For the most part, I’m not a very big fan of the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series. Although I try to keep up with all the latest animated super-hero projects, especially when it involves Spider-Man, I lost interest in the web-slinger’s current series pretty early on. While at first it seemed like an interesting combination of the Ultimate comic book universe and the Avengers movie universe, and seemed to be showing us what Spider-Man would be doing in that particular film universe if his film rights weren’t still owned by Sony, I quickly found the show’s approach to the character to be fairly grating.
So much of the series is focused on the other super-heroes and on guest stars and on battling the week’s bad guy that hardly any time is spent on Peter Parker as a character or on his circle of friends. And then to make it worse, Spider-Man is actually pretty obnoxious on the show. He has a one-dimension to his personality, and that is that he tries way too hard to constantly be funny. And by that, I mean the writers are trying way too hard to constantly be funny. He’s like the freaking Jar Jar Binks of the Marvel Universe. It’s annoying. Which sucks, because I hate being annoyed by my favorite super-hero. And I get it, I mean this show is for like teenagers watching the Disney channel or whatever, but I should be able to like it too, right? The last Spidey series, Spectacular Spider-Man, was totally great. This new series just irritates me.
That said, a few days ago I noticed that the series was on NetFlix, and I decided to skip to the last few episodes to see how its Norman Osborn and Doctor Octopus subplots played out. Honestly, I was surprised at what I saw. Doc Ock, who started the show as a greasy, long-haired, homeless-looking, icky dude working in a sewer or something, was now bald with wires coming out of his head, wearing a strange apparatus and floating in a big green gooey goo ball. The arms were no longer attached to him, but they were just kind of everywhere around his lab and he could control them with his mind. It was awesome. Even looking at it now, I still feel very impressed at how cool of a design that is for Doc Ock.
The next surprise came later in the episode. Ock switched from his floating goo ball to some kind of octopus mech armor, which appeared to be a nod toward Dan Slott’s current run on The Amazing Spider-Man. Norman Osborn also showed up wearing some strange armor that honestly looked pretty strange on Norman Osborn, and wielding some kind of electro-shock gauntlet. I mean, I know the guy was Iron Patriot for a bit, and he can rock some armor when he wants to, but this was pretty silly. But then Doc Ock injects Osborn with a combination of Spider-Man’s DNA and Venom’s DNA, which is an incredibly absurd premise and makes no sense at all, and Norman transforms into the Green Goblin.
Rather than depicting the Goblin in the same way that he’s always been shown in film and television, which is as a crazy person wearing a Halloween costume and throwing pumpkins at people and flying on a bat-glider-thingy, the series went for a version closer to the Goblin from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. This means that the Goblin is a physical change that happens to Norman Osborn, similar to the Hulk or Abomination, which is a clever way of tying the characters back to the super-soldier serum and Captain America, the starting point for superheroes in the Ultimate Universe. Unlike the Ultimate Comics version of the character, the Goblin here isn’t without a costume, since Osborn was already wearing that weird armor and shock gauntlet. So now, not only is he a much larger, stronger, demonic creature, you have a way of giving him the finger zappy powers that he always had in the comics, but tying it in with the new version of the character. Brilliant.
With new Spider-Man movies on the horizon and the opportunity to reintroduce these characters to moviegoers as serious threats to the web-slinger, I wouldn’t mind seeing Sony take a page out of the Ultimate Spider-Man playbook. The Sam Raimi series of Spider-Man films made some incredibly bad choices regarding the design of its Goblin characters. Willem Dafoe, an incredibly expressive actor, was hampered by a big clunky Power Ranger suit and forced to act behind a big dumb helmet (it actually was kinda cool looking but didn’t really work on screen and totally killed his performance). The thing is, Dafoe was such a convincingly creepy Max Schreck/Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire that I never understood why they just didn’t put him in makeup and let him act that way. Imagine if they’d gone with the Bendis approach of the Goblin being a physical transformation, but instead of him becoming a large mindless beast, he was a slender, sickly, vampiric figure, skulking around his mansion by day and stalking the city streets by night. I feel like this would work especially well for the new series, directed by Marc Webb, as that series seems to favor a creepier, more Ditko-esque aesthetic.
Additionally I would love to see something akin to the dynamic Doc Ock design used in Ultimate Spider-Man somehow worked into the new film series. While Alfred Molina did a great job portraying the good doctor in Spider-Man 2, and the design for that character was fine for what it was, especially the tentacles, it would still be cool to see a more high tech version of the character. When Doctor Octopus started, he was just a portly guy with a bowl cut and silly sunglasses who had four extra metal arms stuck to him. But he’s evolved since then. He’s a scientist, in some versions a scientist working for Norman Osborn (which would clearly be the right way to go for the Webb series), so of course he’s going to upgrade. What started as four metal arms has become a larger set of powers and a larger array of robotic weaponry. It’s also changed the meaning of his name to describe not just his additional limbs, but the overall theme of the character. He’s a scientist and he’s a creature. That’s definitely the right direction for this character in the upcoming films.
While it’s doubtful that I’ll be revisiting the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series any time soon, I have to give them props for always being on-point with their character designs, particular for Spidey’s rogues gallery. The way that they’ve translated these characters from the page to the screen has been great so far, and is possibly the one thing that this series has going for it. For me it seems like a no-brainer that Marc Webb and Sony should incorporate clever design choices like these into their upcoming Spider-Man films in order to not only set the movies apart from the Sam Raimi series, but also to not repeat the same mistakes of that series. Like the New Goblin from Spider-Man 3. Good God.