Longtime readers will probably remember that a few months after starting this blog, I graduated from college with a Major in both English and Theatre. Today, Ultimate Spider-Man tries its hand at a theatre episode.
|You're on my turf now, show.|
Spider-Man: "Sergeant Sticky strikes again."
For some reason, Spidey is wearing his original costume with the red webbing down the sleeves, as opposed to his TV show redesign.
Why is this happening, you might ask? All in good time. For now, Spider-Man just wants to wrap this up. He's beaten up the Trapster so many times that he's getting pretty bored by it.
Spider-Man: "You realize very time we fight, I win, right?"
Trapster: "I stick to my goals!"
Spider-Man: "I'd like to wrap him up quick so we don't have to hear more lines like that."
Why is it that Spider-Man keeps criticizing the Trapster's glue puns every time he shows up? It's not like Spidey's jokes are much better. "Sergeant Sticky"?
As the fight continues, Trapster takes Mary Jane hostage. Because, as the rest of this episode will also demonstrate, the writers are having trouble coming up with stuff for her to do. I mean, the self-sabotaging-Lois Lane-wannabe shtick can really only give you so many story possibilities. So it looks like they're scraping the bottom of the Lois Lane barrel and finally having a bald guy take her hostage.
Mary Jane: "What is the Trapster doing here?"
Don't ask me, I just walked in on this.
And then one of the worst "jokes" I've seen in this show rears its ugly head.
So, Mary Jane is scared, panicked, what-have-you, right? A super-criminal has her hostage. This should be a tense moment.
So Spider-Man thinks this would be a good idea to pause the action and hold his phone in front of Mary Jane's face.
|And why is he doing this?|
I'm going to assume this is a joke, because Man of Action can't possibly think we're so stupid that we don't remember who Mary Jane is. Although that would fit the pattern of introducing characters multiple times like we're goldfish....
But let me explain why this joke doesn't work.
- Mary Jane is completely recognizable in "full freak out mode."
- Mary Jane's reaction to the Trapster is not over-the-top; she just looks legitimately concerned and scared. So the face that Spider-Man's drawing attention to for a laugh is not innately humorous.
- You can't break the tension with comic relief when you have so much constant comic relief that there is no tension.
Trapster: "Ah, how long before you graduate, Red?"
Oh, hey, Trapster's trying to find out if MJ's legal. Fun.
Mary Jane: "Ew. Creepy! And why would you say that, anyway? That is so wrong!"
I know I might come off as a bit of a hypocrite by agreeing with Mary Jane here since I did take a bit of a moment to admire Ava in "Snow Day." I know I wouldn't be the first person to consider an animated character hot (especially Ava, judging by the fan art out there), but perhaps that was a bit creepy of me. So I'd like to apologize.
But Trapster's not dealing with a fictional character. Well, technically, he is, but Mary Jane's just as real as he is. Meaning that he's pretty much soliciting her.
Why did you feel the need to add this in, writers? Why did you feel the need to paint the reoccurring, relatively-harmless gimmick villain into a lecherous creep? Dang it, it's Dr. Light all over again!
But luckily, MJ elbows the guy in the face, stomps on his foot, and kicks him right in the happy sacks.
Spider-Man: "Note to all super villains: MJ is not the strategic choice for hostage."
As much as I've criticized this episode within the first minute, I'll give credit where it's due. That was pretty great.
|That's the Mary Jane we know and love.|
|And just when I thought I was done discussing people treating MJ inappropriately....|
|Yep. No way of getting around it. At least one of those hands has hit the mark.|
|And I think she just realized that.|
I can't really complain that he's introducing himself to the camera again, since he's actually revealing his big secret to the audience instead. And at the vary least, I'm just glad that Iron Man isn't pressuring him into it this time.
It's at this point that the action pauses and a curtain closes.
Spider-Man: "How, you might wonder, did this whole disastrophe begin, exactly?"
It all began a week ago, when Peter was stampeded in the school hallway by a gaggle of girls. But Peter hasn't suddenly become a chick magnet, they're just really interested in the poster that Principal Coulson is hanging up on the bulletin board.
Girl: "When are the auditions? I'm so styked!"
Peter: "'Styked.' Is that a word?"
It very well could be. Dang kids these days, and your strange slang.
|What the heck does "ON FLEEK" mean and what is it doing on my delicious Valentine's Day candy?|
As it turns out, the poster is advertising auditions for an upcoming Spider-Man musical
|HMM I WONDER WHAT THIS IS REFERENCING|
Because I guess the writers got tired of the reporter angle?
