Spider-Man In Animation - A Retrospective

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

When season two finally premiered in the September of 1995, it completely separated itself from the villain of the week formula by boldly initiating a storyline that would run for the entire season, practically unheard of in the day. The episode also jilted villain of the week by having 6 rouges team up to fight a powerless Spider-Man. The ridiculous censors struck again here, as the comic group, The Sinister Six, was deemed too violent and forced Semper to change the groups name to The Insidious Six. What’s more retarded? X-Men, which ran alongside Spider-Man, had a character called Mr. Sinister, but that was fine! I’ll never understand how those people work - it baffles me. The group worked pretty well, and there was a fair amount of suspense to be found as one did wonder how a powerless Spidey was going to defeat all six villains and there was a brilliant unmasking scene here. I’ll admit to being greatly surprised when Doc Ock yanked his mask off and actually saw Peter’s face!

The main point of the series was told at the end of the episode, in a brilliant manner. Spidey’s power loss was only the beginning of his problems; the spider bite that gave him his abilities was only the first stage in it’s mutation and whatever his powers were doing to him, well, I’ll let Doc Conners explain.

SPIDER-MAN: Come on Doc! My powers came back and I feel great! How bad can the test results be?
CONNERS: This bad. The mutagenic factor in your blood has undergone another transformation.
SPIDER-MAN: Did you say mutagenic, as in mutant?
CONNERS: I'm afraid so. Whilst I can't tell you exactly what your DNA is turning you into, one thing’s already clear. It won't be human…

From there, the story continued. Spidey had his first full-fledged team up episode as he hoped Professor Xavier might be able to cure him of his condition. Throw in a mutant hating fanatic in the guise of Beast’s former colleague, The Hobgoblin and a Spidey/Wolverine throwdown and you’ve got an awesome team up on your hands. It was slightly jarring to see the X-Men TAS designs translated over to Spider-Man and it’s digital colouring, mainly because Spider-Man never really perfected how to use black properly, alien costume and Carnage aside. X-Men, of course, featured heavy black ink in all of its designs and the results were a little… off. The story itself was fine, but it was a very weird visual experience.

The next episode was truly a turning point in the series, even more so than the ‘real’ turning point in the show. The introduction of Morbius in the season was certainly an interesting development – to begin with. The idea of introducing a supporting character earlier on and then turning him into a villain was certainly something different at the time, especially considering Peter and Morbius never really liked each other to begin with, mainly due to both of them expressing their feelings for Felicia Hardy. Michael came out on top of course, due to Peter’s double life.

The idea of Peter being to blame for Morbius transformation is also quite genius, as is how the metamorphosis occurs – Morbius is bitten by a radioactive vampire bat. So in short, the build up to Morbius was done in a very creative, entertaining manner, much more interesting than the comic. Unfortunately, it all falls down the toilet shortly afterwards, and it falls fast. The censors once again interfered with perhaps their most stupid demand yet – Morbius wasn’t to bite necks, his fangs weren’t allowed to scare children, and he was to suck plasma from his hands, not blood. It was laughable to say the least.

The other real problem with the episode is that from this point on, rare occasion aside, the colouring was revamped, and it simply looked crap. It never really popped on screen, despite how good the animation would occasionally look. It was particularly ugly at the night scenes, as Spidey’s red and blue costume often became pink and blue. Those of you who pay attention to the colour pallets in the first season of Justice League will know what I’m talking about.

Thing took a positive turn afterward, as Spidey’s nightmare came to fruition. I certainly wasn’t expecting an appearance from Six-Armed Spider-Man in the show, let alone Man Spider! The storyline quickly kicked into high gear after this and delivered a very entertaining conclusion. Again, it quickly fumbled, as Morbius began playing a bigger role in the story, which lead to Blade guest starring. Blade wasn’t anywhere near as cool as he was in the first two (I do my best to forget the third one ever existed, damn you David Goyer!) but at this point, I’d thought we’d seen too much of Morbius. A tiring, tedious two-part episode follows afterwards, and then we get to the conclusion of the Neogenic Nightmare. It wasn’t a bad finale, and I was personally really looking forward to seeing The Vulture (I’d had the action figure of him for months at this point!) and, after 13 weeks of wondering, I was looking forward to seeing it all wrap up.

It wasn't quite the spectacular ending I had hoped for but it works perfectly fine. So, after 14 episode essentially taking up an entire arc, you figured now would be a time to get a breather, right? Not a chance – the season ended on a cliffhanger. I remember having to wait 8 or 9 months to see how it all concluded, God, this show was so good at sucking you in at times!

