Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Matt Signal Advent Calendar 2015 Day 19: Spectacular Spider-Man "Growing Pains"

Spectacular Spider-Man
Season 2, Episode 6, "Growing Pains," 2009

Matt Says:

If you watch enough animation, you notice that there are certain creators who bring certain things they love to their work. And one of my favorite showrunners/writers in animation, Greg Weisman, has one that we share: Weisman loves Shakespeare. Weisman worked on Young Justice, which I already wrote about, Star Wars: Rebels, and one of my top three animated series of all time, Gargoyles, which I was tempted to include an episode of here, but tried to stick closer to comics, and I have no doubt I'll talk about Gargoyles on its own some day. Gargoyles had Shakespeare as part of its DNA, and Wesiman wound up using the works of the bard heavily in the back half of the second season of another show he produced, the criminally underrated Spectacular Spider-Man.

Spectacular Spider-Man was a Spidey in high school series, one that was deeply character focused (another hallmark of a Weisman project) and pulled deeply from the Spider-Man mythos. I'm not a big Spidey fan myself, admittedly, but this is the best interpretation of Spider-Man I've ever encountered, full of action, teen angst, and most of Spidey's big rogues (interestingly, due to his rights being connected with Daredevil, the show couldn't use Kingpin, but instead substituted Tombstone, which worked out really well). 

This episode does a great job of balancing three separate plots, two that wind together and one that stands on its own but comments on the action of the other. The two superhero plots involve Venom returning to frame Spidey for crimes he's committing; the Venom of this show is similar to the one from Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man comic, an Eddie Brock with ties to a young Peter Parker, but is less of a jerk and so his transformation into Venom and descent into hatred for Peter are more affecting. Meanwhile, John Jameson, son of J. Jonah Jameson, has returned to Earth (he's an astronaut) and found he was infected with alien spores that are increasing his strength and mass. He becomes Captain Jupiter, a superhero, but as the spores continue to affect his mind, eh grows unstable, and when Venom turns him against Spidey, it takes a lot for Peter to stop him.

The more personal plot of the episode sees the kids of the Midtown Manhattan Magnet High School auditioning for the school play. Nearly every scene change in the episode is framed by one of the supporting cast delivering a line from Shakespeare against a dark stage. And these aren't "To be or not to be" or "Out damned spot!" Weisman knows his Shakespeare and digs deep to get quotes the are appropriate to what is going on in Spidey's life; especially good are James Arnold Taylor's delivery, as Harry Osborn, of lines from 2 Henry IV, Kelly Hu as Sha Shan Nguyen with a line from Richard III, and  Grey Griffin performing a... unique take on lines from Hamlet as cheerleader Sally Avril. Kudos to showrunner Weisman and episode writer Nicole Dubuc for working the works of the Shakespeare into an animated series in a way that makes it understandable to a younger audience and enjoyable to an old hand like me.

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