Thursday, June 18, 2015

Review: The Spectacular Spider-Man "Competition"

Before I start reviewing this episode, I'd like to put a little bit of football-related wisdom from the great John Madden right here.

“The best way to gain more yards is advance the ball down the field from the line of scrimmage.”

Truer words, Madden. Truer words.

Really, this wasn't a very plot-heavy episode.

More fist-heavy than anything, really.
Despite the fact that it takes place in the middle of the "Economics" arc of the show, this is sort of a setup episode for a lot of things down the line.

Peter's friendship with Gwen and Harry is mended, Harry's starting to take some initiative in his own life, and the villains are joining forces to create themselves an army of supervillains. Things are beginning to shape up into what will be as much of a status quo as this show gets.

Obviously, "competition."

Not just with how Peter and Harry were competing for a spot on the team, but with how the villains were relying on mad science to even the playing field against Spider-Man. Gone are the curb stomp battles of previous encounters. The thugs are getting upgrades.

There's also a definite underlying theme of what it means to be partners.

Marko and O'Hirn get taken in to Osborn's secret lab, but only Marko gets powers. In the same vein, Peter's performance on the football field is getting the coach's attention more than Harry's performance. But in the end, Peter shows true teamwork by helping Harry overcome Flash's blatant attempt to rig the outcome of tryouts, as well as making Harry look better by comparison.

Heroes use their power to help others, villains use their powers to help themselves, to sum it up.

Harry Osborn

Harry is finally taking control over his own destiny. But even so, Norman's not impressed with his son's efforts. Looks like we can expect continued friction between these two.

Clearly, Norman isn't just a hard-to-please dad, he's an impossible-to-please one. While last episode made it clear that he wanted great things out of his son, this episode makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't expect anything great out of him.

Gwen Stacy
For the first time in the series, Gwen is shown to have feelings for Peter. To the shock of no one familiar with the source material.

Flint Marko/Sandman
Too many of Spider-Man's villains are motivated by revenge against the webhead. After a few fights, all they want is to squash the spider and laugh over his corpse. Scorpion, Electro, Sandman, Rhino, Shocker, you name it. Writers will often forgo any complicated motivations in favor of making them simply hate Spider-Man.

To see Sandman actually turn down a chance at revenge in favor of getting the big score he's always wanted was a breath of fresh air. No revenge. No evil plots. The guy just wants to steal money. And that makes him stand out among not only the revenge-obsessed villains from the comics, but the complex machinations of Hammerhead, Osborn, and the Big Man.


This episode is amazing, visually speaking. Victor Cook, one of the producers, was reportedly very excited to bring the Sandman to life. The Sandman is definitely one of Spider-Man’s most visually interesting enemies, and the fight scenes in this episode really captured his essence. One of Sandman’s signature moves is turning his hands into hammers and maces, and this episode has plenty of that. But the animators really went that extra mile.

For comparison, let’s take a look at the Ultimate Spider-Man episode “Snow Day.” In that episode, Sandman is just as fluid as you’d expect him to be. He makes giant fists, turns into a sandy maze, becomes a giant sand monster, shoots sand blasts, the usual. He does everything that the Sandman should be expected to do.

But in this episode, Sandman rips his own face off to get webs out of his eyes, forms a hand with his face to block a punch, gets his legs literally kicked out from under him, and that’s just scratching the surface of what the animators had him do. Here, he does everything the Sandman should be expected to do and so much more. There’s so much creativity injected into every fight scene of this episode. No wonder Sean "Cheeks" Galloway called this episode his favorite one.

I mean, not to unnecessarily pick on Ultimate Spider-Man, but it deserves to be mentioned when a cartoon from 2008 is animated so much better than a cartoon from 2012. And remember, Spectacular Spider-Man was done without Disney’s bottomless resources backing them up.

Final Thoughts
While three separate football montages made part of this episode a little tedious to sit through, the Sandman stuff is worth the price of admission. Whether it be his journey as a villain or the great fight scenes, Sandman is the main reason to watch this episode. It might not have been as good as, say, “Market Forces,” but it’s still definitely worth a watch.

Next time, the other half of the O'Hirn/Marko team gets a chance at the big time in the last economically-themed episode. See you then!

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