Way back in the good old days of 2004, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley put together a two-part story in "Ultimate Spider-Man" that found Wolverine and Spider-Man switching brains. The first part of the story was titled, “Even We Don’t Believe This,” the second part, “Jump The Shark.” And the whole thing was as winky as you might expect, down to the reasoning behind the switch: Jean Grey switches their brains to teach Wolverine a lesson about treating women the right way, to which Cyclops asks, “You can do that?” followed by Jean Grey saying, “Don’t question it.”
So yeah, it was a bit of a lark - and meant to be that way, according to Bendis, who we chatted with about the story earlier this week. Now, he’s revisiting the story with a different context and motivations in Disney XD’s "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon for an episode called “Freaky,” which premieres this Sunday at 11am. How does it compare to the comic that proceeded it, and does it feel like a double dip?
Actually, if anything, the animated episode is better than the two-parter. The twenty-two minute format lets Bendis expand on the ideas, jokes, and themes of the comic. And interestingly, the writer’s tendency towards decompression tempers the cartoon’s tendency towards manic-ness. They meet each other nicely in the middle, and this might just be the most solid episode of "Ultimate Spider-Man" yet.
In particular, the jokes work brilliantly here. I won’t spoil them too much, as really, seeing how Wolverine acts in Spider-Man’s body and vice versa is the whole draw here. But seeing Logan in a Spidey pose, and Wolverine try - and fail - to use Spider-Man’s webs is laugh out loud funny. If there’s one joke that does suffer in translation, the first time in the comic that Peter Parker - in Wolverine’s body - pops his claws, he cuts off his own finger. On Disney XD, you can’t really reach that level of violence, so there’s a similar moment that mostly happens off screen. Left to the viewer’s imagination, it’s not quite as shocking.
Still, the joke of Wolver-Parker never quite getting the gist of Wolverine’s claws is a visual gift that keeps on giving, and the moving medium benefits that particular bit brilliantly... Where a comic would have to take two panels just to have Wolverine pop his claws, here, they can be going non-stop while he tries to explain that he’s not really Wolverine.
Another step up for the cartoon over the comic is the addition of Sabretooth (and Mesmero) as a villain. In the two-parter, there really was no villain, just a series of bits pitting Spider-Man and Wolverine against each other. Here, Sabretooth attacks Wolverine - because that’s what he does - and seeing how Spider-Man in Wolverine’s body tries to keep him at bay is delightful. It also adds a real reason for the pair to want to switch back - or at least figure out how to get each other’s bodies to work the right way - because otherwise, they’re going to die.
Also delightful? Steve Blum, who’s voiced Wolverine before, and here does a brilliant job of channeling Peter Parker’s tone of voice through Wolverine’s “actual” voice. Hearing Logan crack and break when he gets nervous is a comic gift that keeps on giving as well.
There are a few downsides, though... The episode takes a little bit longer than it should to get going (though once it does, it’s pretty much non-stop fun); and the resolution isn’t really much better than it was in the comic. If anything - though there’s a completely different reasoning here - the comic might have a leg up, because the whole joke was that nothing that happened in the two issues really “mattered.” Here, we’re supposed to be getting some character development for Spider-Man... And the eventual moral doesn’t really connect too well with the rest of the episode.
Still, for about fifteen minutes or so in the middle, “Freaky” is laugh out loud funny... Here’s hoping the "Ultimate Spider-Man" channels more of this fun, with a more tempered pace through the rest of the season.
“Freaky” premieres on Disney XD on Sunday at 11AM ET/PT!
Watch a behind-the-scenes clip Mr. Blum working his magic as Wolverine.