“Ultimate Spider-Man” the comic, from what I remember, was an edgy, sleek and rather dramatic reboot of the entire Spider-Man universe. And odds are if you’re used to angsty stern Peter Parker from Sam Raimi’s films and the newest cinematic outing with Andrew Garfield, “Ultimate Spider-Man” the TV series might take some getting used to. In fact, “Ultimate Spider-Man” completely side steps most of the angst, drama, and melancholy that comes with the territory of Spider-Man’s world, and grabs a hold of the comedy by the throat and dives in head first.
Headed by Man of Action (creator of one of my favorite animated shows “Ben 10”), this new series opts for much comedy and pseudo-anime atmosphere that most comic fans saw perfected in “Teen Titans.” If you enjoyed seeing Chibi versions of Beast Boy, Robin, and Starfire, prepare to get your fill of Chibi versions of pretty much everyone and anyone in the Marvel Universe. Including many Chibi personalities of Spider-Man including an evil and angelic manifestation who constantly represent his crisis of conscience throughout the episodes. If you’re still sore about the cancellation of “Spectacular Spider-Man” you’re not alone. The show is possibly the best animated representation of the wall crawler I’ve ever seen with excellent writing, fantastic voice acting, and a wonderful sense of action and pacing. Sadly it suffered the axe due to Marvel being in between companies during its production.
For anyone looking for their Spider-Man fix, “Ultimate” is pretty much the next best thing. In “Ultimate,” Spider-Man finds himself outdone by a new breed of villains who seem to be outnumbering and overpowering the wall crawler. After The Avengers have made their presence public (a recurring reference to the movie), SHIELD decides they want to regulate and monitor all heroes and would be vigilantes. Nick Fury of course sets his sights on the infamous Spider-Man and offers him a position at SHIELD as an agent, which will allow him a chance to work within the confines of the law, dodge other superheroes from mistaking him for a crook, and giving him opportunities to develop his weaponry with SHIELD technology.
Taking the mantle of Spidey this time in a long line of young men like Christopher Daniel Barnes and Josh Keaton respectively, former child star Drake Bell plays Peter Parker and Spider-Man for the series and does a bang up job of it. Bell’s experience with comedy at Nickelodeon works to his advantage, as he manages to perform as the one and only Peter Parker with sheer perfection. He’s able to switch from dramatic Peter to goofy Peter at the drop of a hat and seems to be having a good time playing the role. For what the type of content the series demands, Bell really rises to the occasion and lets loose as the underdog superhero with a penchant for wise cracks and quick one-liners. Bell is so good he manages to reprise the role in “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” in a much appreciated guest spot. Catered to tween boys looking for escapism, the series completely dodges almost all of the angst and romance that goes with Peter Parker’s life and almost always focuses on the action and comedy portion of Spider-Man’s life.
Aunt May’s entire focus is on her personal life where she’s a woman who keeps busy with hobbies rather than dwelling on her husband’s murder, and Peter doesn’t spend too much time blaming himself and moping. Rather he tries to build himself up as a hero who can be respected and appreciated. And even high drama episodes involving Harry Osborne’s addiction to the venom symbiote is light in drama and more centered on entertainment. The most melodramatic an episode ever gets is during the episode “Strange” where a dream demon momentarily revives Uncle Ben’s spirit to weaken Peter Parker’s will during a fight, and even then the mention of the shooting is only implied. Young viewers in the mood for a good time will find it with “Ultimate.” The last episode “For Your Eyes Only” which finds Spider-Man going up against an entire group of Zodiac terrorists on the SHIELD helicarrier all alone as he tries to free Nick Fury is the funniest episode of the series so far.
The episode is filled to the brim with clever movie references, hysterical one-liners, and Spider-Man’s own goofy antics actually are depicted as brilliant combat tactics. Some of the highlights of the episode in question are Spidey taking down a villain with a web slingshot, bouncing on the heads of the entire Zodiac gang, and Spidey’s imitation of “Die Hard.” Along with Spider-Man there’s a massive supporting cast with your regulars like Mary Jane Watson, Aunt May, Harry Osborne, and Flash Thompson along with Peter’s teammates on SHIELD. Nick Fury (as voiced by the great Chi McBride) is more a doting teacher in this series who watches over Spidey and his teammates and often foils their teenage antics. Spider-Man is teamed with a string of young third tier superheroes, many of whom happen to be some of my favorites. Spidey is teamed with a young Luke Cage, a young Iron Fist, a young Nova, and young White Tiger, a female cat-like superhero with an above average intellect that tends to match Peter’s at times.
Peter is of course given some interesting dynamics as the team are sent to his school to pose as students all while helping Spider-Man in his missions. Along the way there’s a romance sub-plot hinted at between Spidey and White Tiger, while he often competes with rival Nova for team leadership throughout the course of the series. The young team presents a dynamic similar to that of “Teen Titans” with a dash of “Heroes for Hire” where almost every episode involves them learning to work together and combine their forces to take down an enemy. With “Ultimate” there’s not a flowing narrative with major continuity like the other Spider-Man series that came before it. Every episode is self-contained and doesn’t demand its audience backtrack to learn what’s going on in the current episode. For fans of Easter Eggs, there are plenty of them for folks here.
There are guest spots and cameos from almost all of the major Marvel heroes and villains including Wolverine, Dr. Strange, Iron man, Thor, Loki, and Juggernaut just to name a few, Stan Lee has a recurring role as the school janitor Stan, JK Simmons reprises his beloved role as J Jonah Jameson, there’s a hefty bit of foreshadowing in one episode where Agent Coulson holds a large gun up and declares “Don’t be on this end.” For Disney fans with great ears, Logan Miller and Caitlyn Taylor Love formerly of the Disney XD sitcom “I’m in the Band,” respectively play the roles of White Tiger and Nova, Peter’s teammates. And I’m just scratching the surface. At the end of the day, “Spectacular Spider-Man” is still the best animated adaptation of the friendly neighborhood wall crawler to date, but “Ultimate” is still an entertaining bit of action comedy that will easily attracts audiences. Spider-Man is an easily loved superhero, so this series has guaranteed an audience since its debut.