A cornerstone of the Kids’ WB animation block in the late-’00s, “The Spectacular Spider-Man” is still fondly remembered by its fans, cast and crew. Last weekend, at Long Beach Comic Con, supervising producer Greg Weisman, voice actors Josh Keaton, James Arnold Taylor, supervising director Victor Cook, character designer Sean “Cheeks” Galloway and writer Nicole Dubuc, amongst others, reunited on stage to share some of their memories of the program and declare their hope that it might someday return.
The two-season cartoon was something special from the get-go. Weisman, asked to recall how he became involved in the show, remembered a series of oddly-timed meetings. In 2006, Sony owned all movie and TV rights to Spider-Man, including animation. After a single year of “Spider-Man: The New Animated Series” on MTV, the company decided to start over and invited Weisman to pitch his concept for the show. “I interviewed for the job and went for two or three interviews, and then didn’t hear anything for ten months,” he said. “I assumed I didn’t get the job. [Later,] I’m at a Christmas party and someone congratulated me on the Spider-Man job.” The party guest was insistent he had landed the gig, so Weisman asked his agent, also at the party, if there had been any movement on “Spider-Man.” His agent said no one had called him.
“On that Monday, he makes these calls and then Marvel calls me and asks me to meet with them. An hour later, I get a call from Sony and they want to meet with me before my meeting at Marvel. They were like, ‘Can you meet now? What about now? How about now?'” He once again pitched his idea to Sony and earned a positive response, so he asked if he actually had the job. “They said Marvel had to approve me, but they also let me know that it was Sony’s show.
“I should’ve seen that as a sign of the relationship between them.”
The next day, he pitched the show for Marvel and Sony, suggesting Cook for supervising director. Cook was busy at Disney, but was enticed to leave for “Spider-Man.” The pair had collaborated on the short-lived “Hellboy Animated” and Weisman suggested Cook to provide the character designs. “We had to audition twelve artists because Marvel wanted choices,” Weismann recalled. Expecting to fight Marvel for Galloway, they were happy when the company was eager to bring the artist onboard. The ease with which Weisman assembled his crew became the way of the show. “We were always ready to fight, and then there was no fight,” Weismann said. “Same thing happened with our voices. They asked me who I wanted and I was like, ‘Josh Keaton’ and they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, that was our first choice.'”
“My first initial approach was to dig into these characters,” Galloway explained, recalling his initial days on the show. “We’ve seen so many incarnations, but I’m the sort of guy who likes to push the silhouette or proportions, and this time I pushed the redesign.” He noticed a certain pushback on his more outlandish ideas from Sony, Marvel and the work itself. “I wondered why I was trying so hard,” he said. “They had me wheel it back.” Electro, for example, was initially designed with turbines on his back, but Galloway could not reasonably justify them when the character was meant to assemble his costume from easy-to-find items. The turbines were removed from the character model. As for Spider-Man, the hereo underwent twenty-two design revisions
The musical score — a combination of guitar-heavy riffs and orchestral accompaniment — was one of the highlights of the series, and composers Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter explained their involvement at the panel. “We did a spec demo, [but] they had a good feeling of what they wanted. We talked about guitar and character themes,” McCuistion said. “So we went away with our third partner, Lolita Ritmanis, and came up with something that was fun. The show kind of had this timeless feeling, so we wanted the orchestra to be this anchor.”
The character-specific themes became a key component of the series’ overall musical landscape. “We wanted to bring the themes back every time, so the audience would know [the association with the character],” Carter explained. Unlike most shows, the theme was often rearranged to match the tone of the scene. “We weren’t just cutting and pasting,” he emphasized. “We had the notes that we could weave into the score.”
Asked about “Gangland,” the infamous opera episode in which they had to weave selections from “Rigoletto” into the episode, the pair explained that due to the fact that the opera and several other musical selections were meant to be heard by the characters as opposed to the usual score that is only heard by the viewer, the show came to be known as the “all-source opera” episode. “[That opera] had enough material that we could use freely that we felt would survive the show.” McCuiston said. “We knew this opera was meant to be happening in real time throughout the episode. The logistics were incredible.”
