|Character model sheet: Firestar, Iceman, Spider-Man, Aunt May, Bobby Drake, Angelica Jones, Peter Parker and Ms. Lion.|
With growing competition and increased stress, Friz Freleng and David DePatie decided to call it quits on cartoon production. Freleng returned to his old job at Warner Bros. Animation and DePatie-Freleng Enterprises was sold to Cadence Industries, the parent company of Marvel Comics. DePatie stayed on to head-up the rechristened Marvel Productions, which was dedicated to bringing more of Marvel’s properties to the air while also maintaining a lot more creative control than they had over some questionable past efforts.
Their opening pitch was for a new Spider-Man animated series. NBC expressed interest in it, but felt it needed more of a gimmick to appeal to audiences. Marvel shifted their original show to syndication and utilized the pre-production work they had already done for a new show for the network: Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. The concept was inspired by Hanna-Barbera’s successful Super Friends franchise, based on rival publisher DC Comics’ Justice League. The show would see Spider-Man (Dan Gilvezan) regularly teaming-up with two other heroes.
|Makin' it snow.|
The first was original X-Man Bobby Drake, aka Iceman (Frank Welker). Iceman possessed the ability to use the moisture in the air to generate ice, allowing him to freeze objects or create ice structures such as the slides he used for transportation. Iceman had originally appeared in the Sub-Mariner portion of 1966’s The Marvel Super Heroes with the rest of the original X-Men, but this was his first major starring role. Unlike the comics, this version of Iceman was not only a secret agent, but was given a half-sister in the form of Aurora Dante, aka Lightwave (Annie Lockhart), a mutant, who could manipulate and control light, and worked for the world peace-keeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D.
|Concept art for Firestar.|
The second hero was an all-new one created for the show: Angelica Jones, aka Firestar (Kathy Garver), created by series writers Dennis Marks and Christy Marx, comic book artist Dan Spiegle, series art director John Romita, and Rick Hoberg. Named after one of Marks’ old girlfriends, she was a mutant who could generate microwave energy that allowed her to fly and shoot fiery blasts of energy. Like Iceman, she was depicted as a former member of the X-Men. Designed by Romita and finalized by Hoberg, Firestar was given a simple yellow suit with red and orange gloves, boots and mask to emphasize her powers’ theme. Her hair was also made to simulate fire, growing a lighter shade of red and becoming livelier when she changed from Angelica to Firestar in a stock transformation sequence (which Iceman also had whenever he iced up his body). Because Romita’s women tended to have a certain look to them, many regarded Firestar as a replacement for Spidey’s love-interest, Mary Jane Watson (since Spidey, as well as Iceman, flirted with Firestar and both women had red hair). However, that was just a coincidence. While in the concept stages, names thrown around before settling on Firestar included Heatwave, Starblaze and Firefly. Over the course of the show, NBC requested that Firestar’s body lines be toned down in order to prevent ire from parent groups over any perceived sexuality. Her bust and buttocks were increasingly reduced as the show progressed to just the faintest hint of lines indicating they existed.
Producers originally intended to have the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch provide the fire and ice contrast on the show. For years, rumors persisted that they opted not to include him due to a fear that children would light themselves on fire trying to emulate the character. In actuality, the rights to the Torch were tied up in a 1977 deal Marvel made with Universal Studios to produce television programs and movies based on several of their characters (ultimately, the project featuring Torch was scrapped). That was also the reason he was replaced by H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot for the 1978 version of the Fantastic Four cartoon by DePatie-Freleng.
|A partnership is formed.|
The three heroes attended the fictional Eastern State University (changed from the comics’ Empire State University), although none of them were aware of their alter egos until they had to team-up to stop the armored villain Beetle (Christopher Collins) from stealing an invention from Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (William H. Marshall). Deciding they worked well together, they became a team called the Spider-Friends (which was the original intended name for the show, furthering the Super Friends influence). Together, they lived in Peter’s Aunt May’s (June Foray) boarding house with Firestar’s dog, Ms. Lion (Welker), who sometimes provided comic relief and gradually became more May’s pet than Firestar’s. As a thank you for the help, Stark upgraded their apartment with a concealed lab, computer system and a tunnel which they could use to slip in and out in secret, activated by moving a trophy on their mantle (although they very rarely used this set-up outside of its appearance in the opening sequence). Their battle cry was “Spider-Friends, go for it!”
