Spider-Man Romances In Animation - A Retrospective
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When Spider-Man would finally return to the small screen, one might expect to see some of his later adventures in the comics taken into consideration when translating the show. However, for unknown reasons, the show was syndicated with the previous 67 show and actually maintained continuity with it despite the fact it premiered over a decade after the last show had finished. This meant that Betty Brant was still the main girl in Peter’s life, and surprisingly, neither Mary Jane nor Gwen Stacey appeared in the show at all.
Marvel actually financed the show themselves and since the animation studio behind the original show had gone bust, they went into business for themselves. The show was now cast in the States, which meant new voices for Spidey and co and all the models were redesigned to replace the cheap 67 designs. I am personally gratefully relieved they did this because the natural decision was to base the show on the artwork of John Romita Sr. considered by many to be the very best Spider-Man artist of all time.
So, despite some ‘nice’ but not outstanding animation, the show was usually very pleasing to the eye. How did it hold up in the writing department? The show was produced in the 80’s – take that as you will. The show portrays Peter on a severely down on his look fellow and thus, if he’s not getting pounded by supervillains, he’s getting his ass kicked for not taking Betty out like he promised. There’s more of a romance between them here – in the 60’s show you feel like they are friends who would like to date, but here they’re shown dating with Peter’s like as Spider-Man constantly getting in the way of things. It’s what I find most appealing about the character – he desperately tried to maintain his normal life, but his double life gets in the way. It probably stands as why I like Spider-Man more than Batman, my second favourite superhero – Bruce Wayne is usually a really, really dull counter part, and most of the time reading about Bruce is usually just filler until Batman comes along. The original four movies are especially guilty of this and I rate Batman Begins as highly as I do because its version of Bruce Wayne is just thrilling to watch. Kudos, Mr. Bale. I also find the current Spider-Man comics to be dull and uninteresting – the writing has been pretty lousy for the last couple of years anyway but now that everyone knows his secret identity, the magic has gone, for me.
Unbeknownst to many, Spidey’s leading femme fatale also appeared in the solo 80’s show in one episode called Curiosity Killed The Spider-Man, The Black Cat makes her debut in animation.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I remember it being filled with all sorts of innuendo which they simply wouldn’t have gotten away with if the show was placed on network television, rather than being syndicated (which might explain why Black Cat never appeared on Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends). Her design is very well done here in the show but a few too many cat puns and meeoowww’s soured the experience. She’s also a full on supervillain here that probably goes against many people’s favourite version of the character, but for the sake of one appearance, it doesn’t really bother me. There was no real romance to speak off, like there would be in her next appearances, but I thought it was worth mentioning all the same.
The romance in the solo show can probably be best described as unremarkable, but not unenjoyable. Given the time in which it aired, it’s not too much of a surprise – romance is primarily used to attract girls and sometimes even the older demographics that was no use to the creators of the 80’s. Boys had their cartoons, girls had theirs, and adults had better things to watch.
Things picked up dramatically on the romance front when NBC decided that gasp! Boys and girls can both enjoy the same cartoon! At the networks request, Marvel made Spider-Man part of a team to make the cartoon more of a buddy show with Iceman from The X-Men and a new, original character called Firestar being added to the fray. The Spider-Friends, as they would be called would be all about having fun and fighting crime. A lot of Spider-Man fanboys balked (and still do) at the idea of Spider-Man in a team but I never minded it, compare this to the early 80’s show and it’s easy to see that Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends is so much more superior (Sorry Mr. Talpur!)
The romance was interweaved into the show with both male leads having the hots for Firestar although neither had the courage to actually admit it to her, and Angelica spent a lot of time flirting with both boys whilst they fought the various villains which menaced the metropolis. The show is utterly silly yet enjoyable – it’s pretty much got the same visuals as the solo show but Spider-Man was recast to the relief of many and Dan Gilvezan was brought in and injected more fun into the role. Whilst I don’t quite rate him as highly as Christopher Daniel Barnes or Neil Patrick Harris I don’t think either of the aforementioned voices would’ve worked in the role.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the romance between Spider-Man and Firestar as Firestar is utterly adorable, she’s actually probably the most likeable of all of the ladies in Spidey’s animated adventures and her model is great – it reminds me so much of the legendary Romita Sr’s depiction of Mary Jane that you immediately get flashbacks to the comic every time she’s on screen – she simply glows. For those of you unfortunate souls not well versed in the Spider-Man comic mythos, Romita Sr. drew the finest version of Mary Jane ever. It’s not even debatable, he’s simply the best. The fact that it’s been over 35 years and no one has even come remotely close to topping him suggests that nobody is going to ever take his crown from him.
The most romantic episode of the season is actually one of the dumbest the show ever did. For a show that features a supervillain being created from an arcade game, this feat was not a small one. In Spider-Man Meets The Girl From Tomorrow, Spidey instantly falls for a girl whose ship has crash-landed from the future and after having a little fun in New York, he decides that he’s going to leave his life behind and travel back to the future with this girl. Moments before he decided to leave, he and Firestar share a sweet little kiss before she bids him a fond farewell. It’s the most romance we ever got in the show, but it was actually really, really memorable. Given the nature of 80’s shows, we never got a real resolution to the romance or even the show, so we’ll never actually found out if Spidey did indeed get the girl. After 3 everyone, 1, 2, 3, awwww...