Show of the Day: Spider-Man: The Animated Series

9 Sep

My friend recently informed me that the Spider-Man cartoon from the mid-90s was on Netflix.  I grew up watching this Spider-Man, as part of the stable of ‘90s superhero cartoons along with X-Men, Batman and Superman.  Spider-Man has actually had seven different animated incarnations, from the first in 1967, to the MTV series in 2003 starring Neil Patrick Harris and Lisa Loeb, which attempted to be a little more adult, to, most recently a kids series in 2008.  This ‘90s Spider-Man, which ran from 1994 to 1998, longer than any other Spider-Man series, was, more than any other source, where I got everything I knew about Spider-Man.  I was so disappointed in the 2002 movie largely because it was so different from the cartoon which I loved.  Having not seen any episodes in at least ten years, I decided to watch the first episode of the series to see how it held up.

First things first, in this edition, Spider-Man (and of course his alter ego Peter Parker) is voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes, whose best claim to fame outside of Spider-Man is playing Greg Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie.  Other notables include Ed Asner as J. Jonah Jameson and Hank Azaria as Eddie Brock/Venom.

The theme song is pretty unmemorable, especially compared to the contemporaneous X-Men cartoon’s theme, which I’ve had stuck in my head at least once a year for the past fifteen years.  I did appreciate, though, the appearance of the episode title at the beginning, a tradition which virtually doesn’t exist anymore.

Something else I appreciate greatly is the lack of origin story.  This is actually very difficult to believe for me.  Spider-Man’s origin story is so entwined with his character, probably more than any other prominent superhero (bit by a radioactive spider and so forth).  Yet, this series either takes on faith that you already know it, or decides that it’s really not that important.  I love it.  Maybe I wouldn’t agree back then, but the origin story has been done too many times, film included, and is so rote, and frankly not all that interesting.  I say get on with him being Spider-Man.

Another thing I love about this portrayal of Spider-Man which was probably the single biggest reason I couldn’t stand the movie was that in this version Spider-Man is wise-cracking and self-assured, constantly entertaining us with his inner monologue.  I understand this isn’t necessarily the most canonical version, but I like to think that, as Spider-Man’s in college by this point, he got over all his self-pitying identity issues and guilt over the death of Uncle Ben in high school.  Tobey Maguire’s emo Spider-Man was the antithesis of the cartoon’s version, and I just couldn’t get over it.

The cartoon is clearly aimed at kids, and it doesn’t have the darkness, ambition or animation quality of Batman: The Animated Series, which is probably the go-to for great cartoon comic adaptations.  That said, I was hardly dying of boredom either; the show was simple but still relatively entertaining.  I’m not sure I’ll start marathoning the series, but I might watch a few more of my favorite episodes.

The first episode is self-contained and features as a villain the Lizard, whose origin story is vaguely similar to fellow Spider-Man villain Dr. Octopus.  The Lizard was a great scientist, Curt Connors, who wanted to use reptile DNA to grow back people’s limbs, and when he tries it on himself, the reptile DNA takes over, turning him into a lizard-man hybrid.  The machine he used was called the “neogenetic recombinator,” a clumsy phrase which they manage to work into the episode at least half a dozen times.  The Lizard then invents a device which can turn other people into lizard creatures, and tries to turn it first onto his wife.  Spider-Man intervenes and for some reason, by the two-negatives-equal-a-positive school of thinking, turns the device onto the Lizard himself, turning him back human and leading all to be well.

Quick final note: it was also interesting to me that Spider-Man referenced fellow Marvel superheroes in the episode, at one point name-checking The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the way the series held up.

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2 Responses to “Show of the Day: Spider-Man: The Animated Series”

  1. Anonymous September 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Also CGI web slinging when it was just starting out.

  2. E-Money September 10, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    Joe Perry played guitar on that theme song, which is notable. For some youngsters, it was their first introduction to Aerosmith.

    Excellent show.

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