|Title card featuring the Kingpin and the Spider-Friends with Captain America as chess pieces.|
The series made liberal use of Spidey characters. Amongst them were his rogues such as the mechanical-armed Dr. Octopus (Michael Bell); the maniacal Green Goblin (who in this version transformed into the Goblin rather than wore a costume as in the solo Spidey show, voiced by Neil Ross); the sand manipulating Sandman (Collins); and big game hunter Kraven the Hunter (Robert Ridgely and George DiCenzo). Although this series didn’t focus much on Peter Parker’s life apart from Iceman and Firestar, some of his supporting cast made appearances: such as publisher J. Jonah Jameson (William Woodson, reprising the role from the syndicated series) and bully Flash Thompson (Welker).
|Model sheet for Magneto.|
The show also featured a variety of other Marvel characters making appearance, including the man out of time, Captain America (DiCenzo); the Gamma-irradiated rage monster, the Hulk (Peter Cullen); the Norse god of thunder, Thor (Vic Perrin); master of the mystic arts, Dr. Strange (Woodson); and queen of the prehistoric Savage Land, Shanna the She-Devil (Janet Waldo). Non-Spidey villains featured were Captain America’s arch-rival The Red Skull (Cullen); the mutant master of magnetism, Magneto (Michael Rye); the Norse god of mischief, Loki (John Stephenson); and the Latverian dictator, Dr. Doom (Shepard Menken).
|Videoman was introduced in the series as both a villain and hero.|
While making full use of the existing Marvel Universe, the series would introduce numerous new characters. There was Mona Osborn, the niece of the Green Goblin (as opposed to using his son Harry, voiced by Sally Julian); Zoltan Amadeus, aka Arachnoid (Gilvezan), who turned himself into a man-spider in an attempt to gain Spidey’s powers; and Nathan Pierce, aka Cyberiad (John Haymer), Firestar’s former lover that became a cyborg. Two versions of a character named Videoman appeared: one as a creature created by Spider-Man villain Electro (Alan Melvin), the other as a superhero when Francis Byte (Welker) played an arcade game so hard he caused it and the others to explode, giving him powers. Ms. Lion was also an original creation, requested by NBC’s Vice President of Children’s Broadcasting Mickey Dwyer. Her breed, the Llhasa Apso, was inspired by Marks’ wife’s dog and her name was inspired by the breed being the “Temple Lion Dog of Tibet” as well as the feminist revolution.
|The Spider-Friends and the X-Men in "The X-Men Adventure."|
The most notable guest appearances on the show were by the X-Men in two episodes. While the original team had been animated before in The Marvel Super Heroes and again in the flashback episode “The Origin of Iceman,” this was the television debut of the second-generation team first introduced in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1. Included were powerful telepath and founder Professor X; demon-like teleporter Nightcrawler (both Stanley Jones); optic-blasting Cyclops (DiCenzo & Ross); the winged Angel (Bill Callaway); weather-manipulating Storm (Garver & Lockhart); the organic steel-skinned Colossus; super-strong Thunderbird (both Stephenson); the intangible Sprite/Ariel (more popularly known as Shadowcat in the comics, played by Julian); and the fast-healing, clawed Wolverine (Ross). Sunfire (Jerry Dexter), another fire-wielding mutant who was briefly part of the new team, also made his own individual appearance and served as a love interest for Firestar. The team’s second appearance in “The X-Men Adventure” saw Thunderbird replace Wolverine on the team and was intended to serve as a backdoor pilot for their own series. The heroic version of Videoman and a new interpretation of the character Ms. Marvel (the Carol Danvers version, later known as Captain Marvel) called Lady Lightning were going to become X-Men for that show, but the idea was never picked up.
