Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man "The Iron Octopus"

I will always give you my honest opinion. Otherwise… what the heck am I doing here? Why would I ever spend this much time running a blog full of opinions I don’t actually hold? I have no agenda, other than to analyze, examine, and entertain.

Okay, look. This Review is a week late, so I’ll just cut the rest of my little speech here and get down to brass tacks.

This was a great episode. No one was more surprised than me.

This episode, the non-Man of Action half of the writing duties were performed by Frank Tieri, who has quite a bit of experience writing comics books. Including Deadpool, which explains why the random humor worked better in this episode. A shame that as of yet, Mr. Tieri has not returned to the show.

The plot of this episode is difficult to compare to the plot of “Flight of the Iron Spider,” since they’re fundamentally different. “Flight of the Iron Spider” is about Spider-Man getting a faulty super-suit from Iron Man while helping to fight one of Iron Man’s own villains, and this one is about one of Spider-Man’s villains launching a revenge rampage with the help of hijacked and stolen technology.

Having said that, I’m quite willing to accept this episode as a sort of do-over for “Flight of the Iron Spider.”
I don’t want to re-review that episode or anything here, but to summarize, here are the main flaws of that episode.
  1. Spider-Man learns a lesson in hubris… apropos of nothing. He just does a 180.
  2. Living Laser was a flat villain.
  3. Spider-Man’s teammates were pretty much just as rude to him as he was to them, and he’s apparently the only one who needs to learn a lesson?
  4. The oddest cutaway gag in the series, in that one is not even aware it’s a cutaway gag because of the way it’s presented.
I wish I could forget about this.
“The Iron Octopus” improves on each of these points in turn, almost like it was an intentional apology.
  1. Spider-Man doesn’t really learn a Lesson of the Week. Instead, tension is built up between him and Norman Osborn, setting the seeds for the two-part finale.
  2. Dr. Octopus is the best villain in the show so far, and learning his backstory here makes him even more interesting.
  3. Spider-Man’s teammates… don’t appear. I’m a little disappointed, actually. I’ll get to that in a bit.
  4. The cutaway gags are actually relatively subdued and fewer in number, which kind of goes to show that they can work to a degree when their inclusion isn't shoved in there because we haven’t had a joke in thirty seconds.
What I really like about the plot is that every single part of it builds on something we’ve already seen. The origin of Doc Ock has been revealed, the Iron Spider armor makes a triumphant return, Spider-Man is finally linking Norman Osborn to Doc Ock, you name it. Everything that happens furthers some sort of subplot in some sort of way.

So let me say with all sincerity that in terms of furthering the overall story, this episode was masterfully written. Having said that, there are a few details that I take issues with. Peter’s spider-sense is as useless as ever, the Hulkbuster is oddly weak for something that can supposedly bust a Hulk, and Spider-Man’s previous tentacle recovery was rendered moot, just to name a few from my Recap.

But, admittedly, those are relatively minor details. In a weaker episode, those details would have dragged the whole thing down. Here, the fact that the story was first and foremost well-written buoys it up.

Peter Parker/Spider-Man
This is the final story-arc-related episode, so it makes sense that Spidey would finally be suspicious of ol’ Stormin’ Norman. And I must say, seeing him ask Iron Man for guidance at the end was actually a nice touch, as opposed to the episodes where Spider-Man seems to be the only voice of reason.

Norman Osborn
Seeing the true extent of his treatment of Dr. Octavius really drives home what a figurative monster he is, even if he’s not a literal one yet. And I’m quite happy that Norman and Harry finally get some depth to their relationship, as opposed to Harry’s repetition of how neglectful Norman is. Norman’s tendency to treat everybody but his son like his son really put the season into perspective.

Dr. Octavius
Otto Octavius’s tale just keeps getting more tragic.

Every time I write these Reviews, I keep in mind a comment left on my Review of the very first episode.

“Did you fucking forget that the show is called ULTIMATE, as in it takes place in an alternate universe. Because the show wants to expand with its concepts, not be restricted by them.”

Despite the sailor-talk, that actually made me think. With all the animated adaptations of Spider-Man, every new adaptation is going to have to think outside the established parameters for the characters and plots. (I’ll address this more when I talk about Season 1 as a whole.)

Dr. Octopus’s origin in Ultimate Spider-Man is a perfect example of the show not only successfully reimagining one of the core facets of the Spider-Man mythos, but doing so with flying colors.

Usually, the good doctor is either already a piece of work when the accident happens, or he’s a repressed geek who uses the newfound power to act on all his repressed emotions. But here… Otto Octavius is just some dude. By what little description of his personality there is, he seems like just a decent guy who got caught up in a horrible accident.

With most versions of the character, the accident and the tentacles give Ock the freedom to act out on his darker impulses. But here, the tentacles represent a form of enslavement. Rather than say “We done goofed; Otto’s a quadriplegic because of a lab accident,” Norman hid his shame away from the world by turning Otto into little more than a tool. One to be easily discarded when it stops getting results. Only for Norman to change his mind when it started getting useful again. And here, the same thing happens all over again as Norman scoops up Octavius from the wreckage of his failed revenge and tells him that once again, Otto is Norman’s plaything whether he likes it or not.

And his gorgeous looks will never return, which I think we can all agree is the real tragedy.
And for all he knows, everything he said to Spider-Man about his imprisonment by Norman Osborn may have been straight-up ignored.

So in all honesty, Ultimate Spider-Man’s crowning achievement is flipping Doc Ock’s usual character arc on its head. Color me impressed.

Harry Osborn
It’s important to note that for all his complaints, Harry Osborn does care about his dad. He doesn’t want to see him hurt, and Harry basically demands that S.H.I.E.L.D. lock Iron Man up for the earlier attack.
As we go on, the question becomes one of whether Norman reciprocates those feelings.

Tony Stark/Iron Man
Again, Iron Man takes the role of mentor to Spider-Man. And now that Captain America: Civil War has been released, I’d say that Ultimate Spider-Man predicted the MCU… if the comics themselves hadn’t done it first. But I digress.

I do find it interesting that Tony Stark becomes a bit more of a jerk in this episode. To be fair, it is aimed in Norman Osborn’s direction.

…is not actually heard in this episode.

In his previous “appearance,” JARVIS was voiced by Phil LaMarr, who played the character in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. My guess would be that at this point, the EMH voice actors would have been already gone (since their show wouldn’t be renewed for a third season) and they hadn’t yet hired the Avengers Assemble equivalent, David Kaye.

Adrian Pasdar as Iron Man, however, would be sticking around.

Sandwich Club
I wish they were in this.

I’ve talked about the problems with the Sandwich Club before, but I’m a little disappointed that this episode solves the problem by not including them. I’d rather see the Sandwich Club  done well than not at all, since the show’s trying to build them up as being important.

This is what I usually imagine when they don't show up.
The action is solid, and the editing even does what Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H tries to do… and does it well.

Seriously, Agents of S.M.A.S.H. This is one of your main gimmicks. Take notes.
But the stylistic choice for the Norman Osborn cutaway confuses me. Not because it’s weird, per se…

But I don’t think we ever see this animation style again.
Final Thoughts
This episode was legitimately enjoyable. The jokes were often funny, the action was suspenseful, and the show felt like it was moving forward in a way that it hasn’t since… ever.

In short, it's pretty squickety-awe-tastic.

Next time… well, I’ve already covered the next two episode, “Not a Toy” and “Attack of the Beetle.” So go ahead and read those if you haven’t yet, because the next two episodes I cover will mark the end of the first season. See you then!

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