Tag Archives: spider-man

Spider-Man (Arcade)

Forgive me if I’ve said something similar before; but younger people are shocked by the norms of the past! Yeah, it’s a very “old man” thing to say, but it’s also an easy way to impress someone younger. And in this case, the shocking thing to say is that Marvel Comics often found itself in a great deal of financial turmoil in decades past. The company that now is owned by Disney and is able to churn out hit film after hit film about even its most obscure characters once had to file for bankruptcy protection. Go through the history of the company and you’ll find other moments in time where things weren’t so rosy, though Marvel often can be credited with being forward-thinking in looking for other ways to make money.

That’s how Marvel ended up in the TV business in the 1980s. Unable to find the same level of success on both the small and big screen as rival Detective Comics, Marvel started self-producing television programs which included the company’s popular stars as well as properties unrelated to the comic business. The most successful Marvel TV program is probably Muppet Babies, as the company seemed to struggle to really break-through with one of its superheroes even famously failing to find a broadcast partner for its mega-hot X-Men franchise as the pilot for a cartoon series failed to be picked up. This ended up being a good thing since not too long after Fox would start airing a different X-Men series in 92 which ended up being far better than anything Marvel would have done on its own.

Sega landing the Spider-Man license seems like a pretty big deal.

When video games started to take off once again in the 80s, it’s possible some in the industry would have expected Marvel to self-publish. It was already doing so with TV, so why not games? It’s possible Marvel just didn’t trust the industry which had only recently emerged from a crash itself. And whenever Marvel wanted to make money easily, it would turn to licensing deals. With comics rapidly gaining steam in the 80s and building towards what would be a massive boom into the 90s, Marvel probably saw no real benefit in exploring the world of games and was more than willing to see what other companies would do with its characters.

Enter Sega. Sega was fighting an uphill battle to dethrone Nintendo as the kind of the living room. Sega’s strategy was to go after the kids who may have first experienced games via Super Mario Bros. and were looking for something a bit more their speed as they grew older. This made a character like Spider-Man appealing to Sega, and in a world where exclusive licensing agreements were still far off, Sega was able to convince Marvel to let it develop its own games featuring Spider-Man. Details of the agreement are scarce these days, so it’s unknown just what kind of restrictions Sega was under. The deal was apparently tenuous, but success of the Genesis/Mega Drive game Spider-Man vs The Kingpin apparently settled things down as the title once had an attach rate of over 60% with Genesis owners.

One of the first games I’d go looking for as a kid in an arcade.

Back in the 1980s, Sega was as much known for its home console business as it was for the arcade. The arcade boom was coming down, but Sega had success with a variety of genres and many of its games were ported to the Genesis. With the Spider-Man license in-hand, Sega sought to craft an arcade beat-em-up experience with the character that would differentiate itself from similar titles. It would be a game developed for Sega’s System 32 board which was the company’s first attempt at 32-bit development. This also meant hopes for a home port would essentially be dead-on-arrival, but that’s why Sega had the separate Spider-Man vs The Kingpin slated to arrive the same year, 1991.

The normally solo Spider-Man would need some help to take down Kingpin, and entertain more than one player.

When crafting a brawler for the arcade, one of the main issues to solve initially is just what characters to make playable? The brawler had started as a one or two-player affair, but by the 90s arcade-goers expected four-player co-op play. The challenge with Spider-Man is he’s mostly a solo act, so Sega likely had to work with Marvel on finding three allies to join him. They ended up settling on the sometimes ally sometimes foe Black Cat, Sub-Mariner, and the Avenger Hawkeye. The selection of Hawkeye was somewhat interesting as he was a playable character in the Captain America brawler also released in ’91. This naturally lent to comparisons between the two titles with at least my group of friends viewing the Spider-Man Hawkeye as the far superior affair since the graphics were far more attractive.

Not much to see here, just four heroes kicking some butt.

Sega’s approach to the tried and true beat-em-up genre is both conventional and unconventional. Sega often found gimmicks to keep things fresh, such as the transformations of Altered Beast or the mounts in Golden Axe. For Spider-Man, the game begins like any other. You select one of four characters and begin the game with a wave of enemies crashing down upon you. Players have to contend with enemies coming in from both sides of the screen and as they’re dispatched a “Go!” prompt will display imploring the player to continue right. Each character has just two action buttons: jump and attack. Pressing the two simultaneously provides for a ranged super attack unique to each character. Utilizing this move also sacrifices some health. Players can attack while in the air and also use a super move from that position as well which basically results in a diving attack. Interestingly, the amount of credits deposited into the machine increases the amount of health the character possesses as opposed to the amount of lives. As long as you keep pumping in quarters, you’ll never die!

Okay, now this is different.

Where things get interesting in Spider-Man is after the first boss encounter: Venom. The storyline for the game is the Kingpin as acquired some magical artifact and Spider-Man needs to get it back. When Venom gets exposed to that artifact, he grows to a tremendous size. In order to convey that to the player, the player characters and the environment around them shrinks via a zoom-out effect. This also alters the gameplay from a brawler to a basic platformer. Characters now have a ranged attack and all can cling to surfaces in order to scale buildings. Other elements often featured in that style of game show up as well such as falling surfaces, obstacles that need to be dodged, and so on.

Electro is one of the bosses who only appears during a zoomed-out sequence.

Every act in the game features a zoom-out sequence, even though only the initial one features a giant enemy. If the entire game were crafted around this style, it would be okay, but when the two are mixed it works quite well as a change of pace. Some boss fights are exclusive to the zoomed out mode too, which is actually kind of a shame since we’re denied seeing a proper, large, model of certain villains. Nevertheless, it’s Spider-Man’s defining characteristic and it works really well. It’s a real surprise this tactic wasn’t utilized more, but then again, fighting games mostly took over the arcade space shortly there-after and the arcade brawler largely faded away.

Battling a foe like the Green Goblin is a lot different from taking on someone like Venom.

