Date Posted: 12/12/21
Originally airing in 1994 and running until 1998, this classic 1990s animated series in now available in its entirety on Disney+. The show includes the voice talents of Christopher Daniel Barnes as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Jennifer Hale as Felicia Hardy/Black Cat, Saratoga Ballantine as Mary Jane Watson, Ed Asner as J Jonah Jameson, Roscoe Lee Brown as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin with Hank Azaria as Eddie Brock/Venom and Mark Hamill as Jason Phillip Macendale/Hobgoblin. All of them are excellent with particular highlights being Barnes doing the voice of the pissed off Peter Parker when he is under the influence of the alien symbiote, Hale as the sexy as hell Black Cat, and the always enjoyable Browne as Wilson Fisk, the criminal mastermind, known to the criminal underworld as the Kingpin.
I have mentioned this series numerous times during my various reviews, and it is thanks to this series that I knew about classic Spider-Man characters like Black Cat, Nick Fury, J Jonah Jameson, Venom, Carnage, Green Goblin, Kingpin, Scorpion, Rhino and so on. I was a fan of it back in the 90s when I first came across it but when I discovered it on Disney+ I wondered if it would still hold up after I have spent almost four decades rotting on this backwater planet you humans call Earth.
Now I cannot really do my usual plot outline because each series tends to have its own story arc, with multiple Marvel characters popping up. So instead of giving a plot I’ll instead give you the show’s premise.
Now in case you don’t this is the gist of who Spider-Man is (according to the animated series): Peter Parker, a genius level intelligent college student has been Spider-Man for several months after getting his powers after a spider was caught in the beam of the Neurogenic recombinator (basically a device that can be used to splice DNA from different creatures together), that spider then bit him and gave him the ability to stick to walls, super strength, and the knowledge needed to create his own webbing. After getting his powers he decided to use them to make some quick money wrestling, however, after the event organiser is robbed he allows the thief to escape figuring it was not his business to get involved. That thief later murders his Uncle Ben and so Peter vows to use his powers to help those in need so begins to fight crime as Spider-Man.
Now Spider-Man is not exactly liked by the general public with most people believing the reporting of the Daily Bugle in which Spider-Man is always painted as the villain by the papers owner/editor J Jonah Jameson. Aware of what happens if he doesn’t use his powers to try and help, Peter ignores the general opinion of him and fights crime wherever he finds it.
The series is not really broken down into seasons; instead it is separated into various multi-episode story arcs. Some of which can be twenty-odd episodes long, whereas others may be single more self enclosed short stories.
In his first few adventures Spider-Man has to tangle with the likes of the Lizard, Hobgoblin, and in the background the mysterious Kingpin manages the majority of the world’s crime from his secret headquarters.
Later on, during the Neogenic Nightmare story-arc Peter seems to be randomly losing his powers, and learns that the process which transformed him into Spider-Man has not finished and he is going to mutate into a monstrous creature that will not be human.
Other adventures include him loving and losing his two main love interests Mary Jane Watson and Felicia Hardy who later becomes the sexy as hell Black Cat.
In his later arcs Spider-Man races to discover the location of a Doomsday Weapon left hidden since the Second World War before the Kingpin and a far more dangerous enemy is waiting in the shadows can locate it.
As you can hopefully tell this series has a lot going on and features not just as many Spider-Man characters as you can cram into one show, but it is also able to have other Marvel characters appearing. The likes of the Punisher, Blade, Daredevil, and even the X-Man manage to crop up in a few episodes. Plus there is even a Spider-verse story in which Spider-Man must team up with other versions of himself to battle the greatest evil that he could ever face. It is honestly staggering at time to see the amount of characters that appear, and in the case of the X-Men who had their own series at the time; they are even voiced by their own series’ voice-actors. This series could be thought of as a prototype for what would later become the monstrously popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, and demonstrated that other characters could appear next to one another, and remain true to their own stories without overshadowing the main series’ protagonist.
Like I said above, this series was the main reason I knew who the Punisher is, who Blade is, who and what Venom is. It basically introduced me to the world of Marvel, and whilst I did not know it at the time, a lot of the episodes and story arcs were based on comic book stories so I was learning about the comics without even realising it.
