I searched “best spider-man tv shows of all time” and one result regularly topped the lists – The Spectacular Spider-Man. I’d heard good things about the series before (it was originally released in 2008), but I never bothered checking it out. Now I’ve watched both seasons, and I’m impressed.
The Spectacular Spider-Man retreads ground so old its foundation was laid by comic book legends Stan Lee and Steve Ditko way back in 1962. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The series skips any sort of origin episode and leaps right into Peter Parker juggling super hero antics and high school teenager drama. It’s a formula that works well throughout the series – Peter’s life is often just as interesting (if not more so) than Spidey’s. Peter, like most high school boys, is a fool. He belongs with Gwen Stacy, but dates Liz Allan and pines for Mary Jane Watson. C’mon man, get your life together.
A hero is only as good as his villains, and the series mostly succeeds in throwing compelling enemies at Spider-Man. Doctor Octopus creating super-powered rogues to compete against Spidey is a nice twist, and it makes sense for common criminals to feel a desperate desire to knock Spider-Man down a peg or two. The guy constantly pokes fun at them while webbing them up. I especially enjoy Spidey’s banter with Kraven the Hunter. Kraven wraps Spider-Man in a bear hug and says, “Be still. The noblest prey ends the hunt in silent dignity.” Perplexed, Spider-Man responds, “Prey? Silent? Dignity? Ah, you don’t know me at all!”
It’s also nice that Spider-Man regularly defeats his enemies using guile. Rhino outclasses Spider-Man in strength, so Spidey lures him down to the sewers and uses stream to overheat the sweating Rhino. Brains beats brawn. The only villain that falls somewhat short is Green Goblin. The Goblin is one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes because he terrorizes both Spider-Man and Peter Parker. The Spectacular Spider-Man gives Venom that role (which works well, no complaints there) while the Goblin’s story revolves around the mystery of his identity. The mystery gets old fast. But it’s easy to forgive that when the series also treats us to an epic Sinister Six battle in “Group Therapy” in which the symbiotic suit wrecks shop, treating the Vulture and Shocker like play toys. The fight choreography and battle scenes are excellent throughout the series.
I mentioned Spidey’s banter with Kraven, and what really sells that banter is voice actor Josh Keaton. Keaton is an excellent Peter Parker/Spider-Man, embodying the joking nature of the hero and delivering during the more serious moments. After Sandman sacrifices himself by absorbing an oil tanker explosion, Spider-Man is impressed to say the least. He says, “You wanted a big score, Marko? Far as I’m concerned, you just scored about as big as a man can.” The line works thanks to Keaton’s earnestness.
There’s a lot to like about The Spectacular Spider-Man. Watching Peter Parker and his buddy Harry try out for the football team, Venom acting like the petty kid he is, Spidey battling the Lizard at the zoo – it’s all engaging and fun. It’s a damn shame the series never received a proper ending. The showrunners deserved at least a couple more seasons to wrap everything up. If it ran for more seasons, I’m sure it could overtake my personal favorite Spidey show, Spider-Man (1994). Speaking of which, that 90’s theme song still kicks ass.