The game is divided into four acts, but each one is quite long and will have the players going back and forth between the two gameplay styles. And even though there are only four acts, there are still numerous boss encounters with Spider-Man’s most popular foes. Expect to face-off against the likes of Venom, Green Goblin, Scorpion, Electro, Hobgoblin, and more. Many will have to be fought more than once, with Venom being the most frequent (this was probably when the character was at the height of its popularity). Some of the fights aren’t much to speak of as the enemy functions like a regular enemy, just with a unique sprite and health bar, but others are multi-stage battles and can get pretty challenging. Kingpin himself is also a bit of a red-herring as the real villain of the game is revealed after the third act, which keeps gamers on their toes, I suppose.

Character sprites are big and detailed when not zoomed out.

The presentation is where things are at though. The characters look great on the System 32 board, especially in the non-zoomed out portions. The models are big and detailed making Spider-Man one of the best looking beat-em-ups produced. The villains are tremendous as well, and in between acts there’s some story-line material with some limited voice over. About the only thing I dislike about the visuals rests with Spider-Man himself, as he has this odd, slightly stooped, posture. The music is also catchy, and some was even recycled from older Sega games. Most of the boss characters also get a line or two of spoken dialogue which helps add a little pizzazz to those encounters.

The charging attack, demonstrated here by Kingpin, gets a bit annoying.

Like any brawler, the gameplay does get repetitive eventually. Spider-Man is able to help itself not just with the gameplay switches during acts, but also with the boss variety. A character like Green Goblin attacks in a manner far different from the Kingpin, for example, though by the end of the game there is definitely some boss fatigue. The hardest foes all seem to attack in a similar pattern in that they get knocked down and then pop back up into a charging attack. The penultimate fight of the game can get a bit annoying as the boss has a very small window of time in which he can be harmed before going into a charging animation that renders him invincible, or a blasting position that grants the same. Even so, Spider-Man is a surprisingly fair game. Most arcade brawlers exist just to extract quarters, but it’s possible to gang up on a boss and practically neuter them. Especially with two players, as most boss characters will pop-up after being knocked down to immediately vault across the screen, rather than be momentarily invincible when first getting up. This means two well-positioned characters can effectively “ping pong” a boss until it’s been defeated. Preventing this from becoming a true exploit though is the fact that most bosses are accompanied by standard grunt enemies. I never counted, but Spider-Man can handle a lot of enemies on screen all at once so things can get a bit hectic. It makes those crowd-clearing special maneuvers more and more useful as the game progresses. The trade-off though is that enemy sprites are recycled throughout as you will largely battle the same three enemies all game long, just with different weapon and color variations.

The game keeps track of how many enemies each player defeated and which took down a boss adding a competitive element to the experience.

A play-through of Spider-Man will last about 45 minutes, maybe a bit more. The one trick the game does pull that I’m not a fan of is that the player’s health is always gradually depleting as a means of forcing the players to move quicker. This seems to mostly be in effect during the platforming sections which is a bit annoying as the game does encourage some mild exploration. The “Go!” arrow might be telling you to go one way, but there’s an obvious area in a different direction with health power-ups. Even with that health-drain in place, a pair of reasonably skilled gamers should be able to get through this one on about 20 credits, or 5 bucks back in ’91. After each act, scores are tabulated and health bonuses distributed in kind as well which helps prolong the adventure and adds a little competition as well. The game awards a boss “kill” to whoever scores the last hit and boss defeats are weighted far more heavily than basic enemies so competitive players will do whatever they can to make sure they land that final blow.

The game is quite unique when compared with its peers, at least as unique as a brawler can be.

Since Spider-Man was an arcade-only release, it has become a bit of an obscure title. For whatever reason, other arcade-only brawlers like X-Men and The Simpsons seem to be remembered more fondly even though I find Spider-Man to be the superior experience. It’s a wonderful looking game, even by today’s standards, and the gameplay quirks help set it apart as well. As much as I enjoy X-Men, that game is a pretty basic brawler that’s over quickly, but also brutal when it comes to quarters. It’s possible Spider-Man has been victimized by the success of the Genesis game since so many people had it that it’s likely the first game they think of when people mention the character and Sega in the same sentence. It certainly wasn’t an issue of distribution as I routinely encountered this game in the wild, and it was often the game I went to first.

If this game were re-released in 2020 the legal info would be a lot more complicated than what is seen here.

Spider-Man is one of the best arcade brawlers ever released, and it’s also one of the few to remain exclusive to that format. When Sega brought 32-bit gaming to the living room with the 32X, it chose to craft a new Spider-Man game for that system rather than port this one, which ended up being the final Spider-Man game developed by Sega. Eventually games like X-Men received a release just a via X-Box Live, but Sega’s Spider-Man has remained in cabinets alone. The game was fairly popular so it’s not hard to track down a cabinet today, but buying one is quite costly since the character is so beloved. I suspect we’ve never seen the game made available due to the complicated licensing agreements surrounding both the game and Spider-Man himself. Sony holds the license for basically all Spider-Man media, while the presence of Hawkeye might give Disney a substantial voice in the room should there ever be talk of re-releasing the game. And then there’s Sega, who no longer has a home console of its own to bill this as an exclusive for. The game is likely viewed as too niche to warrant trying to figure out how to spread the money among all interested parties. Ideally it would be offered as a downloadable title like the Konami brawlers were, but that window has apparently been shut, and Sony striking a deal with Sega to include the game as a bonus feature on a modern Spider-Man title seems unlikely. As a result, if you want to experience what Spider-Man has to offer in 2020 you’ll need to track down a cabinet, or resort to other, less legal, means. Should you find yourself playing it, expect to have a pretty good time. Just make sure to bring a friend, or two, or three!


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

spider-verse posterOver the years, the comic book movie has changed immeasurably. Prior to the year 2000, you could basically count the successful superhero movies on one hand and the only heroes able to really break through were Superman and Batman. This meant Marvel was completely shut out despite feeling like the hotter publication for a long time. That company’s forays into the world of cinema were largely terrible and the only semi-successful venture was probably The Incredible Hulk television series.

