Ultimate Spider-Man: “Beetle Mania”
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Ultimate Spider-Man: “Beetle Mania”

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Ultimate Spider-Man

“Beetle Mania”

Season 1, Episode 15

A recurring problem on Ultimate Spider-Man has been the villains of the week, usually completely devoid of personality, deployed as high-powered wrecking balls that Spidey or the team just have to grind away at to take out. I understand that on a Sunday morning cartoon, there needs to be a certain percentage of action scenes just to keep the kids happy, but there’s not enough personality on display! I’m more and more satisfied with the interaction between Spidey and his teammates (Iron Fist and White Tiger each got a couple cute moments in the big boss battle this week). But there’s not any sense of menace with these B-listers.

At least the show knows guys like the Trapster are just walking jokes—I liked Spidey mocking his glue puns to the camera, and one of his lame gags serving as a bright idea to take down the Beetle later on. But main threat of “Beetle Mania,” the Beetle himself, was a silent centurion who might as well have been a robot. Some of his gadgets were kinda cool, and I liked his impressive entrance, overwhelming Spidey with a cloud of little robots, but after that, he was just a punching bag.

“Beetle Mania” had a narrow focus, with most of the episode concentrated on Spidey and the gang trying to keep the insectoid assassin out of J. Jonah Jameson’s office while Mary-Jane interviewed there for an internship. It’s nice to see the show expand its universe a little further to include the Daily Bugle (outside of JJJ’s ranting at the camera to open episodes) but we sadly didn’t get any newsroom action, just brief glimpses of MJ trying to impress the new boss. Still, giving MJ an interest in journalism is a good idea, much better than her actress persona in the comics (and Sam Raimi films). MJ works well as a whipsmart foil to Peter, which is how Brian Michael Bendis has always deployed her in his Ultimate comics series.

The humor largely connected this week, for whatever reason. I liked the cartoonish asides, particularly the childlike animation deployed for the bossy MJ fantasy and the “Wolverine in anger management” cutaway gag. Spidey had a fair few good lines, and his tip of the cap to White Tiger for a callback was pretty cute. I still wish this could be a more serious show in terms of plotting and characterization, but Spidey always needs a strong sense of humor, so I’m glad they increasingly have that down without coming off like a Family Guy ripoff.

The biggest problem as Ultimate Spider-Man goes on is just how busy it is. There’s high school, there’s the Bugle, there’s his coterie of villains and long-running arcs emanating from Oscorp, and there’s the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. angle. Cram all that into a 22-minute episode and there’s no room for anything to breathe and develop, which might by why some of these episodes feel like rehashes of already-familiar plots. But as long as the show keeps dangling hints of an expanded universe, I’ll keep checking in to see what they can do with it.

Stray observations:

  • Nice cameo from MODOK, one of Marvel’s craziest-looking villains, this week.
  • Doc Samson also shows up as Wolverine’s pretend shrink.
  • Spidey tries to make nice with the Beetle. “You know, it’s been suggested we’re in cahoots. Any chance you think so too?”
  • Like the repeated references to a Spider-Buggy.

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