The Many Faces of Spider-Man is a feature, posted the second Monday of every month, that explores the Marvel Multiverse and the many Spider-Men/Peter Parkers who dwell within.
This month in The Many Faces of Spider-Man, we step away from the comics medium and instead focus on the realm of animation as we visit Earth-26496. The Spectacular Spider-Man, an animated program and developed by Victor Cook (Hellboy: Blood and Iron) and the incomparable Greg Weisman (Gargoyles, Young Justice) made its grand debut in March of 2008 and though it only ran for two seasons it became a cartoon worthy of its spectacular title and offered a compelling vision of the titular character and the world he inhabits.
Unlike previous animated versions of the character, this Peter Parker was younger, a high school sophomore going to a midtown Manhattan magnet school along with his best friends Harry Osborn and the geeky blonde Gwen Stacy. Also, unlike many iterations, this Peter Parker’s transformation into our web slinging hero has already occurred at the beginning of the series and in the first episode Peter had been fighting crime for several months, long enough to learn the full names of the more repetitive of his repeat offenders like the duo of Flint Marko and Alex O’Hirn, who would eventually become the supervillains Sandman and Rhino respectively.
Rhino being changed from a Russian mercenary to two-bit thug was only one of many alterations Weisman and Cook made to the characters in the series. Montana from the Enforcers was merged with the Shocker, and Fancy Dan from the same group eventually took on the moniker Ricochet, a once-used alter ego of Peter Parker from the comics. Mysterio and the Tinkerer started off as hired help of the Chameleon, and Silver Sable went from Balkan mercenary to the daughter of criminal kingpin Silvio Manfredi.
But of all the villainous changes, the most significant is probably the changes made to Eddie Brock. This version of Brock has known Peter his entire life, their families having been close friends and their fathers were business partners who died in the same accident, just like in the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comics. Eddie isn’t a journalist, but is instead a young college student working in Dr. Connors’ lab. His close relationship with Peter is an interesting change and makes watching the relationship disintegrate because of Peter’s dual life (and a small romantic triangle between him, Gwen, and Peter) a really compelling thing to watch.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, however. Peter still suffers while trying to balance his responsibilities, whether it’s debating between getting a paying job at the Daily Bugle or the unpaid internship at Doctor Connor’s lab or between pursuing his friend Gwen Stacy or the cheerleader Liz Allan. As always Peter knows he has a responsibility to the world to suit up and fight crime despite the strain it puts on his relationships and professional life.
They’re hard questions without easy answers, and the supporting characters don’t have a lot of time to help him work them out. Everybody seems to have their own story going on: from Harry Osborn’s quest to become the most popular kid in school to Aunt May’s romance with her doctor and new career writing cookbooks. The amount of effort put into fleshing out even the minor background characters is really remarkable, and it’s made even more so when you realize that even the most minor background characters are often major characters in the main Marvel continuity.
The blonde cheerleader is Sally Avril, originally a one-shot character who shot Peter down in Amazing Fantasy #15. Those two cops who show up everywhere are Officers Jeanne DeWolf and her Earth-616 killer Stan Carter. The demolitions expert with one line is Hydro-man, the redhead in a Santa cap is Cletus Cassidy, the kid in class who never manages to get a word in edgewise is the Prowler, and on and on and on. They all come together to create a rich universe with character arcs that stretch across seasons, not just episodes, and left audiences eager to see what would come about with the third season.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The show was cancelled as Sony transferred the rights to produce Spider-Man cartoons back to Marvel shortly before the Disney acquisition in 2009, while maintaining ownership of Spectacular Spider-Man itself. This left the cartoon in a limbo where neither Disney nor Sony could continue the series without the permission of the other and instead Disney ultimately opted to create their own version, Ultimate Spider-Man, and move on.
It’s a disappointing end, but in a strange way there is good news to be found in it. Because Marvel does not actually own Spectacular Spider-Man or Earth-26496, this version of Peter Parker is completely safe from the harvesting being undertaken by Morlun in the current Spider-Verse event, or likely any future event. It may never be finished, but it will always be safe.