Now though it seems like anything Marvel wants to send to the big screen is a massive success. It’s not that surprising that X-Men eventually worked or that Spider-Man could become a big player. Captain America? That one is pretty surprising considering how lame he was when I was a kid. Basically everyone associated with The Avengers had been pushed aside. Those were the heroes your parents might have read about, but us 80s and 90s kids wanted mutants, pouches, and clones, damn it! We once thought that in order for these movies to be successful they needed to be more grounded than a comic and basically not look like one. Drab costumes for the X-Men, realistic villains for Iron Man, and so on. Now we’ve learned that doesn’t matter. Bright spandex is in, heroes leave the planet, and a big, purple, bad guy can lead one of the most successful movies of all time.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse pushes the super hero movies even closer to the world of comic books. It’s a bold movie on the part of Sony Pictures and Marvel, though considering the budget for this film is far less than what is spent on a typical live-action super hero film it’s perhaps not perceived as being a great risk. Spider-Verse is a film aimed at the longtime fans of Spider-Man. It’s not really made for those who liked Spider-Man comics as a kid and then moved on, or simply know the character from his other films. This film is modern, it contains references to the old Peter Parker who fell in love with and married Mary Jane Watson, something Marvel has undone. It also references a Spider-Man who divorced MJ, a Spider-Man who is actually a woman, and a Spider-Man who is black. Only in comics could all of these different, yet all valid, versions of one character exist and this film seeks to throw them all into one movie. It’s a transdimensional gathering of Spider-People (and animals) which is the type of story usually reserved for the world of comics as comic fans are used to differentiating from Earth-616, Pre-Crisis, Ultimate, etc. It sounds complicated, and it kind of is, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ends up being far more accessible than it has any right to be.

spider-people

I hope you like Spider-Man, because there’s a lot to go around.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is based on a screenplay from Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman directed by Rothman, Bob Persichetti, and Peter Ramsey. It’s a computer-animated film that seeks to emulate the look of a comic book. Movement is intentionally janky as a low frames-per-second was utilized to make sure that basically every moment of the film could work as a still image from a comic book panel. It’s the careful planning of the screenplay and the direction that allows the viewer to ease into this one as it slowly peels away layers making the plot more complicated as it goes along without becoming overwhelming.

miles morales

Miles never leaves home without his trusty Sony headphones.

The movie focuses first on teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). Morales is a young man who is an only child to police officer Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and nurse Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez). His father is african american and mother Puerto Rican, and even though he shares a last name with his mother, his parents are a couple and they all live together in Brooklyn. Miles though is sent to a special academy for schooling which functions like a boarding school. He doesn’t like it, but his father insists it’s for his own good. His mother is more sympathetic to his concerns, but not enough to interfere on behalf of her son. Miles is quite smart and apparently gifted, but he desires to be what he feels is normal. As a result, he has a kindred spirit in his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) who encourages Miles’ preferred form of expression:  tagging. Aaron and Jefferson apparently had a falling out of some kind and aren’t on speaking terms, so Miles has to sneak around to hang out with him.

It’s partly through sneaking out with his uncle that causes Miles to run into Spider-Man (Chris Pine). While tagging a tunnel in the subway, Miles is bit by an odd looking spider. The next day, he feels off and finds he’s sticking to everything and unable to make sense of it. When he returns to find the spider that bit him he encounters Spider-Man, who is battling with a massive, monstrous, version of the Green Goblin who is working for Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), also known as The Kingpin. Kingpin also employs The Prowler and Tombstone and they’re trying to prevent Spider-Man from destroying a particle accelerator. He will be unsuccessful, and it’s the turning on of that particle accelerator that opens up a rift between the various dimensions which causes other versions of Spider-Man to enter Miles’ world.

store bought costume

Spider-Man may be in the title, but this is a Miles Morales movie.

Most of the movie will then center around Miles and one of the other Spider-Men, played by Jake Johnson. With Miles trying to figure out his own spider-powers, he turns to Peter B. Parker, but unfortunately for Miles this version of Parker is older, out of shape, and not really a good teacher. They need to steal a code from Fisk in order to destroy the accelerator and return Peter to his own dimension. It becomes apparent that they’ll need help though, and gradually more versions of Spider-Man are introduced including Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage). Each time a new one is introduced, they get a little 30 second origin story that all utilize the same concept. It’s both informative and amusing and never gets old.

While a lot of different versions of the classic character appear, the film never loses sight of the fact that this is really Miles’ story. He has to deal with disappointing his father and trying to find his footing amongst a group of people that have all been at this Spider-Man thing for quite awhile. He’s insecure, and unsure of himself. He just wants to be a normal kid, and while we see right away he’s a fan of Spider-Man, it’s not really something he necessarily wants to be. It’s a movie of self-discovery, camaraderie, and family. Most of the villains are simply physical adversaries, though some time is given to Fisk, and yet the film doesn’t suffer because of it.

spider odd couple

A good chunk of the movie is devoted to an odd couple pairing of inexperienced Miles with past his prime Peter B. Parker.

The story in the film is well-told, but the major take-away from the film will be its look and style. It’s computer-animated, but there’s a hand drawn quality to everything present not seen in something  from the likes of Dreamworks or Pixar. It’s bright, bold, and unafraid to take chances. There’s a sequence where Miles and Peter are stuck via webstring to a subway car and are pulled throughout New York at night. They pinball off of cars, slam into pillars, and slide across windows. It’s a chaotic, visual, experience that never gets out of hand or hard to follow. The finale is even more ambitious as the heroes battle the villains while the accelerator goes nuts and starts sucking in buildings and vehicles from other dimensions with everything suspended in a surreal setting. The film doesn’t need those tricks to be interesting though as even watching Miles walk down the street or emerge from a subway car is visually engauging. Sony stumbled onto something that really works here and I doubt this is the last we’ll see of this style.

spider hide

There are a lot of big fights and moments in this one, but no matter what there’s always going to be a scene where Spider-Man needs to hide from someone in an amusing manner.

