Monday, March 17, 2014

SPIDER-MAN Episode Seventeen - September 30, 1995

The Mutant Agenda
Story by John Semper, J. M. DeMatteis, & Steven Grant.  Teleplay by Michael Edens.

Summary:  Concerned with his growing mutation, Spider-Man seeks the aid of Professor Xavier.  At Xavier’s mansion, Spider-Man encounters the X-Men.  After an initial misunderstanding, he explains to Xavier his condition, but is dismayed to learn Xavier can’t help.  Beast takes pity on Spider-Man and suggests he meet with Herbert Landon.  After saying goodbye to Spider-Man, armed men kidnap Beast.  Later, Beast awakens to discover Landon is his kidnapper.  Wolverine tracks Spider-Man’s scent from the abduction site, as Peter Parker attends Landon's demonstration.  The Hobgoblin interrupts, seeking revenge for Landon’s earlier double-cross.  In the alley outside of the exhibit, Spider-Man confronts Hobgoblin.  Their fight is interrupted by Wolverine, who attacks Spider-Man.

Continuity Notes:  
  • This story is based on the '90s miniseries Spider-Man: The Mutant Agenda, which was an attempt to crossover the Spider-Man newspaper strip's continuity with the comics, and somehow also involve the X-Men.  And now that I'm reminded that it exists, I guess I'm under some obligation now to review the thing...
  • The ongoing storyline this season focused on Spider-Man’s body mutating, for reasons I can’t begin to recall.  This eventually led, of course, to Spider-Man growing six arms.
  • Spider-Man’s life is saved during the Hobgoblin’s attack when a mysterious force holds the ceiling in place long enough for him to escape.  
  • Herbert Landon is working on a cure for mutation, based on research Beast worked on earlier to slow his own progressive mutation.  This isn’t compatible with the comics’ continuity, but does fit the previous X-Men episode “Beauty and the Beast,” which established that Beast slowly grew into his furry form.
  • Spider-Man stumbles into the Danger Room and discovers a squad of Sentinels, who have been redesigned following their appearances on X-Men

"Actiiing!":  Spider-Man’s response to meeting Storm is to talk to his own special abilities.  “Power of webshooters -- get real sticky!”  

I Love the '90s:  The Spider-Man series heavily relied on CGI-constructed buildings and background elements.  They didn’t look so great in the mid-90s, and they haven’t aged well at all.

Review:  When Spider-Man debuted in 1994, it was only a matter of time before a crossover was announced with X-Men.  I believe this was the only time that Marvel had two shows on the same network simultaneously, so it would seem to be a natural fit.  One problem, however, is that the two shows had noticeably different animation styles.  X-Men debuted in the final days of the G. I. Joe era of animation, whereas Spider-Man came along in time to benefit from Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski’s visual reinvention of the superhero cartoon with Batman: The Animated Series.  (Yes, I know Batman: The Animated Series aired before X-Men, but it only beat it by a few weeks.  The X-Men producers had no way of knowing that B:TAS would change the way action cartoons are designed for the next two decades.)  That means that the X-Men designs are heavily detailed with “realistic” superhero anatomy, while Spider-Man designs tend to be more angular and with much fewer detail lines.  Not nearly as expressionistic as the Batman designs, but also a far cry from anything inspired by Jim Lee.  Putting the different design styles in the same cartoon would’ve looked, at the very least, somewhat odd.  So, that means the X-Men are getting a slight makeover.  

