April 29, 2019
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The Spectacular Spider-Man was the sixth Saturday morning cartoon (seventh, overall) based on Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man, and the second of three after Unlimited to share a title with one of Spidey’s many comic series (which, interestingly enough, was also his second comic series).
|Promotional poster featuring Spidey, Electro, Sandman, Doc Ock, Kraven, Mysterio, Venom and Green Goblin's glider.|
Developed by Victor Cook and Greg Weisman, the series chose to focus on Peter Parker’s (Josh Keaton) high school years; something that hadn’t been done before (most shows typically began with or focused on his college years). Upon landing the series, Weisman purchased seven volumes of The Essential Spider-Man to boil down what creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko tried to accomplish. From the outset, it was decided that the series would follow the “5 C’s”: it would be Coherent, Cohesive, Contemporary, Classic and iConic (cheating with the hard “c” sound of the word). They would utilize the earliest issues of Amazing Spider-Man as their springboard while combining elements found in the later comics and even the Sam Raimi film trilogy (which was just wrapping up around that time).
|Some of the civilian character models.|
As a result, the characters featured in the show were a mix from various periods in Spidey’s life and career. Amongst the regular characters from the comic’s high school days, there was his widowed Aunt May (Deborah Strang); her friend and neighbor, Anna Watson (Kath Soucie); gruff Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson (Daran Norris, reprising his role from the 2000 video game); Jonah’s son, astronaut John Jameson (also Norris); star football player and bully Flash Thompson (Joshua LeBar); Flash’s girlfriend, Liz Allan (reimagined as a Latina, voiced by Alanna Ubach); Jonah’s secretary, Betty Brant (Grey DeLisle); Bugle reporter Ned Leeds (renamed Ned Lee, voiced by Andrew Kishino); Bugle reporter Frederick Foswell (James Arnold Taylor), who adopted the alter-ego Patch to get information about the criminal underworld; and Bugle editor-in-chief Robbie Robertson (Phil LaMarr). Introduced from his college years was Peter’s friend and future wife Mary Jane Watson (Vanessa Marshall); his best friend, Harry Osborn (Taylor); Robbie’s son, Randy Robertson (LaMarr); police officer Jean DeWolff (Irene Bedard) and her partner, Sergeant Stan Carter (Thomas F. Wilson); Sha Shan Nguyen (Kelly Hu), Flash’s second girlfriend after Liz dumped him; and Glory Grant (Cree Summer), reimagined from Peter’s neighbor and Betty’s replacement to high school age.
|Glory Grant berating her boyfriend, Kenny.|
Among the newer creations was Flash’s best friend, Kenny Kong (Kishino), who was introduced in 2000’s Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (an updated reimagining of Spidey’s early years) and was Glory’s boyfriend for a time; Sally Avril (DeLisle), who had a sole appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spidey’s first appearance) but was later expanded upon in the pages of Untold Tales of Spider-Man; and Officer Vin Gonzales and his partner, Alan O’Neil, who both first appeared in Spider-Man: Free Comic Book Day (2007) as part of the rebooted continuity stemming from the controversial “One More Day” storyline. They even introduced the Osborns’ butler, Bernard Houseman (Jeff Bennett), who was only seen in the Raimi films.
|George and Gwen Stacy attend Thanksgiving at the Parkers'.|
One unique aspect of Spidey’s supporting cast was the inclusion of his college girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Chabert). Until this point, Gwen was only seen once in the final episode of Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Gwen was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #31 (1965) and dated both Flash and Harry before ending up with Peter. However, none of the creators particularly cared for her character and found Mary Jane more interesting; so when Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas succeeded Lee as the series’ writer and editor, respectively, they decided to kill Gwen off at the suggestion of John Romita, Sr. She died in a conflict with Spidey’s arch-nemesis, the Green Goblin, in Amazing Spider-Man #121 (1973). Because of this, producers were hesitant to bring her into other media; particularly cartoons. Gwen, however, had her fans. Weisman had grown up reading the comics during the Gwen years and wanted the chance to have audiences fall in love with the character like he had. So, Gwen became Peter’s primary love interest in Spectacular. With her came the second appearance of her father, police captain George Stacy (Clancy Brown), beaten to the punch the previous year by Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 (played by James Cromwell). Like in the comics, it was hinted that George had deduced that Peter was Spidey and often subtlety helped him by providing cover and alibis to allow Spidey to keep his identity a secret. As with his daughter, he was also killed in the comics by another Spidey arch-foe: Doctor Octopus.
