Monday, May 16, 2016

Recap: Ultimate Spider-Man "Run Pig Run"

Loki is, as of the time of this writing, certainly the greatest villain in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Though who knows what Zemo might bring us in the future....) Now, that's not to say that I'm a die-hard Loki fan. If I were, I probably would have given Thor: The Dark World a better review than "It's okay."

But Loki has a few things that elevate him above the other villains. A talented actor portraying him, his large role in the epically-Shakespearean Thor giving him a buttload of character depth, and the fact that most other MCU villains tend to die off after having their most interesting and humanizing scenes cut from the finished film.

Exhibit A.
Exhibit B.
Like or dislike Loki, there's no denying that he certainly is a popular character these days. Though Loki certainly owes his surge in popularity to the MCU, they've done some pretty interesting things with the character in the comics since then. Particularly in Kieron Gillian's "Kid Loki" arc in Journey Into Mystery, which is better than any story involving a "Kid Loki" gimmick has any right to be.

Naturally, Ultimate Spider-Man wanted a piece of that pie. And so, Spider-Man teamed up with a polymorph'd Thor to fight the God of Lies in what turned out to be a pretty good episode that actually did a rather good job with justifying why the street-level Spider-Man would be fighting a god.

Then along came this episode.

This is not a belated April Fools' Day special.

This is not a hoax.

This is not a dream.

This is not an imaginary story.

Well, technically it is an imaginary story, seeing as how Spider-Man's not real. But it's still a canon episode of Ultimate Spider-Man. And I'm going to talk about it.

Man, it's been a while. The last time I covered Ultimate Spider-Man, we were still waiting for Marty McFly to arrive.
The episode greets us with a sunrise over New York as a very hungry Spider-Man swings through the city.

Spider-Man: "I know you're hungry, stomach, but I can't exactly hide waffles in these tights."

School clothes? Yes.

A cell phone? Definitely.

An accidentally-shrunken Nova? Absolutely.

Waffles? Impossible, apparently.

Spider-Man: "You'll just have to suck it up because today is Picture Day. We gotta get to school so I can finally get it right this time!"

Yes, like nearly every teenage cartoon protagonist, Peter's Picture Days have been one long parade of braces, acne, and bad haircuts. Including a mullet.

Whoa, is that a Power Pachyderm?
Spider-Man: "I know it sounds shallow, but you gotta take control of your brand. Or someone else will."

In Spidey's case, the "someone else" in question has round ears, a tail, and a knack for getting his copyright extended.

But today, it's really getting to Spidey, you know? How nothing ever seems to go right for him while other heroes soak up the adoration. Driving the point home is a big ol' billboard for Tony Stark.

So, is this billboard advertising anything other than "Tony Stark is awesome"? There isn't even a Stark Industries logo.
As Spidey laments that heroes who do the same thing as him get loved and celebrated, we see a montage of exactly what Spidey gets. He gets the Bugletron yelling at him, cops opposing his vigilantism, and guys with mustaches criticizing his fashion sense.

Spider-Man: "I'm all alone on this crazy train."

But maybe it's not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate. A street vendor on the sidewalk spots Spider-Man monologuing above him, and is apparently the only fan the webhead has. Out of the kindness of his heart, the vendor offers Spidey a free hot dog. Spidey swoops down to eat the delicious dog, but oh sweet Odin.

His... his...  His spider-sense tingles.

This is pretty major. Ultimate Spider-Man has nerfed this particular power pretty hard. Not only can't his spider-sense detect Principal Coulson, but Spidey continually gets suckered by things that should easily set it off.

Spider-Man has just been offered food by a stranger. Food that makes his spider-sense, which has the sole function of detecting danger, start buzzing like a bee. Clearly, there's cause for alarm, right?

Spider-Man: "It always does that around street food. It's probably alright."

NewtCave readers, I'd like to teach you a literary criticism term.

"Idiot plot."

Attributed to sci-fi author James Blish, the term "idiot plot" refers to a story that only happens because our main characters suddenly become idiots.

Spider-Man ignoring his spider-sense is basically the definition of an idiot plot.
To be fair, he says that it always goes off around street food. Well, then how about you don't eat street food, Spidey? Apparently, it's just as dangerous as a blow from the Juggernaut. And for all you know, this random guy is one of the many, many, many people who hate you. By eating the food he offered specifically to you, you put yourself at his mercy.  What if he spat in it? Slipped you a mickey? Added some rat poison?

