Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man "Rise of the Goblin"

To be honest, if this episode had featured Spider-Man taking the Green Goblin home and hiding him from both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Aunt May, I'd have to applaud the sheer audacity. And honestly, I'm surprised that the idea isn't brought up in an imaginary cutaway as a callback to "Home Sick Hulk."

You never can tell with this show.
Continuing from the last episode, this one is less about catharsis from all the plot points that have been building thus far, and is more about establishing the new status quo. Norman Osborn is now equally monstrous, eloquent, evil, and intelligent, and the Sandwich Club gets closer to Spider-Man than ever while his relationship with Harry Osborn deteriorates.

Before this point, there was Peter Parker's life, and there was Spider-Man's life. And rarely did the twain meet, despite Norman Osborn's involvement in both sides of Peter's dual-identity. But now....

Spidey's gettin' upset!
With Norman's villainy public knowledge and him being more powerful than ever, Peter Parker's personal life is forever changed. His teenage life will never be the same. In a crazy world, he does all he can. He's Iron Man. ...I mean, Spider-Man.

Unfortunately, the focus on setting up the new season does mean that any dangling plot threads are just left dangling. Doc Ock, the Frightful Four, anything with Mary Jane, et cetera. So if you were expecting a resolution to a non-Osborn plotline, you're out of luck. And if you wanted a more satisfying resolution to Harry secretly being bonded with Venom since he was supposedly cured... yep. Out of luck. It's a bit anti-climactic, really.

Norman Osborn/Green Goblin
From the very first episode, Norman Osborn has been obsessed with Spider-Man. Initially, it was made clear through a monologue that he intended to use his DNA to create some genetically-engineered spider-soldiers.

His speech in "Revealed" is vague on whether or not these soldiers would be for personal use or monetary gain... and that makes sense, from an out-of-universe standpoint. The writers never intended for Stormin' Norman to get that army; he was always meant to become the Green Goblin. More than 90% of the cartoon based on Spider-Man have featured the Green Goblin is some way. Come Hell or high water, the Green Goblin's probably going to show up.

What doesn't change is Norman's obsession with power. The guy might have gone through a painful transformation, but he quickly grows to love his newfound strength, which fits with his various musings on "power" throughout the season as a whole.

However, his relationship with Spider-Man is a plot point that kind of gets dropped. Pre-transformation, Norman is in awe of Spidey's abilities. Post-transformation, he's more interested in activating the Venom within his son... which I'm fairly certain he shouldn't have known was still there, but whatever.

The implication is clear. He wants his son to be like him. But this raises the question... did Norman Osborn ever love Harry?

"Well duh, Newt," you may think. "He's his son."

Ah, but did Norman ever love his son as a person, rather than just his son?

Is Norman disappointed in his son for not reaching the potential Norman knows he's capable of... or does he simply consider his son a disappointment?

Obviously, the latter, post-transformation. He considers his son to be worthless without Venom backing him up. And even then, he considers his son to be too weak for the symbiote after Harry gives it up.

But... who was Norman Osborn pre-transformation? The man was made of secrets.

It's not really clear how he truly felt for his son, and whether or not he didn't care about his son or just let his spider-obsession take over his life.

And that's kind of a shame. The whole first season had been building up Norman Osborn as a fairly complex, interesting character... only for his personality to change when he becomes the Green Goblin. Sure, his Green Goblin persona is simply an exaggeration of who Norman was pre-transformation, but he lost a lot of ambiguity and subtlety along the way. At the same time, it sort of renders any journey Norman Osborn may have had through the season kind of useless, if his personality, goals, and motivation are all different. He might as well be a new character.

Having said that, the Green Goblin brings a certain hamminess that this show has lacked so far, preferring to make the villains humorless targets for Spider-Man's quips. It's much appreciated as a counterpoint to the stoic, humorless Doctor Octopus.

In fact, the Green Goblin is such a welcome change that one of my biggest complaints is actually just a matter of opinion, but I'll get to that when I review Season 1 as a whole.

Harry Osborn/Venom
Venom's return was a bit of a letdown. He had a nice fight, sure, but Green Goblin spent the whole episode wanting to activate the Venom within Harry... only to end up quickly ditching his son and taking the symbiote for himself. It's a little disappointing, but at least Harry Osborn's hatred of Spider-Man is established for future plot lines.

"Everybody got that?"
Peter Parker/Spider-Man
Nobody was fooled for a second that this solo act would last. After all, the show's been pushing it since day one.

And yet, this episode fails to explain why Spider-Man changes his mind about working with a team.

First, he tells them to get away from the fight, then he reluctantly lets them help, then he completely changes his mind with a speech of such eloquence rarely seen outside of Shakespeare.

