Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Spider-Man week: Rating the Spider-series (1967-2012)

Ever since his debut 50 years ago, Spider-Man has become to Marvel Comics what Mickey Mouse has been to Marvel's current corporate parent, Disney. That is to say, he is the company's most recognizable star. To that end, Marvel keeps going back to him for all new TV adventures every few years, but the results have been mixed. Let's take a look back at those Spider-series........

Spider-Man (1967-70, ABC): The original, and, to many, still the best incarnation of the webhead. Canada's Grantray-Lawrence Productions, which had the dubious distinction of producing the wretched Marvel Superheroes Show in syndication a year earlier, was entrusted with Spidey, but gave up after a year. Enter Ralph Bakshi, fresh from Terrytoons, to give the show some much needed creative energy.

Spider-Man (1981-2, syndicated): As I outlined the other day, this series didn't quite have the reach it should've. When it came out, in my market, we still had just the three network affiliates, and they weren't running cartoons during the day anymore. No rating.

Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends (1981-4, NBC): One of the cornerstones of an action-packed NBC lineup, Spidey was now joined by newcomer Firestar and founding X-Man Iceman (Frank Welker). Never mind that NBC kept the show around the lunch hour, which usually meant instant cancellation. This series had something that ABC's Super Friends was lacking, and that was depth in characterization. The more you got to know the characters, the more you wanted to see if there would be any relationships developing. As I outlined yesterday, Angelica Jones, aka Firestar, was designed in the image of Mary Jane Watson, whom for some reason Marvel decided not to bring to TV just yet. That would change well after this series ended. There would be guest appearances a-plenty, and Stan Lee jumped in as narrator beginning in season 2.

Spider-Man (1994-9, Fox): The longest running of any of Spidey's TV incarnations, and one of the better written ones, too, freely adapting from the comics of the period. Mary Jane became a player in this show, and most storylines were in serial format. Viewers were introduced to the Punisher, Blade, and others in the course of the 5-year run. Had it not been for a short-sighted decision by the network and/or Marvel, maybe this would still be rolling along. Rating: A. (We will be putting episodes from this series up soon.)

Spider-Man Unlimited (1999-2001, Fox): For some odd reason, Spidey's new series was entrusted to Saban, which had taken over distribution of reruns of X-Men, and also famously mishandled The Avengers in the same season. Unlimited got a late start, then was pulled after a month because network suits were panicking over the runaway success of Pokemon, which was the WB's crown jewel at the time. The series ultimately returned to burn off episodes that had already been made and not previously aired, but by then, the ship had sailed.

Spider-Man (2003, MTV): Promised for November 2002, in the wake of Sam Raimi's first "Spider-Man" movie, the series was delayed to the following summer for reasons never revealed, known only to MTV and the show's producers, Sony and Mainframe Entertainment. The video game-style animation was actually more of a hindrance, offsetting a star-studded cast that included Neil Patrick Harris (now on How I Met Your Mother) as Spider-Man/Peter Parker and singer Lisa Loeb as Mary Jane. Acclaimed writer Brian Michael Bendis made his television debut as a producer and writer on this show.

Spectacular Spider-Man (2008, CW; 2009-10, DisneyXD): The downward spiral of animation continued with this second entry from Sony, which relied on Americanized anime designs, instead of the more traditional linework. This series followed "Spider-Man 3", the final part of the Raimi trilogy. The biggest mistake was throwing Eddie Brock (Venom) in the mix as a high school student/aspiring reporter-photographer and rival of Peter Parker (Josh Keaton). Brock was a product of the 90's, but was included in "Spider-Man 3", and so Sony felt a need to include him in the cartoon. CW carelessly let this get away, letting 4Kids take over programming their Saturday block in the process, and then DisneyXD cavalierly decided to put this show on a weeknight!

Ultimate Spider-Man (2012, DisneyXD): The latest, and lamest, adaptation yet. Do I really need to say anything further? Sure, it has its fans, but so do cockroaches......!

Now, you'll notice I didn't reprint the ratings I put on most of these series. If you click on "From Comics to Toons" in the labels line, it'll take you to a list of the series already covered, where I've covered them in more detail. In this writer's opinion, the quality of the Spider-toons has gone down in recent years, with only a brief uptick in the ill-fated MTV series, which might've been doomed because Mainframe needed extra time for the computer animation.

Ranking them in order:

1. Spider-Man '94
2. Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends
3. Spider-Man '67
4. Spider-Man '03
5. Spider-Man '81 solo series
6. Spider-Man Unlimited
7. Spectacular Spider-Man
8. Ultimate Spider-Man

Discuss and debate.


magicdog said...

I have a special place in my heart for the Gantray Lawrence version of Spidey if only because it was my introduction to the character. Plus, his adventures were fairly solid for the times. The only thing about it I didn't like was the voice of Peter Parker. His Spidey voice was fine, but Peter sounded wrong to me.

I HATED the Bakshi years. YMMV, but it was too "out there" for me, and even now, I find them hard to watch.

"Amazing Friends" is my second fave, as Spidey was never snarkier, and was very likeable. I also loved Bobby & Angelica! TPTB did the show a favor by forcing the creators to abandon The Human Torch and using the Firestar character. As you mentioned, it was the most characterization I'd ever seen in an American TV toon at that time, especially Angel going out on dates with both Bobby & Peter as well as going out as a threesome. I was impressed when there was a conversation between the guys about who might end up with Angel! My main quibble with the show now would be "Videoman"!

I saw the solo series and as I posted before, it wasn't bad, but I think they should have used the same VA used for Peter in "Amazing Friends".

The 90s Fox series was good, but when they went intot he alternate universe episodes, I was lost at first because I thought at least one of the Peters was OUR Peter, and got confused. Maybe I missed an ep or two in between. I was annoyed by the ending when we never got to see Peter find his Mary Jane who fell into another universe.

"Unlimited" wasn't horrible, but the storyline with the animal people went on forever and just as it seemed we'd get some answers, the show was cancelled. The best thing about it was Spidey getting that spiffy nanite costume for quick changes. Rino Romano was good as Spidey/Peter.

Never saw the MTV version of Spiderman.

Spectacular Spiderman wasn't bad and Josh Keaton made a great Spidey/Peter. In fact, as a nod to that version of the show, Keaton was used to voice Spidey's evil DC counterpart, "Black Spider" in an episode of "Young Justice".

I think I've already said what I needed to about Ultimate Spiderman! Too jokey and Peter is a twerp! I've brought it up before that I think this show was trying to create a variation of YJ by having teen heroes working on missions - only sillier. Not working out IMO.

hobbyfan said...

Paul Soles, the original voice of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, was trying to duplicate what Bud Collyer did with Superman/Clark Kent. The diff was that Collyer was already well versed, having had 25 years plus of practice before Soles even started with Spidey.

As for the '03 MTV edition, well, you didn't miss much. MTV basically had crapped on it by holding it until the summer--when they knew there wouldn't be much of an audience! Decent cast, but the delay with the animation, coupled with the dumping by the network, doomed the show.