Carter added that they felt free to counterpoint the action — a violent scene with a more lyrical quote from the opera, for example — in order to give the episode a greater dimension. “We had to make feel organic,” McCuiston continued. “It was challenging, tonally, because any music we added had to work with the existing opera.”
When a fan wondered what aspect of the mythos was the hardest to adapt, Weisman explained his philosophy for the show. “I grew up with the Lee/Ditko and the Lee/Romita Spider-Man, and the core of the show was going back to those comics.” Once he secured the job, he took a trip and read several of the “Essential Spider-Man” collections to get a sense of the “C” words he wanted to infuse into the show: classic, coherent, cohesive and iconic. “Okay, [‘iconic’] doesn’t start with a C,” Weismann admitted, “but it makes a nice hard-C sound.”
Through that lens, Weisman and his team were able to look at all the disparate elements added to the comics over the years and streamline it for their uses. “We determined any named character — from Coach Smith to acting teacher St. John Devereaux — would be from a Spider-Man comic.” It was an approach the fans enjoyed, though Weisman alluded to one change he made that was met with ire. “The challenge came later when fans got really mad when we made Montana the Shocker,” he joked.
Writer Nicole Dubuc recalled incorporating lines from Shakespeare into an episode. “I basically reread all the plays to take the [Spider-Man] characters I knew and introduce them to this writer that I loved,” she said. The staff’s love of Shakespeare led to Deborah’s Strang’s casting as Aunt May. Weisman saw her playing the Nurse in a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Hearing her voice, he knew at once that she was perfect. “[Sony] made her audition, but she won the role.”
One true difficulty in adapting the material came in the form of the Green Goblin. Weisman wanted to preserve the mystery of his identity despite the then-recent feature film version shouting from the rooftops that he was Norman Osborn’s alter-ego. They chose to heavily imply Harry was the Goblin. “In season 2, we had the plan to do this great reveal and [show] how Harry had been so well-framed that he believed he did the crime.”
As part of that plan, the producers initially wanted to cast one actor to play Green Goblin, Harry and Norman, but once confronted with Taylor and actors Steve Blum and Alan Rachins, Weisman decided, “They were all so so good, that we cast them all, so none would know who Green Goblin was!”
“I loved that Harry wasn’t James Franco,” Taylor added. Switching into his Harry voice, a mix of Ron Howard and Michael J. Fox, he recalled the key note he would get during recording was not to sound too much like Keaton.”It was fun to twist the audience in knots to believe that it was Harry and then reveal it was Norman,” Weisman continued. “He twisted his own son’s ankle to give him a limp. It was so brutal — I loved it.”
Asked who decided Peter’s shirt-tag should always be sticking out, Weisman said it was Galloway’s notion. Had the show continued, “Right before graduation, everyone was going to be in their robes, and Aunt May was going to tuck that tag in.”
Though hesitant to offer up too many details about their unused plans, Weisman said characters like Hobgoblin, Scorpion, Hydro-Man and Man-Wolf were scheduled to appear. “We had a little Cletus cameo, which indicates Carnage would’ve show up,” he said. “I hope we’ll get to do them someday. ”
Weisman has not seen the current “Ultimate Spider-Man,” saying, “I haven’t seen it on purpose. For me, there’s no good news. If it’s great, I’ll just be jealous. If it’s awful, it’ll drive me crazy. It’s got some great people on it, so I wish them well, but I prefer we were still doing it.”
Is there any chance the show could return? “It’s tough, because two different companies own the rights to it,” he said. “Marvel owns the rights to Spider-Man as an animated property, but Sony owns all the specific things from our show.” Though the chances of the two companies seeing eye-to-eye are slim, Weisman said he makes the occasional inquiry in hopes of returning to production. “It was a phenomenally great experience. I think we’d all leap at the chance,” he said. It was a sentiment everyone on the panel quickly echoed.
“Recording was so much fun,” Strang said. “Week after week, it was the best written scripts.”
“It was great to be involved,” added voice actor Andrew Kishino. “I had to psyche myself up to work with these ridiculously great actors.”
“If an audition comes in, I’ll absolutely come back,” Keaton declared. “It’s my favorite comic book character. Peter Parker is very near and dear to my heart.”
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