Three superhero cartoons ruled Saturday mornings in my youth: Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man. I credit all of these shows equally for making me the comic book fan I am today. While I firmly rank it in third place compared to the other two, this is still one of the best Spider-Man shows I’ve seen, mostly because of its strong adherence to the source material. While I’ve read few Spider-Man books (every time I jump on the quality drops), I still know plenty about the character thanks to this cartoon.
Created as a companion to the currently running X-Men cartoon, Spider-Man was made by a different studio than the former. Saban produced X-Men while Marvel Films Animation handled Spidey. Though this show initially aired on Fox, along with X-Men and Batman, odd censorship restrictions were placed on it. No character was allowed to strike with a closed fist, or shot real guns, hence all the lasers. Given this restriction, I’m surprised the show was as good as it was (“good” being a relative term).
The show started with Peter already being Spider-Man, and Uncle Ben a memory. Given only 13 episodes a season, the writers didn’t waste any time introducing and fleshing out Spidey’s rogues gallery. The Lizard, Kingpin, Goblin, Scorpion, Electro, Shocker, Rhino, Chameleon, Doc Ock, and more were all present. As the show went on, that list grew to include a plethora of heroes. Morbius, Punisher, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, and Blade all made appearances early in the show. One of the biggest crossovers was with the X-Men, all accurate according to their current animated incarnations. As the show went into its final season, a Secret Wars-esque plot line took place, bringing more Marvel mainstays. Captain America, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four were all added. Again, this show is was my first introduction to nearly all these characters.
Spider-Man did a solid job adapting many different Spider-Man stories. The first biggest story arc was three parts, introducing the symbiote suit and Venom. The Hobgoblin (voiced by Mark Hamill), who turned out to be one of the biggest villains on the show, was also given a two part introduction. Spidey faced an evolving mutation, growing four extra arms, The
Sinister Insidious Six, a war between goblins, Carnage (meh), and a missing/dead Mary Jane before culminating in Secret Wars. The show, running from ’94 – ’98, concluded Secret Wars with Spidey riding off through dimensions with Madame Web, vowing to find MJ. Sadly, the show ended after 65 episodes. A disagreement between executive producer Avi Arad and network head Margaret Loesch on the direction of the show caused both parties to walk away.
Ever the voice actor aficionado, I combed over the cast list surprised to see few names I recognized. Among the main or recurring cast, aside from Mark Hamill, only a small handful of names stuck out to me. Hank Azaria (Simpsons) voiced Eddie Brock and Venom, Tony Jay was Baron Mordo, Rob Paulsen as Hydro-Man, and Efram Zimbalist Jr (Alfred on Batman) as Doc Ock. Of the guest cast, more names stood out, such as James Avery (Uncle Phil/Shredder), Cam Clarke (every anime), David Hayter (Solid Snake), George Takei, and Rue freaking McClanahan (Golden Girls).
Spider-Man was a great show at the time. Watching it now, it sadly doesn’t hold up. Slow, plodding, janky animation, and an over reliance on internal monologue. As an entry point into the Marvel U., at a time when so few existed, it was perfect. Watch this for nostalgia only. If you do, I implore you not to do so on television. I swear to God there’s a commercial break every three minutes.
Did this Spidey bring you into the Marvel U? What was you favorite story line (Venom)? Comment below!
Joe Perry on guitar.