Mary Jane: "My first professional credit. Well, semi-professional. Okay, high school. But it's a credit!"
Yeah, no offense, MJ, but, like, 99% of all the writing high-schoolers do is crap.
And that's not a bad thing; I don't want to discourage people from following their passions. But early attempts at writing, whether it be books, plays, or what-have-you, are most valuable as experience, rather than accomplishments. If you write something good, challenge yourself to do better. If you write something terrible, figure out what went wrong. Then challenge yourself to do better. Maybe recycle what ideas you think worked. That's what Douglas Adams did when he turned an untransmitted episode of Doctor Who into Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and it worked well for him.
But as with everything else Mary Jane does, she's treating this like some sort of fast track to the top; like her first play will wow the heck out of the audience because they'll be so amazed by her take on Spider-Man.
Mary Jane: "The world thinks Spider-Man is a menace. But I know different. My play can change the public's opinion about him."
Except, you know, the people who won't be going to see a high school play. Which is probably most people in New York City. It's very hard to fit a population of 8.4 million into a single auditorium. And don't get me started on evacuating them from the city....
Peter: "Yeah, that's a nice thought. But there's no telling what your director will do to your script."
Well, if it's anything like Turn off the Dark, altering the script could only make it better.
Peter: "'A Principal Coulson Production, directed by Principal Coulson, songs by Principal Coulson?'"
I hear he just ripped off some old U2 songs, though.
Peter exclaims that this can't be real and heads to the office to express his displeasure.
Coulson: "Oh, it's real, Parker. As real as Asgard."
Okay, that's a great line. Point to you, episode.
The two have a brief staredown before Peter asks if this S.H.I.E.L.D. agent-turned-principal-turned-director even knows what he's doing.
Coulson: "I know the drama teacher got the mumps and someone had to fill in. I intend to make this the best show since... that one with all those cats, I forgot the name."
Phantom of the Opera?
Coulson: "Hey, what rhymes with 'arachnid'?"
As Coulson writes, Peter begs him to do anything else. An X-Men play (Mutant and the Beast), a Fantastic Four play (The Thing and I), even Hulk School Musical. And after a quick cutaway gag to that effect, Coulson continues to say "no" to Peter's request. The topic was chosen by the Theater class, the script was written, and the costume was already sewn. In a little in-joke, Coulson sewed up the costume from the comics, albeit without the spider on the back.
Coulson: "Ooh! Arachnid, stay back, kid. That rhymes!"
Okay, props to whoever came up with that rhyme.
Peter: "With great power comes great responsibility."
Good advice. Say, how did your science fair project turn out again?
Peter: "Not to use it for bad choreography. I won't do this!"
Coulson: "That's right, you won't. The risks to exposing your identity aside, you're wrong for the part anyhow."
Peter: "I'm wrong for the part of me?"
Coulson: "It's not you; it's Spider-Man!"
And across the world, Drake Bell's detractors could not agree more with Principal Coulson.
Later that day, Coulson holds the typical bad audition montage.
|Mmm... maybe not as the lead, but I feel like this guy should at least get some kind of cameo.|
Flash: "I'm Spider-Man, evildoer!"
Then he does an adorable somersault.
Flash: "And you just got bit."
Coulson gives him the role immediately, to Peter's chagrin as he flashes back to the years of bullying he endured at Flash's hands. It involves a lot of getting shoved into lockers.
Peter: "Why does it have to be him?"
Sam: "Uh, maybe because he looks better in your costume than you do."
Peter: "My costume? That's not..."
Oh, but it is. You didn't think we'd be able to get through this episode without Sam being a pain in the butt, did you? Sam switched the costumes just to see the look on Peter's face.
|What, no cutaway gag of Peter's face when he's not in full freak out mode?|
After school, retrieving the costume proves to be difficult, seeing as how Flash is refusing to take it off, even when leaving school and walking down the street. He manages to catch up to the big lug when he stops to interact with a... oh, jeez, this kid again?
Recurring Kid: "Hey, Spidey! You're so cool! My hero!"
Yeesh. Drake Bell does not disguise his voice well when voicing kids.
|Why does little Bowlcut Billy here keep showing up? Are there only, like, five kids in all of New York?|
Flash: "Heard of this thing called 'method acting'? I'm gonna live Spider-Man 24-7 'til the musical!"
