over a video monitor and we come to know that person as The Master Planner. Dumb name aside, he has a good idea and shows Tinkerer the images of several super villains on his screen. They’re all presently incarcerated somewhere and he wants to spring them to take out Spider-Man. Comic fans should instantly recognize them as The Sinister Six! Or Sinister Seven?
At Ryker’s Island, a patrolling guard comes to the cell of Adrian Toomes (Robert Englund) and Quentin Beck. For you non comic fans, that’s Vulture and Mysterio. He notices they have no reaction to the call for breakfast so the guard enters their cell and finds that Toomes has been replaced with a hologram and Beck is a dummy and the guard sounds the alarm. We next head to the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane where a Dr. Ashley Kafka (Elisa Gabrielli) is leading a therapy session. The attendees include Cletus Kasady who has no spoken dialogue and is the someday Carnage, but the show never got that far. The other two individuals there are known to viewers though: Doctor Otto Octavius (Peter MacNicol) and Max Dillon (Crispin Freeman), better known as Dr. Octopus and Electro. Electro is openly hostile towards Kafka and demands to be called by his super villain name while Otto is meek and receptive to treatment. Soon, an animal-like Kraven (Eric Vesbit) bursts in and takes out the orderlies. He’s there to spring Otto and Electro only Otto has no interest in leaving. He cowers in fear by Kafka who pleads with Max to stay and continue his treatment. Using his birth name on him again was a mistake, and the villain shocks her into submission as he flees with Kraven.
At Rockefeller Center, Peter Parker is enjoying a night of ice-skating with many of his friends and classmates. It’s revealed Gwen Stacy (Lacey Chabert) is upset with him about something stemming back from a prior episode while Peter seems to be openly trying to woo Liz Allen (Alanna Ubach). He seems to be doing an okay job, perhaps too okay as he decides to tone it down with the ice skating and intentionally flops onto his rear. He’s looking to get close to Liz via some skating lessons, but when she takes pity on an injured Flash Thompson (Joshua LeBar) it sinks Pete’s ship. He then tries to cozy up to Gwen, but she refuses to be his second choice. Mary Jane Watson (Vanessa Marshall) saw the whole thing and tries to give Pete some friendly advice to slow down and focus on what he wants. The message seems to go over his head as he seems to immediately turn his attention to courting MJ. He suggests they spend some time together and she declares she won’t do so without some hot cocoa, so Peter takes off to get some. Apparently MJ doesn’t mind being his third choice.
At Tinkerer’s base, the Sinister Six have been assembled. They’re given their marching orders by Master Planner. All of the villains have their gear back and are ready for action. Master Planner explains he wanted to assemble a Sinister Seven, but since Dr. Octopus refused they’ll have to settle for Sinister Six. He then gives them their target for the evening: Spider-Man.
Back at Rockefeller Center, Peter is off getting the requested refreshments when Electro and Vulture attack. Kraven had tracked Spider-Man’s scent to the location and Electro is tasked with drawing him out. The sudden commotion causes Peter to spill the hot cocoa all over himself and burn his tongue. With his friends running for cover, Pete is forced into action. Spider-Man swings into action unleashing his trademarked banter, only with his tongue burnt it’s mostly indecipherable. The villains point this out and Spider-Man is basically shamed into shutting up. It’s rather amusing and Spidey shuts up just before it started to become annoying.
Spider-Man is forced to lure the villains away from the screaming public, especially after Electro uses the ice as a conduit injuring several bystanders. He targets Vulture first and takes advantage of the fact that Vulture is clearly trying to keep his earpiece from getting damaged. Spidey knows there’s some coordination going on, plus this isn’t the first appearance of The Sinister Six in this universe. He eventually webs up Vulture causing him to slam into the giant Christmas tree. When Electro tries to free him he ends up doing more damage by igniting the tree Vulture is webbed in. The tree starts to come down, and Flash gets to be a hero by shoving Liz out of harm’s way, but with his foot in a cast he’s all but stranded. Spider-Man makes the save and deposits Flash on a nearby rooftop. Flash is pretty awestruck and even requests Spider-Man sign his cast, but he’s got more important things to worry about.
Flash inadvertently provided enough of a distraction for Electro to blast Spider-man into traffic. He bounces around on moving vehicles while Electro gives chase, eventually reaching a tire warehouse of some kind. There, Spidey is able to toss a ring of tires on Electro and his powers end up melting them down creating a rubberized prison for himself. He has no time to gloat though as a giant fist of sand smacks him in the face. It belongs to none other than Sandman (John DiMaggio) who’s partnered up with Rhino (Clancy Brown) this evening. They end up on a pier where Spider-Man is forced to get resourceful. First, he uses a fire hydrant to turn Sandman into mud then he merely outwits Rhino into going onto the ice nearby. He’s much too heavy, and Spider-Man tosses him a scuba tank claiming he’ll need it as he crashes through the ice.
A little water wasn’t enough to stop Sandman though, and he comes roaring back. Spider-Man notices he’s a lot slower than usual though and deduces that the added water is freezing in the Christmas air. The problem for Spidey though is that his web shooters have become frozen as well, forcing him into simply dodging the slow version of Sandman. He’s able to position him under a tree where he dumps a ton of snow on Sandman causing him to freeze completely.
