The title of this show should be changed to Synergy Spider-Man, because this series goes beyond movie and Ultimate continuity to create an entry point for young viewers into the main line of Marvel titles. The new White Tiger and Nova are the major examples, with Ava Ayala having recently made her comics debut in Avengers Academy while Sam Alexander became the new Nova just before Avengers Vs. X-Men. (Sam’s story has yet to be revealed.) Ultimate Spider-Man combines different aspects of three separate continuities, puts them through a hyperactive kiddie-filter, and spits out a charming, frivolous product.
I was a much bigger fan of the last two episodes than David, but I’m generally a fan of wacky, madcap superhero stories. The cutaways are a little much, but I’m never bored during an episode, which is more than I can say for Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The writers are doing strong work job thematically connecting the superhero adventures to teenage reality, and the use of the greater Marvel Universe makes it possible for characters like Cloak and Dagger or The Runaways to potentially make future appearances and be exposed to an entirely new audience. People looking for character development aren’t going to find it on Ultimate Spider-Man, at least not yet, but it’s a fun, action-packed series that still has heart.
“Venom” is written by the Man of Action team and James Felder, a former editor at Marvel Comics, and it’s the first episode where Peter Parker and his ultimate friends actually fight a villain from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. This isn’t the same Venom as the film or comics, no longer an alien symbiote or science experiment gone wrong, but Peter Parker’s aggression and rage distilled into a living liquid by Dr. Octopus. Norman Osborn plans to use the poison to power an army of militaristic symbiote soldiers, another way the writers are incorporating 616 continuity into this series. (616 is the number Alan Moore used to designate the main Marvel Comics universe in Captain Britain.) In Rick Remender’s current Venom series, Flash Thompson is the one and only symbiote soldier, and in a nice nod to that (quite good) comic, Flash is the first person Venom bonds to in this episode.
After an opening sequence of Spider-Man getting chased by an octopus robot in the subway, the episode goes through the obligatory exposition explaining Peter’s situation and who all of his new high school friends are. Hopefully that will end soon, because it’s already getting a little obnoxious and we’ve only had three episodes. Harry invites Peter over for movie night with Mary Jane while his dad is out of town, but Peter's S.H.I.E.L.D. teammates remind him that he has other obligations. This episode begins to flesh out Harry and Peter’s relationship, and tackles a problem familiar to everyone: what happens when your friends start hanging out with other people?
Harry has always been the popular kid that looked out or Peter, but was that out of compassion or a need to find companionship? Harry’s relationship with Peter brings him closer to his father, who doesn’t care much for his son but shows considerable interest in his son’s nerdy friend. He feels threatened by Peter’s new friends, and decides to throw a house party instead, because if he can’t have one real friend, he’ll fill his home with 50 fake ones. MJ tells Peter to bring his new friends to hang out at Harry’s, which ends up coming in handy when Venom crashes the party through the toilet to reconnect with its creator.
The animation on this show continues to be excellent, smoothly combining traditional animation with CG elements. Director Alex Soto has worked on Teen Titans and Ben 10 in the past, and USM is essentially an amalgam of the two. It has the chibi cuteness of Teen Titans (cameos by H.E.R.B.I.E. and Dragon Man this week!), but its toned down to fit a Ben 10 visual style. From the opening sequence featuring that most traditional of cartoon suspense staples, getting stuck on the train tracks, to the final brawl between Venom and the S.H.I.E.L.D. teens, the animation is dynamic and seamless. And when Spider-Man is taken over by Venom, he has a Princess Mononoke-influenced battle with himself that leads to some breath-taking visuals.
Venom is defeated when Spider-Man uses his new electric webbing to fry it, and while it seems like too easy of an ending, we haven’t seen the last of the evil black goo. At the end of the episode, Harry finds a small sample of the symbiote on the piano, traps it in a water bottle, and keeps it a secret from Peter. Peter has his secrets, why can’t Harry have his own? As the relationships begin to change, I suspect we’ll begin to get the Peter Parker character development the series has been lacking. We’re still in early stages of the series, and each episode is establishing one of Peter’s personal connections while also introducing a new facet of the Marvel mythos. Once the world is firmly set up, the writers will hopefully delve into more emotional material, but even if USM continues to just be a silly teenage super-hero romp, it’s impressively accomplishing what it set out to do.
- Venom-Power Man looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Or is that just “Ninja Turtle” now?
- Fans of the current Ultimate Comics Spider-Man comic starring Miles Morales, Marvel announced a crossover between Peter Parker and Miles coming out this summer. It’s the current Ultimate team of Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli telling a story that presumably brings Peter into Miles’ universe. If Ultimate Aunt May, Gwen, and MJ get a chance to see Peter one last time, I very well might cry.
- Between Peter’s subway butt-shot and Danny Rand standing around in his briefs, this episode had a lot of male physical humiliation.
- “I left $1000 in case you get hungry.”
- “Ooh! Tell me you rented a lion!”
- “I've had my share of anti-Flash fantasies, but even i can't let him get eaten by toilet sludge.”
- “AH! Great party Henry. Call me, mmkay? AH!”
- “Ow, I think you just pulled out my only chest hair.”
- “Uh, the floppy end does the cleaning.”