Spider-Man In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six

Starting out as an afterthought to feature in the swansong issue of Amazing Fantasy, Spider-Man made his debut in the summer of 1962 and quickly became Marvelís flagship character when his own title, The Amazing Spider-Man, premiered six months later and has been published every month ever since.

Given the characterís immediate popularity, it was no surprise to see him appear on the small screen just a few years later in his own animated series. Unlike the previous 1966 Marvel Superheroes Show, Spider-Man actually had a budget, albeit a very small one, and this Spidey was actually animated fully, unlike the aforementioned show, which simply had shots taken from the comics with lip movement added. It was cheap animation that constantly repeated itself shamelessly, but the character actually moved, thankfully.

67 Spider-Man, as it is now referred to as, has to be seen to be believed. The show had absolutely no interest in taking itself seriously and can easily be described as the corniest, cheesiest and hokey show youíll ever watch. The majority of the episodes involve teenage photographer Peter Parker fighting crime as his spandex clad alter ego whilst his boss, fearless publisher J. Jonah Jameson constantly slams Spider-Man in his paper The Daily Bugle, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering secretary and Peterís love interest, Betty Brant.

Many of Spideyís outstanding rougeís gallery made their first appearance outside the comics in this show, as Spidey tangled with the likes of Doc Ock, The Lizard and The Green Goblin on several occasions. The first season is a comedy cartoon featuring an action hero and as far as laughs go, thereís plenty to be found here. Spidey is at his smart mouth best here, and the often-ludicrous storylines and scenarios will succeed at getting a chuckle out of even the harshest of critics. Just try not to laugh as Spidey makes a fully automated fan and raft out of his webbing! The undoubted highlight of the series is jolly Jonah though, as the series managed to capture the irate publisher perfectly.

The first season is either utterly brilliant or a mockery of the character to many but I personally felt the series was hit and miss. Sometimes the comedy simply didnít work and the villains came across as lame whilst others, youíre simply to busy laughing at the show to notice.

The second and third seasons however, are an entirely different ball game. The company producing the show collapsed, and Ralph Bashiki was left in charge, and had no time or money to work with. The problems with the show canít be blamed there, however. Instead of concentrating on continuing with the comedy, he attempted to make a straight up action show, and completely and utterly failed. Replacing Spideyís classic villains with generic, useless and for some odd reason, green skinned villains, the show was Spider-Man in name only. His supporting cast barely appeared, the snazzy jazz scores were gone and Spider-Man himself often found himself in other dimensions and such, hardly a place our relatable wall crawler should ever find himself in.

In short, the revamp sucked, replacing all that was good in the show with bland, basic and tedious stories featuring terrible villains. The once pleasing visuals were now crap, as was the show. It finally ended in 1970 when itís episode order was complete. The show is best known for itís super catchy theme song, which found itís way into both Spider-Man live action movies and was one of the main selling points of the complete DVD set that was released in the summer of 2004 to help cash in on Spider-Man 2.

Spider-Man would make his next animated appearance as a guest star on Spider-Woman in the late 1970ís, which is especially notable as it is the only time Spider-Man has ever guest starred on any Marvel cartoon! The episode itself is a little weird for Spideyís standards, but it was cool to see Spider-Man and Spider-Woman team up. Spideyís design was more than a little weird, especially the spider on his chest and yellow eyes, but the episode itself was perfectly entertaining.

The real odd thing about the show came from one of itís supporting characters, Jeff Hunt was complete knock of Peter Parker, only without the powers. The show featured an almost entirely original cast, with Jessica Drew working at Justice Magazine whilst keeping her identity secret from Jeff. Spider-Man appeared in two different episodes in the show, first in a team up to stop Mummies from taking over the Earth. Spider-Woman was perfectly likeable, but Spider-Man seemed to be severely powered down here, and constantly playing second female to his female counterpart. Overall, it wasnít too terrible an episode, despite its illogical ending (The two Spideyís turned the Pyramidís into squares, forcing the villains to flee. They also managed to break dozens of the laws of physics whilst they were at it). Spidey made a second, rarely seen appearance later in the show, with a film director planning to use both Spider-Woman and Spider-Man in a movie and films them fighting creatures in the jungle. Whilst I havenít seen the episode myself (the only animated Spider-Man Iíve never watched) I donít think it will keep me up at nightÖ

It would be over a decade before a new Spider-Man cartoon hit airwaves, with Spider-Man receiving his own syndicated animated series in 1981. Intended to be a continuation of the 67 series, the show would feature designs based on the artwork of Amazing Spider-Man legend John Romita Sr. and would feature a virtually identical set up to the aforementioned show, with Peter Parker struggling in his relationship with Betty Brant due to his constant complications as Spider-Man, whilst his boss, J. Jonah Jameson gave his all into publicly ruining Spider-Man. The show featured many of Spideyís classic rouges seen the in the previous show, but also introduced villains who had never been animated before, such as The Chameleon, Kraven The Hunter and a few original supervillians with silly names, such as The Gadgeteer and Professor Gizmo.

The show is unfortunately forgotten about by the vast majority of Spidey fans more than likely due to itís age and the fact it was syndicated, meaning it simply didnít reach as many homes as it wouldíve were it shown on one of the networks. Syndication does have itís advantages though, as it did not have any broadcast standards to follow, meaning it could push the envelope a little more in terms of action and storytelling, which was a strict no-no in the 80ís for animation. The main example here being Spider-Manís feud with Dr. Doom that spanned throughout the show, with 6 main episodes focusing on the good Dr and his quest to become master of the world. Some Spidey fans were confused by the choice to use Dr. Doom, traditionally a Fantastic Four villain as Spideyís main nemesis. The reason? Darth Vador, believe or not. Star Wars was still exceptionally popular at the time of the showís production, and Dr. Doom seemed to be the best fit to cash in from the Sith Lordís popularity. But 5 whole episodes dedicated to one story was unheard of back in the early 80ís. Hereís what Larry Parr, a writer from the show had to say on the subject.

"Five of those episodes were intended as a five-part mini-series that originally was going to be cut into a movie and shown in Europe.

At least that's what I was told. As far as I know that never happened, and I'm not sure the five Dr. Doom episodes were ever cut together and shown in sequence on American TV as I was also told they would be."

The show isnít like a lot of 80ís cartoons in that itís often quite depressing mainly due to the central character rarely having too happy an ending. This is how Peter Parker should be though Ė the loser who never quite gets it right but optimistically believes it canít get any worse. Ted Schwartz, the voice actor for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, spends most of his time being miserable, which doesnít help the somewhat depressing tone of the show, but I always found him to be a pretty good Spidey voice. Thereís better out there, but I donít think he deserves some of the negative opinions people have about his performance. In the end though, the show served itís purpose, as it allowed Marvel to get a Spider-Man cartoon on Network TV a short while later, after the network had their say in matters, of course.