Although, again, to be fair, it's made very clear that Spider-Man's common sense is fighting a losing battle with his hunger. Unfortunately, it's rendered in an unfunny gag where his brain and stomach (which sound like a British guy and Not-Quite-Grunkle Stan, respectively) argue over eating it, with the stomach winning out.

As Spider-Man takes a bite, the vendor erupts into a fit of maniacal laughter and turns into none other than Loki, the God of Mischief.

Spider-Man: "Wait, did you do something to my hot dog?"

...You're an idiot, Spidey.

Spider-Man: "You didn't spit in it, did you?"

See my previous statement.

Loki: "I thought about it, but not even I am that merciless."

Says the man who turned his own brother into a frog and usurped the throne of Asgard by force. Still, I'm glad that he seems to be following FDA health and safety regulations.

Loki explains that the hot dog was simply enchanted. And in a puff of green smoke, we see exactly what kind of enchantment was on it.

Ah, the Circe Special.
Loki: "Consider it a playful riposte to our last encounter, Spider-Man."

Riposte. Noun. "A quick, clever response to an insult or criticism."

This "quick response" took you ten episodes to deliver, Loki.

Loki: "You interfered in my plans of conquest. It is only fair that I return the favor."

So.. you're interfering in Spidey's plans of conquest?

Loki: "Complete with a witty 'You are what you eat' morality 'tail,' curling out of your backside."

Spider-Man demands that Loki change him back, but Loki responds with an obligatory "wee wee wee all the way home" joke. Making me wonder if they do the "this little piggy went to market" thing in Asgard. Can you imagine Odin doing that?

"This little piggy went to Midgard, this little piggy came home...."
Loki: "Let this be a lesson, mortal. You messed with the wrong...."

Before Loki can finish his statement, Spidey thwips a few web balls down Loki's throat before reiterating his demand. But alas, things get serious as a fog rolls in from the ocean and a horn blows.

Loki: "That is your cue to run."

As Loki disappears into the mist, an Asgardian hunting party riding on wolfback emerges. The leader, known as Skurge the Executioner (Travis Willingham), spots Spidey.

Skurge: "The target that we seek. Let the hunt begin!"
Warriors: "Slay the swine!"

Warcraft jokes? Dungeons and Dragons jokes? I can't decide! Too many options!
Arrows are launched, and Skurge swings his axe around. Spidey dodges the various attacks, all the while protesting that he's a man trapped in a pig's body.

"That's what they all say!"
If anything, the idea of killing a talking pig makes Skurge more intent on taking Spidey's head as a trophy.

Skurge: "I will hang its head above my fireplace next to the others!"

Have you tried collecting stamps instead?

The chase takes prey and hunters into Central Park, where the hunters get more determined with every second that passes.

Warrior: "He is a fast hog. Fast hogs taste good."

As the fight continues, Loki, disguised as a street performer, explains what the dealio is.

Loki: "It's Asgardsreia. The Day of the Wild Hunt."

That's what the subtitles say, at least. According to my research, the hunt is called AsgÄrdsreien, though there might be some variations to that spelling that didn't come up in my research.

Loki: "Once a year, a band of Asgard's finest hunters form a party and ride off to skewer a prize boar. To be eaten at a feast held later tonight in the halls of Valhalla."

Okay, I've been kind of critical of this episode so far, but that's actually a real thing in Norse mythology, though a few details have been changed. But unless Skurge and these unnamed warriors are actually some of the dead warriors from Valhalla, I'm not sure why they expect to eat any of this pig. Especially since later depictions of Valhalla in the Marvel Animation Universe will show it as a wasteland filled with skeletons. But I can't really criticize this episode for things that haven't been established yet, can I?

As Loki continues to taunt Spidey, he takes refuge in a trash bin. So Loki sneakily disguises himself as a mime and presents the bin for the hunters.

They don't get it.

So Loki holds his nose up to resemble a snout and points inside.

They still don't get it.

Loki: "He's in the refuse bin!"

I wouldn't be so harsh, Spidey.
He did stay silent as long as he was a mime.
So, why aren't these noble warriors of Asgard taking this moment to do something about Loki? I mean, yeah, the hunt is on, but surely, Loki is an enemy of Asgard? Remember? He usurped the throne? Ten episodes ago?

But the hunters ignore Loki and continue chasing after Spider-Man. But before Skurge's axe can find its mark, mighty Mjolnir deflects its blade. Yes, Thor has arrived, having heard the call of the hunting horn.

"Hah! The Son of Odin shall be the victor of this hunt!"
Thor: "Let me guess. My brother Loki, God of Mischief?"
Spider-Man: "Squeeeee! What makes you say that?"