The vocal cast is wonderful with not a bad performance to be found and the music the film turns to is appropriate as well. The film opens with Miles listening to the film’s featured song, “Sunflower” performed by Post Malone and Swae Lee, and the rest of the songs used in the film all sound like something Miles would listen to. It’s heavy on hip hop and R&B, while composer Daniel Pemberton mixes similar concepts within a traditional superhero score. Like the film’s visual, the soundtrack and score meld beautifully with the scenes and characters and it’s hard to imagine the film having a soundtrack that could possibly be more appropriate than what is here.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a technical and artistic marvel in cinema. It’s a film made for the Spider-Man fan, but one that isn’t exclusive to that fan base. The character of Miles Morales is portrayed in such an authentic manner that it’s almost unfathomable to think someone could watch this film and not fall in love with the character of Miles. His journey from typical teen with typical problems to full-fledged Spider-Man could feel too familiar, but the film makes it compelling and interesting every step of the way. It’s also impossible to talk about the film and not mention how important and refreshing it is to see a character of mixed race assume the spotlight in a superhero film. I’m just a dumb white guy, so perhaps my opinion isn’t relevant, but I found it exciting and awesome to see Miles assume the mantel of Spider-Man and make it his own. The message of the film is that a hero can come from anywhere, anyone can be Spider-Man, and it’s a message the film takes to heart. And it isn’t just Miles as we also get a wonderful portrayal of Spider-Woman via the Gwen Stacy character. I’d love to see another adventure from Miles, and I’d also love to see a Spider-Gwen movie because I found her character really compelling as well. Hell, I’d even take a Peter B. Parker movie to see how things turned out for him.

gwen stacy

I would love another movie centered on Miles, but if Sony wants to give us a Spider-Gwen I won’t be complaining.

I suspect that given the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that we’re not done with this setting. I don’t expect a sequel to feature dimension-hopping unless it’s flipped and Miles journeys to help another Spider-Man. I think more likely is that a more conventional plot is scripted for Miles. However it happens, it needs to because Miles is too wonderful to only receive top-billing in a single film. I think most who see this film will walk away pondering if it’s their favorite Spider-Man film or close to it. I want to watch it again, but I think I would put Homecoming ahead of it, but it’s not an easy call. This film may be crowded with Spider-People, but it understands Spider-Man and presents what is a perfect Spider-Man story. It may be animated, but it’s paced like a live-action film and definitely isn’t aiming to lure in children, like many animated films developed primarily for a western audience aim for. If you passed on this one because it’s not tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe or are intimidated by the plot then you made a mistake. There’s time to fix that mistake though and I urge you to do so.

 


Dec. 9 – Spectacular Spider-Man – “Reinforcement”

reinforcement

Original air date June 29, 2009

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.

spectacular spider-man

Spectacular Spider-Man only managed to produce 26 episodes, but they were 26 quality episodes.

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.

patch

Hello, Patch!

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.

marching orders

Here’s a story…

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.

peter and liz

Peter believes pity is the way to a woman’s heart.

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.

master planner commands

Behold! The Master Planner!

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.

MJs advice

MJ swooping in like a vulture.

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.

electro down

It’s going to be one of those nights.

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.

vulture webbed

Vulture is basically attacked by Christmas.

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.

rhino and spidey

Rhino is the classic strong but dumb adversary.

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.

kraven claus

The Kraven of this show is far more cat-like than I’m used to.

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.

santa saved

That’s gotta get you on the good list for life.

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.

merry webbing

Mysterio is surprisingly ill-prepared to deal with Spider-Man’s webs.

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.

doc ock escape

Doc escapes against his will, or does he?

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.

peter-and-may.jpg

Have to end it on a happy Christmas image.

“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.

 


#10 The Best in TV Animation: X-Men

SF.Graz.1.0317––HANDOUT ART OF THE X–MEN CARTOON SERIES.

When I settled on doing a top ten for animation on television there were eight entrants I felt rather strongly about, and a ninth I was pretty content with. The tenth spot was the wildcard and a number of programs were considered, but since this is my list (and it’s not exactly an original topic) I decided I should use this spot to highlight a personal favorite of mine, so I went with X-Men. That’s a pretty flimsy lead-in but it’s not as if X-Men is undeserving of praise. I’ve wrote about the series quite a bit, even going so far as to do a mini review for each of the show’s 76 episodes during this blog’s first year of existence. At the time, I was using the show as a device to keep me posting but I was also reliving what was probably my favorite show as a kid.

X-Men launched on the Fox network in October of 1992, and at the time, was another attempt to re-ignite Marvel’s television properties. Prior to its debut, a pilot had been produced in the late 80’s called “Pryde of the X-Men” which focused on a much different cast of mutants. It was never picked up, and Marvel’s television properties were fading from memory. The same could be said for superhero cartoons in general, as only recently did Batman return to animation shortly before X-Men debuted. X-Men was the best-selling comic at the time, so it made sense for a cartoon to finally break through. Before X-Men (and Batman), cartoons based on comic book heroes tended to be pretty generic and bland. They usually took the form of the hero, or heroes, taking on the villain of the week and toppling whatever hair-brained scheme had been concocted by said villain to take-over the world or just cause general mayhem. Other shows, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were just severely watered-down aspects of the source material intended to move action figures, which in the 80’s became frequently attached to various cartoon properties (He-Man being the best example of a cartoon existing solely to sell toys).

Wolverine and Gambit were likely to two most popular characters on the show, but that didn't stop the writers from developing many others.

Wolverine and Gambit were likely to two most popular characters on the show, but that didn’t stop the writers from developing many others.

X-Men was different. This was a show that, while aimed at children, wanted to bring legitimacy to the medium. The show placed its brightly colored heroes against the backdrop of an easy to grasp civil rights movement. Enemies were no longer defined as simply bad guys but were colored with shades of gray and given real motivations for their actions. Magneto was the prime example. Had “Pryde of the X-Men” been picked up, Magneto would have just been another super villain with a motley crew of evil mutants willing to do his bidding and match up against the heroic X-Men. In the Fox show, he was a Holocaust survivor which had convinced him that humanity could not accept the differences within its own kind, and therefore, could never accept anyone outside humanity. In this case, that was mutant-kind, often referred to as homo-superior by Magneto. Mutants often took the form of normal looking people but with special gifts. We the audience took those gifts to be super powers, and in the case of the X-Men, most could be described as such. They did often come with costs that were more obvious for certain individuals. Cyclops could not open his eyes without a special visor or else risk destroying anything in his line of sight. Rogue could not even touch another person skin-to-skin without putting them in a coma. And Beast was simply covered in blue fur. This take, later admitted by creator Stan Lee as a lazy way to explain how the X-Men got their powers, freed the writers from having to come up with yet another experiment gone wrong origin story for every mutant under the sun.

