When Emmy-winning writer Kevin Shinick pitched his one-word idea to executives for Marvel’s Spider-Man, he knew he had their attention. The word: Science. It’s just as much a part of Peter Parker’s DNA as the radioactive spider bite that gifted him his powers in the series’ six-part origin story. And while Parker’s scientific genius and ingenuity has long been an integral part of his decades of comic book lore, it’s rarely explored earnestly in any of the superhero’s many adaptations. Marvel’s Spider-Man aims to rectify that with a bold new approach.
Ahead of the hour-long series premiere this Saturday, August 19th at 7:00 am, ET/PT on Disney XD (and on the Disney XD App and VOD), I had a chance to chat with Shinick about this latest Spidey series. It’s got a backbone in science, for sure, but like any good drama it also focuses on the relationships that Parker builds (and breaks) throughout the series. Most of that drama plays out in Horizon High, a magnate school for science geniuses that Shinick refers to as “Hogwarts for science.” Consider me hooked! (Some spoilers are ahead, so fair warning.)
Let’s face it: Spider-Man’s been adapted a lot, even in recent years. Here’s how Shinick aims to bring something worth watching to fans everywhere:
Kevin Shinick: A challenge for me is, Spider-Man is everywhere now. The movie [Spider-Man: Homecoming] just came out, we’re just coming off of a hit series, in the comics Peter is the CEO of Parker Industries. They’ve all been updated successfully. I want to update and make this new and fresh as well, but I also kind of missed something. I miss the angst that Peter Parker had during the Stan Lee / Steve Ditko era, so when I pitched this to Marvel, I said to them, “I’m a huge fan of Spider-Man but I’m an equally huge fan of Peter Parker. I really want to spend more time in his world.”
That’s what drew me to him; he was the first superhero who was a kid. I want to go back to those issues of having to keep your grades high but also be a superhero. So we did that. We went back and created a scenario and tried to make it authentic. He’s a 16-year-old science geek, which he’s always been, but he’s really obsessed with it. That was my entry point for this series. You’ll notice that every episode really lays heavily on the science of it all. You may learn some things along the way; we try to be accurate about certain things.
And when I was 16 years old, the things that were most important to me were friendships and relationships. We tried to encapsulate all of that. We’ve updated it in many ways by putting him in a new school, a magnate school for science geniuses, and we’ve also gone back to basics by bringing him into a classroom where he’s angsty and worrying about his Aunt May and his grades and his friends, all while trying to be a superhero.
Shinick, a writer for shows like Robot Chicken and Mad, has also written the Radio City Music Hall stage adaptation Spider-Man Live! (which enjoyed a 40-city tour) and for the “Avenging Spider-Man” comics; he knows his Spider-stuff. Here’s what sets his take on Peter Parker apart:
Shinick: [When] this series begins, he is already Spider-Man. He’s about to take off on his first adventure as Spider-Man, as a hero. Not a wrestler, not a celebrity. Just to bring people up to speed in case they wanted it, we did a series of shorts which break down Spidey’s origins in six shorts. They tell the story together as one, but you get that out of the way if you need to.
What makes it different … I said to Disney, “Spider-Man can be encapsulated with one word.” And they all thought I was going to say “duality.” I said, “Science.” They kind of sat upright a little bit, like, “Oh, that’s different. How’s it going to be about science?” It’s my entry point for this series because it’s about Spider-Man, but Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and it’s his heart and his mind that we really associate with. Science is his passion, it’s his entry point for everything, from talking to his friends, to dealing with a homework problem, or dealing with a supervillain; science is his go-to.
Uncle Ben, who obviously was a huge impact on Peter, to say that lightly, wasn’t a science guy, but he knew that was Peter’s passion. So in trying to tell Peter his morals, he kind of found a fun way to turn “With great power comes great responsibility” into a scientific formula, so that he could understand it more. That was important to me. Uncle Ben understands his nephew’s strengths and thinks, “What’s the best way that he’ll hear this?”, so he comes up with this formula. It’s a goofy formula, too, since he doesn’t know much about science, but he makes a stab at it. That means a lot to Peter. Not only is it a lesson, but it’s obvious that Uncle Ben knows who he is and that science is a big part of his life.