Spider-Man: "Me going it alone? Stupid. Me with you guys? Genius. Let's do this as a team!"

Assuming the Shakespeare you had in mind is "Brevity is the soul of wit."

Sure, there are plenty of reasons why Spider-Man could conceivably change his mind... but none of them are even given lip service. The most we get is when Spider-Man refers to them as his family while beating up the Green Goblin. But having said that, what brings on that speech?

Obviously, the episode tries to draw parallels between Spider-Man's relationship with the Sandwich Club and Harry's relationship with his dad. But it all falls apart because not only does Spider-Man fail to show the audience why accepting the Sandwich Club  in his life is a good thing, he ends up saving the day without them, thus not only undoing the intended message of the episode, but undermining the Sandwich Club's very presence in Ultimate Spider-Man.

Sandwich Club
Once again, the team gets sidelined so Spider-Man can be the main focus in the climax.
I disagree with this creative decision.
On the one hand... wasn't one of my initial complaints the inclusion of the Sandwich Club?

"But on the other hand...."
The writers decided to make a show about Spider-Man in an ensemble cast of superheroes. Fine. The writers can go with whatever concept they like.

But if that's the case, then do something with these characters!

I mean, the whole running theme of this two-parter was to teach Spider-Man a lesson in accepting help from his teammates. And he does change his mind on going solo... just in time for his team to abandon ship while he stays behind to fight Venom and Green Goblin.

"But on the other hand...."
Having Spidey and the Sandwich Club fight the Green Goblin together does run the risk of making Spider-Man seem less competent than versions of the character who can fight the Green Goblin all on his own. It could make him look like he needs the help of others to fight his own villains.

To compare, an early draft of the premiere of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes had the characters teaming up to defeat Doctor Doom or Magneto. These plans were scrapped when they realized that... well, it was a dumb idea.

Why would you need to assemble Earth's Mightiest Heroes in order to fight a threat that a slightly less powerful team had been routinely stopping already? It's not "a day unlike any other" when the Fantastic Four considers it just another Thursday.

"But on the other hand...."
The writers knew that they wanted to write a show about a team of heroes. When you change the heroes, you need to change the villains to match. You can't just use the same recipe for villain fights as a solo Spidey show. You either have to add more villains, or have Spidey fight unfamiliar villains.

The Green Goblin should have released the villains imprisoned on the helicarrier to give the Sandwich Club someone to fight in the final battle. And Spider-Man could have told them to get to safety while he rescued S.H.I.E.L.D. agents after the Goblin's escape.

Instead, what they gave us makes the Sandwich Club look like four jerks that Spider-Man doesn't even need in his life.

And while I do like the idea of shaking-up the status quo by putting these heroes in the same house as Peter, it almost seems like the writers are saying "Don't worry, these character will actually be important from now on! Honest!"

Mary Jane Watson
She doesn't appear. That's my point.

At this point, the writers are mostly done pretending that they care about the Peter Parker side of things. Heck, the only reason I know that she survived the attack on the school is because she shows up in a handful of episodes in the next three seasons.

Again, if the writers were going to include this character in the show, I wish they would have used her to her full potential instead of ditching the character whenever the real plot gets going.

Venom continues to be the best-animated character, simply because they render his gooey shapeshifting more fluidly than any other animation in the show.

Great Irresponsibility Count: 1
Maybe you'd be able to stop the Goblin yourself if you didn't spend your time sitting back and watching?

Final Thoughts
Even with a few plotting hiccups, this is head-and-shoulders above an average episode of Ultimate Spider-Man, if only because it emphasizes the better parts of the show and minimizes the reliance on random jokes. And at the very least, the episode does promise that things should get even more exciting and interesting from this point on.

But before I can talk about future adventures, I have to look at the old ones one last time by examining Season 1 as a whole. See you then!


  1. First time for everything, I'm going to compliment Ultimate Spider-Man. I like Goblin's design.

    Green Goblin has one of the most characteristic designs in comic history. And yet, have you seen how he looks in Ultimate comics? Devil Hulk. Not to say that artists never made him look intimidating, but it's still generic, boring devil Hulk, paint him him red and you never find him among army of Diablo and Warcraft monsters.

    In cartoon, Spider-Man's arch nemesis actually gets not perfect, but distinctive look. He even can be recognized as goblin, despite all that muscle (mostly thanks to ears) rather then troll or orc.

    And I'm even quite OK with shortening his name to Goblin, which they did as far as I can tell.

    - Faceless Enigma

    1. I'll get to Gobby in my Season 1 Review. (Coming soon, I swear!) But I'll still say that I prefer the classic design, as badly as it translates to other media.