Monday, January 24, 2011

On Cyberpunk Spider-Man.

Anytime I find myself with an extended period of time without responsibility, such during my recent move a few months back or this past holiday season, I find it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to do much besides read and revisit/discover TV shows or movies that have caught my interest. Over the past couple of years, each time I have loads of time, I've revisited various chapters of the DC Animated Universe, which I am sure I have talked about some here and elsewhere. I won't talk about what makes it such a compelling story to me, but something I watched this weekend while doing laundry made me appreciate the storytelling and world-building of the DCAU crew. It's a show that is actually very similar to their own Batman Beyond:Spider-Man Unlimited.

For four years, Fox ran an original Spider-Man animated series that was rather ambitious for children's television in the 90s. It used long story arcs, a huge cast of characters from the Spider-Man world, and tried to incorporate the other Marvel characters (many of whom had their own shows) to tell one giant story. I never watched it religiously, but I tuned in more often than not, though they lost me as a 10-year-old when Madame Webb and interdimensional travel made an appearance. In short, it was faithful to the source, but uneven due to mediocre animation and lots of laser guns/giant robots, and through it all was successful during its run. A year later, for some reason, the guys at Marvel thought it'd be a good idea to give the character a new set of adventures in a sequel series and the result was this:

I won't say there aren't interesting ideas in even the first five minutes... it's just so jam-packed and terribly paced. First of all, how did MJ return from being lost in some other dimension/time/world? That Spider-Man is disliked by much of New York (the country? the world?) is something that the old show would have taken a few weeks to process, and show how Peter was dealing with being seen as a pariah. Instead, we jump ahead six months where everything has been worked out, and Parker even has a new suit thanks to Reed Richards (no cameo, he stole it at some point we never see). And then there's the space travel and Counter-Earth. For perspective, this is the first of a two-part episode, and already it's moving so fast that it's not worth paying attention. And the icing on the cake: they completely changed the animation style to make it more reminiscent of a comic book and recast the voice of Peter Parker. Yet, they reused his heroic theme. In a sequel series. The mind boggles.

Compare the first few minutes of Spider-Man Unlimited to the pre-credit sequence of Batman Beyond and, like me, you'll be surprised by its emotional power:

Whether you've watched the previous shows that are in the continuity is irrelevant; the show's creator's were focused on good storytelling, period. It doesn't hurt that the animation style and voice acting remained consistent, but the writing/animation came first. I remember vividly my anticipation for this show. It seemed like a naked cash grab to get kids to buy new Batman toys (a teenage Batman!), and somehow it worked better than anyone would have expected. As a quick aside, it's funny to note that in both of these shows, besides the post-apocalyptic future setting both kind of share, each hero's suit includes a cloaking device. Whereas Spider-Man Unlimited used lavender waves to show you that he's invisible, the DCAU just made Batman clear with some shadows. It's the little details that make all the difference.

To be clear, this is really not a "DC vs. Marvel" rant, though I am a bit skeptical about all of the movies Marvel is making and trying to tie them together. It just seems like it will be so easy to make a giant mess, especially considering there all being written, directed, and produced by different people. I hope for the sake of those character's fans that I'm wrong.