Skurge doesn't take too kindly with Thor keeping them from their quarry, and reminds Thor that he can't stop their hunt without going against the will of Odin.

Thor: "Loki has planned his revenge most cleverly."

True, but simply putting poison in that hot dog would have guaranteed victory.

But while Thor can't call off the hunt officially, he can slow the hunt down all he wants. He tells Spider-Pig to run to safety, but Spidey wants to know why Thor can't just explain that Spidey was a human transformed into a pig.

Thor: "Nay. For in truth, it is exactly what a talking pig would say."

Fair point.

Thor grabs Spidey and runs to safety, telling him that all they can do is run. Spidey laments that he got stuck with a hero who couldn't undo the spell, and we get an imaginary sequence of heroes like Dr. Strange and Iron Man failing to undo the spell, too.

Because tutus are automatically funny...?
But all is not lost.

Thor: "The plan is simple, Spider-Ham."

Of all the ways to have somebody name him "Spider-Ham".... Thor?

But Thor has a plan for Spider-Ham, and that plan is...

No, you know what? I hate to say it, but this isn't Spider-Ham.

Spider-Ham is a specific character, hailing from an alternate reality (Larval Earth) featuring the likes of Captain Americat and Thrrr, the Dog of Thunder. I know I once said that this was the first appearance of Spider-Ham, but it's really not. Apart from an imaginary scene in "Flight of the Iron Spider," Spider-Ham won't officially appear until Web Warriors, and Spider-Man's new form is simply an homage to the character.  So instead, I will be referring to him as "Spider-Pig."

Anyway, Thor's plan: Run down the clock. If Spidey can survive until the hunt ends at sunset, then the hunters will go back to Asgard with nothing.

Thor uses his lighting to blast a manhole and cover Spider-Pig in grody sewer water to disguise his scent from the wolves, then goes back to fighting the mighty hunters of Asgard. When he realizes that said hunters have the advantage, he has Spider-Pig web himself to Mjolnir before throwing it and him across the city to Midtown High, much to Spidey's dismay.

Spider-Pig: "Forget about cooking me; they'll eat me alive in my high school."

Only your "friends." Thor summons Mjolnir back to his hand before flying to meet Spidey at school.

Spider-Pig: "This is the worst idea in the Nine Worlds. Whatever those are."

Don't ask me; I couldn't figure out how big a "realm" was either.

But Thor insists that Midtown High is the best place to keep Spidey safe, what with Coulson and the rest of the Sandwich Club there. Naturally, you might be wondering why Thor doesn't enlist the help of the Avengers. Well, we can go about the answer two ways.

In-universe, this takes place before the premiere of Avengers Assemble, meaning that the Avengers are still broken up. (This is also why the Hulk was on the run when last we saw him.) In reality, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes was still on TV, which was clearly set in a different universe.

Whichever explanation you prefer, Thor drags Spider-Pig through the front door of the school. Luckily, there are no students in the hallway, so no one watches as Spidey escapes Thor's grip and runs back outside.

Thor: "You once talked to me of pride, and how I should not allow it to stand in my way. It is time to heed your own advice."
Spider-Pig: "Schooled by the God of Thunder."

Whoa, continuity. It's always nice when they decide to actually whip that out.

And so, Spider-Pig re-enters the school, which is now filled with students. I guess class just got out. Spidey crawls along the ceiling unseen, which... no. I mean, the perspective alone means that somebody looking straight forward from the other end of the hallway is going to see Spider-Pig crawling on the ceiling.

Yeah, I know, obvious joke.
As the students shuffle back to class, Spider-Pig ambushes the rest of the Sandwich Club in a stairwell, taking full advantage of the fact that these four have no other friends or social life outside of anything involving Peter.

This can only end well.
Sam is eating a sandwich, which Spidey quickly nabs. After taking one bite of the first thing he'd eaten since that cursed hot dog, he pauses.

Spider-Pig: "...Is this ham?"

After spitting out his mouthful so as not to become a cannibal, Spidey tries to sum up the events of the day succinctly.

Spider-Pig: "Loki, spell, Thor, fight. The rest of the story in Coulson's office."

The others respond to Spider-Man's tale with the respect and understanding that a person whose physical being and sense of identity has been shattered needs.

Yeah, you didn't believe that for a second, did you?
They laugh at him. Even Danny, who's usually the nice one. As they laugh, Loki appears to taunt Spidey and pull the fire alarm to signal the hunters, who they suddenly appear.

Skurge: "Destroy anyone who stand in the way of us and our feast!"
Sam: "'Feast'? Are they talking about you?"
Spider-Pig: "Green eggs and all, Sam."

