Interview: Greg Weisman on “The Spectacular Spider-Man” Animated Series
Early in July, I spoke with Greg Weisman about the acclaimed Gargoyles animated series he created and the new comics that continue the storyline of that project (and feel free to check out that interview, by all means). Afterward, I had the opportunity to speak with him about the Kids WB animated series The Spectacular Spider-Man, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. Weisman developed this new cartoon series for television along with Victor Cook (Hellboy: Blood and Iron, Darkwing Duck) and which features voice talents such as Josh Keaton, Lacey Chabert, Josh Lebar, John Dimaggio, Phil Lamarr, Robert Englund, Clancy Brown, Jeff Bennett and Vanessa Marshall.
Taking place a few short months after Peter has gained his powers and learned that "with great power there must also come great responsibility," the cartoon showcases a 16-year-old superhero who is still learning the tricks of the trade when folks like the Green Goblin, Electro and Dr. Octopus start showing up. When he’s not web-slinging, Peter spends his days trying to change how people at his high school view him, since his super-abilities have given him the confidence to stand up for himself rather than just be the nerd who’s picked on. But it’s not easy — and even when he’s surrounded by people who love him, like longtime friend Gwen Stacy and his doting Aunt May, Peter still feels alone, unable to trust anyone with the secret of his double-life.
Here’s what Weisman, the series’ Story Editor and Supervising Producer, had to say about the first season of the series.
COMICMIX: As Story Editor, how did you approach the development of the series and the character himself?
GREG WEISMAN: When I got the job, I went and bought the first seven volumes of The Essential Spider-Man and re-read them. I’d read them as a kid, I grew up on Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr. and later went back and read the original Stan Lee, Steve Ditko stories. So, I re-read them and took copious notes and tried to get the voice of those early stories.
COMICMIX: Of course, you’re still putting your own spin on some of the origins and the costume designs.
GREG WEISMAN: Right. With the new series, we wanted to create something that was coherent, cohesive, contemporary and classic. Those are the four Cs we always go back to. We’re retooling and redesigning things for the modern day but we want the characters to still be iconic. We want you to see our updated version of the Vulture and still say “yep, that’s the Vulture” and “yeah, that’s the Green Goblin.” It’s a contemporary version but the changes aren’t there just for the sake of making changes. It’s still true to what Lee, Ditko and Romita did.
COMICMIX: Your show has a big focus on Peter being alone in a crowd. He’s isolated because no one knows about his double life, but he also has a huge supporting cast that mixes people from different eras of the comics. You’ve got Foswell, Prof. Warren, Curt Connors, Flash Thompson, Liz Allen and Sally Avril from his high school days. You’ve got Gwen and George Stacy, Mary Jane, Randy Robertson, Harry and Norman Osborn, all from his college days. Jean DeWolfe briefly shows up. Eddie Brock is also now a childhood friend of Peter’s, much like the Ultimate Marvel version of the character. What was the strategy behind this particular cast of friends and enemies?
GREG WEISMAN: Peter’s life has a lot of interesting characters and we wanted to bring them in — the important ones and the most obscure. Sally Avril has one line in Amazing Fantasy #15 [the first Spider-Man story], but her character was later developed in Untold Tales of Spider-Man, so we used her. In season 2, we’ll have Bernard Houseman from the movie. Our series bible is the era of those early Lee/Ditko and Lee/Romita issues, but if there’s a good idea from later years, we’ll grab it and bring it in. Our theory is that a good idea is a good idea.
We didn’t want to wait several seasons to bring in Gwen Stacy or Harry Osborn or Mary Jane Watson. We didn’t meet those characters until Peter was in college in the comics. So we wanted to stay true to it and just ask, “What kind of guy would Harry Osborn have been back in high school?”
It doesn’t mean taking his college character and just sticking it in high school, it means extrapolating what he may have been like back then. Same thing with Gwen Stacy, and later with Mary Jane. We included those characters because they meant a lot in Peter’s life and were iconic.