The third season continued with the show’s season long storyline theme, but it wasn’t pilled on as thick as the Neogenic Nightmare, which I personally am thankful for. This allowed the show to tell more stories within the episodes, and meant that more characters could be introduced and previous one brought back, which wasn’t as easy to do in the Neogenic nightmare. It opened with the return of Mary Jane and the introduction of Dr. Strange, a fairly uneventful affair, which I felt would’ve been a little better had she been missing for more than half an episode. The season loses it’s footing with an unneeded extended retelling of Spidey’s origin and a silly amnesia episode, but quickly picks up with the long awaited debut of Spider-Man’s arch nemesis – The Green Goblin.

The show had the great benefit of hindsight, the ability to see what worked in the comics and what didn’t. It had taken advantage of this before, introducing Morbius and Felicia Hardy as a supporting characters early on and turning them into supervillians later. But even they pale in comparison to Spidey’s relationship with Norman Osborn before he became The Green Goblin. The shows version of The Goblins is often the subject of much controversy, as it was The Hobgoblin premiered before the Green one, which didn’t follow the comics, which had Hobgoblin appear over 20 years after the original. This was due to the previous story editors’ decision and the toyline already in place before production on the episodes could halt. This greatly irritated the shows producer, John Semper, but actually gave him an excellent opportunity to further develop Norman before his transformation into The Goblin, and of course, the fanboys had a great time building up The Green Goblin’s inevitable appearance. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint and Spidey and The Goblin had a classic, which honestly wouldn’t have been too out of place in the first season. The pacing was solid, the dialogue snappy and the animation was back to its best, void of any sloppy editing and ugly models.

With the season looking strong, it continued with an excellent 2-part story and the introduction of one of my personal favourite superheroes. Look out Kingpin, here comes Daredevil, The Man Without Fear!

The series had a pretty decent track record with team ups thus far, and this one was a perfect match due to his long running comic book rivalry with Kingpin. Kingpin had been used perfectly in the series up until this point, as the one usually pulling the strings whilst Spidey thought Wilson Fisk was an innocent philanthropist, always adding a unique twist into several episodes. His partnership with Smythe made that character seem a lot more interesting than he actually was, and he helped give some small form of motivation to the likes of The Rhino, The Shocker and later The Chameleon. His untouchable status made him a great villain, especially when The Hobgoblin attempted to overthrow him back in season one. It was a really unique experience watching Spider-Man eventually figure out every villains plot and foil them, but never, ever coming close to realising that there was a Kingpin, let alone have a clue as to his identity.

Daredevil’s a hard nut to crack, but they managed to make a perfectly entertaining version of the character here. It was certainly made a lot more difficult due to the fact that none of his supporting cast appeared, aside from Stick and his Father Jack in flashback format – no Foggy, no Karen and no Hell’s Kitchen. He’s basically just Peter Parker’s lawyer, but he’s a superhero too. The voice fit perfectly, but the design could’ve used some work, especially now, after seeing how perfect he looked over in Fantastic Four. It’s a shame that version wasn’t written anywhere near as well as this one. It did create yet another major turning point in the series though, as Spider-Man now knew that Fisk was The Kingpin. I’d be lying if I said I thought this added another layer to their feud, because nothing ever really became of it. It’s a shame an episode of Fisk being sent off to prison to pay for his crimes (and the inevitable sequel of his escape and persecution of Spider-Man) was never made, because it would’ve fitted in perfectly in the fourth season. His feud with Kingpin never really ended. There’s a certain part of me that likes this, as it shows Spider-Man will forever fight crime… but again, I wanted to see Kingpin come back from losing everything. No use crying over spilt milk now.

One of the reasons Kingpin slightly fell after his identity was discovered was he no longer had Smythe to play off. The chemistry between the two was simply magic that everything after it came as a big disappointment. Herbert Landon from the X-Men 2 part story acted as Smythe’s replacement and he had big shoes to fill. Sadly, the character wasn’t anywhere near as interesting as Smythe and the chemistry between him and Kingpin was practically non-existent. Unfortunately, every single Smythe appearance pretty much sucked too, as like Dr. Octopus, he was resorted strictly to the henchman role. Whilst his Father was his sole motivation, he did seem to spend most of his time doing odd jobs for the likes of Silvermaine, he himself a poor man’s Kingpin. The episode itself (The Ultimate Slayer) was a pretty decent tale and added another layer to Peter’s inevitable marriage to MJ, but like the following episode (and the rest of the show, according to many) it was ruined by Madame Web’s appearance.