Okay, I can't really blame them for that joke. They saw an opportunity and took it, and I'm guilty of the same with my Simpsons reference.

But I can blame the writers for this little bit of logic. If Loki pulled the fire alarm, then how come the school isn't heading single file to the designated fire exits? They're all still in class. Even if we assume that the students are supposed to head out the classroom windows for some reason, why aren't there any students coming down the stairwell from the floors where jumping out the window is a bad idea?

And it gets even more ridiculous. As the Sandwich Club rushes off to change into costume...

Spider-Pig: "Flash, you'd better clear out; it's about to get messy."

Flash Thompson bursts out of the locker he was hiding in and runs off down the hall.

Spider-Pig: "Lucky guess."

Here's the problem. Not only are we expected to believe that Flash Thompson was hiding in a locker while the fire alarm was going off, but since the hallways were empty before the fire alarm was pulled, he must have been hiding in that locker before the fire alarm went off. So... why was Flash randomly hiding in a locker?

Anyway, Skurge redoubles his efforts to cleave Spider-Pig in twain, but simply ends up getting electrocuted after chopping a hanging fluorescent light... which somehow manages to stay lit, despite the glass getting sliced. Spidey ducks into the bathroom to hide, only to find Loki taunting him while disguised as Stan the Janitor. Shortly thereafter, Skurge's archer buddies find him.

Spider-Pig: "Flash! You'd better run! It's gonna get messy!"

Okay, the callback was funny. I'll admit it.

Nova and the others quickly arrive on the scene to toss the old pigskin around while Thor talks to Principal Coulson in another hallway. For some reason, this hallway features kids running around in a blind panic. So while I'm glad that the kids have stopped ignoring the fire alarm, I have to wonder why the adult aren't actually coordinating the school's emergency policy regarding fires.

Anyway, Coulson heavily criticizes Thor's choice of bringing Spider-Pig to a building filled with kids.

Thor: "You are Son of Coul. I thought you could handle it."

Are you kidding me, Thor? This guy got tied up by a gym teacher. Though, to be fair, the gym teacher was really an assassin.

Once they get to Coulson's office....

Coulson: "Flash, beat it. Things are about to get messy around here."

Because Rule of Three.

With Flash gone, Coulson unveils his arsenal of hi-tech firearms, hidden behind his diplomas.

Coulson: "Of course I can handle it."

Welcome back to the land of badassery, Phil.
Over with the Sandwich Club, Nova cracks his usual jokes and Spidey has his usual revenge fantasies before they once again come face-to-face with the Asgardians closing in from the other end of the hallway. Luckily, Coulson is there to do what he does best against Asgardians: Shoot them with big guns.

Good luck, Phil.
Here's hoping it goes better than the last time....
Coulson and Thor work to slow down the Asgardians while the Sandwich Club hurries to detention and takes the underground tubes to the helicarrier.

Possibly to form Voltron, too.
Once there, Fury tells them not to worry.

Nick Fury: "We are 3000 feet up in the air. It'll take more than a huff and a puff to knock this house down."

Despite the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier mostly being famous for getting knocked out of the sky to prove that the bad guys are fo' serious, yo.

While Nova tries to come up with a "when pigs fly" joke, Fury tells them the current plan: Wait until sundown, when the hunt ends. Until then, everything's on high alert. White Tiger questions the need to be on high alert when the hunters clearly can't follow them into the air. So, of course, the inevitable happens.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent: "Sir! Unidentified objects approaching."

The official term for them is "bogeys," agent. Go back to S.H.I.E.L.D. academy and learn your terminology. And they can be identified as "Asgardians riding wolves with bat wings."

Iron Fist: "Majestic creatures...."

Right, because imagining how awesome these things would look on the side of your hippie van is more important than the fact that they're about to kill you guys.

Anyway, the Asgardians go from "bogeys" to "bandits" as they begin attacking the helicarrier's outer defenses. Spider-Pig wants to go help fight them, but the other insist that, since he's the target, he should kind of stay hidden and protected.

Spider-Pig: "This morning I was complaining how I get no respect."

Nothing wrong with that; Rodney Dangerfield made a career out of that.

...

Go ask your grandparents, kids.

Spider-Pig: "But all these people risking their lives to save my hide? Wow."

Suddenly, Loki appears on the bridge of the helicarrier and, with the hunt deadline fast approaching, decides to quit messing around and starts shooting green lightning out of his fingers. As the various bolts completely fail to hit his target, he also indulges in a little bit of monologuing to spell out the moral for the kids at home.

