Spider-Man Swings On

By Rob Allstetter

The growing pains have long been over. John Semper, producer and story editor for the Spider-Man animated series, has Spidey in full swing now.

"We're hitting our peak and it keeps getting better and better and better," Semper said. "It was very frustrating for me when we were writing seasons two and three, that the only thing on the air was season one. People were liking it, which was great, but I just felt we had gone so far beyond season one. By the time season one hit the air, to me it was very old hat.

"I'm very thrilled that we now have season two on the air, because as far as I'm concerned, that's where the show becomes everything I wanted it to be. We're now writing season five, and it's powerful stuff."

Despite stiff competition from "The Mask" on CBS, "Spider-Man" has been a ratings monster for FOX. It is the only Saturday morning series to simultaneously be No. 1 in both of the key demographics, ages 2-11 and ages 6-17. And it has done so several times.

Like the second season -- and all following it -- the third season of "Spider-Man" next fall will be one 13-episode story arc. This one is called "Sins of the Fathers."

"It occurred to me and the writers that we had a lot of great stories in the Spider-Man universe to tell that revolved around father/sibling relationships," Semper said. "I have to give credit to [executive producer] Avi Arad for the title of this season."

Harry Osborn, Felicia Hardy, Mary Jane Watson, Randy Robertson, and Alistaire Smythe are among the characters whose relationships with their respective parents will be explored.

For those viewers who love superhero guest-stars, the season opens with a Doctor Strange episode.

"He's always been a particular favorite character of mine and I absolutely, 100 percent knew we would be using him just as soon as we could," Semper enthused. "We're pulling out all the stop. We're spending a lot of money on it and getting a lot of great computer animation. It should be spectacular."

John Vernon, the voice of Iron Man in the 1960s cartoon and of Rupert Thorne in "Batman: The Animated Series," does the voice of the sorcerer. "To me, even in those old Iron Man cartoon, his voice was Doctor Strange's," Semper said.

Tony Pastor, the show's voice director

Semper also fulfilled his casting dreams by getting George Takei -- Sulu on "Star Trek" -- as Wong. Another "Star Trek" alumnus, Majel Barrett-Rodenberry, does the voice of Anna Watson, MJ's aunt.

It's slobberin' time! One of the new season's highlights figures to be the return of Venom. "It fits right in with 'Sins of the Fathers,' because Venom is the father of Carnage," Semper said, adding "Yes, we are going to do Carnage."

Yikes! A mass-murderer on Saturday morning TV?

"How can you do a mass-murderer?" Semper asked. "Well, the way you do it is you don't have him mass-murdering at that very moment. It doesn't mean you can't indicate he's done some horrible things. But you obviously can't poke anyboody's eyeballs out when you're on the air. It doesn't lessen the severity of the character, because you already know that he's capable of that, so it makes him the same character. I don't believe in changing the characters or watering them down. But we find very compelling reasons why they may not be at that moment pulling off some of the greatest violence of their lives. I've actually seen the episode and it really looks great. I think everybody's going to be surprised and amazed at how true to Carnage it is. And, of course, we have Venom and Carnage fighting -- and there you can do anything!"

Another upcoming Marvel guest-star is Daredevil, in an episode Semper described as "looking like [it was drawn by] Frank Miller, but animated." He said it reflects some of the season's best writing and animation. Edward Albert Jr. does DD's voice. The third season also introduces the Green Goblin to the series, and Felicia Hardy's role is built up as her evolution into the Black Cat continues.

Semper, whose main writing team includes Stan Berkowitz, Meg McLaughlin, Mark Hoffmeier and Jim Kreig, is already five scripts into the fifth season, which would complete FOX's initial order for 65 episodes.

"While it's conceivable that after those three seasons, [FOX] might want more episodes, right now, it's not a decision they have to make, said Semper, adding he would like to do 100 more.

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