This civil rights narrative is what framed the first two seasons of the show. The opening plot revolved around an organization funded by the government who would pose as friends to mutants but was really secretly creating a database of mutants from which it could target them and, though only hinted at during the show since it was for kids, cull them from society. The X-Men could not simply fight this opponent and beat them into submission, but had to convince the United States government that this was the wrong course of action. As a child, some of this went over my head. When Beast was put on trial in episode three I did not understand why the X-Men did not simply break him out of jail. Such would have likely been the course of action in many of the show’s contemporaries with the plot either being resolved at the episode’s conclusion or just dropped entirely. Instead, Beast spent the bulk of the first season in jail awaiting a formal trial before finally being pardoned after the X-Men were able to win-over at least one prominent political figure.

Magneto was easily the show's most successful attempt at blurring the lines between hero and villain.

Magneto was easily the show’s most successful attempt at blurring the lines between hero and villain.

After the first season, it seemed like all was right with the world but the show once more took a more sophisticated approach. With mutants gaining more legal freedoms, bigoted members of society sprung up to do what they felt the government failed to do. Once more, the show mirrored society in that the X-Men couldn’t hope to ever win over everybody to their side. The show would lose touch with this narrative after season two, instead opting to take the show in a more sci-fi direction while focusing on more condensed plots, but in those two seasons X-Men did a lot to legitimize the superhero genre outside of the comic book world. It’s the strength of those two first seasons, merely 26 episodes, that vaults the X-Men into this position, but the show also got a lot else right.

For starters, the voice cast (comprised of Canadian voice actors mostly unknown to American audiences) did an excellent job with the often weighty material. The show could, at times, be joyless and very melodramatic and the scripts would often contain superhero jargon that probably read poorly, but the actors were able to step up and deliver. Some characters, like the perennially wooden Storm, were always lacking but others shined very bright. For me, I will always hear Cal Dodd’s voice in my head whenever I read a line from Wolverine. His raspy, quiet, delivery perfectly suited the sometimes explosive Wolverine. When the show needed him to get loud and angry, Dodd was able to come through time and time again. David Hemblen’s Magneto was another highlight. This show is one of the few that actually depict the Austrian Magneto with an accent, something even the films chose to ignore. George Buza’s Beast was so good that it obviously formed the template for the Kelsey Grammer version of the character that appeared in X-Men 3. The soundtrack was also a standout, mixing orchestral instruments with electronic aspects that suited the show’s somewhat futuristic-like setting. The theme song should be considered a cartoon classic at this point.

The show never added to its core cast of X-Men, but that didn't stop other fan-favorites from appearing in the show, like Nightcrawler.

The show never added to its core cast of X-Men, but that didn’t stop other fan-favorites from appearing in the show, like Nightcrawler.

Visually, the show adopted the look of Jim Lee’s X-Men quite well with some minor alterations. Most of what makes up the Jim Lee style was still retained though, with the men having bulging physiques and the woman looking like super models. Even the extras in society tend to look idealized. It’s a legitimate criticism of Lee’s work but I’m sure the animators were happy that the vast majority of characters were basically the same shape. There is enough detail in the work that the show looks quite nice in still-shots. The animation, especially in the first season when the budget presumably was at its smallest, could be stiff at times. The animators were obviously under some constraints as well as to what kind of violence could be depicted. After the first season though, the animation improved noticeably. X-Men was not the best looking of its kind, but it certainly was not among the worst. I enjoyed it far more than I would Spider-Man, which came in 1994 and featured some primitive, and mostly ugly, computer-enhanced imagery as well as a softer color palette.

X-Men was able to leave a mark on the world of cartoons. It’s solid production values combined with its mature approach to story-telling is what makes it standout amongst other Saturday morning fare. X-Men is still the gold standard for the super hero ensemble show, and still stands as the best thing Marvel has ever done on television. X-Men took risks in a world where risk-taking is often frowned upon. Most people think kids want a mindless program where the hero always wins and everything is wrapped up in 22 minutes. Children are capable of so much more and the success of X-Men is proof of that.

If you want to read more about the X-Men animated series, there’s plenty to be found on this blog. In addition to numerous posts that summarize and review every episode, I also made an entry on what I considered to be the best episodes the show ever produced.


The Best in Televised Animation – Introduction

ARCHIVAL PHOTOProbably 90% of the posts here could be separated into two broad categories:  video games and animation. Thus it would come as no surprise to anyone who has spent even a small sum of time browsing this blog that I love animation, especially the classic hand-drawn kind. I’ve never given much thought as to why I enjoy animation so much. I would guess it’s because animation can do anything, even things live-action cannot. It can imitate real life or do the exact opposite. It’s often a haven for comedy and a natural destination for characters who began life as a comic book.

Animation has spent considerable time on the big screen and on television. As film, animation often takes the form of a general audience picture running around ninety minutes. It of course began life as a short subject often pre-empting a more traditional picture, then Walt Disney came along and decided animation could go feature-length. On television, animation often occupies children’s programming, but select shows have broken through as animated sitcoms and adults-only comedy acts. Trying to narrow down the best animated films and television shows is quite a tall task, which is why this feature is going to concern itself with television for now. This I envision will be a long-running feature. I’ve settled on what I consider to be the ten best animated programs, but there’s always the possibility I could continue to add to it even after I do a write-up on my ten favorites. It’s also possible I never finish. The possibilities are endless!

