Swing through the New York of Sony’s new PlayStation 4 exclusive, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and you’ll soon learn that Peter Parker is constantly being assaulted by sound. Gunshots, police sirens, voicemails from the various aunts, bosses, and exes that he periodically disappoints—Pete’s life is rarely quiet, a constant low-level hum of responsibilities, great and small. But through the din, there’s one voice that cuts through the loudest, a braying, beautiful bellow of menace (or maybe “Menace!”) that’s never far from Spidey’s ears: that of his former employer, J. Jonah Jameson.
Jonah’s transformation from blaring newspaper editor to blaring podcast host is one of the cleverest touches in a game that doesn’t lack for them, allowing a character who’s a major part of the Spider-Man universe to make an impact without taking up much in the way of actual space. Instead, his podcast—bearing the Fox News-friendly title Just The Facts—is constantly RSS-ing its way into Peter’s feed as you swing across New York, commenting on everything you do in the game, and (inevitably) finding a way to spin it in the worst possible light. You can always turn it off, of course, but who could resist the urge to hear J.J.J. angrily calling them a deranged, mask-wearing pervert for once?
From a design point of view, the podcasts serve the same purpose that they do in most of our lives: killing time on your daily commute. Like any big open-world game, Spider-Man has moments when you’re doing little more than moving from point A to point B, clearing your map of those irresistible little icons that denote collectibles, photo ops, or crimes to stop. The game handles this material better than most of its collect-a-thon ilk, but that can’t stop the “gotta grab ’em all” tedium from occasionally setting in. Luckily, whenever enthusiasm flags, you have Jameson right there in your ear, screaming about masked vigilantes and whatever other random thoughts roam through his brush-topped head. It’s a great distraction from Spidey’s usual grind, even if the podcasts do annoyingly cut off the second you get close to a new bit of in-game content. And as a piece of evolution for a 55-year-old character, it’s practically sublime. Or, to put it another way: J. Jonah Jameson was always a born podcaster. He just didn’t know it.
Specifically, Jonah slides easily into the role of a particular flavor of loud-mouthed conservative blowhards, one of those guys who started out in radio and then simply took his show onto the internet when the digital wave came calling (thanks to a far more tech-savvy intern who he constantly berates). There’s a little bit of Alex Jones mixed into his show’s DNA—although Jameson’s anti-Spidey conspiracy theories are a lot less outlandish in a New York where the mayor runs an evil superscience factory and villains can corrupt good-hearted people at a touch—but the majority of it comes from what we can’t help but think of as a Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh place, guys who combine charismatic presence, high volume, and an unearned certainty in their own moral rectitude to create an irresistible steamroller of bullshit. The best depictions of J.J.J. have always come from a point of grudging respect, acknowledging his courage and his journalistic bona fides, while also making it clear that his fear and ego are constantly blinding him to the truth of all the good that Peter does. Who better to ape for his podcast debut, then, than the professional conservative shouting caste, who lives to profit off of that same mixture of bone-deep certainty, xenophobic paranoia, and obliviousness to facts? (Hell, “Spider-Man: Menace?!” was “fake news” five decades before the term ever came into regular use.)
Luckily, all of this madness is delivered with the same humor and charm that underlies the rest of Spider-Man’s presentation. (Plus, there are no ads, except Jameson’s frequent plugs for his own book.) Although he can’t quite match the character-defining bluster of J.K. Simmons’ J.J., Darin De Paul gives a performance that’s a commendable mixture of comedy and rage, taking him to the heights of hypocritical apoplexy that the character requires. Each episode of his show essentially acts as a 90-second comedy skit interspersed into your action, and he nails the punchline (or occasional sober lack thereof) with ease.
Even more interesting, though, is the way Just The Facts fits into the game’s wider view of New York’s online ecosystem. Being a 23-year-old living in 2018, the game’s version of Spider-Man has his own official account on the game’s in-universe Twitter stand-in, tossing online quips around with the same ease that he hurls bad guys across the battlefield. Said social media platform is absolutely filled with Jameson’s online fans and detractors, discussing his show, arguing with each other, and, in one memorable case, offering up a good old-fashioned fake account mocking him at every turn. In the past, the Spidey properties have rarely spent much time discussing how people react to Jameson’s hate for the wall crawler, simply taking it as read that bad headlines equal bad public perception. The online fights you can watch play out between the Brush-Heads and the Spider fans (available with a simple button press on your menu screen) offer a much more human take on what the people of New York actually think about the web-swinging weirdo in their midst—as do the people who call in to Jameson’s show, only to get screamed at when they start talking about how grateful they are to Spider-Man for saving their lives.
What helps Just The Facts stand out among the wide array of video-game talking heads out there, though, is the way it blends so perfectly with the personality of the man hosting it. Jameson’s nearsighted bluster has always been a huge part of what makes Spider-Man work—the sense that, no matter how much Pete does or sacrifices, there are going to be powerful, loud forces who just don’t like him. And by slotting him into an online world that prizes “debate” at the same time as it rewards whoever’s willing to yell the loudest to blow past their opponent’s opinions, Insomniac Games did an incredible job of translating that misguided fury into a format that fits a Spidey for the modern age.