Peter as Spider-Man is able to work some of his trademark humour into his crime fighting activities, and it is always fun to watch him monologue to himself or taking the piss out of criminals before webbing them up and leaving them to the authorities.
There are numerous occasions when explosions are used over again. I guess that animation studios are going to be trying to save money where and when they can so whilst a child might not notice it is pretty obvious to the more seasoned eye of an adult. It can be a bit annoying to keep seeing the same effects repeatedly but I guess when you think about it, as long as something is blowing up it doesn’t really matter if the object exploding is uniquely animated or not.
Now being a kid’s show does mean that things are quite heavily simplified, now what I mean by this is that characters literally fall in love in minutes. A police detective and sometime ally of Spider-Man Terry Lee meets Blade and after sharing a kiss they are declaring their eternal love for one another, this is not a rare occurrence. Felicia Hardy seemingly falls in love with someone new in most of the early episodes, and ranges from being in love with Spider-Man to hating him, back to loving him. In some episodes Peter is in love with Mary Jane in others he is falling love with Black Cat.
The nature of this being a show for children also means that the storyline about Michael Morbius becoming a vampire is heavily censored. Now whilst he does have fangs he feeds on humans using these weird suction cup-things on his hands, and he does not crave blood, rather it is “plasma”. It honestly makes me wonder why include these characters if they are kind-of being castrated in order to make them kid-friendly.
The violence is also toned down to the point where you never actually see Spider-Man punching people, plus no one is ever killed, rather they are destroyed. Deaths are implied but are never shown on-screen and it is a rarity that anyone does actually die because more often than not they are shown to have survived.
Now whilst I noticed it at the time but because of the TV schedule I only caught the odd episode of the show in the 1990s, Peter’s constant complaining and taking the blame for everything that happens to those around him does begin to grate when you are blitzing the episodes one after another. I think the worst example of this is when Peter is experimenting on his own infected blood trying to determine what he is going to mutate into, he leaves the sample in his locker at Empire State University. Rival student Michael Morbius steals the sample, begins experimenting on it using the neogentic recombinator, and after a bat gets involved Morbius ends up bitten and transformed into a vampire. Thing is Peter constantly blames himself saying that it was his blood that transformed Morbius into the terrifying monster he has become, and yet he missed the rather obvious fact that Morbius stole Peter’s blood sample. They weren’t working on it together, no, Michael Morbius, straight up went into Peter’s locker, took the sample (believing it to be something Peter was working on to win a scholarship or something) and started messing around with it. I don’t really think that Peter is responsible for what happens next. If someone broke into my ship’s armoury, stole a mutant-ray (a gun that mutates anything you shoot it at, obviously) then shot themselves with it I would not be taking the blame for it. It does seem that this version of Peter Parker/Spider-Man is determine to take responsibility for all the bad things that happen to anyone in New York regardless of whether he has any direct involvement in them or not. He questions being Spider-Man because anyone who knows the web-slinger seems to have bad shit happen to them, but here’s a news flash Parker, bad shit happens.
Plus we also have to endure the whole: “With great power, comes great responsibility” bullshit lesson over and over, and over again. I get that in his experience when he doesn’t use his powers bad things happen to his loved ones, but there are countless villains who have powers that use them to do whatever the hell they want without consequence so I guess that could be why this message needs to be hammered home so frequently.
When all is said and done, the question of whether Spider-Man: The Animated Series holds up and in all honesty I think it does. It reminds me a bit of the 80s series Thundercats that I have gone on record as saying I absolutely adored. There is so much effort that has gone into the show that it is impossible to not enjoy watching it, and it is a great introduction into the Marvel universe for anyone who is unfamiliar with who everyone is.
The show still gets a Thumbs Up from me, and if you haven’t checked it out and have Disney+ then you are seriously missing out if you do not at least give it a chance. Plus the episodes are only around 25 minutes long so you can easily watch one or two whilst you are on a bus, a train, or they are a great thing to tuner into when having your breakfast, lunch or dinner. On that note, I’m going to go get someone (yes you read that right) to eat.
8/10 – A fantastic show and one that I urge you to check out if you want to watch your favourite wall crawling superhero getting into just about as many scrapes as it is possible for one hero to get into.