Why The Spectacular Spider-Man Is The BEST Marvel Cartoon (VIDEO)

Why The Spectacular Spider-Man Is The BEST Marvel Cartoon
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In this FandomWire Video Essay, we explore why The Spectacular Spider-Man is the best Marvel cartoon.


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Is The Spectacular Spider-Man Is The BEST Marvel Cartoon?

Spectacular Spider-Man

This is arguably the GREATEST cartoon Marvel has ever given us, and that’s really saying something considering how fondly the 90’s X-Men: The Animated Series is remembered. From the moment its instantly iconic theme song hits your eardrums, the fan-favorite animated series, The Spectacular Spider-Man, lets you know that you’re about to see something special. Created by Greg Weisman and Victor Cook, otherwise known for their work on Gargoyles and Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, the series has garnered near-universal praise and a passionate fan base despite only running for two 13-episode seasons from 2008 to 2009. It’s widely considered to be not only the best Spider-Man cartoon, but the best Marvel cartoon period; surpassing all of its various predecessors, contemporaries, and successors from the House of Ideas and standing toe-to-toe with the likes of the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series over at the Distinguished Competition. 


But what makes Spectacular Spider-Man so compelling? In a media landscape bursting with superhero stories, and nearly just as full with Spider-Man content in particular, what keeps people coming back to this specific incarnation nearly fifteen years after it left the air? The reasoning for this can essentially be broken down into four main sections or… webs.  The show’s serialized storytelling, its compelling ensemble cast, its distinct look, and finally, its lasting legacy. So, let’s take a leap of faith and get ready to swing into the Spider-Verse as we explore what makes Spectacular Spider-Man the GREATEST Marvel cartoon.

Serialized Storytelling

Unlike the episodic affairs of most previous Spider-Man shows, Spectacular utilized ongoing continuity and story arcs that carried over from episode to episode; in a similar manner to the comic books that inspired it. While other animated shows of this era had started to embrace serialized storytelling such as in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, Spectacular Spider-Man was one of the first to make continuity consistently important, with every single episode playing some role in a larger story arc within the season.

The first three episodes center on Peter Parker’s financial struggles and starting an internship with Curt Connors, ending with the good doctor’s transformation into the Lizard. However, these episodes also introduce New York’s organized crime scene, setting up the Tombstone arc that plays out over Episodes Four through Six. And these first six episodes establish Norman and Harry Osborn as supporting characters for the Green Goblin arc that then takes up Episodes Seven through Nine. Then, Episode Nine ends with Colonel John Jameson, you know JJ’s son, the astronaut, returning from space with the infamous alien symbiote, leading into the Black Suit and Venom storylines that encompass the remainder of the first season. Oh, and Eddie Brock? The person who becomes Venom? He was established as a supporting character and one of Peter’s oldest friends way back in Episode 1 before the symbiote itself was even hinted at.


But the show didn’t simply rely on continuity for its own sake. It used the ongoing stories to discuss deeper themes and real issues in a way that its younger audience could understand without ever talking down to them. Much of the series focuses on Peter’s aforementioned financial issues, especially in his efforts to take care of his Aunt May even after she suffers a heart attack towards the end of the first season, and how his responsibilities as Spider-Man affect his psyche and his relationships with others. Multiple characters are shown to struggle with addiction, such as with Mark Allan’s addiction to gambling or Harry Osborn’s addiction to performance enhancers, and the series was never afraid to show the real pain and anguish suffered by addicts and their loved ones; without ever coming across like an after school special.

Ensemble Cast

This is thanks in large part to the creative freedom that showrunners Weisman and Cook were afforded on the series. In fact, one of the only mandates from Sony, who still wholly owned the television rights to Spider-Man at the time, was that any Marvel character that wasn’t directly part of the wall crawler’s pre-established mythos was strictly off-limits; hence why the role initially intended for Wilson Fisk’s Kingpin would ultimately go to Tombstone.  However, the showrunners didn’t let this limitation stop them from giving Spectacular Spider-Man one of the most well-rounded and compelling casts of characters across the hero’s many adaptations.

Gwen Stacy, Liz Allan, Black Cat, and Mary-Jane Watson all appear throughout the series as love interests to Peter, with each of them having unique and developed personalities separate from Peter, as well as differing dynamics with him. J. Jonah Jameson, Curt Connors, and Captain George Stacy all serve as mentor figures to Peter at various points throughout the show, with each of them bringing a new perspective to the table. And of course, what is a great superhero without great supervillains to fight?


Spectacular Spider-Man

In addition to arc villains like Green Goblin, Venom, and Doctor Octopus, Spidey battles other iconic rogues throughout various episodes such as Vulture, Sandman, and Shocker; with Mysterio and Kraven The Hunter even getting in on the action in Season 2. All of these villains have unique designs, visually engaging power sets, and compelling personalities that make it feel less like Spider-Man is fighting a monster of the week and more like he’s engaging in a genuine battle with a generally equally skilled combatant.

