Ultimate Spider-Man: “Snow Day”
C

Ultimate Spider-Man: “Snow Day”

Ultimate Spider-Man is swinging off the regular T.V. Club schedule, so for this last recap (at least until the season finale check-in), I wanted to look at how “Snow Day” encapsulates this show’s strengths and weaknesses. When Spider-Man and the S.H.I.E.L.D. teens get a snow day, they decide to ditch their winter training responsibilities and take a jet to a remote tropical island. Upon arrival, they realize that something is not quite right, and when a creepy little boy wearing a green and brown striped shirt appears, their vacation takes a turn for the worse. Sandman makes his debut this week, and while he’s one of the series most fleshed-out villains, “Snow Day” is an episode that sees the show falling on more of its bad habits than good.

I enjoyed last week’s episode much more than David, largely because it finally shone a light on Spider-Man’s supporting cast. Yes, Spider-Man has great villains, but the thing that has made the character such a success is the depth of his relationships when he’s out of costume. This show has spent considerable time on Peter’s friendship with Harry Osborn, and that is mostly because Harry is this show’s Venom, so he’s also a part of the superheroics. Mary Jane, Aunt May, and J. Jonah Jameson have been pushed to the side, and this week’s episode is free of any of Spidey’s supporting cast, except for a demolished billboard that shows Jameson’s face. Peter’s secret identity forces him to have a different dynamic with these characters, and when the episodes focus on just him and his superpowered teammates, the series begins to feel very repetitive.

The inclusion of Nova, White Tiger, Iron Fist, and Power Man is an example of something this show does very well: incorporating the larger Marvel universe. This episode sees Sandman’s origin being changed to include Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. When Power Man and Spider-Man discover convenient hieroglyphs detailing Flint Marko’s story, they learn that Flint was an escaped convict who gained sand-manipulating powers in an atomic blast, and was then imprisoned on the deserted island by Nick Fury and Agent Coulson at some point in the late ’70s/early ’80s.  Desperately lonely, Flint creates a child version of himself to keep him company on the island, and his simple motivation of finding another person to interact with makes him one of the show’s most human villains.

Chibi afro-Fury and ponytail-Coulson are pretty indicative of this series’ sense of humor, which is only semi-successful. The laughs are geared toward children, and the opening of this episode features a lot of slapstick physical comedy as Peter fumbles around his room trying to get his costume on in morning daze. People falling over a lot is apparently really funny to kids. “Snow Day” is  heavy on the cutaways, and at this point, you either want to see a limboing Hulk or you don’t. For better or worse, the cutaways have become an essential part of this series’ aesthetic, and they’re not going away anytime soon.

What this show has done best is action, and this episode features some of the series’ best action sequences. The scope of Sandman’s power is immense, resulting in some intense visuals as Flint tries to keep Spidey and friends stuck on the island. The sand effects are smoothly animated and the fights are dynamically choreographed, with each team member getting their own moment as the focus of the action. When they finally manage to get their plane off the island, Sandman takes over the entire landmass, shooting a massive hand of sand in the air in the episode’s most striking sequence. Flint ends up stowing away in Peter’s shoe and attacking New York, but he’s defeated in the most obvious way possible: he’s heated up and turned to glass. It’s a predictable end to another average episode, and that middling quality has been this series’ main problem. There’s potential for a great Spider-Man cartoon in this show, but the creators seem content with “fine” rather than “excellent.

Stray observations:

  • The Ultimate Spider-Man TV series might not be all that, but the comic book really is. I recommend checking out the new series following Miles Morales as Spider-Man, it’s one of Marvel’s strongest titles and a very innovative take on the ideas that Spider-Man represents.
  • Peter leaves his Spidey outfit all over his bedroom when he sleeps. Good thing Aunt May never comes to his room to wake him up.
  • Peter hands Ava a Thor romance novel called Thundering Hearts, which I’m sure is the name of a Thor fan-fic somewhere.
  • Peter and Luke make fun of Nick’s afro and Coulson’s ponytail, but I’d love to see an episode of this series flashing back to S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout the ages.
  •  “I said ‘no powers,’ not ‘no skills.’”
  • “That kid looks like half of every set of freaky twins from every scary movie I ever saw in my life.”

More TV Club