Made for TV: Ultimate Spider-Man

Like all kids, I loved watching cartoons in my youth. Now I am an adult, but that attraction to animated programs and movies has stayed with me over the years. I just cannot get enough of Marvel and DC’s recent output of animated films and shows. They’re like crack-cocaine to me, and I excitedly look forward to shooting up every time a new project is announced.

While I’ve always considered myself more of a Marvel fan, over the last few years, DC has surprisingly been cranking out better films and shows than Marvel has. So, when I heard that Disney bought Marvel some years ago, I wondered what kind of wonderful “drug” this pairing might create.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN was first out of the box; it debuted April 1st with a two-part premiere on the Disney XD channel. It’s also notable for being the first Spider-Man television series to be produced by Marvel themselves. One of my concerns when Disney acquired Marvel was if this meant their heroes and villains were going to get watered down so they would be more marketable to diaper divas. Regrettably, this turned out to be true.

In recent interviews, the creators behind the new series have stated they wanted to make a Spider-Man cartoon that wasn’t like any of the previous incarnations. One method was to boost the comedic aspects of Spider-Man, which comes in the form of humorous dialogue and these “visual comedy skits” the show digresses to frequently. It’s the same gimmick that DC used with TEEN TITANS, and the one of the reasons I never watched that show. There are a couple of dramatic moments, but they frequently lead to a happy or comedic ending.

But my main concern when looking at a super hero cartoon is: how well does the comic book action translate into animation? If the animation of the action sequences isn’t smooth, fluid and dynamic, I don’t care how good the stories are. I refuse to get invested in it. This is one reason WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN was such a missed opportunity; the action animation was woefully inconsistent. An episode might have an amazing fight one minute then in the next look stiff and 80s-like. The character animation and background animation, however, was excellent.

I can even forgive simple character design if the action is consistent and visually interesting, which is how THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was handled. The makers of that series only had a small budget, and I think they made the right choice to concentrate on visual consistency, though many viewers disliked the show as a result of its simplicity. Until ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN came around, I thought SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was the best animated (first season, anyway), Spider-Man series ever to grace the airwaves.

When I heard of Disney and Marvel’s pairing up the one thing I never worried about was what the quality of animation was going to be for this new series. Disney is renowned for showcasing some of the best traditional, and CGI, animation around, even if it is aimed squarely at youngsters, and with Marvel now having access to the best money can buy, it’s no wonder that ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN showcases the best character, action and background animation I have ever seen in a superhero cartoon series.

Period.

And this is its one saving grace.

But, let’s be realistic. This won’t be the last Spider-Man cartoon series Marvel will ever make. I’ll be curious, though, to see if the rampant comedy of this one carries over into future series. If it does, then we can get a better gauge on how much input Disney has into Marvel’s animated properties. Until then I’m gonna sit right back, grin and bear the sight gags, and let this animated eye candy assault my senses.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN airs every Sunday at 11am, with repeated viewings throughout the week. You can also catch it on Disney XD On Demand, but I’d watch it on the HD channel, if you can. The On Demand channel does not show it LBX and it’s full frame presentation cuts off picture on the sides.

Check out the rest of our Made for TV Collumn

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