With the arrival of Spider-Man: Edge of Time next week, as well as the reboot of the film franchise and the next animated series based on and inspired by Ultimate Spider-Man, I think it’s time we looked back at the webslinger’s long animated career. And where better place to start than at the beginning?
Starring Paul Soles as Peter Parker and his alter ego, this was the original “good cartoon based on a comic”. While other shows basically used the panels of comics and animated the mouths, Spidey’s animated debut was considered one of the better cartoons. The first season had Stan Lee as a story consultant, meaning that even if they deviated from the actual comic plots, they had that same feeling as the books. Season 1 mostly focused on Peter working at the Daily Bugle with J. Jonah Jameson and his secretary Betty Brant, and when danger threatens, our hero changes into Spider-Man (though use of a sequence of him changing clothes, and making his voice amazingly deeper than his Peter voice). And while there were original villains, Spidey also took on the likes of Green Goblin, Lizard, Electro, Mysterio and Doctor Octopus. Sadly, after Grantray-Lawrence animation went bankrupt, animator Ralph Bakshi (yes, the director of Fire and Ice and the animated Lord of the Rings film) took over, and the show became about Spider-Man facing green skinned aliens and whatnot. Still, it was a fun show, and it also had a really cool episode about Spidey’s origin. It’s available on DVD for your viewing pleasure.
A lot of people consider this a remake of the ’67 series, as it’s essentially the same thing. Peter (now played by Ted Schwartz) works at the Bugle, dates Betty, argues with JJJ and fights villains new and old while balancing his personal and superhero lives. Considered something of a rarity, due to Marvel financing it themselves and releasing it in syndication, it has a lot more leeway than other Spider-Man cartoons. Sadly, it’s hard to find this show, although Marvel has started streaming it on Netflix. Of particular note is the episode where Captain America appears. That one episode shows how much it can suck to be Spidey, and that’s always a fun thing in an adaption.
Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (1981-83)
Airing on NBC, this series starred Dan Gilvezan as our webspinning hero. Gamers may recognize him from last year’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions as Spider-Man 2099. In this show, Spidey teamed up with X-man Iceman and original character Firestar (due to licensing issues, the original choice, the Human Torch was unavailable). As a team called the Spider-Friends (no, really), they fought villains and hung out together. I think this was a bit of a disappointment, due to how they seemed to be just a generic superteam instead of the appeal that Spidey had for having real problems besides super heroics. Also, I’m just going to say it, Firestar’s civilian look is a lot like classic Mary Jane. Honestly, this is not a bad show, it’s just…. meh. Still, you can find it also streaming on Netflix if you want to check it out.
This was it, the first true attempt to be THAT Spider-Man cartoon, like how Batman The Animated Series was THAT cartoon for the Dark Knight. This time Christopher Daniel Barnes took the role of our hero (again, Barnes was in last year’s game as Spider-Man Noir, and will be playing the part of Spidey 2099 in Edge of Time), actually bringing a lot of the angst along with the humor. This was also the animated debut of a vast majority of Spidey’s supporting class and rogues gallery, including Venom! There was only one way this could go wrong. Due to censorship on Fox Kids, there was no punching, no realistic guns (seriously, when did the NYPD get lasers?), no mentioning the word death… I mean, they changed the Sinister Six’s name to Insidious Six. And then there was the fact that this show recycled its animation so much that it got embarrassing. That’s one reason why I love the first season, no reused animation. Also, don’t get me started on the appearances of Morbius the Living Vampire, who due to censorship, didn’t bite people to suck their blood (oh, I mean PLASMA, stupid censors). No, he had weird puckered holes on his palms. That said, it was a decent show, and it animated a lot of major storylines like the Death of Gwen Stacy (changed to the Disappearance of Mary Jane), the Venom saga, the Secret Wars, and the Clone Saga. That said, it also suffered from becoming a crossover show with more and more Marvel guest stars. Like I said, decent, but still not THAT show for Spidey. And its lack of a full DVD release has hurt it despite streaming on Netflix. Still, it was popular, and helped inspire the first few games from the Playstation era onwards.
