Spider-Man Romances In Animation - A Retrospective
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“Who am I? Are you sure you wanna know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart. If somebody told you it was a happy little tale – if somebody told you I was just your average ordinary guy, not a care in the world? Somebody lied. But let me assure you, this, like any story worth telling is all about a girl” Peter Parker – Spider-Man.
Since his story began in the 60’s, Spider-Man has always had a romantic tone to his character, in an effort to make him relatable to the teenage audience creators Stan Lee and Steve Dikto tried to reach when they first began working on The Amazing Spider-Man way back in the day. It makes Peter Parker seem that much more likeable, he wants to lead an ordinary life and have a girlfriend but the ever looming presence of his responsibilities as Spider-Man frequently denies him this. Whether trying to romance his boss’ secretary, ignorantly ignoring the advances of the hot chick from college or avoiding blind dates with his Aunt’s friend’s niece, the women have plentiful in Spider-Man’s run in the comics. But this here is an animation forum (or site, for those of you who have stumbled across this on Marvel Animation Age, hello!). How does Spider-Man’s romantic life work outside the comics?
The 67 show usually followed the early Lee/Dikto/Romita run pretty closely, despite there not being a lot of depth to it, and thus, Betty Brant was the object of Peter’s desire for the first season. The long suffering secretary was never a full on romance in the show – Peter obviously liked her and visa versa but we never saw them go out as such, it was more a case of whenever J. Jonah Jameson, Fearless Publisher of The Daily Bugle would go on one of his long winded rants about Spider-Man, Parker or even the teenage generation in general, Betty would be the first one to stick up for him, hell… she’d be the only one to stick up for him, after all, it seems that only the three of them actually worked in the building! No Robbie Robertson in this show, folks!
It’s hard to judge the romance between Peter and Betty because it was never showcased, merely strongly hinted at. Much like the comics, Betty could be described as the one that got away although they did remain good friends afterwards. Betty was a perfectly likeable character in the show and quite the little sweetheart – things rarely went Peter’s way when he stepped into the offices of The Daily Bugle and she was almost up to Mr. Jameson’s level when it came to delivering with the quips or the one-liners. She didn’t really have a defining appearance and she was used as the damsel in distress but once, in the episode’s premiere, The Power Of Dr. Octopus where she is actually concerned for Peter after he doesn’t return home from his photo assignment as Spider-Man had been kidnapped Dr. Octopus. She really did serve more as a supporting character rather than the leading Lois Lane, probably due to the fact that romance in Saturday morning animation in the 60’s probably wasn’t welcome.
Everytime I come to write an animation retrospective on Spider-Man or one of his villains/supporting characters, there’s a feeling of dread that comes over me. It’s not the fact that I’m usually feeling that I really should’ve done this last night instead of doing the pub quiz and losing (again!) and thus have a deadline to race against, no, my feeling of dread is that usually, I’m going to have to talk about the second and third seasons of 67 Spider-Man. As you’re probably aware due to the lack of reviews for them on my site, I really, really don’t like this seasons. I probably have more disdain for them than I do for sheer crap like The Avengers: United They Stand because at one point, I used to really enjoy the 67 Spider-Man series. Sure, it was probably the cheesiest cartoon you’ve ever seen, but it was good cheese. Like those songs that always make you get up and dance in the club, regardless of how many you’ve had to drink. You’d worry about how much of a fool you’ll look the next day, but notice that all of your mates are doing exactly the same thing. Ask whatever passes for the DJ at your nightclub to play Dire Straits Walk Of Life or Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, you’ll see what I mean. Any road, seasons 2 and 3 turned Spider-Man from a daft, ludicrous comedy into some strange science fiction cartoon barely resembling anything Spider-Man had ever done in a comic and sucking everything of even remote interest out of the show so Spider-Man could fight, weird, green skinned villains. The brilliant jazzy score? Gone. The cheap, cheerful animation? Gone - replaced with… crappier animation. Betty Brant? Barely noticeable, replaced with random ladies each week, which only made Peter look like more of a sex pest than anything else. The fact I’ve watched most of them yet fail to remember a single name or interesting character trait says more than a me spinning some crap for a couple of paragraphs now ever could.
For historical purposes (message boards/animation websites [hello again!] can have historical purposes?) it’s worth noting that Mary Jane actually made her animation debut in this show in The Big Brainwasher. There’s nothing here to distinguish her from the over, countless hordes of useless females presented in the show but at least they ensured she was a red head. Curiously, she’s also the niece of Captain Stacy who also appears in this episode. It seems the writers just merged her and Gwen Stacy together. The episode also gets bonus points for including The Kingpin, rather than the aforementioned generic green villains.
That’s about it for the 60’s show – considering that the romance really started picking up when John Romita Sr. took over the artistic reigns of the comic after the show was produced, could we expect to see more romance in the 80’s shows?