An action-packed Marvel's Spider-Man brings and old foe out for a new audience and introduces a potential new hero in the process.
[This review contains SPOILERS for Marvel's Spider-Man: 'Osborn Academy'.]
Following the two-part series premiere, Marvel's Spider-Man offers up some idea of just how serialized it will be throughout its first 12-episode season. It also reveals just what sort of formula viewers can expect from the new series as it moves from establishing the world Peter Parker inhabits – primarily that of Horizon High – to actually seeing him live in it. The first test case is 'Osborn Academy', which, given Norman Osborn's antagonistic history with the Wall-Crawler (though not here, yet) and the not-so subtle nods that Harry will soon travel down his own dark path, it's fitting to follow up 'Horizon High' with the name of its competing school.
The Osborn Academy is the sort of school born of immense privilege, and the ego and thin skin that so often go along with it. Norman establishes the school in part to save his child the embarrassment of having been suspended from Horizon High, but it also exists due to a deep-seeded competitive streak, one that has him and Max Modell trading passive aggressive barbs in the episode's early going. That encounter is one of many that offers some idea of Norman's way of doing things and the manner in which he talks down to those he sees as beneath him – i.e., everyone.
As far as bringing the classic Spider-Man villain more into the fold and more directly securing his role in the ongoing story line, 'Osborn Academy' mostly sticks with tradition when it comes to Norman. Single-minded and with outrageously high expectations for his son, Norman's influence is keenly felt in the early scenes, and although he shares more than one personality trait with Max Modell, their exchange establishes a clear set of differences in their approach to both science and education. That much is made clear when Norman establishes a science bake-off between two students who bring some suspicious-looking gadgets to their Osborn Academy tryouts.
The idea of an audition for the Osborn Academy is telling already, but Norman escalates the situation by essentially encouraging Herman Shultz, aka the Shocker, to challenge his friend in outright combat after getting a glimpse of what his gauntlets can do. It's an inelegant way of introducing a scenario in which Peter is forced to don his web shooters and intervene. At the same time, however, the Norman orchestrating a "Let them fight" situation feels like the sort of plot mechanic one might have seen in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man decades ago. Facilitating the introduction of Spider-Man around a group of people Peter regularly interacts with in his civilian identity marries the two halves of his identity in a way that puts a premium on his personal life and all that is potentially sacrificed when he puts the mask on.
It also gives Peter a rare opportunity to gain insight into the minds of his fellow students, seeing how they interact with Spider-Man versus how they interact with him. The episode underlines this unexpected result of living a dual life by introducing the one and only Gwen Stacy and immediately putting her at odds with both Spider-Man and Peter thanks to her smarts and willingness to call out the costumed crime fighter for failing to see a better solution to the problem at hand. The episode makes good on a number of interactions between the two, including the cold open in which Spidey chases down and eventually loses track of the Jackal. It's a classic first-meeting scenario in which the hero is taken to task by a complete stranger, one who will soon become (presumably) a very important person in his life. That colors Peter's impression of Gwen early on, but she doesn't have the same insight he does, which could potentially make things tricky for Peter when it comes time for the series to start handing out spider-powers like they're candy.
Aside from setting up a few complicated interpersonal relationships for Peter, 'Osborn Academy' is perhaps even more focused on action than even the two-part premiere. Much like the 'Horizon High' episodes, Spider-Man splits the action between combatants. This time, though, instead of Vulture and Scorpion in the span of two episodes, Peter's faced with shutting down a feud between two friends and the threat of the Jackal. The villain might be a lesser-known member of Spidey's rouges' gallery – especially with this series' target audience – and that makes his inclusion here a curious one. With little to go on in terms of backstory (not that anyone should be complaining about that when it comes to this series) it stands to reason the man-sized gremlin may make a comeback later in the season, just as the series teased the origin of Shocker at the same time.
In all, 'Osborne Academy' seems best suited to demonstrating how this new series is going to work week-in and week-out, and what it aims to accomplish when the episodes aren't super-sized premieres. Bringing the Jackal and Gwen Stacy in on the same episode feels telling, and you have to wonder whether or not the show plans to go down the clone route at some point. It doesn't seem likely at the moment, as the episode seems to devote more of its energy on delivering the hard sell with regard to Peter's weekly lesson, which is made more difficult given how unlikable the battling friends are. That may have resulted in more than one awkward transitions during the episode, but it appears the be price of admission for an animated Spider-Man series.
Marvel's Spider-Man continues next Saturday @7:00am on Disney XD.