Spider-Man: The Ultimate Villain Showdown

Spider-Man: The Ultimate Villain Showdown
Rating: unrated, but could be G
Release Date: April 30, 2002
Running Time: approximately 79 minutes
Ten-second Rundown: Spider-Man battles his greatest foes: Doctor Octopus, Kingpin, The Green Goblin and…The Rocket Racer?

  • The Origin of Spider-Man, from the 1967 animated series, with an introduction from Stan Lee
  • Rogues' Dossiers: a who's who of Spider-Man's villains with commentary from Stan Lee
  • Stan Lee's Soapbox
  • Chapter introductions from Stan Lee

    Choice Scene: In the 1967 origin episode, Peter Parker mentally plotting revenge against those who've taunted him - just one step away from being a villain himself. Jameson was right!

    Tech Specs: English and Spanish Dolby Digital sound, English subtitles

    Spider-Man's road to the big screen took quite some time to work out, with several studios fighting over the rights to make the film. So it should really come as no surprise that Spidey's life on the small screen has spawned yet another legal battle.

    In the mid-nineties, the Fox Network entered into a deal with Marvel Studios to run Spider-Man as a Saturday morning show (occasionally moved to weekday afternoons). Held in fair critical esteem, the show eventually disappeared into the Fox Family Channel, while Spider-Man's movie fate went to Sony. With Sony, Marvel began developing a brand-new Spider-Man cartoon, which will debut in a few months (they hope) on MTV.

    And then last year, Disney bought the Fox Family Channel and all of its assets. Suddenly, Disney had the rights to a whole bunch of Spider-Man cartoons. Timed to ride a little of the movie's lightning, the House of Mouse released Spider-Man: The Ultimate Villain Showdown, a collection of four consecutive episodes from the third season of the animated series.

    Just last week, Marvel filed suit in New York, demanding that Buena Vista Home Video (Disney's video arm) pull the DVD from the market.

    So what's all the hullabaloo about, anyway?

    The four episodes here, chapters 2 through 5 of an arc called "Sins of the Fathers," hold together pretty well in giving viewers a taste of what Spider-Man is all about. In particular, the first two episodes allow Spider-Man to retell his origin to a young girl who claims to be his biggest fan. Though the main plot deals with a collusion between Doctor Octopus and The Kingpin (leading into trouble at Oscorp - hmm…Sony just started twitching), the impetus for this two-parter comes from adapting Roger Stern's classic "The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man," one of the best Spider-Man stories ever written.

    By fusing that story with an adaptation of a classic Lee/Ditko Doctor Octopus story, the animated series made both tales a little stronger. Doc Ock manages to wipe Spider-Man's memory and convince the wall-crawler that he's a bad guy. It's only through the interference and faith of a little girl that Peter Parker comes to his senses.

    Both lines tie indirectly into the third episode, in which Norman Osborn feels pressured into trying an experimental nerve gas on himself. (There's that Sony twitch again.) Of course, this leads to an accident that creates The Green Goblin, and this episode plays out pretty much like the film, though in a kid-friendly, non-fatal way.

    In the fourth episode Spider-Man tackles the Wheelmen, whose stolen technology helps the Rocket Racer get his start. Originally a villain in the comics (and a rather lame one), here the Racer turns out to be a young kid still wavering between good and bad. All he really knows is he sure can skateboard. What makes this episode notable is that the Wheelmen wear exo-skeletons that look almost exactly like the movie Green Goblin. Coincidence? You be the judge.

    Does Marvel have a leg to stand on in trying to block this release? Probably not. Their case is further undermined by the participation of Publisher Emeritus Stan Lee, who comments on just about everything on this disc.

    Surprisingly, most of his commentary is pretty engaging. Even when he relates anecdotes we've all heard and read before, The Man has a charm that commands attention. And when he muses about the universal appeal of Spider-Man, you have to stop and, well, marvel at what it must be like to have created something so loved. Aspiring comics creators could do much worse than listen to Lee's philosophies.

    Aside from everything else, Lee has a generosity to those who have followed him. In the "rogues' dossiers" section, you can click on his "thoughts" on the characters. He freely admits to those he wish he created, such as Morbius and Venom. (Understandably, he seems a little ambivalent towards Carnage.)

    Though ultimately it reveals all the cheesiness of the '60's series, the inclusion of that origin episode is a great treat. Grantray Animation traded lushness for skill; the modern series has more real action (and movement, for that matter), but the art direction has more depth in the original. Any excuse to hear that funky theme-song is worth it. Joe Perry's tune just can't hold a candle to it.

    For the historical value alone, this disc is worth it. But as someone too old and too busy to catch the Saturday morning show in the 'nineties, I found these episodes more enjoyable than expected.

    The only aspect of the DVD that looks rushed and downright boot-legged is the interactive menus, which feature some horrendous artwork. It's a small price to pay.

    Get the DVD before Marvel stops you!

    Derek McCaw


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