Loki: "Be careful what you wish for! You never know who may be listening. Like me. I've made you the most desired beast in all the Nine Worlds. However, as you continue to hide and let others do your fighting, I question the wisdom of turning you into a pig. Perhaps a chicken would be more appropriate."

Well, that might not be a good idea, since the Chicken status effect only lasts a maximum of ten or so turns until the target's Brave level... never mind.
Now, obviously, Spidey should stay hidden. Not only is it the safest thing for him to do while the others stall for time, but the others know what they're getting into. Despite how the Sandwich Club usually treats Peter, they're proving that the really do care about him by risking their necks against physical gods in order to keep him safe. Because that's what a true friend would do. Loki knows this. That's why he's playing to Peter's insecurity by calling him a chicken.

And, unfortunately, Spidey pulls a Marty McFly by heading outside to rise to Loki's challenge, thus rendering the moral that we all need to rely on our friends sometimes a moot point. And once on the deck of the helicarrier, he won't exactly be able to escape if need be.

Pictured: The likely future of our hero.
Thor and a jetpack-wearing Coulson also join in the fray as Spidey yells at Loki to face him like a man. And instead of saying "Hey, Skurge! Here's your prey!" Loki decides to accept Spider-Pig's challenge by turning into a giant, green smoke cloud so he can make a joke about sticking a fork into Spidey while poking him in the rear with a trident, as opposed to... you know. Killing him. But Loki wises up and uses his smoke to blind Thor, allowing Skurge to knock him out and get in a one-on-one fight with Spider-Pig.

Spidey fights well, but... well, Skurge is basically a god.

Skurge: "I've never seen a pig defend his honor so bravely."

Some pig.

As Skurge swings his axe for the killing blow, the horn sounds, and the sun quickly disappears over the horizon. The hunt is over and Skurge, the honorable fiend he is, surrenders the victory.

Skurge: "It was a glorious hunt, but the rarest of days. Today, the boar has won."

Loki, the petulant manchild he is, appears to scream "no no no" and demand that Skurge slaughter the pig. When he tries to chop the pork himself, Thor takes away Loki's axe while Spider-Pig runs up, transforms into a human, and knocks down the god with a single punch.

Two points.
  1. It was never established that Spider-Man would actually revert at sundown; only that the hunt would be over.
  2. Spider-Man knocked out a god, who has probably taken multiple blows from Thor's hammer before, with a single punch.
Thor grabs Loki as Spider-Man thanks his friends. Before Thor can cry "Heimdall, portal," Loki steals a wolf-bat and flies away.

Loki: "We'll meet again, mortal."

Pff. Who doesn't Loki meet? He's fought the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., the Guardians of the Galaxy....
But for now, Skurge rides after the God of Mischief, but not before complimenting Spider-Man one last time.

Skurge: "You would have made a succulent meal."

"What do you mean 'would have'?"
And in the end, Spider-Man is just glad that he avoided any embarrassing school photos.

Nova: "Um, that's not entirely true...."

And after they all take a look at the pictures of Spider-Pig on Nova's phone (pictures which include a shot of Central Park and the bathroom, which Nova couldn't have pictures of because he wasn't ever in either of those places this episode), the episode ends on a Looney Tunes homage.

Spider-Man: "Th-th-th-th-that's all, true believers."

Excelsior to you too, Spidey.
Not let's get ready to review while I grab a ham sandwich real quick.

2 comments:

  1. You know in newest TMNT when Donnie returned home after getting beaten by monkey, his brothers immediately came to his side to help him. And then they broke into laughter immediately after making sure he's alright.

    As good time as any to say that. Sandwich Club are really poor attempt at showcasing non-white heroes. "Hey, lets give Spider-Man racially diverse team of heroes! They will constantly mock and mistreat him, and barely ever get focus, even to the point of not appearing in some important episodes. And if that doesn't work, we just ditch them and make team of Spider-Men. It worked for Hulk, right?"

    What else to say? I hate how they abuse "Son of Coal" joke, turning Peter into Spider-Ham only to introduce actual one later is nonsensical but then again so does is introducing actual Ultimate Universe in show supposedly about Ultimate Spider-Man and...what's next anyway? Oh. Great. THAT episode. "One Little Thing" of Ultimate Spider-Man.

    -Faceless Enigma

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    Replies
    1. The Sandwich Club always skips that important step of making sure Peter isn't in any sort of trouble before they start making fun. That's the frustrating part.

      And the Sandwich Club is the HARDEST part of reviewing this show, because I'm just making the same criticisms over and over. At least Agents of SMASH and Avengers Assemble come up with NEW things to criticize.

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