Before getting to my top 10, I wanted to make an introductory post on the feature and use it as an opportunity to highlight the shows that just missed the cut. My list does not exclude the animation aimed at children and my top ten is almost half kid’s shows and half adult programs. I tried to approach all of them with the same basic questions:  Is the show entertaining? Is the medium used well? Is the artwork pleasing to the eye while suiting the show’s needs? Naturally, the list will be influenced by the era I grew up in, the 80’s and 90’s, so the shows that came before that time are unfairly penalized (though in my opinion, most of the cartoons from that era are garbage). I also didn’t include the package shows like Looney Tunes. I loved those cartoons growing up, but they’re theatrical shorts

With that out of the way, it’s time to hit on the ones that just missed my list. One of the first cartoons I can remember watching daily as a kid is DuckTales. DuckTales was extremely pleasing to the eyes, like just about all of the Disney cartoons from that era, and featured a fun, engaging plot with likable characters and a catchy soundtrack. It holds up pretty well today, but is obviously aimed at children. The show could get redundant as well as the premise for most episodes was Scrooge having to thwart the Beagle Boys, but as far as children’s entertainment goes, it’s hard to beat DuckTales.

Spider-Man has made numerous appearances on television, but the oddest looking is probably the best.

Spider-Man has made numerous appearances on television, but the oddest looking is probably the best.

DuckTales was an adventure program, and another adventure program that’s still fun to this day is Dragon Ball. Hailing from Japan, Dragon Ball tells the tale of Goku who travels the world in search of the seven magic dragon balls. The plot gets more complicated than that as the show moves along, but it’s packed with equal parts action and humor. Since it arrived in the states after its sequel series, Dragon Ball Z, anime dubbing was able to improve and english speaking audiences were treated to a wonderful dub, something that was rare during the 90’s. Dragon Ball Z is the more popular show, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the quality of Dragon Ball.

Superheroes have seen a great many takes on their comics in the world of televised animation. One such character has received numerous adaptations: Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man. Two adaptations stand-out for the wall crawler, the simply titled Spider-Man from the 1990’s and the more recent Spectacular Spider-Man. The 90’s Spider-Man was a great introduction for kids unfamiliar with the character. It hit on lots of Spidey’s most famous stories from the comics, and even though it was for children, it took itself very seriously. Sometimes too seriously. Spectacular Spider-Man distinguished itself with a unique look. It’s style was a bit off-putting at first, but the animation was crisp and the show packed a ton of energy. Sadly, it was a casualty of the Marvel purchase by Disney and an inferior Spider-Man program took its place.

Superhero shows were quite popular in the 90’s, but one stood out amongst the crowd for its satirical take on the genre. I am, of course, talking about The Tick. The Tick closed out the mega-popular Fox Saturday Morning block of programming and was a particularly zany take on the superhero genre. It was probably too weird and too out there for a lot of kids, but it’s definitely a show that works better on older audiences. So obvious was this fact that Fox attempted a live-action sitcom starring the dim-witted blue hero starring Patrick Warburton. It was not a success.

The Tick was a breath of fresh air coming on the heels of numerous melodramatic superhero cartoons.

The Tick was a breath of fresh air coming on the heels of numerous melodramatic superhero cartoons.

In the world of adult cartoons, Family Guy is pretty popular these days. It was roughly animated when it first showed up, but the increased ratings lead to better production and the show looks much better these days. Unfortunately, like another very famous adult cartoon that I’ll get to much later, its current output is far less creative than the first couple of seasons. Family Guy really only had 2 and a half seasons of good content before the formula became too obvious and the characters unlikable. An even more vulgar program for older audiences, Beavis and Butt-head dominated a small chunk of the 90’s. It was impossible to find a teen that didn’t know who those two were. The show was a lot sharper than most gave it credit for, though the animation was as crude as it comes. It would make a Hell of a nice time capsule kind of show.

When it comes to cartoons not aimed primarily at children though, all present cartoons owe a great deal to The Flintstones. The Flintstones were basically a stone-aged take on The Honeymooners and the first primetime cartoon. It’s premise is clever, and the setting is a good example of one that works far better in animation that it ever could have as live-action (just watch The Flintstones movie if you’re not convinced of that). It’s also a show hurt by the age of your humble writer. I grew up watching The Flintstones in syndication when it aired as just another cartoon among many others. I enjoy it for what it is, but it doesn’t engage me enough to make my top ten. It very nearly did though just on its laurels, but I wanted to go with the programs that I personally enjoy the most, because after all, it is my list.

All of those shows I just mentioned were good at one point or another, though truthfully, other than The Flintstones, it wasn’t hard for me to leave any of them off my list. The ten I have picked as the best really are ten shows I enjoy quite a lot and I look forward to doing write-ups on them as I find time. And now, a few others I considered for this post:  Rugrats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012, 2003), Rocko’s Modern Life, Sealab 2021, Batman Beyond, and Bob’s Burgers.


Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge (1992)

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge (1992)

Expectations influence just about everything we come in contact with.  Expectations can help lead to a more fulfilling experience when those expectations are met.  Other times, they can help make the bad seem worse when something fails to meet though expectations.  When I was a kid and I heard there was going to be a video game featuring a team-up between Spider-Man, possibly the most popular character ever created by Marvel Comics, and the X-Men, easily the hottest comic at the time, I was giddy with anticipation.  This seemed like a no lose situation and Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge vaulted to the top of my list of must own Super Nintendo games along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time.  One of those games would turn out well and provide me with hours of entertainment, that game was not Spider-Man and the X-Men.

What went wrong?  Well, let’s backtrack a bit first and see how this all came together and if my expectations were even justified.  At the time of the game’s release, Spider-Man had already been enjoying a run on the Sega Genesis and Game Boy as a platform star.  Perhaps star is a bit strong as his games weren’t really great, but they also weren’t particularly awful.  The best was definitely The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin for the Genesis.  The game was pretty difficult, at times frustratingly so, but it did a great job of making use of the Spider-Man license.  It was also quite popular and one of the best-selling titles at the time.  The X-Men, on the other hand, really only had the one NES game titled The Uncanny X-Men.  It was horrible and it tricked many uninformed gamers into renting or buying it with it’s X-Men branding.  Arguably, the best games for both franchises were the arcade beat-em-ups Spider-Man:  The Video Game and X-Men.  The Spider-Man game came first in 1991 and for some reason it isn’t as well loved and remembered as the X-Men game that followed in ’92.  It was a typical brawler allowing up to four players to join in and included playable characters Spider-Man, Black Cat, Hawkeye, and Sub-Mariner.  It’s selling feature was a more platform inspired design where the camera would zoom out allowing the players to take on gigantic enemies including a super-sized Venom at the end of the first stage.  The X-Men game was similar, but it’s defining characteristic (aside from the comical mistranslations) was the double-monitor cabinet allowing up to six players at once.  Both games were hard as they were designed to suck quarters out of its audience but they were a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

I hate these stupid clowns and their stupid stage.