|When not used for killing, Wolverine's claws double as shishkebab sticks.|
One thing of note was Wolverine’s voice: he was portrayed with an Australian accent. This was due in part to the growing interest in all things Australia thanks to the success of Mad Max starring Mel Gibson. New World Entertainment, the next parent company of Marvel Comics Group and Marvel Productions, was also looking into the possibility of an Australia-based Wolverine movie. Hoberg had stated in X-Men: The Characters and their Universe by Michael Mallory that it was, at one point, planned to make Wolverine an expatriated Australian in the comics. However, those plans were eventually scrapped and Wolverine remained Canadian. Australian Wolverine did make a return appearance in Marvel Productions’ second attempt at an X-Men series, Pryde of the X-Men. The whole thing ended up being oddly prophetic as a Canadian Wolverine would be successfully portrayed in the X-Men film series by Australian actor Hugh Jackman.
Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends debuted on NBC on September 12, 1981, the same day as the syndicated Spider-Man. The series proved popular, lasting two seasons longer than the solo Spider-Man effort, although it aired two fewer episodes in total (and season two was a short season, comprised of only three new episodes due to the staff being tasked with making 1982’s The Incredible Hulk). Along with Marks and Marx, writers on the show included Donald F. Glut, Michael Reaves, Doug Booth, Jack Mendelsohn, Francis X. Feighan, and Jack Hanrahan. The series’ music was arranged and composed by Johnny Douglas, who later re-released the theme in a disco version with new lyrics. Along with the lead characters, another key difference between the two Spidey programs was that Amazing Friends was approached as more of a comedy show while Spider-Man was taken more seriously with an attempt to emulate the tone of the comics.
While most of the animation was produced through Korean studio Dong Seo Animation, the second season was done by more expensive Japanese studio Toei Doga when the Korean artists became too busy with production of Hulk, giving those episodes a different look from the rest of the series. The two shows ended up paired together and presented in an hour-long block called The Incredible Hulk and the Amazing Spider-Man, complete with a singular new introduction. Spider-Man and Hulk co-creator Stan Lee joined the cast as a narrator, replacing Dick Tufeld in the role. First season episode narrations were later redubbed by Lee for reruns in order to create cohesion between the seasons. However, many of those narrations were not on the master tapes and have not been heard since their initial airings on NBC.
Now to explain the first line of this entry. Amazing Friends is often considered a sequel to Spider-Man ’81. However, despite using the same crew, music, character designs and a few of the same actors, Amazing Friends actually began production when Spider-Man was halfway completed as a separate entity entirely. Attempts were made to retroactively connect both Spider-Man shows in the episode “Origin of the Spider-Friends” and by including a flashback scene from “When Magneto Speaks…People Listen” from that series in the episode “The Prison Plot.”
For the third season, the block’s name was changed to The Amazing Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. Ushering in the third season was NBC’s preview special The Yummy Awards, which featured actors dressed as Spidey, Iceman and Firestar. After its initial run, the series continued on in reruns for an additional two seasons; played alongside reruns of Spider-Man. It went on to join the packaged 1988-91 programming block Marvel Action Universe, which showcased various programs by Marvel Productions. It returned to television in the late 90s as part of the UPN Kids programming block with other Marvel programs, and last aired in the early 2000s on ABC Family.
|The Marvel UK version of the Spider-Friends' comic debut.|
Along with some minor merchandising, the episode “The Triumph of the Green Goblin” was adapted into a one-shot comic by Marvel written by Tom DeFalco and drawn by Dan Spiegle, marking Firestar’s first appearance on the printed comic page. The issue was later reprinted in the Marvel UK series Spider-Man Comics Weekly, which had changed its name for a time to match the series’ title, and in Marvel Action Universe in 1989. Additionally, two promotional one-shots were published featuring the Spider-Friends with Danger in Denver promoting May D&F stores and At The Dallas Ballet Nutcracker promoting the organization in the Dallas Times Herald. In later years as nostalgia began to become a big business, the show was acknowledged in things like an action figure three-pack in both 3 ¾” and 6” sizes; Firestar’s action figure being decorated after the show and including Ms. Lion as an accessory; and a team piece for the Heroclix miniatures game.
