Monday, October 12, 2015

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man "Beetle Mania"

I'm not exactly a religious man, but I'd like to read from the Book of Parker, if I may.

And lo, in this episode, Mary Jane didst look upon the suffering of the Man of Spiders by J. Jonah, Son of James. Yea, didst she hear his words with barbs more pointed than the sharpest thistle, and lies as vast as the sea.

And so, approached the television's plug, she did. And with but a tug, deprived the device of electricity, so that the lies of J. Jonah, Son of James, would not be heard by the ears of the Man of Spiders or his disciples of the Sandwich.

Okay, I just wanted an excuse to use this picture out of context.
Seriously though, they should call her "Mary Sue Watson" by this point. I'll explain why.

Plot
The set-up is classic Spider-Man; saving the one man who hates him more than anything. And on that front, the episode is done brilliantly. The rest of the Sandwich Club evens gets to take part in saving the day! On the other hand, MJ wastes her second chance at that Bugle internship.

Seriously, what was up with that? What could have possibly happened in that interview to warrant her 180 on the matter?

"Alright, girlie. You want the internship? You'll have to earn it."
"Mr. Jameson, might I just say that it would be my honor and pleasure to..."
"And you can start by wearing a miniskirt 'round the office."
"...what?"
"Miniskirt. Standard dress code if you want to be my personal assistant, should this internship work out."
"'Personal assistant'?
It was my understanding that I'd be working my way up to... something having to do with reporting."
"Nope! Personal assistant. Must be a load off your mind, now.
I know how difficult journalism can be for you women. After all it is men's work."
"...I'm really starting to rethink this."
"You should be glad you've got those looks, Lil Missy. If you weren't such a fine piece of...."
"Yep. This interview's over."
"What, are you PMS-ing are something?"
"If you open your face again, you'll be sitting and spinning on something larger and sharper than this middle digit."
In other words, what women too often still have to endure in the real business world, sadly enough.

Themes
Oh, there's a few to be found. None that really tie the episode together as a whole, but you can glean a lesson or two.

"There are some fates that even major jerks don't deserve."

"Endangering people is bad. saving people is good."

And I guess, "Sometimes, you should postpone your dreams for other peoples' happiness."

I guess.

Seriously, why did MJ turn off that TV and end her interview? I mean, sure, JJJ was being a jerk to Spidey... but he's always going to do that. One moment of shutting him off isn't going to solve anything.

Characters
Beetle (Steve Blum)
Beetle is ruthless. Silent. Efficient. And only fails because Jameson was never in the Daily Bugle building.

Now this is a villain I approve of.

He gets a single line delivered by Steve Blum, who was probably only utilized because he was voicing Wolverine and Doc Samson in one of Spider-Man's fantasies. Honestly, I could have done without it. You know, preserve some of the mystique.

Still, it's nice to see a villain that actually has to be taken down with teamwork. That was nice to see from the Sandwich Club, instead of having them get pushed aside for Peter to save the day.

J. Jonah Jameson 
Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons is once again wasted.

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, where Simmons's portrayal of the character was well-received, did more than just rant about Spider-Man. Sure, he ranted about Spider-Man a lot, but there was more than constant "Spider-Man is a menace!"

Let me give you some examples.

J. Jonah Jameson: "I'll give you $150 for all of them."
Peter Parker: "$300."
J. Jonah Jameson: "That's outrageous! Done."

Peter Parker: "You don't trust anyone, that's your problem."
J. Jonah Jameson: "I trust my barber."

And let's not forget my favorite line in that first movie.

Peter Parker: "Spider-Man wasn't trying to attack the city, he was trying to save it. That's slander."
J. Jonah Jameson: "It is not! I resent that. ...Slander is spoken. In print, it's libel."

J.K. Simmons as Jameson has the potential to be hilarious. And finally, a character interacts with the old jerk. And he... says nothing funny.

What we see of the interview is actually fairly realistic, if energetic, and he never does any of the character's trademark gruffness with anyone.

And even beyond that, the character's actions are enough to get the man arrested, or sued, or in some way punished. I mean, the man put an entire building in danger by saying "Come and get me" to somebody who could easily come and get him.

How the heck is he not in jail after this?

...well, probably the same way he hasn't been jailed for all that slander. Not libel, because he rants on TV.

Speaking of rants... I've got a bit of one.

Mary Jane Watson
Let's ignore the fact that she's not Peter's love interest.

Let me instead ask a simple question.

Why is she here?

Well... the answer's a bit complicated.

First and foremost, let us ask ourselves what this entire show is about. Out of every single aspect of the show, what is the essence of the series? Superheroics. Not necessarily involving the Sandwich Club, but saving the day from the bad guys is given more than a focus than ever.