Madame Web has always been a bit of a sore subject with many fans of the show, as she alone seems to be the reason the show turned from a straight up superhero cartoon with a relatively down to Earth, relatable lead into a galaxy hoping hero that our hero originally clamoured for back in the pilot. That line still makes me chuckle to this day, if only for this reason. Whilst I didn’t actually mind the galaxy hoping stuff too much (I found season five to be a hell of a lot better than season four), Madame Web was simply irritating. Her constant arrogant attitude was annoying enough, but with her constant interference pointing Spider-Man in the right direction, it often made our usually intelligent superhero look incredibly incompetent. Tombstone was a fine example of this. Having everything explained to him meant Spider-Man was rarely allowed to exercise his intelligence, which I would’ve much rather seen than some old woman constantly boasting about how brilliant she is.

Madame Web wasn’t all bad however, as it allowed three full seasons (!) worth of hype to this ultimate battle she was preparing him for. I remember the endless speculation about exactly what Spider-Man would inevitably have to face – thank God that didn’t disappoint. Still, the woman was an annoyance who appeared far more often than she needed to.

One of, if not the most anticipated episodes of the show was the introduction of Carnage. He was a fairly new character in the comics at the time but had quickly been elevated to one of Spidey’s biggest rouges due to his popularity. The comics that Carnage first appeared in where some of the best comics produced, and the action figure had been available for a good 3 years at this point! Given the violent nature of the character and how squeaky clean this show was another question was asked – how was the show going to present Carnage without watering him down to the point beyond recognition? Simple - substitute death with life energy. It wasn’t for everyone, but… this was FOX in the 1990’s - there were so few other options available to them due to their super strict censorship rules.

With Carnage debuting, Venom also returned, finally reunited with his symbiote. Unfortunately, whilst they managed to make Carnage a great villain whom I personally would’ve loved to see return, the show followed the stupid comic storyline and turn Venom into a good guy. Yes, making one of Spidey’s coolest enemies in years into a Lethal Protector makes a hell of a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Marvel was full of stupid ideas like this, and the company nearly became bankrupt because of it. Making Venom a good guy completely ruined any chemistry he had with Spider-Man and the character’s never been as interesting since. Shame, he was a fantastic villain at one point. The story itself is great, but I still felt it could’ve been better. With Venom, Carnage, Iron Man, War Machine, Dormammu, Baron Mordo and Madame Web all thrown in, it became a little too crowded… especially considering Mordo, hothead and Web are all quite dull characters, and there was a vast amount of unused potential in a three-way feud with Spidey and the symbiotes. In the plus column though, part 2 looked pretty and Robert Hayes reprised his role as Iron Man from shell head’s own cartoon. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

After the complete calamity that was The Spot (seriously, it’s been 10 years and the episode still makes me cringe!) we cap off the series with the return of both Goblins. I love both Goblin’s in this show, so revisiting these episodes has always been a great joy for me, because the comic versions have pretty much fallen down the crapper due to Sins Past for Osborn and Hobgoblin’s pretty much been AWOL since the late 90’s. It was too fun seeing both of them on TV fighting each other as we came so much closer to finally learning how was behind Hobgoblin’s masks. The red herring of Jason Macendale due to Mark Hamill’s casting was too obvious to me, even as a kid, I thought they were trying to trick me. Nope. It was Macendale, and he became a complete wimp after Goblin unmasked him. Usually, after seeing my favourite villain sent on his way in such an abysmal manner, I’d be pissed off, but the season finale more than made up any negative feelings I might have had towards the show – Turning Point was too good to complain about. Whilst I’m apparently alone on this opinion, I find Turning Point to be the very best episode in the entire series.

Based on The Death Of Gwen Stacey, with Mary Jane replacing Gwen Stacey of course, the episode is an outstanding battle between all 4 identities, with Norman threatening to reveal Peter’s secret, The Green Goblin fighting Peter and Spider-Man battling The Goblin using Norman. The animation is amazing, the staging spectacular and the ending shocking. I didn’t think they’d ever bump off MJ; even it was in some lame portal. There’s so much good stuff to be found in the series – the dinner scene, Peter’s reluctance around Harry, both Norman and The Goblin telling Peter of their hatred of him and some really great dialogue. The highlight for me would be Peter’s speech at the end, after he tells Madame Web to piss off and leave him alone.

“For so long now, I’ve tried to be there for everyone, to live up to the responsibility that comes with this great power. But when push came to shove I failed the people who needed me most. The woman I love is gone… gone forever.”

The series never really topped this episode, but the series’ finale came very, very close.