Spider-Man Unlimited (1999)
And lo, we come upon the black sheep of the franchise. Supposedly, the story behind this series was that it was originally going to be an animated adaption of Spider-Man 2099 (the series definitely shows signs of this, especially with the sci-fi elements like flying cars and mutated monster villains), but instead it became a sort of sequel to the last series. Rino Romano takes the helm this time, and during the 13 episode run, Spidey had to leave Earth to a Counter-Earth to rescue astronaut John Jameson, but finds himself stranded on the alternate Earth. Here, animal-human hybrids called Beastials rule, under the High Evolutionary. Spider-Man finds himself fighting alongside the human resistance to save the planet. And to make matters worse, Venom and Carnage are here, more mutated and actually allied to bring the planet under symbiote rule. Thankfully, Spidey has a new high tech suit to help him in his battles. Lots of fans look down on this show, but it was very original, and did really well. It only got cancelled because its ratings were beaten by Pokemon every weekend. And that sucks, because it ended on a cliffhanger. Still, it can be relived online and on Netflix.
Spider-Man the New Animated Series (2003)
Again, this was meant to be an adaption of another comic, this time Ultimate Spider-Man, but instead it became an animated series set after the events of the first movie. Meaning that the movie is required viewing for it. So, it follows Peter Parker (now played by Neil Patrick Harris, who was in last year’s game as the Amazing Spider-Man) as he attempts to balance his college life and time with Mary Jane and Harry Osborn alongside his super heroics. I do like the CG animation, but there were problems. I remember only getting to see this on MTV at like 1 am. Also, because it was set in the film’s universe, it could not use a lot of villains in case one of them was used for the sequel. So we got a lot of villains who were blatant covers of classic villains. Also, MTV asked that no old people appear so it didn’t alienate its target audience, so no Aunt May. Also, I think Peter actually has a one-night stand in this show, but it’s not entirely clear. Also, everyone was supposed to be more hip for the MTV crowd. Oh dear… Anyway, the show was cancelled like its predecessor and also lasted 13 episodes. I do find some of its episodes good, like the episode about Electro or the one featuring Rob Zombie as the Lizard. Sadly, it had too much going against it to become great.
The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-09)
Ladies and Gentlemen, this was IT. THAT SHOW. This was the cartoon that was a perfect adaption and distillation of the entire Spider-man mythos. What I mean is the following: just about every character you will recognize from various Spider-Man comics, all the way back to the 60’s. It has influences from everything including the comics, films, and previous animated series. It honestly may be the ultimate series created by fans for fans. In this 26 episode show, Spidey is played by Josh Keaton (who not only was in last year’s game as Ultimate Spider-Man and will be in Edge of Time as Amazing Spider-Man, but also was Spidey for a lot Marvel’s recent games and projects), who has only been Spider-Man for a few months before his Junior year of high school. In the first episode, not only does he learn his new confidence as Spider-Man doesn’t translate well to his geeky side, but he encounters his first supervillain. As the series progressed, he faced threats and mysteries from foes like Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, and the mysterious Big Man who ran crime in New York, as well as the sudden appearance of a black alien suit that would bond to his surrogate brother Eddie Brock. At the end of the series, Spider-Man faced the Goblin in a show-stopping finale, that left the door open as to what would happen to him, his friends, and loved ones. And then Sony lost the TV rights, which reverted to Marvel and thus Disney, who decided to just make a new cartoon called Ultimate Spider-Man that will start next year. So, Spectacular Spider-Man ended with not much of a real resolution, but still has a great legacy. As of the time of this writing, it is essentially the definitive animated Spider-Man that all future shows will be compared to. And that’s something to be proud of. If you can, watch this show ASAP.