Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man "Strange Days"

Sometimes, you can just look at a title and figure out the guest star. Especially when the word “Doom” is involved. So when this episode decided to call itself “Strange Days,” I think most people knew exactly what was going to happen.

Except for those poor fools wanting that crossover with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

While they do a good job justifying why Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, and Iron Fist are the only ones awake, you’d think the other magic users in the world would be able to stay awake, too. I mean, if Iron Fist could stay awake, surely Baron Mordo, Brother Voodoo, or somebody else could resist Nightmare’s effects.

And while the world falling into mystical slumber is a great story idea, it causes problems when you take into account all the mayhem implied by the situation. Logically, there’s no possible way for this to end up being completely solved with the defeat of Nightmare. There’s bound to be fatalities, and yet everybody wakes up going “That was weird. Anyway….”

Spider-Man’s anti-magic stance actually has an arc to it. And more than that, it ties in to the main theme of the story.

Magic, science, whatever. Real life is something you can’t change by ignoring it. But nightmares and fears are something that we all have to learn how to deal with in our own ways. Now, I understand that it’s unfair to criticize this episode based on an episode in another show that hadn’t been made yet…. But that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

The Marvel Animation Universe is a little inconsistent when it comes to the portrayal of magic. Here, magic is portrayed as being natural and logical, but still a bit more… ethereal than science. When Dr. Strange returns in Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., all of a sudden he’s waxing on about how all magic is science. Despite the fact that “Stranger in a Strange Land” shows us that all you have to do to cast spells is say magic words, with not even a token appeal to the Law of Conservation of Energy. And then there’s Asgard, with it’s pseudo-sciencey-magical wishy-washiness that can’t decide if magic is more like the comics or the films.

Basically, magic works in whatever way the episode needs it to.

"Behold! I have summoned my own caption!"
Peter Parker/Spider-Man

To finally have touched on the fate of Uncle Ben is in and of itself a landmark occasion for the series. I mean, dealing with the death of Uncle Ben is pretty much expected of a Spider-Man series, so this is nothing new. But the fact that the writers dealt with Uncle Ben’s death respectfully is pretty unexpected for this show. One could easily expect Nightmare to summon Uncle Ben and have him turn into some kind of monster that has to be defeated because “awesome.” But in a show that loves its lame spectacle and dumb jokes, the quiet, thoughtful reconciliation stood out.

The Sandwich Club
Getting to see their worst fears come to life really helped flesh them out a bit. Especially Power Man. To see his worst fear of not being strong enough played out was actually the character’s most interesting moment so far. And then…. there's Nova.

This version of Nova was specifically created for the show and was later included in the regular Marvel universe. So there wasn’t really anything you’d call a “backstory” to go on. Which is why even the later episodes that fill in his backstory do little more than establish that he was a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. So instead of a psychological fear that played on his weaknesses, we were treated to his fear of rabbits. Because Nova has no backstory. He has no character depth. Nova is exactly as shallow as he looks.

Dr. Strange (Jack Coleman)
I’m sure all of his poses and incantations are supposed to look impressive, but this isn’t anime, writers. Flashy attacks with cool names look really good if your animators are willing to go the extra mile. This is Ultimate Spider-Man. Forget the extra mile, I just want them to go the first few miles.

Jack Coleman’s performance is pretty good, though I’m not quite sure about how he pronounces “Agamotto” and “Cyttorak.” But hey, I guess we won’t know for sure until the film comes out and codifies the pronunciation for all time.

The character is rendered ineffectual pretty quickly, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be the Master of the Mystic Arts. It’s a good thing Strange never brought up the Ancient One who taught him, because there’d be a very obvious question I’d have to ask.

It bears asking.
Nightmare (Mark Hamill)
Yes, you read that right. Nightmare is voiced by Mark Hamill. And he’s utterly wasted because they altered his voice to almost the point of unrecognition. The character isn’t terrible, but he seems to spend most of his time making Dr. Strange look bad as opposed to actually going through with his plan. It ultimately looks like toying with the heroes is what leads to his downfall. And you should never have your villain be defeated because he was screwing around.

Uncle Ben (Greg Grunberg)
Seriously, was this episode just a Heroes reunion? I really like Greg Grunberg’s performance. There’s a real warmth to the character without “UNCLE BEN WAS A GREAT GUY” shoved in our faces. And when Uncle Ben is making jokes, it’s easy to see where Peter got his sense of humor from. There’s a real visible connection between the two that is sometimes lacking from other versions. Even the Sam Raimi version. Yeah, I went there.

While Uncle Ben in the Raimi film was an all-around wonderful guy, it’s very hard to see where that rubbed off on Peter. Ben’s funny, Peter’s a dork. Ben’s a handyman, Peter locks himself in his room. Here, we see exactly what marks besides “Great power and great responsibility” Ben left on his nephew.

And… My God. I just said Ultimate Spider-Man did something better than the Sam Raimi film. What have I become!?

While the Dream Dimension looked great, I’m not a fan of Dr. Strange’s long, greasy hair or Nightmare’s ultimate form.

Oh. Wow. Fire and muscles. Truly the stuff of nightmares.
Final Thoughts
Honestly, this episode was pretty good, despite some flaws. While it might not quite have the emotional depths of the Uncle Ben stories in other Spider-Man shows, the fact that they were willing to do an episode that dealt with death this maturely was a very pleasant surprise. It just goes to show what this show is capable of and why it often falls short.

Next time, we get an episode named “Awesome” that fails to live up to its own promise. See you then!


  1. I wonder if the character of Sleepwalker was optioned for the series?

    1. Maybe. Actually, now that you mention it, I can't help but feel like the episode would work better with Sleepwalker instead of Dr. Strange....

    2. It's Dawn of the Deadman all over again