It would seem to me that a track record was in place that at least suggested a console game featuring these two franchises could be great.  If I had been a little wiser as a kid and more aware I would have taken note of the LJN logo on the box and realized right away the game was going to be a giant turd, but sadly I just wasn’t.  Before I get into what the game did wrong I suppose I should point out what it did right.  First of, Spider-Man is represented fairly well given that he is able to stick to walls, shoot webs, and even make use of his spider-sense in the game.  The roster for the X-Men side is pretty solid as well as it features the obvious choice of Wolverine along with Cyclops, Storm, and Gambit.  Wolverine has an interesting dynamic to him as he retains his mutant healing power but it only works when his claws are retracted.  The game is packed with villains too like Apocalypse, Shocker, Juggernaut, and Carnage.  Arcade is kind of a weird choice for the main villain, but at least his Murderworld offers a lot of possibilities for level-design.

That’s basically it as far as what Spider-Man and the X-Men gets right, and unfortunately it’s a pretty small list.  So what makes this game suck so hard?  Well, lets first start with the presentation.  I’m usually not one to have much of an opinion on the audio within a game.  I expect it to do its job and often times I have to make it a point to touch upon it when doing these reviews because I tend to overlook it.  Here it’s easy to not overlook because the sound is so bad.  The score is okay at times, though certain levels (Wolverine’s) feature an annoying soundtrack.  It’s the FX that really bug me though as they just sound like, for lack of a better word, shit.  A lot of the characters, good and bad, let out a scream when they die that sounds fuzzy and distorted.  The machine sounds are just as bad and Spidey’s web blasts sound like they could be grenades.  The graphics are also piss-poor.  The characters are really small, except Storm but I’ll get to her later, and lacking in any sort of detail.  Wolverine even looks like he only has two claws on each hand while Gambit doesn’t have a face.  Some of the villains are almost unrecognizable, especially Apocalypse who looks like a blue bug or something.

Hey Gambit, where's your face?

Hey Gambit, where’s your face?

Perhaps what bugged me more than anything as a kid was just how un-super these super heroes felt.  Spider-Man and the X-Men is a pretty hard game made so mostly because these characters can’t seem to take a punch.  They die so easily and it’s a frustrating experience.  I get that it’s hard to make a super hero game because on one hand the super heroes need to be super powerful, but the game also needs some challenge.  That’s why we have super villains though, and Wolverine shouldn’t be getting annihilated by a jack-in-the-box with a tommy gun.  The X-Men games that would follow on the Genesis were hard, but at least those X-Men felt like powerful super heroes (well, for the most part), these ones are push-overs.  The level designs are also fairly lacking.  Spider-Man’s are just weird looking and kind of confusing as they’re intended to be maze-like.  The player is supposed to use his spider-sense to navigate but it just gets tiresome.  Cyclops’ stages feature an annoying mine cart premise where touching the tracks means death.  Gambit has to outrun a giant deathball and might be the best levels, which isn’t saying much.  Wolverine is in a circus and there’s nothing noteworthy about the first stage while the second stage he has to outrun the Juggernaut.  It’s basically the same concept as the Gambit stages, though at least LJN incorporated something from the comics to make it feel relevant.  Storm’s stages are quite different and probably everyone’s most hated as she has to navigate a flooded laboratory.  They’re swimming levels, but unfortunately Storm’s mutant powers over the weather don’t let her breath underwater.  Just about everyone hates the underwater Sonic the Hedgehog levels for the same reason, this is worse times ten.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob?  He's Rhino.  I think.

The red guy is Carnage. That gray blob? He’s Rhino. I think.

If the player manages to actually beat all of the levels then they get to take on Arcade as Spider-Man.  You kind of have to be a glutton for punishment to even make it that far as the game is both really hard and really bad.  That’s the worst combination.  As a kid, I never had much success and never made it past any character’s second stage so making it all the way to Arcade wasn’t in the cards.  Playing this game was a depressing endeavor as a game featuring a team-up between these two should have been awesome.  I remember a few years after I got it Toys R Us started their first trade-in program where people could trade in games they no longer wanted for store credit.  I grabbed my copy of Spider-Man and the X-Men and, thinking I’d get maybe 15 or 20 bucks, was offered only four.  I elected not to trade it in but in hindsight I should have taken the four Jeffry Dollars.  I could have used it for some Fruit Stripe gum or something.


The Amazing Spider-Man and Reboots

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

There are two big superhero movies set to hit theaters this summer.  One, The Dark Knight Rises, figures to close out a trilogy that could go down as the best superhero trilogy ever conceived to this point (and one of the all-time best trilogies in general).  The other, The Amazing Spider-Man, hopes to launch a new franchise that could one day be among the best.  The two films are not very similar, but The Amazing Spider-Man hopes to do for Spider-Man what Batman Begins did for Batman.  That’s a tall order and complicating things is the fact that not a lot of time has elapsed between the original Spider-Man film franchise and this new one Sony is looking to start.

How much time needs to pass between two films based on the same property before a reboot can be introduced?  A reboot refers to a new beginning for a character.  The Amazing Spider-Man will ignore the three previous Spider-Man films directed by Sam Raimi.  When it hits theaters it will have been 5 years since Spider-Man 3 was in theaters.  For Batman Begins, 8 years had elapsed between that film and the most recent Batman film before it, Batman & Robin.  In the case of both, these new films are arriving after the last one was poorly received, though to different degrees.  Batman & Robin was panned by critics and filmgoers alike.  There is almost nothing positive that can be said about it.  It was the sequel to Batman Forever, a film that received a mixed reaction, and was also the fourth film in a line of movies but introduced its third actor to play the starring role.  There was little continuity in that series following Batman Returns and every film seemed to be worse than the one that preceded it.

