FOX was quickly growing in popularity, especially their Fox Kids programming block. X-Men: the Animated Series was a hit, but Marvel Comics, as a business, was steadily sinking. Needing something to help alleviate the bleeding, Marvel sought to bring Spider-Man back to television. Enter: Spider-Man: the Animated Series.
|Aunt May keeps Peter healthy and strong.|
Spider-Man followed the adventures of Peter Parker (Christopher Daniel Barnes) after he was bitten by that fateful irradiated spider and became a super hero. He had to juggle his heroics with his job as a freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle, attending Empire State University, doting over his elderly Aunt May (Linda Gary until her death, then Julie Bennett), dating the outgoing Mary Jane Watson (Sara Ballantine) and the snobbish heiress Felicia Hardy (essentially a stand-in for Gwen Stacy who wasn’t used due to her inevitable demise, voiced by Jennifer Hale), and being there for his best friend Harry Osborn (Gary Imhoff). A supporting character from the 1970s comics, Debra Whitman (Liz Georges), found new life as a research assistant and girlfriend of bully Flash Thompson (Patrick Labyorteaux). Like X-Men before it, Spider-Man would take stories directly from the comics while adding its own spin to accommodate their original narrative and available characters.
As well as giving Marvel a much-needed boost, the series also served as a commercial for a line of toys produced by Toy Biz, which was run by series producer Avi Arad. To produce the series, a new animation studio was created called Marvel Films Animation, initially located in the New World Studios building until they had to move locations during production. The entire studio had to be staffed and equipped as pre-production of the series was underway under the supervision of Supervising Producer Bob Richardson. Unfortunately, problems began to arise early on when the original showrunner proved unable to write the series and left amidst all the politics and disagreements by everyone involved. John Semper, Jr. was hired as the new showrunner/head writer, and came in to utter chaos. With no time left in the schedule to properly prepare the series, Semper had to plot out the show while simultaneously writing scripts in order to have a finished product on time. Other writers on the series included comic veterans J.M. DeMatteis, Len Wein and Gerry Conway, as well as Stan Berkowitz, Jim Krieg, Mark Hoffmeier and Ernie Altbacker.
|Hobgoblin threatens Felicia Hardy.|
The first season had a different structure than the rest of the series. Arad had pushed for an episodic format in order to introduce as many characters that could be turned into toys as possible. Semper, however, favored the structure of the comics where every issue had its own story while tying into a larger overreaching subplot that would pay off later down the line. It was because of the toys that the flying mercenary Hobgoblin (Mark Hamill) was introduced before the Green Goblin--the only surviving remnant of Semper’s predecessor--due to the fact Arad had already initiated production on his figure. Semper was given free rein to use any characters he wanted, with special consideration given to certain characters Toy Biz wanted to produce figures of at a given time. The only ones off-limits were Electro and Sandman, who were slated to appear in James Cameron’s unproduced Spidey film (and wouldn’t end up appearing until The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3, respectively). Semper, however, ended up creating his own version of Electro (Phillip Proctor) as the son of the villainous Red Skull (Earl Boen) in season 4. Conversely, other shows were not allowed to use Spidey.
|Black-suited Spidey fights Hobgoblin amidst a CGI New York City.|
Although the animation was primarily handled by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, most of the preliminary art and design was handled by Marvel Films. Dennis Venizelos served as background designer and art director, Vladimir Spasojevic as a production designer and layout artist, Hank Tucker as the head of the storyboarding crew, Dell Barras handled the finished character designs and Wayne Schulz oversaw the use of props. In addition to traditional animation, in order to give the series a more realistic feel, some backgrounds were computer-generated by studio Kronos to bring the city to life. The backgrounds were originally intended to be entirely CGI in order to accurately recreate the city and show off the hours of research the crew put into it, but budget constraints forced the producers to limit their use. To deal with the extensive amount of characters the show featured, especially considering New York would actually feature a background populace rather than typically empty streets found in other urban cartoons, the series primarily employed digital coloring rather than traditional ink and paint, handled by Allyn Conley and Derdad Aghamalian.
Spidey’s spider-sense had also gained an upgrade. In the comics, it was usually represented by a series of wavy lines around his head, or by half of Peter Parker’s face becoming Spidey’s mask to the readers. In previous shows, Spidey’s eyes would glow with an accompanying sound effect to symbolize his early-warning sense. For this series, Spidey would become darker as a flurry of images would dance around in the background with an accompanying sound. This was the most visually dynamic representation of Spidey’s spider-sense to date.
|The Lizard is having a bad day.|
TMS’ acceptance of the full 65-episode order was nothing short of ambitious. Because they were an overseas animation company, producers couldn’t be there to keep a constant eye on what was being produced. As a result, problems constantly arose where the animation didn’t look quite right for a particular scene, necessitating the series’ constant use of stock footage to fill the gaps. Notably, specific actions or shots of characters talking would be reused, sped up or slowed down to fill in the space allotted and sort-of match up with the scene’s dialogue. As scripts became more complex and the yen-to-dollar exchange began costing TMS more, animation quality progressively degraded throughout the seasons. The preview episode, “Night of the Lizard,” was often regarded as being the most visually-stunning episode of the series; showcasing the highest quality animation out of every episode.
