Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994) Season 1 Review

Spider-Man: The Animated Series aired from 1994 to 1998 (5 seasons). It was my personal introduction to Spider-Man and where I fell in love with the character. I expected to be bemused revisiting a cartoon show made in the 90s, but I was surprised at how well done it is after all. Here are my thoughts on Season 1.

First, the intro to the show has been lurking in my head for the last 22 years. I can't say that's a good thing. You can barely make out anything said in the intro besides "Spider-Man" repeated over and over again. It actually gets a bit annoying, and when you're taking up an entire minute of a 20 minute show, it's more than a bit frustrating.

Second, the animation/art is of 1994 quality. It's not great, it's not as bad as watching anime from around that time. It's alright.

But they really do a great job at presenting the relationships between Peter and the other characters and dumping on Peter for being Spider-Man. There's less introspective than I remember, and I suspect that he doesn't start really talking to Bruce (the inanimate gargoyle) until later seasons (which I always loved), but it's still interesting.

What is really interesting is the breakneck speed of each episode. They  r u s h  through the plots to the point that it is hard to believe how much is covered. There's practically no filler in these episodes (beside the sometimes 1 minute plus recap and 1 minute intro).

In this version of the webslinger, Peter has relationships with Debra Whitman and Felicia Hardy before Mary-Jane is introduced. Felicia is a Black Cat-less version of herself in Season 1 and plays the spoiled rich girl to the extremes. I remember having a serious crush on her growing up, but I hope it was later season versions of her, because she doesn't have much going for her besides being rich and beautiful and I don't like to think of 9 year old me being that shallow.

Debra Whitman is hardly in Season 1, and from what I remember, she never develops into a romantic interest for Peter Parker in this iteration, but still, kudos for including a character usually forgotten.

MJ is vivacious from her introduction and with the exception of that introduction, I think she's a very strong character throughout. I can't help but feel like her voice actress didn't do the best job on the famous line ("face it tiger, you just hit the jackpot"), but with how strong she is throughout the rest of the season, I blame the director more than the actress for the fumbled introduction.

I was dismayed by JJJ being the cause of the Scorpion, but after a little research, they presented the story faithfully from comic to screen. If anything, I think that this is more of a television version of the comic book as opposed to a television adaptation if you know what I mean. They don't make a lot of creative choices with the characters or provide insight you wouldn't get from reading a wiki article.

I do like this version of Eddie Brock and Venom, although I think the choice made in recent iterations to have him be a family friend of the Parkers adds weight to the character, it's nice having such a clear bad guy playing the role.

Because of the breakneck speed of the show, sometimes interactions between the characters are clipped or short and if you actually think about what you're watching, Peter comes off as a douchebag more than I think is intended.

"Can you stay with Aunt May?" "Sure." "Great, I've got something I have to do" [End Scene].

With barely a moment between each line.

I also don't like the decision to focus on Hobgoblin first. No matter what you say about Green Goblin being a ripoff of Joker or disliking the direction they've gone with Green Goblin in recent years, Green Goblin is the big bad of the Spider-Man universe. He's the one that gets to Peter the most and he's the one that presents the biggest threat to Peter's non-Spider-Man life. I barely knew who the Green Goblin was as a child watching this show. His costume self is barely in the show (and not present at all in Season 1).

It's also a bit skeezy to watch men fight over Felicia Hardy when we know what happens to her in college in the comics. It adds a level of discomfort to every interaction between guys with her even when it is with supposed good guys of Flash, Peter, and Morbius.

The origin story of Black Cat presented in this cartoon I like more than the actual origin story. I love her being given Super Soldier Serum and I can't wait to get to those episodes. That's my canon. For now, she's more of a plot device than much of a character and the snob is strong in this one.

Aunt May is the extremely elderly version of the comics that never really made sense (so his aunt is two generations removed? Is she his parents' aunt?). He's in college and she's retirement home age. So at least 50-60 years difference. She's fine. Nothing outside the realm of what you'd expect. 

There's the normal level of inconsistencies present throughout old cartoons like how the webbing is sometimes strong enough to hold human-strength level characters and other times is breakable by someone like the Chameleon.

If you can get past those sort of things, it's full of good moments, but most of what I remember from my childhood is in later seasons.

On the other hand, if you think of this series as a primer on Spider-Man, then the breakneck speed becomes a boon. In the first season, the series blasts through Spidey's first interactions with Mysterio, Chameleon, the Venom symbiote, Venom the character, Nick Fury, Kraven, the Lizard, Shocker, Rhino, Doc Ock, Kingpin, Alastair Smythe and the Spider Slayers, Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn, Felicia Hardy, MJ, and the Hobgoblin. And that's dedicating three episodes to Venom and two to Hobgoblin. If you want to get to know this character and don't like to read, you could do far worse than to watch Spider-Man: The Animated Series.

Like I've said before, I still contend that Spectacular Spider-Man is the best adaptation of Spidey to date (the date being a week before Captain America: Civil War comes out), but Spider-Man: The Animated Series is a fantastic version of the comics and doesn't make you hate what you're watching or question your own existence like Ultimate Spider-Man TV series, Spider-Man 3, or Amazing Spider-Man 2 does.

I found Spider-Man: The Animated Series streaming online almost immediately just by Googling "Spider-Man: The Animated Series", but I'm not sure if those are violating any copyrights, so I'll refrain from linking. Google is your friend.

And fair warning, I've read that the quality drop-off is pretty sharp in the later seasons when they start making some strange choices, but I haven't rewatched those yet myself so I remain blissfully ignorant.

So what do you think? Do you have fond memories of the show? Have you missed this gem from the 90s? Maybe it's time to revisit the webhead, and it's as good a place to jump in as any (that's available for free online). I did see that it's streaming on Netflix in Canada, so kudos to Canadians. 

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