All of this is without mentioning just how good Spider-Man himself is in this show. Voice actor Josh Keaton captures both the wisecracking charm and seemingly effortless adaptability of Spider-Man AND the shy awkwardness and earnest caring of Peter Parker to near perfection. He naturally embodies the character in a way that feels instantly familiar to comic readers, to the point that his comic book-style narration feels completely natural, while still feeling like a unique performance on its own. This talent especially shines through during the Black Suit storyline, as Peter’s attitude and demeanor become more abrasive and aggressive as the symbiote starts to overtake him. One of the most shocking moments of this arc comes during a battle with the Sinister Six in the episode “Group Therapy,” in which the normally talkative and jokey Spider-Man is dead silent. It’s a testament to how well Josh Keaton’s voice fits the character that the lack of it feels so jarring.


Distinct Look

Of course, that battle wouldn’t be as impactful as it is if it didn’t also look good. Thankfully, Spectacular Spider-Man’s animation and art style were, like always, more than up to the task. Most prior Marvel cartoons, such as the 1992 X-Men series, tended to emphasize extremely defined musculature in their character designs, as well as a generally muted color palette and realistic architecture for background art. While this largely worked for the time, it left very little room for more fluid character movements or varied locations. By contrast, Spectacular Spider-Man’s color palette is bold, bright, and vibrant; with each location in the series feeling lived-in and unique. And its character designs are very striking as well, showcasing a diverse range of body types and emphasizing sharp distinct angles similar to the DC Animated Universe except more stylized by comparison.

Spider-Man’s movement in particular feels appropriately quick and flexible; with the leaner character design and less realistic art style allowing for more fluid movement within the constraints of a TV budget. This is especially apparent in the web-swinging scenes, which utilized 2D art rendered in CGI to create the illusion of full 3D movement. While the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon did attempt something similar with its fully CGI city, it always came across as uncanny and distracting compared to the seamless integration seen here.


The tale of The Spectacular Spider-Man is one that sadly ends in tragedy. In the wake of Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, the series was moved from The CW’s Saturday morning block to the then-newly christened Disney XD network for its second season; wherein it was placed in consistently terrible timeslots, never advertised, and eventually canceled, ending on a cliffhanger and leaving questions unanswered. Greg Weisman had ambitious plans for three more seasons and a series of direct-to-DVD movies set between and eventually after the series itself. These plans would have included, among other elements, new villains like Hobgoblin and Mister Negative, the introduction of the Spider-Mobile, and even a musical episode. One that hopefully would’ve worked out better than the last time they tried that with Spider-Man.


Legal disputes surrounding the TV rights to Spider-Man have continuously prevented either Disney or Sony from producing additional seasons of Spectacular, but that hasn’t stopped the fans and creatives involved from wanting more. Josh Keaton would go on to reprise the role of Spider-Man in the video games Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time, and even appeared in the most recent Spider-Man movie, Across The Spider-Verse. He also used his superhero experience to dip his toes into the DC Universe, portraying Hal Jordan in both Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Justice League Action as well as Black Spider, a villainous take on Spider-Man, in Spectacular creator Greg Weisman’s DC series, Young Justice. And fan support for the series has only grown over the years, with the hashtag “Save Spectacular Spider-Man” trending in the Top 10 on Twitter in January 2021.

It’s difficult to say when or even if Spectacular Spider-Man will ever receive the proper conclusion it deserves. There’s been no shortage of Spider-Man entertainment in recent years, and some of it has been pretty amazing. Yet, no animated series has managed to match high-climbing, web-slinging heights of this short-lived, 2008 adaptation.

The Spectacular Spider-Man serves as an embodiment of everything that’s great about the character and the world he inhabits. From its stylish design work and gripping action scenes to its ongoing continuity and surprisingly nuanced storytelling, Spectacular consistently kept fans new and old glued to the edge of their seats, dying to know “what happens next?” While we may never know how this story truly ends, what parts of the story we have been lucky enough to see represent some of the best the superhero genre has to offer, in animated form or otherwise; making it easy to see why exactly why The Spectacular Spider-Man is the greatest Marvel cartoon to ever grace the screen.


What did you think of The Spectacular Spider-Man? Do you have a favorite episode or moment? And would you like to see the series continue? Let us know in the comments below, be sure to like this video, subscribe, and hit the notification bell so you don’t miss out on future videos like this one. Until next time, thanks for watching.

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Written by Reilly Johnson

Articles Published: 433

Reilly Johnson is a businessman, journalist, and a staple in the online entertainment community contributing to some of the largest entertainment pages in the world. Currently, Reilly is the President of FandomWire.