For Spider-Man, Spider-Man 3 returned the same cast and crew as the previous two.  The first film was received warmly and accomplished what it set out to do, and the second was roundly praised as one of the best comic-to-film adaptations ever.  Spider-Man 3 had a lot to live up to, and though it was not as good as the first two, it actually has a “fresh” rating on rottentomatoes.com, albeit barely so.  It wasn’t a terrible film, but it was a mess of a movie that encountered numerous problems.

What the Hell were they thinking?

I’m not sure if it was the intention from the start, but it felt like going into Spider-Man 3 that this could be the endpoint for the Rami directed movies.  The third one rounds out a trilogy and there seems to be a natural tendency to view films within a franchise in groups of three.  I’m not sure why, but that tends to be the reality of things.  The main actors were originally signed for three films so a potential fourth one was likely to get expensive.  As such, both Raimi and Sony/Marvel tried to cram everything into Spider-Man 3 they ever wanted to address on film.  From the onset, Raimi and star Tobey Maguire had mentioned they liked The Sandman and wanted to get him into a film.  There was also the Green Goblin plot which developed over the course of the first two films that had to be addressed in the third.  And then there was Sony and Marvel (and to a certain extent, the fans) who wanted to see Venom make his big screen debut.  If they had bothered to do any fan research though, I think they would have found most fans would not have wanted Venom in this film and would have preferred to see him introduced slowly across multiple films like he wan in both the comics and television show.

It’s no surprise then that Spider-Man 3 became a bloated mess.  Raimi tried to bring everything full circle for Peter Parker by revealing another piece of the puzzle where Uncle Ben’s murder was concerned.  And not content to let Mary Jane and Peter have a conflict free movie, he put a lot of focus on their relationship and tried to create a love triangle with Harry, the New Goblin (who looked ridiculous).  And then they had to get Gwen Stacey in for some reason, and introduce Eddie Brock and the black costume.  The fact that the movie actually does have a coherent plot is some-what commendable, even if it’s not a good one.

The film made a ton of money riding on the strength of the franchise more so than on the merits of the film itself.  The ending tied up some loose ends for the trilogy, mostly the Green Goblin story, but left things open where MJ and Peter were concerned.  I hated this ending, though the film did such a good job of making both Peter and MJ unlikable that I really didn’t care what became of their relationship once the credits began to roll.  Because it did make so much money, there was some speculation that Raimi and the main cast would return for a fourth film.  Things appeared to be moving in that direction until Sony abruptly cut ties with all involved.  This actually was met with a positive reaction by the fan-base, or seemed to be.  Fans actually seemed on board with a reboot of sorts for Spider-Man, partly because the existing films seemed to lose their way with all the melodrama thrown into the films, and because the Venom character was so thoroughly botched.

The new leads: Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield

A fresh start was definitely in order, but I’m not sure if The Amazing Spider-Man is what fans had in mind.  This new film is copying the Batman Begins formula perhaps too much by re-telling Spider-Man’s origin.  When Begins came out it had been well over a decade since Batman in 1989 and his origin really wasn’t explored in as great of detail as Begins set out to do.  With Spider-Man that’s not the case.  This film does give film-goers a look at Peter’s parents, which was never addressed in the previous trilogy, but it also goes through the whole bitten by a spider thing again.  I don’t speak for everyone, but I have no interest in seeing that re-hashed.  The film’s main villain is going to be The Lizard, who supposedly would have been the villain had Raimi’s franchise continued for a fourth film as well.  He’s another scientist with good intentions who has a horrible accident that leads to him becoming a super-villain.  That type is quite common in the Spider-Man universe, but The Lizard may be one of the most boring.  The film could portray him differently than most mediums, but for the most parts he’s just a mindless rampaging creature that tests Spider-Man physically, not so much intellectually.  He’s been around for a long time so he’s had other portrayals, but that’s the basic one.

If this isn’t the reboot fans were looking for, then what was?  Well, I think fans would have been happy to see a new actor dawn the red and blue tights without an origin story.  The film could have still ignored the Raimi trilogy and laid the groundwork for a new one.  It makes sense to go with a villain that wasn’t captured in the first three films already to provide some added freshness, though I’m not sure The Lizard was the right one.  Ideally, Eddie Brock would be in it to set the stage for Venom in a later film, but a main villain would be needed for the first one.  A grounded, real world type of villain might have worked best just to get away from the whole science gone wrong angle.  He may have shown up in Daredevil already, but The Kingpin could have been utilized again, maybe even the Spider Slayers?  The plot could show how Spider-Man, portrayed as a teen out having a good time stopping muggings and other petty crimes, confronts an enemy far more dangerous than anything he’s confronted before.  Kingpin could even have a lackey to beat the tar out of Spider-Man, someone like Hammerhead, Tombstone, or The Rhino.

The new costume has a Ben Reilly feel to it. That's not a good thing.

Or my concerns could amount to nothing.  It’s not impossible that The Amazing Spider-Man turns into a great movie, though I don’t consider it likely.  Maybe I’m just being pessimistic, but this thing looks dead in the water.  I expect it to do well at the box office, but perhaps not so well critically.  This may just end up being the example of what not to do when rebooting a franchise.  It has a “too soon” feeling already, and if a large chunk of the film’s run time is spent going over things the previous films already covered people may react negatively.  Then again, maybe the casual movie-goer doesn’t care and just wants to be entertained.  Spider-Man bouncing around and wailing on a CGi Lizard may delight audiences, and a lot of people seem to like Emma Stone who plays Gwen Stacy (whom has the misfortune of expectation as comic fans will basically just be waiting for her to die).  The trailer is linked below, so you can form your own early opinion on the film.  Mine seems obvious, but in the interest of spelling things out, I don’t expect this to end well.

 

 

 


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