Thursday, December 25, 2014

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man "Nightmare on Christmas"

On the most minor note, it bugs me that this episode is named after "A Visit From St. Nicholas," yet is based on "A Christmas Carol."  But at the very least, this was better than the travesty that was "Halloween Night at the Museum."
"Aw, come on!"
Go bother Unshaved Mouse. Disney hasn't caused him much pain in a while.

I have a problem with the Marvel Animated Universe airing episodes out of order. The more observant among you may have noted that I'm covering this episode out of order. This is a valid point. Counterpoint: Nyeh nyeh nyeh.

The last episode to air before this was the one where the New Warriors prepare to go to S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy at the Triskelion. Squirrel Girl, though she had appeared in an earlier episode, was not a member of the New Warriors. This, coupled with the fact that the Triskelion is treated like something we should be used to already, is kind of disorienting. It's just... I don't know. There's this pervasive feeling that I'm missing something for the non-dream parts of the episode. Still, this episode isn't too bad overall. In fact, it's actually pretty darn good.

The Ditko-esque visuals in the past honestly surprised me. It was a nice touch that went above and beyond what I've come to expect from this show. But having said that, it didn't really fit. If that makes any sense.

When you watch a show for a couple seasons, you begin to get a feel for the show. The Ditko segment just doesn't fit with that feel. It's like a random musical number in the middle of an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Or a wizard in a Star Trek movie. No matter how much you liked it or how well it's done, it simply doesn't fit.

And that's really disappointing to me. I really wanted to like the Ditko segment. And I do! It's awesome! But it clashes with everything the series has done so far. And I think that part of that is the fact that I've come to expect crappy gimmicks like Spider-Man and baby Spider-Man transformations. When the show gives us something respectful to the source material and even interesting, it just seems odd.

The problem with this episode is the same problem that Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. often has. It has to fight itself to succeed at being good. But like I said, this episode was a good one.

Imagine it this way. You have a cake made out of mud. In order for this cake to be delicious, it must first overcome the fact that it's made out of something inedible. Like a mud cake, this episode has to beat back the show's shortcomings with a stick. No New Warriors. No Sandwich Club. Save for the very beginning and the very end, this episode has almost none of the things that makes Ultimate Spider-Man unique. And while that gives us a good episode, it almost feels... dare I say, disrespectful to the show at large.

In a vacuum, this is a good episode. But when you take into account all the effort put into trying to make such a different take on Spider-Man work, casting the new elements aside just seems... wrong.  Having said that, this episode is one of the more creative ones of the series. Previous episodes featured Spidey being turned into a pig, a baby, etc. as the extent of the creativity. By having Nightmare disguise himself as the Shoulder Devil, the fourth wall is slightly leaned on. This gives us one of the things that this show has been missing for a while regarding its humor. Subtlety.

I really do have to compliment the use of the Shoulder Devil as a disguise for Nightmare. It was a clever little way to take advantage of one of the show's unique qualities. It reminds me of the Japanese theatre practice of "invisible" characters. See, they'd have black backgrounds and have stagehands dress in all black outfits so they wouldn't be noticed. When one of the stagehands attacks a main character, that's how they would depict a ninja, or any kind of invisible character. (This is why black pajamas are stereotypical ninja outifits.) Having Nightmare pretend to be a regularly-appearing, fourth-wall-breaking figment of Spider-Man's imagination is not only a good twist, but it's a clever way to catch the audience off-guard.

As for the story, it's "A Christmas Carol." With Spider-Man.

All in all, it's an enjoyable episode. Moreso if you don't like Ultimate Spider-Man's status quo.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


  1. You know, this review makes me think about Adventure Time (you watch it, right?). My favorite AT episode ("Simon & Marcy") also feels absolutely nothing like Adventure Time.

    - Faceless Enigma

    And yes, I noticed I reference lots of not-recapped-here shows recently.

    1. Hate to say it, but I've never regularly watched Adventure Time, though I've caught a few good episodes.