Peter Parker has lousy luck with field trips, and although it’s hard to top that one time he got bit by a radioactive spider, his trip to the museum with the S.H.I.E.L.D. teens comes pretty darn close. When Danny reads a very George R.R. Martin-like inscription on an ancient Nordic scroll, a frost giant appears and attacks the group, a threat the heroes wouldn’t be able to handle if Thor didn’t show up to offer assistance. Thor’s Ultimate Spider-Man debut is easily my favorite of the three Avengers guest spots, and the writers wisely turn to the work of seminal Thor creator Walter Simonson for inspiration with this week’s story.
When Thor touches a rune around the frost giant’s neck, he is transformed into a frog, transformed into an amphibian because of his pride by his evil half-brother Loki. Between Frog Thor and Beta Ray Bill on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Walter Simonson is dominating this Sunday morning, and for good reason. He’s one of the few creators that has been able to balance the mythological and superhero elements of Asgard, expanding on Thor’s world by taking inspiration from the past. Frog Thor is one of the most beloved developments in Simonson’s run on The Mighty Thor, and his appearance on Ultimate Spider-Man continues the series’ trend of blending all of Marvel’s separate continuities into something new, but also familiar.
Frog Thor is comic gold, and the juxtaposition of Thor’s attitude with his appearance is what turns the character into a walking joke, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Humor was essential to Simonson’s run on Thor; it provided respite from the moments of epic drama while also giving those events more impact. This episode ups the stakes for our young cast, and the entire universe hangs in the balance as Loki tries to seize control of Asgard. After a brief history lesson, Thor teleports Spider-Man and his team to Asgard, where they find the gods frozen in the streets and Loki sitting in Odin’s throne. They are quickly captured and forced to watch Loki explain his plot, but they break out of their frozen/magic cages and retreat back to Earth, where they are forced to come up with a new plan of action.
Thor suspects that Loki hasn’t taken Eitri, master forger, off the grid, and he leads the heroes to the dwarf’s hearth where he asks for weapons for his new teammates. Eitri’s not happy about never getting a thank you from the proud God of Thunder for creating the greatest weapon in the entire universe, and in order to have his request filled, Thor must apologize and ask the forgiveness of the dwarf. It’s exactly what the little guy wants to hear, and he creates an arsenal of new weapons tailor-made to each of the heroes.
What this episode does best is incorporate every character into the plot, doing so by highlighting their individual flaws. Thor is arrogant, Spider-Man doesn’t have confidence in his ability to lead, White Tiger needs to concentrate in battle, Nova moves too quickly, Iron Fist is too patient, and Power Man holds back his full potential. Eitri’s weapons force the heroes to overcome their weaknesses: Ava’s bow finds the flaws in others but requires absolute concentration to fire; Sam’s halberd is difficult to balance and requires him to be patient and find the right moment to strike; Danny’s short sword requires him to move quickly; Luke’s axe requires him use his full force. Spidey doesn’t get the weapon, because the power was inside him all along.
In a nice bit of character dissection, Eitri tells Peter that he uses his words as armor to protect himself from an unkind world, and it’s fascinating to think that Spider-Man’s signature humor is a defense mechanism to prevent harsh reality from fully sinking in. How funny was Peter before becoming Spider-Man? Is Spider-Man the comedian? By putting on his mask and running around with an international spy organization and cracking jokes with other superheroes, Peter is able to avoid going home to his grieving aunt and a life without his Uncle Ben. By becoming something superhuman, he’s been given the opportunity to run away from his ordinary life, but I’d like to see an episode where Peter gets back in touch with his humanity.
“Field Trip” has some of the cleanest animation of the entire season. The action is fluidly choreographed by director Alex Soto, and the variety of facial expressions, especially with Frog Thor, contribute to most of the episode’s humor. There are a lot of cutaways in this episode, and for the most part they work very well. The history of lil’ Pete getting bitten on field trips is an adorable way to start the episode, and the slow-mo replay of Nova wiping out is hilarious. My favorite breaking-the-4th-wall moment is when Spider-Man learns he’s also not getting an awesome new toy like the rest of his friends. “Sometimes it reeks being the title character,” he says, “You have to act like learning a lesson is somehow better that getting a cool weapon.” Of course, Peter’s words are what ultimately saves the day, because he’s the title character and all.
Peter’s words are his greatest weapon, and when all seems lost, Spider-Man uses Loki’s ego to his advantage and convinces the trickster to transform Thor back into classic burly self. Once he’s de-frogged, Thor brings the hammer down on Loki and saves the day. As a reward for their assistance, Thor gives the teens a double-headed goat, which promptly bites Peter’s hand, reminding him that no matter what magical dimension you travel to, reality’s going to find a way to catch up. His exclamations of pain are scored with rousing fantasy music, ending the episode with the contrast of funny and epic that makes it one of Ultimate Spider-Man’s strongest outings.
- Can Loki pick up Mjolnir with magic? Also, he’s the worst at “Knock Knock” jokes.
- It was only a matter of time before we got an Agent Coulson as Ben Stein “anyone…anyone…anyone?” joke.
- “A dwarf! Lollipop guild or classic Dopey?” “Scratch that, he’s Grumpy.” “Color me Aladdin.” It’s fun to see Disney references in a Marvel cartoon. Yay, synergy!
- “The matters of Asgard are no place oddly-dressed younglings.”
- “Fetch Son of Coul.”
- “You are mortals, I am not. (Ribbit.)”
- “Thought you could defeat Asgard’s warriors? I say thee (ribbit).”
- “By Odin’s beard…this is humiliating.”
- “Fear the Frog of Thunder!”