And apparently, this involves fighting self-promotion, because he runs over to a news van to do just that.
Reporter: "The museum's "ancient world" exhibit closes this week...."
Don't worry, it'll reopen just in time for Jessie and the Ross kids to visit.
Flash: "Which gives you time to come and see me! Spider-Man! Live on stage at Midtown High."
|The news story about Rogue made me laugh. Shame they'll end up getting rid of those jokes down there.|
I don't like to throw this word around lightly, but that's really stupid.
Back in February, my high school theatre teacher fell ill. While a substitute teacher filled in for her teaching duties, I worked on the play for three days in her place. In three days, do you know what I accomplished?
I told everybody where to stand in Act 2. That's it.
Look, despite the name, "plays" are more work than the average person knows.
First of all, Coulson did the casting absolutely wrong. It's very rare for someone to be cast on the spot like Flash was; usually, the director takes notes and figures out who gets put in what role after auditions.
But that's a minor point. What isn't a minor point is that once the actors are cast, there's still nearly everything to do. Sets need to be built and painted. Lights need to be set up. (Unless, like my high school, there aren't any actual stage lights to speak of.) Lines need to be learned. The sound system needs to be set up and/or tweaked. And the play needs to be "blocked," which is a fancy term for "telling the actors where to stand, enter, and exit from." Because sometimes, the stage directions in the script either need improvement... or have an actor entering a scene twice.
And after all that, you need to have dress rehearsals to iron out any unforeseen kinks.
I hate to keep comparing this show to Spectacular Spider-Man, but when that show had the main characters performing A Midsummer Night's Dream, it took about seven episodes to illustrate the passage of time between rehearsals and opening night.
Basically, Ultimate Spider-Man is giving us the theatrical equivalent of building Rome in a day. Or burning it, as the case may be.
Anyway, the Trapster leaps out of the museum with some kind of Egyptian artifact. He aims his gun at the costumed doofus, but Peter grabs him and tries to pull him to safety. For his trouble, he ends up under a statue. After Peter un-pins himself, he yells at Flash to run, since Trapster mistook Spider-Flash for the real thing. Flash takes this as a compliment and continues fighting instead. So to keep Spider-Flash alive, Peter secretly climbs up onto the roof to help the lug out with his web shooters. After a very brief scuffle, Peter manages to knock part of a statue onto Trapster's head, knocking him out. And even though it should be patently obvious to any bystanders that Spider-Flash wasn't the one shooting any webs, they give him the credit.
Flash: "I'm Spider-Man, evil doer! And you just got bit."
As Trapster escapes via convenient jetpack, Flash plugs the upcoming Spider-Man musical some more before continuing to strut down the street in full costume. For some reason, New York seems to be overflowing with Spidey fans today. Flash is loving it, even though Peter points out that there are probably more dangerous villains trying to target Spidey. Flash feels confident that he can bring the ol' one-two to any villain who wants a piece. So instead of taking his costume off, he decides to tone-deafly rehearse his big number from the play as he walks down the street.
The next day, Sam pulls up the footage of Spider-Flash kicking butt, with a little help.
Sam: "See? You got your suit back no problem, just like I said."
Peter: "Except that's not me, it's Flash."
But it's not just Sam. Nobody can tell the difference between Spider-Man and Spider-Flash. To make things even more implausible, Peter and Coulson watch the Daily Bugle newsfeed in the office that shows ol' JJJ doing the unthinkable. Not only does he believe that Flash was Spider-Man... but Jameson is actively praising him.
Jameson: "Yesterday, we saw a new, improved Spider-Man, doing minimal damage for once. He even sent the villain packing with a jaunty turn of phrase."
Flash: "I'm Spider-Man, evil doer! And you just got bit."
Coulson: "That line I added to Watson's script is money."
Or as those teenage girls for earlier would say, skrill.
Now, you might be expecting me to launch into a huge tirade about how unrealistic it is that JJJ is suddenly Spider-Man's biggest fan. And I did, the last time it happened. But even if I think that JJJ's opinion changed too quickly, I think there's some subtle brilliance in the reasons why.
First of all, less property damage, which is one of JJJ's major complaints. But if I may introduce a bit of fan theory here, it's very possible that Flash is simply less creepy as Spider-Man. Not only does his buffer physique look better in the outfit, but he looks better on TV (as Coulson points out). There's a theory that one of the reasons people dislike Spidey is because of how absolutely unnatural he looks, contorting his body and crawling around like something from that Sigourney Weaver movie. The one with all the aliens.
