Avid Marvel Comics readers were bowled over with the news in 1967 that their favorite web spinner was being adapted for the small screen by Grantray-Lawrence Animation. Even though he was a star of the comic book world, the Spider-Man cartoon was for many kids their first exposure to the character.
An instant classic
From the signature tune to the ‘friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’ tagline, this is where the most of the now immortal trappings of the character saw their start. Initially screened on Saturday mornings, I saw this series after school in the afternoon while the other kids played ball or learned how to play the clarinet. It formed the backdrop of my childhood memories and I think that can be said about many men my age today. This was where I learned who Spider-Man was and what made him so unique. In many ways it was the city sensibility and bizarre sense of humor that stood out to my suburban ears. No matter what the obstacle, Spider-Man always met it with a quip or an off-the-cuff put down. The super villains may have thought that they struck fear into the world, but to Spidey they were just headcases dressed up in absurd outfits.
You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies…
The initial season’s worth of episodes dealt mainly with the task of introducing the entire rogue’s gallery that had already been seen in the 40 odd issues of the comic book series. From the series opener, ‘The Power of Doctor Octopus’ (an almost direct adaptation from the Lee/Ditko comic) to ‘Where Crawls the Lizard,’ all of the colorful and instantly memorable villains were on hand to spout their rage and frustration with our hero’s persistent attempts to stop their schemes. This may seem like an obvious decision but just take a glance at any random episode of the 60’s Superman cartoon and you will see that the inclusion of a super villain was a major boost to the enjoyment of a comic book cartoon.
This was the real deal.
Electro The Human Lightning Bolt
A teenager in high school, Peter Parker worked at the Daily Bugle for the cigar chomping J Jonah Jameson, who seemed about a hair’s width from a nervous breakdown at all times. The cute as a button secretary to JJJ, Betty Brant stood by Peter who always seemed in danger of physical violence from one of Jameson’s fits, and even got in on the action in some adventures.
From the fantastic to the psychedelic
For the second and third seasons, animator Ralph Bakshi was hired to take control of the Spider-Man cartoon. A gifted 25 year old animator, Bakshi’s acid-washed skies and unsettling camera angles distorted and bent the safe world that Spider-Man had inhabited. The normally blue sky became a wash of greens and blues, the contemporary jazz that had inhabited Peter Parker’s New York City was replaced with dissident noise and howls.
This was one messed up cartoon.
Between the madcap satire of The Mighty Heroes (another of my all time favorite cartoons) and the adult cartoon movie Fritz the Cat, Bakshi made his mark with the tripped out visuals of his time with Spider-Man.
The Mighty Heroes
The invention and innovation of the energetic animation director reached a fever pitch with the mind-blowing ‘Revolt in the 5th Dimension’ which featured visuals deemed so disturbing and unsettling that the network prevented it from being aired.
Revolt in the 5th Dimension
Gone were the standard supervillains that Spider-Man had fought in previous episodes, replaced with man-eating machines, power-mad aliens, rolling living rocks from another dimension and a creature named Blotto. Each episode seems to be more far out than the one before it yet each one begins with a bored Parker swinging through New York City complaining that nothing is afoot.
Spider-Man has seen numerous animated incarnations since the landmark 1967 series, each with its own appeal, but to me this remains the ‘real thing’ and a TV program that I will forever cherish.
Criminally out of print on DVD (thank you Buena Vista), Marvel.com has taken to airing episodes for free on their website. I can think of few better ways to spend a lunch break than revisiting this seris or even discovering it for the first time.
First time? ‘Wallaping web snappers!’