While the world’s attention has been on the live-action Spider-Man team-up, the greatest Peter Parker languishes in short-lived animated series.
It’s easy to understand why the meeting of the three live-action Spider-Men in Spider-Man: No Way Home was so anticipated. 20 years of Spider-Man cinema, beginning with Sam Raimi’s seminal 2002 film, means every recent generation has had a live-action Peter Parker. Seeing all three in action together was a dream come true for Spider-fans.
Live-action isn’t the only medium in the Marvel multiverse featuring Peter Parker variants of note. Spider-Man’s animated history stretches from the 1960s show, which everyone knows from the memes, to the Oscar-winning 2018 animated film Into the Spider-Verse. Between those two pillars might be the best Peter Parker variant, from 2008’s Spectacular Spider-Man animated series.
Spectacular Spider-Man debuted in the middle of a rough patch for Spider-Man’s animated history. Following Spider-Man: The Animated Series’ healthy four-year run in the ’90s, no Spider-Man animated series lasted longer than one season. The futuristic setting in 1999’s Spider-Man Unlimited failed to fulfill the promise of an animated Spider-Man 2099, and the MTV Spider-Man series’ unconventional animation style failed to catch on with the general public that made Raimi’s Spider-Man a mainstream hit.
Spectacular Spider-Man used an old-school title, but it drew from the classic Spider-Man trope of Peter trying to balance his life out of costume with his superhero career. Much of the show’s direct influence came from the classic Stan Lee-Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man comics, including the use of supporting cast members like Gwen Stacy, Liz Allan, and Flash Thompson. It also took cues from Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s millennial webhead epic, Ultimate Spider-Man. Ironically, Spectacular Spider-Man took after Ultimate more than the actual Disney XD animated series that bared the comic’s name.
Josh Keaton’s performance as Peter Parker stands out among Spider-Man voice actors because he nailed the dichotomy between Peter Parker and his quippy costumed alter ego. He’s one of the few actors who’s believable in both facets of the role in any medium, with all of the quips and angst that entails. From struggling to make ends meet with Aunt May, dealing with love triangles, and battling supervillains from the Enforcers to Venom, Keaton has handled the old Parker luck as well as anyone.
Keaton anchored a voice cast that included veterans like Lacey Chabert as a nerdier incarnation of Gwen Stacy, Clancy Brown as her father George, and vaunted character actor Keith David. He reprised the role across multiple video games, including the proto-Spider-Verse team-up Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, which featured an early meeting between Parker and Spider-Man 2099. Keaton has remained a popular Spider-Man voice actor over the years. He tongue and cheek endorsed himself for an appearance in Across The Spider-Verse Part One, but Sony hasn’t shown any interest in adding him or any of the other animated Spider-Man to the cast.
Spectacular Spider-Man was a late entry in the CW’s Kids WB’s Saturday Morning Cartoon Block, and it’s where Young Justice creators Greg Wiseman and Brandon Vietti cut their teeth in the superhero genre, before moving on to DC’s teen superhero show. After Spider-Man was canceled due to Disney’s acquisition of Marvel, Weisman and Vietti were recruited to helm Young Justice, which has found new life on HBO Max.
Unfortunately, fans can’t hope for a Spectacular revival. A renewal based on Season 2 ratings re-run ratings on Disney XD and DVD sales became a moot point when Disney became the sole rights holder for Spider-Man television shows following their purchase of Marvel in 2008. The show’s cancellation scrapped season 3 plans that included a Spring Break arc and the introduction of villains like Carnage and Morbius. The show can be streamed, on a per-episode or season basis, on Amazon Prime in the U.S. and on Netflix internationally, but it isn’t part of Disney+’s nearly complete roster of Marvel content.
Fans who aren’t willing to wait for Spectacular Spider-Man’s streaming rights to revert Disney+, there’s always physical media. The complete series can be found on DVD. There’s also a complete Blu-Ray edition. It isn’t cheap, at least on Amazon, but it is the best way to catch up with the show if you missed it the first time. For those unwilling to pay that price of entry, there’s hope that Spider-Man: Freshman Year can catch Spectacular’s lightning in a bottle.
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