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‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ (2012), part of Disney XD’s Marvel Universe animation block, continued Sunday, April 15, 2012 with its fourth episode, “Venom.” However, after watching the episode, I feel as though I’m the one who has been poisoned.
The episode begins with Spider-Man (Drake Bell) speeding down subway tracks trying to escape a tentacle-wielding robot. He doesn’t know the origin of the mysterious attacker but he can tell it wants to capture him. After a high-speed chase, “Spidey” manages to outmaneuver the robot and it gets hit by a train, but not before getting a bit of his DNA unbeknownst to him.
The robot reports back to Doctor Otto Octavius (Tom Kenny), also known as Doctor Octopus, who is working for Norman Osborn to isolate the irradiated spider elements in Spider-Man’s blood to make the perfect weapon. However, the substance he isolates from Spider-Man’s blood is sentient and escapes, looking for its original host.
Meanwhile, Peter narrowly escapes being late for homeroom with the help of Harry Osborn (Matt Lanter), his best friend. Harry asks Peter if he wants to go watch a movie with Mary Jane (Tara Strong) later that afternoon, but Peter’s teammates, Nova, White Tiger, Power Man, and Iron Fist, who also attend his high school as students, show up to talk about their next mission.
Since Harry doesn’t know Peter is Spider-Man, he thinks Peter is blowing him off and gets angry. After ditching his team, Peter consults Mary Jane, who suggests taking his friends to Harry’s place for the movie to help them get along; however, Harry is mad and changes the movie night to a full-blown party, inviting the entire school.
After Peter and company arrive at the party, the symbiote finds them and starts attacking people. Peter and his team suit up and find that the symbiote can possess any one of them and use their powers, but it really just wants to reunite with Peter. After a long difficult fight, they manage to electrocute it and it disappears.
Thus far, this is the worst episode of the bunch. First, Spider-Man overdoses on jokes during the first fight sequence with the robot and during the second fight the symbiote jumps from host to host. As usual, the audience is left to assume this is because he’s just a hyperactive teenager, but the fact that he doesn’t seem to care that this violent sentient goo is forcing his friends to fight each other makes him seem like an unthoughtful jerk.
Second, the origin of Venom is changed completely and does not seem to follow the comic book continuity from ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ or ‘the Amazing Spider-Man’. In ‘the Amazing Spider-Man’, the symbiote is an extraterrestrial being. In ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’, it is a genetically designed suit made by Eddie Brock and Peter Parker’s parents as a cure for cancer that just went wrong.
In the show, the symbiote is a purified version of Spider-Man’s DNA and it just feels like a completely unnecessary change that has nothing to do with Eddie Brock. To add insult to injury, when the symbiote takes over Peter, it calls itself “Venom.” It’s just wrong on so many levels for Venom to not be Eddie Brock. Brock has been a formidable villain in the comic books and cartoons in which he has starred, so to be completely left out of the symbiote’s origin is an unlikable change.
Third, the continued focus on Spider-Man’s teammates rather than Harry and Mary Jane, his best friends, is grating. The show feels less like ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ and more like ‘Spider-Man and his Irritating Friends.’ None of his teammates have developed past the first stage of their introductions. The only one with an outstanding feature is Sam, aka Nova, who is the obnoxious loud-mouthed hothead of the group as well as the most annoying character on the show thus far.
The team’s continued interruption in Peter’s life drains all enjoyment out of the show, which is odd considering one of the writers for the show is Paul Dini—an excellent ensemble character writer who most recognize for helping build the DCAU (DC Animated Universe).
Overall, this is an extremely weak episode with a distasteful take on the Venom mythos. Hopefully, it is just a bad apple in the cart, but there is no telling what lies on the horizon from our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Keep your fingers crossed.