Ultimate Spider-Man: the Howling Commandos

Adapted screenplay by Man of ActionKevin Burke and Chris Wyatt.

Part of my problem with part one of this two-parter, Ultimate Spider-Man: Blade, is that took itself too seriously. There’s a reason Brooks (Blade) isn’t a part of the modern superhero trend, and it’s because he just doesn’t fit its style right now. When things have gotten a bit darker, maybe. But not right now. As part two of his guest-starring two-part episode, Brooks is downplayed this time, and only appears as a fodder or fighter. Which is a good. If the previous episode proved anything, it’s that you just can’t do anything with him. As a character, he’s very unsubstantial.

And, with Brooks being taken by Dracula, Fury unleashes the Howling Commandos, supernatural beings based on the Universal Monsters series, which incidentally inspired the Marvel Cinematic Universe trend. But somehow – and this is strange considering the episode’s written by the same writers as previously – it works a lot better this time round. Rather than let Brooks take the spotlight, the show remembers that ultimately it’s about Parker, and everything happens to make him important. He gets to say all the best lines, and is definitely the most entertaining part of the episode. And you’d be surprised how many shows can forget this formula, and start to push some other character, despite it not being about them.

Yes, the existence of Dracula in this world doesn’t quite make sense, and can only be executed by resembling Scooby-Doo (how long till Warner Bros. start a cinematic universe for each of those characters?), but the way Parker’s revelation that “Dracula… is real!” is met dumbfounded allows the audience to project their own reaction onto that. Personally, I found myself jumping aboard the Parker ship (because why wouldn’t I?), finding it all quite difficult to comprehend. But that was okay, because he was the same.

Really, this isn’t a show about realism. Let’s get that out of the way. So for what this episode should be congratulated is its consistency, and ability to make everything have the same wacky unreality. It never treats anything like the next big thing, and instead, embraces its wild nature. And it’s much better for it.

Ultimate Spider-Man: the Howling Commandos – a lesson in executing zane (6/10).

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.

Avengers Assemble: Molecule Kid — review

The Avengers has one of the largest followings in the world. And just like everything else with an Internet following, at some point it gets a television show. The good thing about the Avengers is that the core of it is the comic book series, from which the features are adapted. Marvel Entertainment can handle their properties, and Avengers Assemble resembles their cinematic universe without being a part of it. Another advantage of the series having half-hour episodes is that, unlike team-ups as we’re used to, standalone episodes can focus on specific characters each week if the writers wish.

This week’s episode, Molecule Kid, centres on S.H.I.E.L.D. assassins Clinton Barton and Natalia Romanova, and the most enjoyable aspect of the episode is the comparisons it draws between their relationship and how they resemble parents together. As someone who considers the Internet his real home, I can tell you how accurate this is. I don’t really consider myself a Marvel fan, but as someone engaged in social media, I may as well be. I know exactly what kind of relationship fans would like them to have, and that made Molecule Kid seem almost like a fanfiction. But what a lot of people don’t understand about fanfiction is that it can be good. It’s such an accessible medium that there’s too much of it to really notice the good ones, but that doesn’t make them any less present or worth reading. In such a way, this episode is like a really well-written fanfiction, with the writers knowing precisely what kind of relationship he wants to give these characters. In fact, I’d say this release represents the natural progression of a fanbase, in-which the reaction something receives feeds back into the thing in itself. That’s what this is.

Molecule Kid as a villain is slightly cliched, being the son of a previously-seen villain, but he’s not written in such a way that we’re supposed to care. All the villain’s here to be is a child that brings Barton and Romanova together in such a way that the comparison can be drawn and we can get a kick out of it actually being done. So there’s no real reason to have a problem with whom Molecule Kid is.

What this episode left me wanting – and this is through no fault of the episode in itself – is for a Marvel fan I know to see it. She loves Romanova and “ships” her with Barton. In this episode, that’s actually happening. Luckily, it’s just one release from that franchise so it doesn’t have to ruin anything.

Avengers Assemble: Molecule Kid — fanfiction character pairing done well 7/10.

Ultimate Spider-Man: the Parent Trap — review

Screenplay by Man of Action and Kaita Mpambara.

Of course, the word “parent” regarding Spider-Man immediately conjures the image of dead ones. Peter Parker maybe the second most famous superhero orphan, after Bruce Wayne, though there are others. In fact, dead parents are so common amongst superheroes that it was even included in The Hero Movie.