With four down, Spidey reasons that Shocker and Dr. Octopus are still out there waiting for him. Emboldened by his victories, he calls out for them. He soon spots them on a nearby rooftop, and getting his web shooters functional once more, he web-swings his way up to kick them in the face. Only that’s what he intended to do, but comes to find that they’re holograms. This version of The Sinister Six features Mysterio and Kraven instead, and they reveal themselves when Kraven blasts him off the roof. Mysterio comes riding in on a dragon (he’s a showman) and Spidey is forced to flee. He tries to use a billboard depicting his favorite press-man, J. Jonah Jameson, as cover but Kraven comes smashing through it. He gets Spidey in a bear hug and the two trade verbal barbs before Spidey is forced to web Kraven in the face. He forces them off the building they were on and lets Kraven absorb the brunt of the fall. Mysterio comes in with his crazy, mechanical, dragon and Spidey is forced to flee into a nearby department store.
There, he approaches a woman giving out free perfume samples and takes the whole thing. When Kraven comes roaring in he smashes the perfume in his face to overwhelm his enhanced sense of smell. The perfume is like torture to Kraven. Mysterio comes in and forces Spidey to the ceiling. He opens his cape and a bunch of Homunculi burst forth to attack Spider-Man. They’re merely a nuisance that spouts witty dialogue and Spider-Man makes short work of them. Mysterio vanishes in some smoke and reappears on a balcony above. He approaches the department store’s Santa and Elf workers and Spider-Man swings in for the rescue, only to get tackled by Kraven before he can nail Mysterio. Spider-Man is about to flee the balcony when Mysterio shouts for Kraven to stop. Only the call to stop came from below. Spidey looks down to see Mysterio, the real Mysterio, and realizes the one on the balcony with them is a robot copy, and it’s about to self-destruct. Uttering an “Oh fudge,” Spidey quickly swings-in to save the Santa and Elf and avoid the explosion. Kraven wasn’t so fortunate.
Spider-Man is then free to pursue the last remaining villain. As he and Mysterio trade insults, Spidey finds it hard to actually land a blow. Realizing Mysterio has made himself invisible, he covers the whole area in webbing to reveal him. Spidey tries to interrogate the incapacitated Mysterio, but he’s just taunted by the villain. “The Master Planner has a Master Plan.” The police then arrive to clean everything up.
Back at Rockefeller Center, Gwen is worried about Peter and thinks the tree may have fallen on him. MJ is there as well and they’re both worried, until Peter walks in with a couple cups of cocoa. He explains the snack stand ran out and he had to go off and find another place for cocoa. Gwen hugs him and then is a bit embarrassed by her display of affection while MJ mostly stares in disbelief. As the cops have the tree raised, they find no one under it. Vulture is missing and a deep hole is in his place. Tinkerer is viewing all of this on his monitors that see all, and Master Planner’s voice pops in to say the extractions were complete indicating most, if not all, of the villains have escaped. We then head back to Ravencroft where Otto is watching news coverage of the villainous activity in the city with great trepidation. Dr. Kafka tries to assure him that everything will be all right when his mechanical arms come crashing in. They abduct the doctor against his will and drag him out screaming.
At the Parker home, Peter is watching the news as well with some disgust. Aunt May (Deborah Strang) enters the living room and requests Peter turn that off since it’s Christmas and all. Pete agrees and then fetches her present from under the tree. She unwraps it to find a framed photograph of she, Peter, and Ben Parker. Peter remarks that it’s their first Christmas without Uncle Ben putting a more concrete timeline on the events of the show. May places the photo on the mantle remarking that Ben is always with them. They embrace and we get a nice exterior shot of their snow-covered home as the episode comes to a close.
“Reinforcement” is not a typical Christmas special, but similar to our other super hero special this year from X-Men: Evolution, it’s still a satisfying experience. There’s a lot of little Christmas puns throughout the episode, mostly through Spider-Man’s banter. Most of it is actually pretty charming, and Spidey even makes a premature ejaculation joke at Mysterio’s expense which caught me off guard. There’s also plenty of public domain Christmas tunes sprinkled throughout the episode, so it has some of that Christmas charm without really being “in your face” with it. It’s not as stand-alone as “On Angel’s Wings” though, thanks to the lore built into the show. As someone who had not watched an episode of this show in some time, it was a bit challenging to remember all of the relationships, especially with Peter and his many ladies. It’s a fairly action-packed episode though and watching it made me want to revisit the series in full.
As a Christmas special though? It’s a tough recommend because of all of the prerequisite knowledge needed to fully enjoy the episode. Obviously, if you’re into Spider-Man it’s a minor hurdle. And if you’re familiar with this show then you probably will want to watch it every year. If it had leaned more into the Christmas feeling I could have possibly recommended it as a general Christmas special, but I think this one is for fan’s only.
Unlike many of the specials we look at here, Spectacular Spider-Man is pretty easy to get ahold of. It’s low episode total likely helped in getting it a full DVD release, and there are streaming options as well. You just won’t actually be able to find this one on television since Disney has a new Spider-Man show of its own to promote. And if you don’t want to watch it via legitimate means, there are illegitimate means of viewing it too, though if you like Spider-Man I do recommend just getting the whole series.