|The Sinister Six version 1.0: Rhino, Electro, Sandman, Doc Ock, Shocker and Vulture.|
The main antagonist of the series began as the mysterious “Big Man”, an identity that was assumed by Frederick Foswell and later his children in the comics. This time, however, it belonged to the super strong albino Tombstone (Keith David the first time, Kevin Michael Richardson after). Much like the Kingpin in the comics (who wasn’t used as he’d become more of a Daredevil foe, despite beginning as Spidey’s, and wasn’t included in the rights), Big Man had a benevolent public persona while secret running the criminal underworld of the city. To accomplish his crimes, Big Man would often hire a cavalcade of super villains. Previously televised villains included the aforementioned Green Goblin (Alan Rachins as Norman Osborn, Steven Blum as the Goblin), a ruthless businessman who became involved with Big Man before setting sights on taking his place; the hard-headed Hammerhead (John Dimaggio), who served as Big Man’s public face and muscle; Vulture (Robert Englund), whose theft of his proprietary flight technology by Osborn turned him to crime; Silvermane (Miguel Ferrer), a rival crime lord who sets his own sights on running the underworld; Electro (Crispin Freeman), an electrician who was turned into an electrical being in a freak accident; Sandman (DiMaggio), a petty criminal turned that could control sand through an experiment by Osborn; Rhino (Brown), Sandman’s one-time partner who was given super strength and invulnerability by Osborn; Dr. Octopus (Peter MacNicol, a fan of the comics and character), one of Oscorp’s most intelligent scientists that became fused to his mechanical arms in a lab accident (and went by his other alias of Master Planner in the second season); Chameleon (Blum), an international spy and master of disguise; Mysterio (Xander Berkeley), a special effects expert; Lizard (Dee Bradley Baker, reprising his role from the 2000 video game), a brilliant biologist whose desire to restore his missing arm transformed him into a humanoid lizard; Kraven the Hunter (Eric Vesbit), a skilled hunter later transformed into a beast by a variation of Lizard’s serum; Dr. Miles Warren (reimagined as East Indian, voiced by Brian George), a biochemistry professor who became fascinated by Lizard’s experiments; and Venom (Benjamin Diskin), whose parents had died along with Peter’s and became jealous of Peter’s stable home life before joining with the alien symbiote Peter would come to reject. Appearing sans their alter-egos were Morris Bench (aka Hydro-Man, voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) and Hobie Brown, aka Prowler, who was interrupted every time he tried to speak in a running gag.
|Molten Man's on fire!|
Newly introduced was Molten Man (Eric Lopez), changed from Liz’s half-brother to full brother who had a crush on Mary Jane. He was transformed by the Goblin by being given nanite armor that made his skin impenetrable and hot, and could only be turned off by the Goblin. There was also the Tinkerer (Thom Adcox-Hernandez), who developed and provided many of the villains’ technology. Roderick Kingsley (Courtney B. Vance), a businessman obsessed with committing crimes and would eventually become the Hobgoblin, also appeared.
