Ultimate Spider-Man: Blade — review

Screenplay by Man of ActionKevin Burk and Chris Wyatt.

With the announcement that Spider-Man’s to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one theory suggests secondary characters can be trialled for spin-offs by being paired with Spider-Man for introductory purposes. This is a good idea. As the most popular Marvel character, Spider-Man gets the highest ratings, views, gross and numbers. And just as the Guardians of the Galaxy were introduced a few episodes ago, Ultimate Spider-Man now welcomes Eric “Blade” Brooks to Disney XD’s Marvel Universe Programming Block.

Traditionally, Brooks is a half-vampire, hunting other vampires while possessing their powers but not weaknesses. Brooks’ presence in the Marvel Universe is caused by the greater presence of Dracula, as created by Bram Stoker in the novel Dracula. Now, the thing about that is that it’s all very well, but it doesn’t really suit Ultimate Spider-Man. The Marvel Universe is a big place, but the version of it presented by that show contrasts too much with the existence of Dracula. That’s why, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, everything correlates. All of it’s science-based – a Norse god’s presence was explained with science that could slot in to the bigger picture. Essentially, putting Dracula into Ultimate Spider-Man‘s world created an undesired conflict in terms of world building. It wasn’t consistent, and the result is that, throughout the episode, it felt out of place, which means it is.

And I say that about a show that’s otherwise very consistent. The humour of the show and the tone and mood binds episodes together, and makes it feel as if they’re all part of one big narrative. With animated shows, maintaining a certain tone is difficult because it’s such an easy style to get wrong, and anyone who can keep one running with the same atmosphere should be congratulated. That’s why The Simpsons is criticised so much today – people feel as if the family life lessons have been side-lined in the place of outgoing, fantastical and arguably unbelievable single-episode epic ideas.

The thing is, Ultimate Spider-Man is just an adaptation of a greater body of work, built from comic book lines sharing a single continuity. Brooks is a part of the same world as Peter Parker. I don’t read the comic books, but I can only assume they’ve met at some point, making Parker aware of Dracula’s existence. And even if that hasn’t happened, it doesn’t make it any less true. Within the fictional narrative of the Spider-Man identity, Dracula’s an equally real part of the world. Of course, just because that’s the way with the source material, that doesn’t mean that all adaptations should include it in the same style, as proven by the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s incorporation of a variety of different genres by standardising them to generally resemble science fiction. In fact, the assumption is that Stephen Strange is going to be a sci-fi character rather than a fantasy character, even if that contrasts with how he’s presented in source material.

The most enjoyable aspect of Ultimate Spider-Man is the way it knows it shouldn’t take itself too seriously. Everything that happens, every character, event and concept, is cartoonish. Everything clicks together, and it’s a consistent world. The idea of those characters fighting Dracula, which ends with the introduction of the Howling Commandos straight out of the Universal Monsters series, almost looks like Scooby-Doo. But there’s nothing wrong there, because it sticks to that. And yet, the version of Dracula it creates is a complete departure. Now I have no problem with Spider-Man fighting Dracula – you make Spider-Man fight Dracula, and I’ll definitely watch – but the version of that character is a tangent from how that world normally works, and instead we get the Untold version, which tries to be realistic. Why would you make Dracula realistic when he’s fighting a cartoon Spider-Man? That’s like watching Christian Bale’s Batman face-off with Bigfoot, but making him a rubber suit worn by a farmer who would’ve gotten away with it, too!

I watch this show because I like the world it creates. It’s escapism. And it manages to be escapism because I can never see the world’s borders. Adding in something of that nature suddenly reminds you of how make-believe everything is. And if something reminds the audience that what they’re seeing isn’t real, it’s compromising the story being told.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Blade — absurd, inconsistently included guest star 3/10.

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Author: the Purple Prose Mage

I'm not Batman, but I wish that I were.

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