|The Mini-Marvels version of the Spider-Friends, complete with their battle cry.|
Firestar’s popularity would allow her to join the official Marvel
Universe in 1985’s Uncanny X-Men #193. She later
received her own origin
mini-series and went on to join the New Warriors and Avengers before finally matching
up with her animated counterpart and joining the X-Men in Amazing X-Men vol. 2 #1 (2013). To celebrate the show’s 25th
anniversary in 2006, Spider-Man Family: Amazing Friends #1
featured the first official team-up story between the Spider-Friends set in
Marvel’s past called “Opposites Attack,” as well as “Spider-Man and his Amazing
Friends Co-Workers” featuring the comedic Mini-Marvels
series where Spidey is forcibly given Firestar and Iceman as assistants on his
paper route. Both stories were written by Sean McKeever with art by Pat Olliffe and Chris Giarrusso,
respectively. McKeever also played up Firestar’s resemblance to Mary Jane, as
well as the show’s love-triangle between the heroes, in issues of his series Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. The trio got together again, this
time in the present, when Spidey guest-starred in Amazing X-Men vol. 2 #7. Ms. Lion would also make her way into
comics in Marvel’s Pet Avengers series between 2009 and
2010 (however it was revealed he’s actually a boy dog whose owner named him Ms.
|Ultimate Amazing Friends!|
The alternate-universe series Ultimate Spider-Man paid homage to the show beginning with issue #118 (2008). However, that Firestar was long-time Spidey supporting character Liz Allan (who had originally debuted with Spidey in Amazing Fantasy #15, 1962) in this continuity instead of Angelica. Spidey, Iceman and the Human Torch also lived together in Aunt May’s house in the follow-up series Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, reflecting the original intended line-up. The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe also acknowledged the show by giving it the alternate reality designation of Earth-8107, which was seen as one of the featured realities in the 2014-15 Amazing Spider-Man event “Spider-Verse.”
|Ad for the 1981 season on NBC.|
In the early 1990s, Best Film & Video Corp. released four episodes on VHS both individually and as part of the compilation series Marvel Matinee. Goldstar Video Corporation also released “7 Little Superheroes” on VHS under the title Marvel Super Heroes. In the United Kingdom, two compilation tapes were released by BMG Records UK, one by Roadshow Video, and two by United Vision Entertainment. The complete series has yet to be released in the United States outside of streaming services like Netflix, but in the United Kingdom the complete series was originally released to DVD by Liberation Entertainment then re-released in 2010 by Clear Vision. In 2019, it became one of the launch titles for the streaming service Disney+. Starting in 2012, scenes from the show, as well as The Incredible Hulk, 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. They were shown between episodes of Ultimate Spider-Man and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Activision released the game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions in 2010 which featured a story that spanned across four dimensions: the regular universe, the noir universe, the 2099 universe, and the Ultimate universe. The voices for all four featured Spider-Men were each veterans of Spidey’s animated adventures, including Neil Patrick Harris (from MTV’s Spider-Man: The New Animated Series) as regular Spidey, Christopher Daniel Barnes (from Spider-Man: The Animated Series) as Spider-Man Noir, Josh Keaton (from Spectacular Spider-Man) as Ultimate Spider-Man (the Peter Parker version), and Gilvezan as Spider-Man 2099. In 2021, the Amazing Friends title was used for the computer-generated pre-school show Spidey and His Amazing Friends. This version saw a young Spidey (Benjamin Valic) teaming up with Miles Morales (Jakari Fraser) and Ghost-Spider (Lily Sanfelippo), as well as a host of other Marvel characters to battle various villains.
Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.
A great Saturday morning "action" cartoon! The 3 main characters were awesome & had a lot of great
guest heroes pop-up on the show too. Fond childhood memories of a great cartoon!
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