StuckInPanels review and overview of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN the Cartoon

Finally after catching up with all the episodes currently out, I look at how this show stands up to all other translations, does it swing in the sky or does it smash in the wall

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By StuckInPanels - 4/23/2012
Hey there friends, this week is a small comic week release for me so instead I’m going to do a slight review as well as an overview of the recent animation series of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. It has taken quite some time for me to watch any of the episodes due to A.) Comcast On Demand took FOREVER get any of the episodes onto its system and B.) Whenever I was off from work the show was NEVER on. So now I finally got to catch up on the current amount of episodes released, which currently as of this article is 5, and I can finally have a true say in the whole matter. This is a bit of a different kind of review, I won’t do a complete review of each individual episode until the season is completed, but I will still voice my opinion. I will discuss the acting, animation, characters, concept, story, and how it stands on its own merits.

First up are the current episodes so far. The first two episodes introduce the world and the cast of characters. Not just Spider-man but the team he is working with: Nova, White Tiger, Iron Fist, and Power Man. Episode 3 they battle Doctor Doom, easiest way to put this, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes did it better. Episode 4 was probably the best one so far introducing Venom. The current episode with Iron Man had more fun with the characters, even introducing the multiverse. Overall the episodes that have come out are very action packed and well-paced, but lack a strong narrative flow and cohesive story arc. It feels as if each episode beyond episode 2 can be seen in any order and you wouldn’t feel lost at all. My quick take on each episode on a grade scale

-Episode 1: Great Power= B-
-Episode 2: Great Responsibility= B-
-Episode 3: Doomed= C-
-Episode 4: Venom= B+
-Episode 5: Flight of the Iron Spider= B-

Second I like to look at is the animation style. To me animation is a heavy factor and can be what truly makes any show stand up from the others. Spider-man is no stranger to different takes on animation, nearly every single Spider-man cartoon to dates has featured some unique style that set itself apart from the prior series. It mostly comes down to SUBSTANCE or STYLE; these are the two aspects of animation that need to find the best balance and harmony. With ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN it’s a mixed bag, but in a good way. The animation style is done in an American style anime, much like the two Avatar cartoons, Last Air bender and Legend of Korra. However the animation is very similar to the adult swim animated show THE BOONDOCKS, some characters look more realistic while others are more animated, it can be quite erratic when two characters stand side by side and looks like they from two totally different shows. The designs of the hero and villain characters are what really stand out the best in the series. Spider-man, his teammates, Iron Man, Captain America, and other Hero and villain characters are very well designed and keep true to their forms. My only tiny complaint is that Iron Fists mask has that crease in the middle; it looks off to me for some reason. The fight scenes are also done extremely well with this style of animation, the way characters move and flow in battle is top notch, some of the best fight scenes I have seen in a while. The random bits where the animation either enters into a super deformed/chibi or other random moments of drastic animation changes, much like shows like Adventure time or Flapjack, those moments are slightly annoying but it’s there for the modern day kids watching it. Overall I give the animation in the show a B+, it’s much better animation than Spectacular Spider-man’s.

The voice acting is a bit hit and misses, Drake Bell does a fine job voicing Peter Parker/Spider-man, he brings something new to the table but he is not the best Spider-man, which is Josh Keaton. Chi McBride does a pretty good job with Nick Fury; he is not being like Sam Jackson but giving it his own style. The rest of the cast does a fair job with their characters, many famous voice actors provide good performances, and Tom Kenny is most recognizable as well as Tara Strong. However the one best person on the show is JK Simmons, returning to voicing Jameson, he continues to be perfect and the only man to ever and should play JJJ. I give the voice acting a B-

The amount of characters so far shown has been given good translations so far. Aside from the slight changes they look like they were taken off the page and placed on the screen seamlessly. I don’t mind the changes made to certain characters like Power man or Iron fist, they look like their comic counterparts, but that’s pretty much it. Venom is the more interesting of these changes, making it very parasitic than ever before.

The concept is where all hell breaks loose. I understand changing some minor details here and there when it comes to any translation, but there is a difference between change and overhaul. Nearly everything about this show alters everything. I won’t go on a rant but here are a few examples of the odd changes they chose.

-Daily Bugle is a CNN style show instead of a news paper
-Mary Jane Watson wants to work for the Daily Bugle, not Peter
-Venom is not an alien, but concentrated rage
-Iron Fist, Nova, and Power Man are teenagers
-Agent Coulson existing in this animated world, it’s both awesome and confusing.

I’m not saying “THIS IS NOT MY SPIDER-MAN” but it’s hard to be a fan when everything basic is altered dramatically that it makes this show something that doesn’t feel quite like a real Spider-man cartoon. Also given the amount of talent behind the series, Paul Dini….PAUL….DINI…. Brian Michael Bendis, Man of Action( The people behind ben10 and Generator Rex), these guys perfect when it comes to telling stories, especially since making a Spider-man cartoon should be easy considering that Bendis writes the Ultimate Spider-man comic series. The show focuses too much on the team dynamic rather than allowing them as individuals grow and expand beyond their caricatures. I want to see episodes focus on each teammate on their own and how they try to be heroes, much like how Earths Mightiest Heroes mixes it up with character team ups. The best grade I can give this is roughly a C-, its not the best Spider-man show out there, all the changes given to it make it so foreign to fans.

So overall does this series stand on its own merits, kind of? In all honesty this show had the potential to be something great, a true Spider-man animated show with a strong cast, top notch animation, and telling an overall story and narrative to the character with all of his history would have been amazing to see. Everything leading up to this was setting up for something great, but it ultimate falls flat. The show lacks that one element that would make it all worth it, and that’s heart. It feels like they aren’t putting in the effort to make it greater than what it aimed out to be. It feels like it’s trying too hard to be liked by throwing everything at us at once and they hope something lands and sticks. It lacks the passion of creating a tried and true Spider-man series and instead making it like Teen Titans, which it cannot even hold a candle too. The idea for the perfect Spider-man show is there, mix the story telling and characters of the 90s cartoon and Spectacular Spider-man, but with the budget and talent this show has then we could have one awesome show to watch on a weekly basis. As it stands, this show is not the best but not the worse. Overall I have to give this series a C+. If Disney and Marvel are trying to create an animated Marvel Universe based around the world of Ultimate Spider-man, they have a lot of room to improve upon with any of the shows in development. Catch you all later.
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