Anyway, Peter complains about the whole deal, and discovers that he's now Flash's understudy.
Peter: "I'm your second choice to play myself!?"
Coulson pulls up a list on his computer real quick, and we discover that Peter was behind, in order, Sam, Ava, and most hilariously of all, Miles Morales.
|Ignoring the questions this will open up in Season 4, it's a funny joke.|
Actually, no, let's discuss that.
Realistically, Spider-Man plugging a high school play appearance like this would probably start trending, to say the least. This play should be bombarded with both the media as well as super villains. So here's what should happen.
|"Spider-Man appearing at my son's high school? Wouldn't be the first time.|
Good thing I still have Taskmaster's phone number."
So we cut to opening night as the band warms up and the audience shuffles in. But behind the scenes....
Flash: "Parker, you're Spider-Man."
Peter: "What? How did you..."
Flash: "I can't do it! You have to go on tonight."
As it turns out, Flash can't sing. And he knows it. He doesn't want to go out and make a fool of himself.
Honestly... I can actually relate to this. I was definitely a theatre kid in high school. Unlike the kids who took theatre as a class to simply blow off, I was actually interested in acting. And since I went to a high school with only a few hundred kids, you could count the good actors on one, two, three hands at most. So during the year when we were doing two one-act plays as opposed to a single two-act play, I ended up taking over the role of somebody in the second play who had to drop out.
I would have to sing.
True, it was only the first few verses and chorus of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," but I couldn't sing. Still can't, really. My range isn't too bad, but I can't make my voice do what I want all the time. (Still not exactly sure how I wound up performing in Fiddler on the Roof during college, honestly.) I did everything to avoid singing in rehearsals, preferring instead to practice at home. And in the end, I did over a hundred takes into a microphone; the best version was played over the loudspeakers as I lip synched onstage.
My point? Flash's opening night jitters are far from unrealistic. Stage fright happens to the best of us when we're asked to do something we know we can't. And worst of all for Flash, he'd be letting down his idol. After all, Flash was the one who suggested they do a Spider-Man musical in the first place.
Flash: "Is that weird?"
Peter: "Weird? Only in that you're a big-man-on-campus-bully-jerk and he's an outsider who uses powers to help people. Not cram them in lockers."
Flash: "What do you mean? I wouldn't abuse powers if I had 'em."
Huh. I don't want to give any Season 3 spoilers away, but... huh.
Peter decides to cut the crap and tell Flash how it is.
Peter: "Flash, you're handsome. You're a star athlete."
Would you two like some time alone...?
Peter: "You don't need to forcibly convince little guys like me. We already admire you. If you were nicer? We might respect you too."
Okay, Peter might be shilling Flash like he was a Marty Stu, but that's a really nice sentiment that goes beyond a standard "bullying is wrong" message.
Peter: "You wanna be like Spider-Man? Be responsible for your choice."
Yeah, like helping to a S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft to take an unauthorized trip over international borders to a restricted location in Bermuda!
But the speech works, and Flash decides to go out there and do his idol proud! Right after he throws up from nervousness. Peter leaves the dressing room to leave him to it, telling Mary Jane that their star is doing "vocal exercises." After going to dump the barf bucket in the dumpster, he returns to find the Trapster breaking into Flash's dressing room for revenge.
The Trapster glues up Spider-Flash while Peter steals the fake Spider-Man costume to try and save the day. Over in the auditorium, the play begins, despite the fact that the lead actor is not standing at the ready backstage.
Okay, I'm just going to assume that nobody involved with the writing of this episode has any idea how a play works. If both the lead actor and his understudy are MIA, you delay the performance while citing technical difficulties.
But the breaches in theatre protocol have only just begun as Sam, Ava, and Luke, dressed as the other three of the Frightful Four, begin to terrorize Mary Jane in the mock-up lunchroom in a reenactment of the first episode.
"Klaw": "We are the Frightful Foooooooouuur."
I know you can't hear him right now, but let's just say that Sam's singing is probably worse than Flash's.
Spider-Man's fight with the very real Trapster crashes through the set to disrupt the play, much to Mary Jane's surprise and anger.
Mary Jane: "Hey, Trapster's not in my script."