To be honest, most of the redesigned X-Men don’t look half-bad.  There are some noticeable mistakes (Cyclops’ trunks are mis-colored throughout the episode, Beast’s face is framed by black fur for some reason, and Gambit’s eyes and headpiece are improperly colored as well), but these are perfectly acceptable designs for most of the cast.  Essentially, the models have been simplified a bit and the faces appear slightly cartoonier.  I wouldn’t have minded the regular X-Men series using these designs for the rest of the show’s run.  Maybe it would’ve lead to more consistent animation, but given AKOM’s track record, who knows.  One clear advantage X-Men does have over Spider-Man is actual hand-colored cel animation.  Spider-Man was apparently the first regular cartoon series to use digital coloring, and much like the show’s CGI, it’s an ugly remnant of a bygone era.  Everything’s too bright (except when the colors suddenly appear washed out), the lines around the characters look jagged, and the contrast between background and foreground elements just looks bizarre.  Also, even if legendary studio TMS is credited for animating this series, the actual animation in this two-parter is usually no better than AKOM’s work.  The very brief flashback to Peter’s childhood fishing trip with Uncle Ben looks like a clip from an anime series with a reasonable budget, but the rest of the episode looks clunky and awkward.

Spider-Man did have decent writing in many of its early episodes, however, including scripts from several writers that comics fans will instantly recognize.  The majority of this script works quite well, ignoring the insane coincidence that has Beast recommend Spider-Man seek out Herbert Landon, just as Herbert Landon’s men are spying on Beast and plotting to kidnap him.  Not only did Beast not know that his former colleague is now evil, but he just happens to be stalking you right this moment, Hank!  This one is hard to overlook, and the X-Men’s eagerness to attack Spider-Man might be annoying based on your tolerance for hero vs. hero fights, but the rest of the episode moves along at a steady pace.  Spider-Man is characterized as you would expect him to be, neurotic yet funny, getting in a great jab at Storm’s ridiculous speech pattern while also making his current crisis seem reasonably sympathetic.  The X-Men, every member here even if it’s only to announce his or her presence, are written fairly well.  There’s no room for every character to receive a lot of attention, so it’s understandable that the script has narrowed the cast down to Wolverine and Beast.  Beast and Spider-Man share a natural affinity for science, and recognizing that Beast can relate to Spider-Man’s plight is a nice way to bring the characters together.  Wolverine is the member that every kid wants to see Spider-Man fight and then team up with, so of course he’s here.  Cal Dodd is great as Wolverine as usual, and hearing him paired with Mark Hamill’s Joker Hobgoblin is a lot of fun.  So, overall, it’s not a bad start for the crossover.  It’s far from perfect, but most of the problems are endemic to Spider-Man as a series anyway and not this particular arc.

Credit to for the screencaps.


Matt said...

I thought this two-parter was just the greatest, when it first aired. In subsequent re-watchings, I found it lacking. But at the time, the "team-up" aspect was a bigger deal to me than story quality.

If I recall correctly, I think they actually flew all the X-Men actors to L.A. to record their lines. Which seems odd to me, since they obviously had their own studio in Canada. I could see maybe flying Dodd down since he has a bigger role than the rest of the group, but was the desire to get them all in the same room with the Spider-Man cast that big of a deal?

P.S.: I'd love to see you review the full Spider-Man series! My own recollection is that it started off very strong in the first season, had a decent second and third, and then just went off the rails entirely for the remainder of its run.

G. Kendall said...

I probably would've reviewed SPIDER-MAN if Disney had released it on DVD while it was putting the rest of the '90s Marvel material out there. My memory is that the first season was okay, and after that the show went downhill quickly. There were some impressive names in the writing staff, but I think the cheap production of the show wouldn't do any script justice.

For some reason, recording in Canada vs. LA caused problems later on in the series, resulting in the X-Men not appearing during the "Secret Wars" arc. The original voice of Storm was living in LA at the time, so she was the only character used to represent the team. I don't know why having some voices recorded in the Canadian studio would've caused the producers problems.

Mela said...

I don't know why having some voices recorded in the Canadian studio would've caused the producers problems.

It was probably a union issue. Canadian VAs aren't part of any actors unions like SAG, so Spider-Man have been a "closed shop production" & required the show to only use union-member actors.

I missed all this, but I remember trying to watch the Spider-Man show as a kid and finding it uninteresting. Not sure why, but when I look at screenshots, I find the style unappealing. Maybe that was it, but I can't remember enough to pinpoint why.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...