|Marvel Comics’ most popular character returned for yet another set of animated adventures in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. The web-slinging wallcrawler had previously appeared in two Saturday morning series, a string of live-action made-for-TV films, and in “The Adventures of Spidey” segments on The Electric Company. Spider-Man: The Animated Series was designed to appeal to a slightly older audience than some of the earlier incarnations, throwing in plenty of super-powered action, a little romance, and often complex plots.
The background: At a science demonstration, geeky student Peter Parker was bitten by a spider that had fallen into the path of radiation. The radioactive venom gave Peter several spider-like abilities-super strength and agility, the ability to cling to walls and ceilings, and a special “Spider Sense” that warned him of danger (Note: real spiders do not have this sense). With his intellectual know-how, Peter was also able to develop a set of “web-shooters,” wrist-mounted devices that sprayed out thick webs or thin lines of highly durable “web fluid.”
At first, Peter used his powers for fame, donning a red and blue suit and taking the alias “Spider-Man.” But in his arrogance, Peter refused to lend a helping hand to a cop who was trying to stop a thief. Later, that same thief broke into the home of Peter’s legal guardians-his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben-and shot his uncle. When Peter caught the crook, he learned a life-changing lesson: “With great power comes great responsibility.” From that point on, Spider-Man dedicated his powers to fighting crime, swinging through the city on his web-vines and doling out justice (and a witty punchline) wherever it was needed.
Regular Spider-Man villains like Doctor Octopus, The Lizard, The Rhino, Mysterio, and others all made their obligatory appearances, but this show focused primarily on storylines adapted (and often significantly changed) from the Spider-Man comics of the 80’s and early 90’s. Thus, the wildly popular Venom made his first cartoon appearance (with an altered origin), Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson got married (or did they…?), and in the final season, the show revamped the infamous “clone” saga, giving it a happier ending.
This wasn’t a show for the very young, the easily confused, or the infrequent viewer. Stories covered complete seasons, and some points brought up in season two might not be resolved until season four or five. And in a surprising post-modern twist, the final episode featured a meeting between Spider-Man and his real-life creator, Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee. The flashy super-villains and comic book dialogue were still there, but this wasn’t the same Spider-Man we’d been seeing on television since 1967.
Whatever risks Marvel may have taken in putting this new Spider-Man on the air, they were richly rewarded. Spider-Man: The Animated Series was a monster hit for Fox Kids, running five seasons of original episodes before passing into reruns. The show finally left the network in 1999, but the hero lived on in the all-new Spider-Man Unlimited, which debuted later that year.