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The Spectacular Spider-Man, Kids' WB / Disney XD
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Caution: spoilers.

This Saturday morning cartoon begins on the last night before Peter Parker starts his junior year of high school. Apparently at the end of the previous school year, he was on a class trip to the laboratory of Curt Connors, where he got bitten by a radioactive spider, thus giving him all the spider-powers with which I'm sure you'll already be familiar. So he's spent the summer fighting small-time crooks as Spider-Man (and of course constantly wisecracking while he does so; his quips, and his banter with enemies, are some of the funnest parts of the show). But now there's some criminal kingpin (I use that term hesitantly) called "the Big Man," who hires a group of "Enforcers" to try to "squash" Spider-Man, now that he's got proof the crimefighter is more than just a myth. Meanwhile, all sorts of new supervillains will start to emerge. In season one, he faces the Vulture, Electro, the Lizard, Shocker, Sandman, Rhino, Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, and Venom, among others. Of course, they each have their backstories, and they're not all necessarily evil....

Of course, Peter's also dealing with the fact that his Uncle Ben died recently, leaving his Aunt May to raise him on her own. And when he finds out they're having money problems, he gets a job selling photos of Spider-Man to J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle. He also hopes he'll not be the target of school bullies anymore, most notably Flash Thompson (who is, ironically, a big fan of Spider-Man). So far that hasn't stopped, though. But at least he has a couple of friends: Harry Osborn (whose father is of course the rich scientist/businessman Norman Osborn), and Gwen Stacy. Peter and Gwen get non-paying jobs working for Curt Connors. Also working for Connors is lab assistant Eddie Brock, now a freshman in college, who is a friend to Peter and Gwen, and apparently used to protect Peter from the likes of Flash.

Well... the series is both episodic and serial, consisting of several story arcs, as well as certain storylines that develop throughout the series. There's a fair amount of character development, at least for some of the major characters... and even some of the minor ones are important to the overall story. Everything's connected, to one degree or another. There are a number of students we see on a fairly regular basis, and while I never really felt like I got to know all of them as well as I might, I at least recognized that they were an integral part of Peter's world.

There's a girl named Liz Allan, who is at first among the group of jocks and cheerleaders that consider Peter a nerd, but after awhile she develops a crush on him. Of course, she's not the only one interested in Peter. Gwen is obviously interested in being more than friends, though he's pretty oblivious to this. And after awhile, Mary Jane Watson joins the cast. She likes Peter well enough, much to the surprise of the popular crowd. But she has no interest in being exclusive. And as Spider-Man, he also attracts the attention of the thief, Black Cat. There's also a young woman at the Bugle named Betty Brant, in whom Peter is interested. Though she likes him well enough, she says she's too old for him.

Another one of the jocks at school is Randy Robertson, who isn't such a bad guy, though his girlfriend, Sally Avril, is the worst snob at school, and becomes terribly upset when Peter's social status eventually rises. Anyway, Randy is the son of Robbie Robertson, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle. Randy also is like a little brother to John Jameson, the astronaut son of J. Jonah Jameson. And I reckon there are plenty of other students I never got to really know. But like I said... they're all still an integral part of the world in which Peter lives.

Well. In the course of the first season, Peter alienates his friends somewhat, most notably Eddie Brock. So that's yet another of the many problems he has to deal with. Peter several times questions whether he should give up being Spider-Man, because of various types of suffering it causes, but ultimately he accepts it as his destiny and responsibility, because of the good he can do. Meanwhile, Norman Osborn works for the Big Man (through the Big Man's top henchman, Hammerhead), experimenting on people who end up gaining super powers and becoming villains, and enemies for Spider-Man. There's also a story arc involving the Green Goblin, whose identity is something of a mystery. Spidey and others will come to suspect Norman, though there's another possibility, which is the one I guessed. I won't spoil it for you, though.

In another story arc, John Jameson's space shuttle is in danger, but eventually lands safely. However, with it comes a symbiotic alien life form, which ends up attaching itself to Peter. It gives him a new black spider-suit, and apparently greater powers than he was used to (which certainly comes in handy when a group of his old enemies join forces to defeat him, as the Sinister Six)... but it also slowly takes over his mind. Which leads to even greater alienation of his friends. Peter will eventually have to fight to regain control and cast off the symbiote. Though when he thinks it's been destroyed, it actually takes over Eddie, who becomes Venom. Eddie and the symbiote share a mutual hatred for Peter and Spider-Man at this point, so it seems a pretty good fit... Anyway, the Venom arc wraps up the first season, and things start looking up for Peter on various fronts. Including the fact that he finally realizes Gwen's feelings for him, and that he has feelings for her.

While the first season originally aired on Kids' WB, the second season aired on Disney XD. There will be some new villains introduced this season, as well as the return of plenty of villains from season one. Also, in season one, Spider-Man eventually learned who the "Big Man" was, though I don't want to spoil his identity for you. It might not be who you think. Anyway, the Big Man offered Spidey a job, but of course he refused. And he begins to realize his battles against all his enemies aren't completely isolated, it's all part of a larger war, so he'll need to start taking things alot more seriously. However, in season two, there is a mysterious criminal called the Master Planner, who is organizing Spidey's enemies against him. It doesn't take long for his identity to be revealed, but I don't want to spoil it for you. But there's also a crime boss named Silvio Manfredi, aka "Silvermane," who has just been released from prison. His top henchman is his daughter, Silver Sable, who apparently used to be romantically involved with Hammerhead. Anyway, there will be a three-way power struggle by the Big Man, Master Planner, and Silvermane. And of course, Spidey is stuck in the middle. And things become even more complicated when the Green Goblin returns, wanting to become the new Big Man of crime, himself.

Also this season, it starts to seem as if Gwen's dad, police captain George Stacy, may know Spider-Man's true identity. Certainly, he's on Spidey's side, even though Spider-Man is technically a vigilante. (This kind of reminds me of the relationship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon, though Spidey, for all his power, is still a kid, and Capt. Stacy is older, wiser, and more experienced in crime fighting than Spidey, even if he's not a super-hero.) Meanwhile, Harry, who had been away for the latter part of the first season (for a reason I won't reveal) returns to town, and starts dating Gwen, while Peter has begun dating Liz. Though it's clear Peter and Gwen still have feelings for each other, so that's something that's awkward and uncertain for both of them. Also, Mary Jane starts dating Liz's brother, Mark Allan, who doesn't like the way Pete has been treating his sister. (He doesn't do a good job of hiding his feelings for Gwen.)

Anyway, at the end of the season, Peter and Gwen finally tell each other how they feel, but... because of other events, a relationship between them becomes impossible, for the time being, even though Pete does break up with Liz. Meanwhile, there's an epic climactic battle between Spider-Man and Green Goblin, in which everything we thought we learned in season one is turned on its head. And... well, I was desperately hoping there'd be a third season, but it doesn't look like there will, which really sucks.

In conclusion, I should mention that, though I'm not terribly familiar with the comic books, the show is apparently pretty faithful to them, as many hard-core Spider-Man fans might attest. What I can attest to is that, while the animation style may seem a bit simplistic at first, it's actually not bad. And the fight scenes are totally awesome. And I love the character development and interrelations, and the overall plot continuity, the whole serial nature of the show. And um... I think the theme song (by The Tender Box) is pretty cool. Oh, and the banter... did I mention the banter? Spidey has some great banter with his adversaries. I'm probably forgetting any number of things I should say, but really, it's just all done quite well, I feel. Oh, also, I made an AMV called Stuck in the Red & Blue.


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