Previous shows had Spider-Man struggling to balance his job, obligations to Aunt May, school work, and crime-fighting. Ultimate Spider-Man eliminates his obligations to Aunt May by making her young and active, and almost outright ignores his school life unless it intersects with his superheroics. And yet, Peter Parker has two friends who aren't super heroes.

First, Harry Osborn. Obviously, not only is he involved with Venom, but his dad's the main villain of the show. So that's why Harry's around. But what about Mary Jane?

When they took away her status as Spider-Man's love interest, they realized that she needed some kind of characterization to warrant her inclusion. They made her a blatant Lois Lane copy, as I've detailed previously.

As I've also detailed previously, she's locked in HARDCORE REPORTER MODE 24/7, which makes her look like she needs to take a chill pill. Ostensibly, they were trying to make her seem driven and motivated.

And yet, every single time she actually has a chance to live her dream, she ruins it for herself. In "Exclusive," she released the footage of Spider-Man and the Hulk fighting crime onto the internet instead of using it to easily win that Daily Bugle internship. But because the plot said so, Jameson was still impressed with her enough to send her a new camera.

And in this episode, she ruins her chances yet again just because she didn't like what Jameson was saying about Spider-Man, unplugging the TV and ending the interview. And after this episode, he journalistic aspirations never come up again. In fact, the character barely shows up after this point.

Was this an abandoned arc?

Were the writers unclear on the direction the character should be taken in?

Heck, did Man of Action even want to include MJ in the first place?

As I type this, the answer is still unknown.

And so, Mary Jane's short story arc has already reached its conclusion. Not with a bang, but with a "meh."

While Mary Jane might not have done much in this series, you can bet that things always worked out for her. Because she's a bit of a Mary Sue.

Help fight the Frightful Four in the premiere? They never seek revenge.
Ruin your chances of that Daily Bugle internship? JJJ sends a free gift.
Ruin your chances again? Get a third chance next summer.

As a cherry on top of the sundae of Mary Sue-dom, she has no humanizing flaws. None. Not a one. Except maybe that she's too self-sacrificing, too willing to put her dreams on hold for Spider-Man. But screw that noise. That's not a humanizing flaw, it's one that makes her even more "perfect."

Animation
Average as ever. Backgrounds that look like they were put in the "cartoonize" filter...

I mean, come on. Letters or squiggles, show. Pick one.
...but with decent action.

Though I have to question this shot when it's revealed to the audience that JJJ was on a screen the entire time. MJ should have known that the whole time, but she treats the reveal to the audience like she just noticed it herself.

"Wait a minute. I'm beginning to suspect that Mr. Jameson might not have been here the whole time...."
Final Thoughts
It ends up succumbing to the same pitfalls that plague the rest of this show.

Unfunny cutaway gags, a misunderstanding of what makes J. Jonah Jameson a beloved character, a mishandling of Mary Jane....

But apart from those usual flaws, this episode actually does quite a few things right.

In the end, your enjoyment of this episode depends on whether or not you feel like the things done right outweigh the things done wrong. As for myself, I consider this to be a slightly above-average episode. One which, appropriately enough, sets the stage for an episode that dares to be different before being completely ignored.

I've already covered the next episode, which is also a pretty good outing. So the next episode I'll be covering is the one after that, where we'll see if they can bring us a third good episode in a row. See you then!

4 comments:

  1. I totally read the above what-if scenario in JK Simmons and Tara Strong's voices. I'm pretty adept at that (any Batman comics I read are read in Kevin Conroy's voice).

    For JJJ's libel/slander antics, if Fox News can legally lie on television on our world, I guess in this universe he gets that right too and then some. As for MJ, like I wrote about her in an earlier episode, I think being this hardline reporter woman is her only chance to get her abusive writer father to pay attention to her (no animated adaptation ever really dived into her homelife like that, not even Spectacular, which I wonder if that was what they wanted to do at some point).

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    1. Yeah.... When I think about how JJJ could easily get away with his antics in real life, it makes me sad.

      You know, your comment made me wish that the next episode to feature her prominently, "Stan by Me," had her chase after the Lizard, nearly die, and then we could delve into her reasons for her obsession with becoming a reporter.

      As it is, she's the only character who doesn't get an episode detailing her inner secrets.

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    2. And while I like your explanation, because it makes sense and fits with the main version's established background, I still have to hold it against Man of Action.

      I can't give them credit for a fan filling in their holes, as much as I would like to.

      Things like the MODOK design don't matter in the long run, so filling in the holes myself is a bit of fun.

      But Mary Jane is simply a mishandled, one-dimensional, shallow character with no arc, and no amount of fanon can change the fact that this is the character that Man of Action has decided to present to us.

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  2. When did Mustang become Jameson? (Get it? Mini-skirts)

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