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RERUN REVIEW: Spider-Man: The Animated Series 3×05 “Rocket Racer”

In the article “Top 6 Worst Spider-Man Villains”, a very silly bad guy known as the Big Wheel earned a spot for its sheer ridiculousness. A giant wheel. Who is going to find that intimidating or cool? Big Wheel’s nemesis is Rocket Racer, a superhero who uses a rocket-powered magnetic skateboard, who was once another silly villain in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. Well, some bright spark decided both were worthy enough to appear together in an episode in the third season of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which we are going to look at today in this Rerun Review.

Now, I am fond of the 90s Spider-Man cartoon. I think it was the best until Spectacular Spider-Man came along. Peter Parker (Christopher Daniel Barnes) is both really snarky but has to deal with a lot of life issues, I loved many of the supporting characters, and the series had overlapping arcs with dramatic, exciting cliffhangers. The second season was pretty cool with Spider-Man turning into a mutant spider, the formation of the Sinister Six, a crossover with the X-Men and appearances from Morbius, Blade, and the fricking Punisher! The third season started well with a Dr. Octopus two-parter and the introduction of the Green Goblin. But just when things start rolling, the next episode literally follows that phrase by having the Big Wheel and Rocket Racer as the focus in their singular appearance.

The episode opens with Spidey making out with Felicia Hardy (Jennifer Hale) after saving her mother from the Green Goblin in the previous episode, though reality kicks in and he sadly tells Felicia they can’t be an item, which she reluctantly agrees on. Plus, how would that work? They can’t date if Felicia didn’t know he was Peter. Just then, things completely go off the rails as a giant mechanical wheel starts blowing up bank vaults, accompanied by an army of robbers in funny hover suits. Spider-Man swings in to stop the Big Wheel, commenting that it “really takes the cake” – in terms of cheesiness, yes, but not in terms of disbelief in comparison to alien symbiotes and vampires.

Meanwhile, we meet our other villain/hero of the episode Robbie Farrell who is buying medicine for his ill mother. We learn from the pharmacist he used to get into trouble but is trying to turn over a new leaf after his mother got sick. Robbie skates his way home, which we have to follow for a full minute, before Spidey and Big Wheel race by, and in the chaos, one thug looks some of his money which Robbie picks up in awe. By pure coincidence and plot necessity, the cops drive by and mistakenly catch Robbie in the act. And by even more coincidence, his mother comes to the police station accompanied by Felicia, revealing Robbie is a genius and a student in her family’s funded science classes. And Peter is his teacher.

Robbie angrily denies his guilt and boldly declares maybe he should just resort to crime to help his mother – right in front of a cop in the middle of the police station. Peter goes to look over his science students and gets flirty with Felicia until Jason Philips walks in, who is so obviously the Hobgoblin it hurts (maybe because Mark Hamill is voicing him). Jason quickly charms Felicia into going on a date with him and Peter frowns. We cut back to Robbie and his mother, only for a group of thugs to trash her store, seemingly led by Snake off The Simpsons. Seriously, they look identical aside from the lack of yellow skin. It turns out these thugs also work with Big Wheel. What a small world it is, and an extremely convenient one. And the coincidences continue too.

Robbie is out skateboarding and crashes into “Snake”, who drives off in his ugly orange car to a warehouse, with Robbie following him. Inside, we meet the mastermind behind Big Wheel, Jackson Weele…subtle. Weele explains completely through exposition that he was one an aeronautical engineer and is obsessed with timing and accuracy while all of his associates laugh evilly. Robbie sneaks into a room and finds a pile of equipment in relation to his knowledge of gyroscopic technology and he steals it to become a super thief to help his mother. Thus he becomes Rocket Racer, and sets out to rob a jewellery store, only for his conscience to kick in five seconds later and he realises what he is doing is wrong. Were the writers trying to cram an entire season’s worth of character development into a twenty-minute one-off episode?

Robbie decides to hi-tail it out of there and is pursued by Spider-Man and a news chopper, and unfortunately, Robbie’s mum is watching the excitement and collapses at home. Poor woman. Robbie tries to elude Spider-Man in a construction site, but falls off his magnetic skateboard and gets magnetically stuck to the bottom of an elevator, which coincidentally starts to descend to the ground. Spider-Man tries to stop the elevator but then does what any other competent superhero would do and presses the stop button. Spider-Man tracks Robbie home, and they briefly have an argument about the way of the world when Felicia bursts in, and everyone points the coincidences that they know each other. Robbie’s mum has been hospitalised so the trio race to see her.

By another coincident, the badguys figure out who Robbie is and decide to chase him and Felicia through New York in their big “overgrown hoola hoop” as Robbie describes it. This is ridiculous. This on the level of Batman’s shark repellent. Spider-Man and Robbie realise the Big Wheel is run by timed gyroscopes, and use an electrical volt to send it flying into the Hudson River, with Mr. Weele all wrapped up for prison. Robbie then shoves a moral about using what you know responsibility down the audience’s throat. Well now I know, and knowing is half the battle. G.I. JOOOEEEE!

The episode wraps up as quickly as it can with a hilarious finale. “Snake” and his pen pals try to petrol bomb the Farrells’ store, but Spider-Man and Robbie catch them in the act, with the latter declaring that their “gangbanging days are over” – okay, then… Two of the crooks try to flee, but Spider-Man catches one. Robbie then skates after another in his regular clothes, then in the next shot he knocks him out in his Rocket Racer suit, then he is back to his normal clothes. What an awful animation error. The episode then ends as it began, with Peter watching from afar as Felicia hooks up with not-the-Hobgoblin and he swings off, deciding to let her have some happiness.

This episode is a big mess. Rocket Racer had the potential to be an interesting villain-turned-hero but his whole backstory, motives, and character development are shoved into twenty minutes without time to properly build him as a person. He goes from A to B in ten seconds, believing he should steal to survive in the world but a second later he has a change of heart and realises what he is doing is wrong. Big Wheel is the most embarrassing, laughable villain in the whole series, if not in Spider-Man’s whole world. And the villain’s sense of evil is because he is nuts about timing and accuracy. Spider-Man has very little to do in the episode, and his own character arc is dumped on a shelf, and I think the potential relationship between him and Felicia is tossed aside way to quickly. And the worst part is that nothing in the episode, aside from the rushed introduction of Jason Philips, has any significance for the rest of the season or series. What a waste of time.

What are your views on the “Rocket Racer” and Big Wheel? Are they are bad as characters as this episode seems to portray them as? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

About the author

Mark Russell