Friday, May 30, 2014

Spider-Man Unlimited (1999-2001)

Astronaut John Jameson (son of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson) takes off on a space shuttle bound for a dimensional portal/plot device just outside Earth's orbit while Venom and Carnage secretly sneak aboard and Spider-Man, unable to to thwart the parasitic fiends, steals a second space shuttle to follow the trio and rectify his heroic name in the public image and aid the space cowboy.  The dimensional portal leads to a Blade Runner-esque third planet replica referred to as "Counter-Earth" where an animal-hybrid race known as the beastials have become the ruling class of NYC, humans are relegated to the slums and kidnapped for genetic experiments, and a symbiotic race of little yellow fury critters await revival and infestation of the surface at the hands of their newfound henchmen.  This is the premise to Spider-Man Unlimited, the short-lived follow-up to the definitive and eponymously-named 1994 Spider-Man animated series.

The animation feels largely lifted from the 1994 series but boasts bolder colors and much more detailed facial designs on the human characters.  It looks more like a comic book than any other Spider-Man series I've seen, but this could also be due to the fact that the setting and characters are so bizarre.  Spider-Man sports a new look with the web-cape and overshadowed suit with no web stitching as well as an array of suit upgrades like the sonic ray emitter, stealth mode, and more.  It looks pretty cool, provides some new abilities for the action sequences, and is powered by nanotechnology which was apparently taken from Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic).  The main villains are the High Evolutionary beastial leaders such as Lord Tyger, Sir Ram, and Lady Vermin which I don't feel like getting into.  Spider-Man ends up fighting them and teaming up with the human resistance led by John Jameson.  For what it's worth, a lot of the weird and lame characters come somewhere from the nebulous Marvel canon.

Thankfully, there are several more traditionally Spider-Man-affiliated characters in the show including the Green Goblin, Vulture, and Kraven the Hunter, the first two of which have more ambiguous, vigilante roles in lieu of their standard villain archetype.  The Green Goblin is interesting here because it's hinted that he is an alternate identity other than Osborn, and he appears to be Mexican based on his accent and vocabulary.  Of course Venom, Carnage, and John Jameson are from the original Earth and therefore the same as their original characters, along with Peter.  By the third episode I started calling John Jameson John Connor because he's the buff leader of the revolution, toting big guns, wifebeaters, and 5 o'clock shadows.  He's right from the Terminator.  Eventually, Jameson's lycanthropic alterego Man-Wolf is revealed which is another little canon obscura with which I wasn't previously familiar.  Eddie Brock and Kletus Casady get a little bit of character development in their human form when they're temporarily separated from their symbiotes.  It's a shame there isn't more of them because the interaction between the symbiotes is a great plot point.  Is the symbiote species on Counter-Earth indigenous?  It's never revealed, but they finally stage an uprising at the hands of Venom and Carnage.

This cliff-hanger at the end of the thirteenth and final episode leaves our heroes at the height of their peril, and another episode or second season was never produced.  While it pales in comparison to the 1994 animated series, I still prefer Spider-Man Unlimited over the 2003 and 2012 or even the 1981 series because it retains a classic comic book art style and strong narrative in each of its episodes with less distraction from comic relief villains and surpluses of Marvel crossovers serving nothing but filler.  It's the same reason I prefer just about every other Batman cartoon series over Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011).