10/07/2013

Ultimate Spider-Man Halloween Special

I can't say I'm much of a fan of the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series. I watched most of the first season and really believe I gave it a chance, but all of the fourth-wall breaking and self-referential asides really got to me. Of course, I was a huge fan of Spectacular Spider-Man and was disappointed when it was cancelled so in retrospect, I could just be looking for a show similar to that. But Ultimate Spider-Man is not that show.

Even though I haven't been keeping up on the series, when I heard that there would be an hour-long Halloween episode of Ultimate Spider-Man, I wanted to check it out. According to the press release from Marvel, the episode would focus on a team-up with Blade, the Vampire Hunter, Werewolf By Night, the Living Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Man-Thing.

The episode opened decently enough with Spider-Man and his team stationed in a graveyard when they get attacked by a group of dark, powerful creatures. Blade shows up and they fight the creatures into retreat when Blade reveals that he's in possession of an artifact and is being hunted by Dracula, king of the vampires. They take the artifact to Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Turns out, that artifact is half of a powerful ankh that would allow Dracula to survive the sunlight, giving him the power to "take over the world".

For the most part, I liked these episodes. Seeing Blade show up in a Spider-Man cartoon was pretty cool even though it wasn't the first time. The writers managed to turn him into a bad-ass despite the fact that they had to lighten things up. Handling vampires in a show aimed for children is a difficult thing to do; even the Spider-Man animated series from the 90s had the awkward plot of Morbius, the Living Vampire, feeding off "plasma" because the idea of a vampire drinking blood was too intense for a cartoon. The writers managed to maintain the vampires threatening nature by having the disappear in puffs of smoke whenever they get attacked. It wasn't perfect, but it was acceptable.

Marvel provided a few clips from the episode that show Spidey and the Monster Squad in action.





The characters were handled very well. Unfortunately, the acting isn't as good as the characterization. Terry Crews, who I remember best from his role as Julius in Everybody Hates Chris even though he's been in a shitload of other movies, provides the voicework for Blade. For the most part, it's not too bad but there were moments when Crews' delivery was stunted and clunky, which made Blade sound like an awkward teenager trying to be a hard-ass. It wasn't enough to make me abandon the show, but it was far more noticeable than necessary. And I will say that I enjoyed the quick reference to the 1998 film version of Blade. With just the quick line of "There are worse things out tonight than these things", the writers managed to tip their hats to the film that started the Marvel Dynasty of big-screen adaptations.

Seeing the Marvel monsters in the episode was a real treat. You know that some exec over at the studio wanted to do a monster-themed episode of Spider-Man and the writers just rolled with it, drudging up as many Marvel monsters as they good. They did a great job of it, too, choosing a cast that is reminiscent to the Universal Studios group. The Werewolf, Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy are some of the most recognizable monsters out there and luckily, Marvel had their own version of each. Jack Russell, Werewolf By Night, was an extremely popular character during the 70s and early 80s, and was the title that introduced another fan favorite character, Moon Knight.

The Living Mummy has a similar origin, having been introduced in Supernatural Thrillers in 1973. He hasn't been seen much in the comics except for a brief appearance in Civil War and as a member of the Legion of Monsters.

But how do Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster fit into it? Well, they have roots in Marvel Comics too. Dracula was actually a big part of the X-Men Universe just a few years ago, which led to Blade joining the X-Men for a few days. Then he reappeared when the vampires turned Jubilee into one of their own. Frankenstein's Monster first appeared in Silver Surfer in '69, and got his own title, "The Monster of Frankenstein", in '73. He recently popped up during the Fear Itself storyline alongside Howard the Duck, as well as a few other appearances. So all of these characters belong in a Spider-Man cartoon, in a way. But even though the fit, the real question is should they appear in a Spider-Man cartoon?

I think so. Despite the annoyances that punctuate every episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man (such as Spidey imagining himself playing Whack-A-Nova as a way to get to his "happy place"), the episode was really a lot of fun. Fans don't often get the chance to see these lesser known characters in action. They managed to tie it nicely to the Halloween season so I can see myself actually watching this again next year.

If you missed the episode on Saturday, it will replay as part of the Disney XD Marvel Universe block on Sunday, October 13 at 10 AM. If you get the chance to catch it that time, I recommend doing so.

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