|Cats and spiders always mix.|
In keeping with the 5 Cs, Weisman took some liberties with the source material by examining characters’ core essences and making changes and combinations when necessary. For instance, cat-burglar Walter Hardy (James Remar) was combined with the burglar who would kill Uncle Ben (Ed Asner, who voiced Jonah in The Animated Series) and provide Spidey with his motivation. That would also cause Spidey to cross paths with his equally larcenous daughter, Black Cat (Tricia Helfer). Deciding Shocker was just a “costume without an identity”, the character was combined with Montana (Bennett), a member of the Enforcers. Fellow Enforcer Fancy Dan (LaMarr) was reimagined as a diminutive African-American acrobat who also went by the name “Ricochet”, rather than a typical gangster. Silver Sable (Nikki Cox) was changed from a mercenary to the daughter of Silvermane who helped run his organization and once had a relationship with Hammerhead. Although John Jameson would end up with a cosmic gem that transformed him into Man-Wolf, the series decided to have him exposed to alien spores that temporarily gave him powers (and mental instability), letting him become Captain Jupiter.
The Spectacular Spider-Man debuted on March 8, 2008 as part of the Kids’ WB programming block on The CW; which became TheCW4K!ds after the block was sold to 4Kids Entertainment. As Sony Pictures owned the Spider-Man television rights at the time, the show was produced by their direct-to-video label, Culver Entertainment, and their animation studio, Adelaide Productions. Sean Galloway was the lead character designer and utilized a simplified style in order to ensure Spidey could move as fluidly as he did in Raimi’s films. Animation duties were handled by Dong Woo Animation, Hanho Heung-Up Co., Ltd., and MCI Animation, Inc. The series was written by Weisman with Kevin Hopps, Matt Wayne, Andrew Robinson, Randy Jandt, and Nicole Dubuc. Cook directed the series’ opening titles, which were accompanied by a theme from The Tender Box. Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis handled the rest of the series’ music. The show’s logo was based on the one that graced the Spectacular comic for two issues in 1996 to signify the end of the controversial “Clone Saga” storyline.
|Green Goblin shows Hammerhead who's in charge.|
The series proved a hit with audiences and critics, and was renewed for a second season. Weisman and Cook had to pull double duty working on the second season while finishing up the first due to the timing of the announcement. A third season was contingent upon the ratings of the second season and DVD sales. Unfortunately, the show was moved to Disney XD where it didn’t perform as well and the DVD sales didn’t meet expectations. Also, during that time, Disney was in the process of acquiring Marvel (which would be completed by December, 2009) and was looking to bring all of Marvel’s properties under one roof. In exchange for maintaining the film rights, Sony relinquished the TV rights back to Disney. The series was cancelled after just two seasons, failing to reach the 65 Weisman hoped for. Disney opted to introduce their own show in the form of Ultimate Spider-Man (which also aired on Disney XD beginning in 2012).
|The Lizard strikes!|
Had the series continued, Weisman planned to introduce Ghost Rider, Hobgoblin, Hydro-Man, Scorpion, Mr. Negative and Carnage (whose alter-ego had appeared in an episode), and introduce Harry’s mother Emily with the hopes of having her voiced by Marina Sirtis (who worked on Weisman’s Gargoyles). There was also a plan to release direct-to-video movies set between the seasons and following the show’s conclusion, which would have followed Peter to college and his eventual marriage to Mary Jane.
Hasbro produced a line of action figures based on the show between 2008 and 2009; featuring various versions of Spidey and his core foes, playsets and vehicles. In 2010, Burger King included four toys based on the show in their Kids’ Meals. Because each episode story arc was initially designed to be combined together to form a single stand-alone story, the first DVD release by Sony Home Entertainment was Attack of the Lizard in 2008. It combined the first three episodes together with some additional footage. However, that plan was abandoned for each additional release and Volumes 2-8 contained the episodes as they were broadcast. Attack of the Lizard was re-released as Volume 1 in 2009. In the United Kingdom, only the first four volumes were made available. In 2009, The Complete First Season was released and the full show was eventually made available on various streaming services. In 2013, Saban Brands acquired the broadcast rights to the show and returned it to The CW as part of their Vortexx programming block until it was discontinued the following year. To coincide with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014, the entire series was released to Blu-ray for the first time and then to DVD in 2016. The series was made available to stream on Netflix, Prime Video and Google Play.