Evil Geek Spotlight: Spider-Man The Animated Series
I’ll admit it right now, I love the 90s. I grew up through the beginning of it and I tend to have a nostalgic soft spot for things of that era despite how terrible they may actually be. (This among other things explains my love for Kelly Kapowski and the fact that I own the entire Saved By The Bell series on DVD and the College Years). A few months back I saw that Netflix was streaming the Spider-Man cartoon that ran from 1994-1998. I had fond memories of the show despite only watching a handful of episodes when it was on. So I decided to force myself to watch the entire series, start to finish. I figure I could relive the 90s and get some closure on Peter Parker’s life while I was at it.
I’ve done this twice in recent memory. Once a few years ago when the entire G1 Transformers cartoon was being re-released on DVD. That was filled with so many highs and some real harrowing lows. The other was X-Men the animated series from the 90s. This was also disturbing because the first two seasons were classic and very enjoyable to adult me. If you think about stand out episodes from the series, I guarantee they come from either season 1 or 2. Season 3 did an excellent job handling both the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Saga but most of the other episodes surrounding it were lackluster. The rest of the series was abysmal. It was actually torture to watch each remaining episode. Spider-Man thankfully was just about a pleasure to watch all the way through.
Spidey was never my “thing” as a kid. I appreciate the character so much more now than I did back then. I caught the majority of episodes from season 1 when it was originally on but not much else. I recommend most episodes from that season to anyone who might be interested in the show. Almost all of them are single story episodes that introduced a plethora of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. You’ve got the Lizard, Doctor Octopus, Kraven The Hunter, Mysterio, Norman Osborne, Chameleon, Hobgoblin, Rhino, the Shocker, Venom and Scorpion almost all working at various points for the Kingpin who is the mastermind behind the villainy of this series. That’s a lot of baddies to bring out in 13 episodes. They even tackle the Alien Costume Saga (albeit truncated) with respect and diligence.
The show’s basic premise is the same as the comics. Peter’s parents and Uncle Ben have died and he lives with his Aunt May while he’s going to college and being a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle. When the series starts he’s already Spider-Man and we learn his origin through flashbacks in later episodes. I think this is a wise choice because it gets you right in the thick of things. There’s no Gwen Stacy vying for Peter’s affection. Instead we have wealthy socialite, Felicia Hardy playing that role and later Mary Jane. This is one of the many deviations the creators took from the comics that seemed to work well and create an interesting continuity unto itself.
After the first, each season is subtitled and has an overarching theme. Season 2 deals with mutations and is probably my least favorite. Spider-Man contemplates quitting and goes through a series of strange mutations culminating with him becoming a man spider. The same serum also creates Morbius The Living Vampire who appears many times throughout this season as well as Blade the Vampire hunter. It’s not bad, Vampires just aren’t my thing.
Season 3 involves father’s. Mary Jane’s absentee dad, Alister Smyth’s, Alisha Silver’s and Harry Osborne’s. It’s subtle enough that it wouldn’t easily be picked up on. In season 4, we see Felicia Hardy transformed into the Black Cat (with an interesting twist on Captain America’s super solider serum) and her relationship with Spider-Man as they form a loose partnership not knowing each other’s alter egos. The final season involves 3 different wars. One involving old heroes from the 1940s and Red Skull. Then they dip into Marvel’s Secret Wars from the 80s as well as the Clone Saga (dubbed Spider Wars here) which is smartly boiled down to 2 episodes.
The series features a large swath of familiar Marvel characters making appearances. There’s Captain America, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, the X-Men, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Punisher etc. Keep your ears open for cameos by Fresh Prince’s Uncle Phil (James Avery) doing the voice of War Machine as well as Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) portraying Robbie Robertson’s son. Also look out for Mark Hamill doing the voice of Hobgoblin.
It’s impressive in its scope for being the TV show it was. In my opinion, it was very successful in using already established Spidey story lines from the comics and twisting them to fit into the cartoon with ease. It never reaches grand heights, but it’s extremely watchable and consistently solid. The show certainly won’t change your life, but it’s worth checking out. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in Spider-Man, a fan of the 90s X-Men cartoon or 90s nostalgia in general. To date none of the seasons have been fully released on dvd, but the episodes are on the Marvel website and streaming on Netflix.
Now onto Robotech…
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