Monday, 9 July 2012

TV Review: Spider-Man - The Animated Series Season 1 Episode 5 "The Menace of Mysterio"

Superheroes have always been a perfect fit for cartoons, Superman has had success in the medium and Batman's venture redefined the landscape of what cartoons could be. In mid 90s after a few previous iterations of animations in the 60s, 70s and 80s Spider-Man returned to the small screen in 'Spider-Man: The Animated Series'. The show had a great cast of voice actors, strong storylines and held up as a great adaption of the comics, it has since become one of the most highly regarded animated series' of all time.

This episode details Spider-Man's first encounter with the super villain Mysterio, a true master of illusion. The opening shows Spider-Man or someone with an identical costume robbing an artefact from the Metropolitan Museum, as security guards clamber to apprehend the thief they are swatted aside as the Spider-Man lookalike makes his exit. On the news the following day Peter Parker is shocked to discover what has taken place and wonders who has framed him, not realising that an old enemy seeking vengeance is exacting their plan for Spider-Man's downfall.

Mysterio's past is explained in this episode through a flashback from Spider-Man. As a movie is being filmed on the Brooklyn bridge an effects scene is taking place requiring a helicopter to fly across as a sequence of explosions erupt behind it. When one of the explosions is too powerful it knocks the helicopter off course, it almost crashes before Spider-Man swings in and saves the pilot from death. Upon inspection of the rigged explosives Spider-Man discovers some mortar placed within one of the explosive detonators, someone wanted the explosion to be larger than the others. The web-head apprehends special effects technician Quentin Beck who pleads with to release him since he will be jailed for the crime, when he is refused Beck swears that he will someday destroy Spider-Man.  

The genius of Mysterio as a villain is that he is constantly causing Spider-Man to question what if what he sees his reality, he rarely actively attacks Spider-Man and  instead opts to torment him through psychological curveballs and then watch Spider-Man attempt to grip hold of reality. Mysterio's past shows how he learned his unique skills and also give reasoning for his flair for theatrics as well as his hidden yearning to be thought of as a hero just as he witnessed during his career in motion pictures.

Mysterio chooses to burn out rather than fade away.

This series has a great sense of humour especially for a cartoon. Like all truly great children's cartoons it appeals also to adults through references that children simply wouldn't understand, in this episode for example Spider-Man makes quips whilst inside Mysterio's movie studio hideout that refer to cinema legends such as Ray Harryhausen and Roger Cormon, references that I'm quite certain children wouldn't be picking up on. This is one example of the unique sense of humour of this series' Spider-Man, he is just as witty as he is cocky and all these lines are delivered brilliantly by voice actor Christopher Daniel Barnes.

It isn't just Mysterios past that we delve into during this episode but also Peter Parkers and the origin of Spider-Man. When Peter first donned the identity of Spider-Man he began by fighting in wrestling matches for money, one night whilst leaving the arena he hears a scuffle take place in an office and shortly after a man comes running out with a bag of money pursued by a security guard, as the guard calls for Spider-Man's assistance in apprehending the criminal Peter says "Sorry pal I'm a wrestler not a cop" and steps aside allowing the thief to flee. This shows a more selfish Peter Parker than is normally portrayed in Spider-Man adaptations, something which I appreciated since it makes his transformation into a hero all the more important. When Peter returns home to police cars outside his house he discovers that his uncle Ben has been murdered trying to fend off an armed mugger, seeking vengeance Peter becomes Spider-Man and heads to where the criminal has been cornered by the police. Spider-Man confronts the man who he is shocked to learn is the same man who he let pass him at the wrestling arena. The incident impacts Peter heavily and he conforms to always do the right thing and follow his uncle's repeated advice "With great power comes great responsibility".

Spider-Man is so shocked in fact that the eyes of his costume do this.

Upon revaluation it's shocking to see the influence of the nineties so rampant in this cartoon, I guess you never realise the influence of the decade when you're still in it. The clothes of the characters is the first indicator that this show is a little dated, Peter Parker walks around wearing light blue jeans with a green white and blue t-shirt often tucked in, Mary-Jane wears a yellow sweatshirt with light blue jeans (this must have been more common than I thought) and cowboy boots. In this particular episode Mary-Jane is seen wearing that very iconic staple of the 90s, the workout gear complete with legwarmers. Outdated fashion aside the show demonstrates its age with its use of what may once have been categorised as "hip" turns of phrase and infinitely cheesy spider-related puns (which I secretly love).

What ultimately made this series the success that it became was its faithfulness to the comic books, if it had gone another route with regards to character origins and major story points I don't think the show would have been nearly as well received. The fact that it is so loyal to the original stories also means it has so much quality to draw from and it often does in such episodes as Spider-Man's team-up with Wolverine, the crisis of the man-spider not to mention this episode featuring Mysterio. The cartoon was able to attract a host of fans of the comics thanks to its great writing, excellent animation and comic-like story arcs. When a series is executed with as much care and attention to detail as this show was it isn't difficult to see why it turned out so well.

For a 90s series this show has certainly stood the test of time looking back upon it now almost 20 years later, it's not only an excellent Spider-Man adaption but also a great way to get into the lore and wider history of the wall-crawler for those wishing to see more of his adventures, it's certainly one that I would recommend. With the series now available on Netflix to watch anytime there is really no excuse not to watch this fun series which perfected Spider-Man in animation.

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