And that's when any sane person would run and pull the fire alarm to let the audience know that things have gone horribly wrong. Nope; the show must go on, apparently.
After a bit with the shoulder angel and devil that I'll skip over... Well, maybe not entirely.
|The flames above the devil's head are in silhouette. Do I need to point out that fire can't have a silhouette again?|
Spider-Man: "I'm gonna grab the ropes and stuff to make it look less real."
Well, break a leg. Because that's what usually happens to would-be musical webslingers. And Turn of the Dark had safety harnesses, Coulson just gave Flash Thompson some ropes and a prayer.
Spider-Man: "Just keep playing. We don't want a panic."
Good point, good point.
Counterpoint: Evacuate the civilians.
Coulson tells the band to play the fight music as loud as possible while MJ yells at all the other actors.
Mary Jane: "Would you guys stop making up lines? I put a lot of work into this, you know!"
Wow. What unprofessionalism. You will never see an actor whisper to each other on stage that they said the wrong thing. There are people with scripts behind the curtains for that.
Anyway, as the very realistic fight continues, Spider-Man hopes that the Sandwich Club is realizing that he needs some help. Instead, they're in the audience loving the "realism" and... wait, weren't they just in the show?
After rewatching the earlier scene.... no. They were not. The guy I mistook for Luke is too skinny, the guy I mistook for Sam has the wrong skin tone, and the girl I mistook for Ava... well, she looks pretty much exactly the same as Ava.
|I mean, can you blame me for getting confused?|
Trapster: "Ah, how long before your graduate, Red?"
Did we really need to see that again?
Luke: "Hey, is there any chance that's the real Trapster?"
Danny: "Is there some chance that's the real Spider-Man?"
Aunt May: "Shh! It's getting good! They're so graceful. Such talent!"
And so, Spider-Man ends up defeating the Trapster onstage by gluing him up with his own weapon.
Coulson: "Keep going!"
Coulson: "It's your solo!"
Coulson: "The show's not over!"
That's wonderful. Call the damn cops.
Over in the dressing room, Flash hears the cheering crowd and struggles to break free of his bonds while Coulson mocks Spidey in a childish tone of voice.
Coulson: "'Keep playing, we don't wanna panic. Don't worry, I've got this.' Deliver the goods, understudy."
But Drake Bell gets to show off his adequate pipes as Peter sings the big solo to the crowd's delight. Here are the lyrics.
I will save you all by crawling up your wall
and spinning spinning you a web that will not let you fall
Didn't work so well for Gwen Stacy, though.
I Spider am
I am Spider-Man
You don't have to ask the man behind this mask
will answer answer every call/I'm here to save you all
I Spider am
I am Spider-Man
"Birds of Prey" was better. Heck, the Pie Song was better. But the crowd seems to love, it, especially when he finishes it up with Spider-Flash's catchphrase. And it is pretty impressive that an untrained high schooler can project his voice enough to fill an entire auditorium without a microphone.
But for some reason, the crowd still thinks that Spider-Man is being played by Flash, despite the different build and voice. And because being a hero isn't about the glory or the admiration... Peter unmasks for the glory and admiration.
Spider-Man: "My name is Peter Parker. And I am Spider-Man."
As the audience sits there, mouths agape, Mary Jane complains to the Flash offstage that Peter and this random bald guy went off script, but everybody loves it.
Mary Jane: "I give up."
And that's exactly what happens. This is the last time she tries to be a playwright.
For some reason, despite the great performance, the crowd chants "We want Flash."
Audience Member: "We want Flash, not a science nerd!"
|Why not both?|
Flash: "Glue Guy tried to wreck the show. My understudy here said 'the show must go on.' And somehow, saved the night, singlehandedly."
Meaning that beyond a shadow of a doubt, Peter has just revealed that he's athletic enough to swing on ropes, agile enough to dodge glue blasts, and a good-enough fighter to take down an actual supervillain. And didn't Spider-Man go on TV and say he'd be here tonight? So much for that secret identity.
But Flash demands some cheers for Peter for saving the day.
Peter: "You realize you're doing something nice for me here, right?"
Flash: "I got pushed around. Didn't like it. Maybe now I know how it feels to be you. A little."
|Kiss, you fools.|
Peter: "He's got five more verses. Then I'll call the cops."
Why didn't anybody call them already?
Peter: "And that, as they say, is curtain."
Now let's review, and I'll explain why this episode is not getting a standing ovation.