Oct 7, 2011
Spider-Man “The Spot” (part 1 of 2)
Confession time: As a kid, I was never really a fan of the much-venerated Batman: The Animated Series. That show was just a casual thing for me, enjoyable while the episode lasted, before leaving my mind completely afterward. My true fandom was reserved for the show that ran after it: Spider-Man. Here was a series not even granted the dignity of a subtitle, yet it quickly became my first-ever experience with appointment TV.
The two shows had a lot of the same strengths: They both featured characters that kids like me had known as iconic heroes and villains our whole lives. They boasted decent-to-good animation, for the time. They had great casts, whose voices a lot of people still hear when they read the comics. And probably most importantly, they both had writing that took itself seriously enough for us to care about what was happening, but still had a sense of when to cut loose and have fun.
So what made me latch onto one and not the other? Quite simply, it came down to long-form storytelling. When Spider-Man premiered in 1994, it did something completely unheard of at the time, at least in the world of Saturday morning cartoons: Instead of wrapping up its stories in single episodes, the show took advantage of its open-ended format to craft involved story arcs that could then build to climaxes, made all the more powerful thanks to how long we’d been looking forward to them. I completely ate it up, anxiously waiting to see what would happen next.
Some of my fondest memories of this period of my life involve discussing the show with other kids, all of us desperate to find out where a particular storyline was heading. Batman’s far more episodic writing simply couldn’t compare with the excitement and suspense I got from Spider-Man week to week.
The show was at its strongest in its second season, which featured Peter Parker discovering that his fateful spider bite was still causing changes in his body. At first, this simply came in the form of his powers switching off unexpectedly, which was scary enough, but he soon learned that he was turning into a mindless monster. This was pretty nightmarish stuff for eleven-year-old me; it’s not easy seeing a character you’ve grown to love over the last year slowly turn into a hideous spider creature.
Unfortunately, once Peter was cured in the season finale, the show was never quite able to regain the same level of narrative momentum. The writers tried to make up for it with smaller arcs, and the occasional callback episode, plus more and more cameos from the rest of the Marvel Universe, but it still didn’t feel the same.
Season three was hit particularly hard, having to follow up on such a strong season-long story arc. It contains what just about every fan agrees are the two worst episodes of the series: “The Rocket Racer” and “The Spot”.
In fact, there was a debate for a while over which was the worse episode. My vote always went to “The Spot”, because “Rocket Racer” may have been centered on a dull character and even duller villains, but at least that character wasn’t intensely annoying, and there were no gaping plot holes that I could see instantly, even as a kid.
Before I get to the episode, there’s a bit of background we need to get out of the way. See, unlike “The Rocket Racer”, this episode is actually tied to the ongoing season story arc, which as far as I’m concerned is another reason to dislike it even more. You can’t just forget you watched this one and move on to better episodes; you’re actually forced to keep it in mind as the season progresses.
Basically, this episode follows a two-parter that saw Spider-Man teaming up with Iron Man and War Machine. In it, Tony Stark was working on technology that could open up portals to other dimensions, but he ended up deciding it was too dangerous to continue developing.
Which brings us to “The Spot”, the single worst episode of the show simply known as Spider-Man.