I've talked in one of my earlier posts about the 90s Marvel cartoons, in particular Spider-Man: The Animated Series. I absolutely loved this series, but since then, there has been another series that I also rate very highly - The Spectacular Spider-Man!
In the late 2000s, before Disney purchased Marvel and during the early phases of the MCU, the rights to Marvel characters were spread around a few places. As a result, we had a number of different series starring Marvel superheroes. Fantastic Four: Worlds Greatest Heroes, Wolverine and the X-Men, Iron Man: Armoured Adventures and The Super Hero Squad were all produced by different production companies at this time. But for me, the best of all was Spectacular Spider-Man. The series featured Peter Parker in high school and was based off the early comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. However, it was not afraid to update various aspects of the character and adapt newer material, such as the Ultimate Spider-Man comics.
Much like the 90s series, Spectacular Spider-Man featured a continuous plot rather than just one-off episodes. An example of this would be the creation of super villains by "the Big Man" (actually Tombstone) over the course of the first season. Spider-Man would battle the villains with his usual humour, while also trying to solve the mystery of who "the Big Man" was. In his life as Peter Parker, he faced the usual problems that you would expect, trying to get money for Aunt May and selling pictures to J Jonah Jameson (who was particularly excellent in this incarnation!).
The first season culminated in an (excellent!) adaptation of the origin of Venom. As in the 90s series, this played out over a 3 episode arc which had Spidey using the symbiote for most of the first 2 episodes before Eddie Brock takes over right at the end of part 2. The series took a different approach to Eddie Brock than the 90s series as this time. Eddie was a childhood friend of Peter (as he was in the Ultimate continuity) but over the course of the series, the two friends drift apart. Peter and Eddie work together at Dr Curt Connors' laboratory and, during the incident wherein Connors becomes the lizard, Peter sells a picture of Spider-Man fighting the lizard. Eddie had previously asked Peter to help, but as he had to battle the lizard as Spider-Man, he had to find an excuse to leave. Seeing a photo with Peter's name on it infuriates Eddie, feeling that Peter left for his own personal gain. As a result of this, he loses respect for his friend.
He even ends up gaining a hatred for Spider-Man. After Peter rids himself of the symbiote, he returns to Connors' lab to destroy it. Eddie is there at the time and tries to stop Spider-Man, but he cannot. This hatred is sensed by the alien creature and it bonds with Eddie Brock. The symbiote also reveals Peter's double life to him. This is the only time a character learns Peter's identity in the series, and Venom often uses this to his advantage by attacking Peter on a psychological level.
Venom was not the only interesting character on the show. The Green Goblin was also a source of mystery throughout the series. He first appeared in episode 7 in costume, so his identity remained shrouded in mystery. It seemed that it was all revealed when Harry Osborn was found in the Goblin costume, but at the end of the second season, the truth is revealed - Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin. This was actually a very faithful adaptation of the comics. Initially, the Goblin is a petty thief and his identity is a mystery, it is only after a few more appearances that the truth is revealed.
The series was the first televised appearance of Gwen Stacy (aside from a small cameo at the end of the 90s series). Overall, the character was faithful to the comics as well. Gwen was an intelligent but shy girl who harbored romantic feelings for Peter. Initially, her look does not match her comic book counterpart, but as her personality changes and she becomes more confident, she changes into the Gwen we are all familiar with. She was the primary love interest for Peter over the series, even when Mary Jane appeared later on, and their feelings developed naturally, another good example of the excellent storytelling the series employed.
Greg Wiseman, the show's producer, stated that the theme of the series was "the education of Peter Parker". As such, each of the 2 seasons was split into 4 smaller arcs. Each arc was named after a course of study. Season 1, for example is split into Biology 101, Economics 101, Chemistry 101 and Psychology 101. Each of these smaller arcs mirrored the events within the episodes- For example, Psychology 101 covered the first appearance of Venom. The series never felt rushed and the stories all developed at a natural pace, which is still rare in cartoons.
Spectacular Spider-Man featured everything you would want in a Spider-Man cartoon - a high school aged Peter Parker fighting villains and struggling to make ends meet. It really was excellent! Unfortunately, the series was cancelled well before its time. Due to complications regarding the television rights to the character, Spider-Man returned to Marvel, while the rights for the show remained with Sony. This led to the end of The Spectacular Spider-Man for the new series, Ultimate Spider-Man. I'm not so sure this was a move for the better, though...