CMIX: If you’re using so many characters who were introduced in the college years, why not simply begin the show in his college years like the Fox animated series of the 1990s? Why start when he was in high school?
GW: We wanted to really start at the beginning and watch Peter grow, watch his first fights. Of course, even then, we didn’t literally start at the very beginning because we didn’t think it would be that much fun to go through the whole origin and watch Peter spend a few months learning how to fight and web-sling.
So we start the show in September, the day before his junior year of high school begins. He was bitten by the spider months earlier in June and lost Uncle Ben a little while after that. So he’s spent most of the summer getting familiar with his powers and battling muggers … nothing he couldn’t handle. But now super-villains are showing up. So a theme of the series is the education of Peter Parker. He’s got a lot still to learn in the hallways of school, a lot to learn outside of school, and his life is going to be a lot harder than it’s been.
Along with that is the fact that being Spider-Man is a release, because he loves it, he loves web-slinging and flying through the city. But the more time he spends in the costume, the more complicated his life becomes. And he’s conscious of that.
CMIX: But he can’t just give up the costume either, because it’s not just about fun, it’s also about power and responsibility.
GW: Right. We thought the core of the character was there in that idea. He still lost Uncle Ben, even if it’s been a few months.
CMIX: Another major part of this series is how many of the super-powered people are connected. Spider-Man, Electro and the Lizard are all results of the same basic experiments. Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, Sandman and Rhino all owe their origins to Norman Osborn’s technology and influence. Mysterio and the Tinkerer work for the Chameleon.
GW: The Marvel Universe was basically built on the fly. Since we’re starting this cartoon from scratch, we have the luxury of building a more cohesive universe from day one because we know where we’re going to go with these characters and who’s going to come later.
CMIX: What can we expect for the future of the series?
GW: It’s not up to me, but I’d love to do this character for 20 years. I’d love to take him through his high school years and his college years, I think he’s a fascinating character.
CMIX: Spidey’s known for being a focal point of the Marvel Universe, teaming-up with everyone at some point or another. Are Daredevil or any of his other frequent allies going to show up at any point?
GW: We don’t want the show to be guest-star of the week. Spider-Man doesn’t need Wolverine to make sure the show’s a success. We wanted the first two seasons in particular to stay in the Spider-Man corner of the Marvel Universe. We felt that if we started bringing people in too early, viewers would keep asking “well, who’s gonna show up next?” and it would be a distraction from our main characters who are so interesting.
And in the back of my head, this is the 1962 version of the Marvel Universe translated into today. So a lot of super-heroes actually don’t exist yet. There’s the Fantastic Four and Ant-Man, before he became Giant-Man. The Hulk’s leaping around the south west. But that’s it. Captain America’s still in ice. Don Blake hasn’t vacationed in Norway yet. Tony Stark hasn’t made the armor yet. The Avengers and the X-Men have not been formed yet.
So this is the early days. Spider-Man’s one of the only guys around right now. He’s not going to just bump into Daredevil or Wolverine.
Down the road, I would be interested in doing a crossover here or there. There’s a great history of Spidey and the Human Torch teaming up and getting on each other’s nerves. So after a couple of seasons, we’ll see.
CMIX: Last question: in the new series, will we ever see the Spider-Mobile that showed up for a few stories in the ’70s before being destroyed and abandoned?
GW: You know, I really hope so. I was just at the right age to see the creation and destruction of the Spider-Mobile and thought it was really cool. I would never do the Spider-Mobile without the destruction and I am planning to show it in Season 4. Now, we don’t even have the pick-up for Season 3 yet, so who knows? But yes, Season 4: Spider-Mobile!
Alan Kistler once converted a golf cart into his own spider-mobile. What followed afterwards is a matter of public record. You can read Alan’s Kistler’s review of the first season of The Spectacular Spider-Man here on ComicMix. He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets such as the New York Daily News as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the "Special Features" sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: KistlerUniverse.com. One of these days he’d love to write for DC or Marvel.