Which is a big problem with superheroes today. There’s often the one bad thing that happens to push them into heroism, but they remain there in order to compensate for that loss. Even Parker didn’t care about others until his uncle died, and it took having his parents shot in front of him to make Wayne want to be a crimefighter. All of them are living up to a sense of guilt, disappointment or failure that would otherwise make them not the heroes they are. It’s almost as if they’re fundamentally apathetic people but are trying to give something back after society made its own point on them.

Parker’s parents are dead. But that’s not that important in the grand scheme of things. When Luke Cage discovers his apparently dead parents in Zodiac Volcanic Base, Parker asks him if they’re his actual parents, leading to a very deep moment as he explains, in more of a nutshell than this analysis, that Uncle Ben and Aunt may are his ipso facto parents. Basically, blood doesn’t matter that much. Which is true. The same can be said for Alfred Pennyworth being Wayne’s true Father in practice. But that’s just an idea expressed on the way to something much more important – that they actually are his parents. We then get a recap of Cage’s origin story, and the gaps in it can be filled to draw the conclusion that these people really are his parents. As a hero, he’s come full circle. Which is important because he was recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. after their “death”, having been given the super soldier serum as a means to preserve it from enemy acquisition. This is another case of powers being linked to the death of one’s parents, as the The Amazing Spider-Man series has not-so-subtly exaggerated. Only this time, his powers are what lead to the rescue of his parents years later, putting all the aspects of his character into a coherent narrative that’s filled its own gaps by means of progression.

But – and this is really the thing to take away from this – he doesn’t just surrender his powers. Because the events of the episode aren’t just him getting closure as a person, but is also an important development for S.H.I.E.L.D. and the super soldier serum. They’ve prevented that from falling into enemy hands. On the way to recovering his parents, Cage has learned, through his adventures, that they’re not the only reason to be a hero. The world’s still more dangerous outside of their safety, and the fight must go on – it’s one they merely started. And he carries on.

Perhaps heroes should be heroic less so for personal closure, but for heroic’s sake.

Ultimate Spider-Man: the Parent Trap — superhero genre commentary, important statement 8/10.


And now, a new format on Thursdays, showcasing the releases

Opening this weekend

at the United States domestic box office:

Kelly Marcel‘s Fifty Shades of Grey

Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn‘s Kingsman: the Secret Service:

David Cross‘ Hits

Richard LaGravenese‘s The Last Five Years

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement‘s What we do in the Shadows

Ultimate Spider-Man: Venom Bomb review

Screenplay by Man of Action and Scott Mosier.

With Ultimate Spider-Man: Venom Bomb, I was able to go through the joy of discovering another great TV show. One of those moments where you know you’ll be watching the rest. The UK gets it on Disney XD HD, so I’m probably quite behind, and I’m not even starting at the beginning, but I don’t care, because the thing about Ultimate Spider-Man is that you’re able to join at any time. Even when the show’s in the middle of something important, it doesn’t swamp itself with too much plot, making it perfectly okay to join, while also still having enough of a story to be entertaining.

The “Venom Bomb” in question is part of what makes the show so entertaining – it’s a plan by Norman Osborn to unleash the Venom Symbiote onto the SHIELD Tri-carrier and takeover, in doing-so, infecting Agent Coulson and Agent Fury. So Peter Parker must release Otto Octavius in-order to create a serum that can dispel the symbiote.

There’s lots of characters there, but that’s what makes this show so great. Right now, the Marvel Universe is dominated by cinema, and that’s split into three studios: Sony owns Spider-Man, Fox own Fantastic Four and X-Men, and Marvel Studios own everything else. And since Spider-Man’s the leading Marvel superhero, Sony’s endlessly criticised for owning the character’s live-action rights, as fans feel the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs Spider-Man. How I myself felt about the whole situation was, until watching Ultimate Spider-Man, indifferent. And yet now, seeing the greatest Marvel characters collaborating on something of this nature just shows what kind of story we could be getting but aren’t.

When transporting Octavius to the lab, Parker avoids Venoms by flying, courtesy of Tony Stark’s Iron Spider. Because Marvel Studios own Iron Man, but Sony Pictures own Spider-Man, this kind of thing couldn’t happen in the mainstream. And honestly, this show’s better for it. While cinema continues to be divided and struggles to meet its potential, Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t have this problem. It’s more unique. It’s like a “what-if” scenario, and is like the Sony/MCU crossover everyone desires right now, but every week.

This is definitely a show I’ll be sticking-with.

Ultimate Spider-Man: Venom Bomb – engaging fantasy with thrilling stakes. 7/10