Ted Schwartz – Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Nephilia/Dr. Bradley Shaw
Morgan Lofting – May Parker, Black Cat/Felicia Hardy
Buster Jones – Robbie Robertson
Mona Marshall – Betty Brant
William Woodson – J. Jonah Jameson
|Poster for the original American live-action Spidey.|
In 1974, Spidey made his first leap to live action on the children’s program The Electric Company, portrayed by dancer Danny Seagren. On that show, Spidey’s comics roots were fully embraced through comic pages bookending his sketches and by his speaking through word balloons rather than verbally. In 1977, CBS aired a pilot movie for Spider-Man (initially called The Amazing Spider-Man) starring Nicholas Hammond. The series ran sporadically for 13 episodes until 1979 and was a radical departure from the source material; featuring a new origin for Spidey that didn’t involve Uncle Ben (named Max through dialogue), limited web-slinging, and none of the classic villains. At the same time, Toei Company produced a 41-episode series in Japan starring Shinji Todo. Spidey in name and costume only, it set the standard for all future Toei productions by giving Spidey a giant robot, Leopardon, which he could call to deal with giant versions of the monsters he fought.
|Spidey makes his return to his own animated series.|
The radical departure of the live-action Spider-Man series from the source material, coupled with the success of Superman: The Movie, inspired Marvel Comics to seek greater control over their intellectual property. Stan Lee was sent to California to nurture the relationship between Marvel and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which ultimately ended up a lot closer than anyone could have anticipated. In 1981, Friz Freleng left the company to return to his former job at Warner Bros. Animation, and the studio was sold to Cadence Industries, Marvel’s parent company. David DePatie stayed on to head up the rechristened Marvel Productions.
The first program to enter development was Spider-Man. The character designs by Rick Hoberg took a strong inspiration from comic book artist John Romita, particularly from his work on the newspaper strip at the time (on which Hoberg also worked for a year). Peter Parker’s (Ted Schwartz) look featured the strip’s new hairstyle and usual outfit of slacks and a jacket over a turtleneck (meant to hide the neck of Peter’s costume). It also introduced the concept of Spidey’s mask being attached to the back of the costume’s neck and being pulled on like a hood. The show itself maintained the feel of the comics, focusing on Peter’s balance of his personal life as a photographer for The Daily Bugle and caring for his elderly Aunt May (Morgan Lofting) with his superhero life. Notably, Spidey’s early-warning spider-sense was represented by his eyes glowing accompanied by a sound effect, rather than the wavy lines over his head in the comics.
|Romita's spider-fashion crosses over into the comics.|
Joining Spidey once again was his supporting cast of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson (William Woodson), his editor Robbie Robertson (Buster Jones) and secretary Betty Brant (Mona Marshall). Various classic villains made their return to the small screen including the maniacal Green Goblin (series producer Dennis Marks), crime boss Kingpin, the mechanical-armed Dr. Octopus (both Stanley Jones) and the mutated Lizard (Corey Burton). New to animation was rival crime boss Silvio Silverman (Paul Winchell) and the thieving Black Cat (Lofting). Other Marvel Comics characters also appeared on the show, including Captain America (George DiCenzo), Namor the Sub-Mariner (Jerry Dexter), and the X-Men villain Magneto (Michael Rye). Fantastic Four villain Dr. Doom (Ralph James) made several appearances in an ongoing story arc throughout the series’ run.
|Spider-Man with Firestar and Iceman in Amazing Friends.|
NBC expressed interest in the show, but felt it needed an extra gimmick to make it appealing to audiences. That led to the development of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, which was meant to be Marvel’s take on the Super Friends concept. It saw Spidey (Dan Gilvezan) paired up with original X-Man Iceman (Frank Welker) and new character Firestar (Kathy Garver). To save time and money, Amazing Friends utilized the same pre-production work as Spider-Man, resulting in it looking and sounding the same. Many actually believed that Amazing Friends was a spin-off of the series, even though they were developed at the same time and initially had no connection; although, they were retroactively connected through the use of a flashback in an Amazing Friends episode. NBC bought that concept.
|Magneto switches from fighting mutants to swatting bugs.|
Spider-Man, instead, made its way to syndication in a package that included the original Spider-Man cartoon to bolster the episode count. It debuted the same day as Amazing Friends on September 12, 1981. The series was written by Creighton Barnes, Doug Booth, Francis X. Feighan, Donald F. Glut, Jack Hanrahan, Christy Marx, Larry Parr and Jeffrey Scott, with music by Johnny Douglas. It was animated by Korean company Dong Seo Animation and XAM! Productions. The intent of the series was to not only showcase what Marvel Productions could do, but sell the rest of the Marvel Universe as potential programs for network consideration.
|The UK release of the series.|
The series was rerun as part of Marvel Action Universe; a 1988-91 syndicated programming block that featured various programs by Marvel Productions. It last aired in the late 90s as part of the UPN Kids programming block with other Marvel programs. In 2012, episodes were cut, edited and re-dubbed into comical shorts as part of the Marvel Mash-Up segments of Disney XD’s Marvel Universe on Disney XD programming block.. Several episodes were released on VHS and Betamax by Prism Entertainment as part of the Marvel Comics Video Library. No matter the subject matter of the release, each one included either an episode of the ’81 or the ’67 series. The first episode was also included in Best Film & Video Corp.’s Marvel Matinee compilation VHS series. The complete series was released by Clear Vision in the United Kingdom under the title Spider-Man 5000 in order to differentiate it from other Spidey shows. In Canada, Morningstar Entertainment released the episode “The Vulture Has Landed” in a set called Spider-Man vs. The Vulture and was paired up with two episodes from the 1967 series. “Canon of Doom” was also released as a bonus feature of the Fantastic Four vs. Doctor Doom set, which was later included in the Villains Showdown box set. “Arsenic and Aunt May” was included in the Heroes box set. The Morningstar DVDs were all mastered off of the VHS/Betamax copies. The United States has not yet seen a DVD release as of this writing. Netflix streamed the entire series between 2011 and 2013, and in 2019, it became one of the launch titles for the streaming service Disney+.
Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.
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