Regardless, Spider-Man: The Animated Series proved a success when it finally debuted in February of 1995 after airing “Night of the Lizard” as a preview in November. Its opening montage of various clips from the show went through four different incarnations, varying in length and integrating footage from newer seasons as the show progressed. The original opening sequence featured introductory animations to some of Spidey’s core villains with a noticeably different style than the rest of the series. A proposed opening sequence was produced by Shawn Van Briesen, Jim Peebles and James Bauer that was ultimately rejected, but the shots of Peter’s spider-bite (for the first season) and the ending bit with Venom were retained for the openings that were used. The series’ end credits were superimposed over background images of production artwork. The theme was composed and sung by Joe Perry from the band Aerosmith. Interestingly enough, Aerosmith in its entirety would go on to compose their own version of the classic 1967 theme for the 2002 Spider-Man movie.
|Spider-Man teaming up with the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, Storm, Black Cat and...the Lizard?|
The series’ distinctive logo was designed by Todd Klein. Marvel had been using relatively the same logo for Spidey and all his books since his debut, with some modifications over the years and the occasional new, brief logo change. Marvel wanted to change it up while keeping brand recognition, and Klein obliged them by modifying the logo and giving it heavier outlines. Although Marvel liked it, a licensee had used Klein’s logo from the 1993 Sabretooth mini-series on a piece of Spidey merchandise and they liked it better. Klein was asked to revise his logo to be more in line with Spidey, and it became the official logo for all comics and merchandising for the next decade; making its official debut on Amazing Spider-Man #395, cover-dated the same month as Spider-Man’s preview.
Along with the familiar Spidey origin (with his tenure as a TV star simplified to remaining a wrestler until Uncle Ben’s [Brian Keith] death), all of Spidey’s supporting cast made an appearance; including his boss, J. Jonah Jameson (Ed Asner, in a bit of stunt casting harkening back to his Lou Grant role from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and his own show), Jonah’s right-hand man Robbie Robertson (Rodney Saulsberry), and his current comics secretary Glory Grant (voiced by Nell Carter, although there were plans for the original, Betty Brant, to appear on the series that went so far as to produce a character model sheet). Kingpin (Roscoe Lee Browne), a ruthless businessman who also controlled all the crime in the city, was introduced as the series’ puppet master; directing many of the events from behind the scenes in his headquarters inside the Chrysler Building (it should be noted that while Kingpin has become more known as a Daredevil villain, he began as one of Spidey’s). The aforementioned Felicia Hardy, who was introduced in the comics as already being the cat burglar The Black Cat, was changed into a wealthy girl of means in order to contrast Mary Jane and make the character more interesting. In fact, her alter-ego wouldn’t be introduced until season 4 and was given abilities through the Super Soldier serum that created Captain America (David Hayter).
|The Insidious Six: Chameleon, Doctor Octopus, Scorpion, Mysteriou, Shocker and Rhino.|
The series also introduced all of Spidey’s most well-known villains, including The Lizard, the alter-ego of Dr. Curt Connors (Joseph Campanella) upon using a lizard-based serum to regrow his lost arm; big game hunter Sergei Kravenhoff, aka Kraven the Hunter (Gregg Berger), who in this iteration was driven to violent tendencies through a special serum; the mechanical-armed Dr. Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.); the master of illusion Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Berger); the Scorpion (Martin Landau & Richard Moll), who was small-time crook Mac Gargan until Jonah paid to have him given a super suit and mutated with scorpion DNA; the shape-shifting Chameleon, who was kept mute in his normal form and changed appearances via an image-capturing belt buckle; and Venom, a living symbiotic costume from space that bonded with Peter’s photography rival Eddie Brock (Hank Azaria) after Spidey rejected it.
Semper still had a strict edict against using season-long story arcs, however he snuck one into the second season anyway. By the time anyone noticed, it was too late to change course and the season went out as planned. All episodes in the second season received the “Neogenic Nightmare” prefix, followed by the actual episode title, and focused on a variety of mutations. Spidey’s powers were mutating, which led him on a hunt for a cure and a ratings-grabbing guest-appearance by the X-Men (all voiced by their X-Men actors, although their appearances differed slightly due to the different animation studios). ESU student Michael Morbius (Nick Jameson) accidentally transformed himself into a living vampire using a device called the Neogenic Recombinator, although this version, due to standards and practices, absorbed plasma from victims through suckers on his hands rather than drank blood in typical vampire fashion. A mystical Tablet of Time served to turn Kingpin’s primary rival Silvermane (Jeff Corey) into an infant (Leigh-Allyn Baker), while also giving the aged Adrian Toomes the technology to absorb others’ youth to become the high-flying Vulture (Eddie Albert). Peter Parker’s wardrobe was also changed to make him cooler and less-dated as the series went on; swapping out his white green-striped shirt for a red shirt under a jacket.
The continuing success of the series allowed Semper more freedom, and he continued his season-long story arcs unabated. Season 3’s “Sins of the Fathers” saw Norman Osborn (Neil Ross, reprising his role from Spider-Man and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends) finally become the Green Goblin. Kingpin’s son Richard Fisk (Jameson) was introduced and immediately began causing legal problems for Peter Parker and eventually Robbie on behalf of his new acquaintance, albino gangster Tombstone (Dorian Harewood). Of course, when there’s legal problems about, it’s probably a good idea to hire a lawyer; leading to the appearance of blind lawyer Matt Murdock and his alter ego Daredevil (Edward Albert, Jr.). The sociopathic spawn of Venom’s symbiote, Carnage (Scott Cleverdon), also made his debut, albeit a bit toned down from his comic counterpart to comply with Saturday morning rules. Iron Man (Robert Hays), fresh off the conclusion of his own series, made his first two of three appearances on the show along with War Machine (James Avery, reprising his role from Iron Man’s first season). Season 4’s “Partners in Danger” saw Spidey teaming up with the likes of Kraven, Black Cat and Blade the Vampire Hunter (J.D. Hall).
Season 5 was the culmination of the ongoing stories, broken up into several smaller arcs rather than a single story across the whole season. “Six Forgotten Warriors” introduced several Golden Age characters from Marvel’s time as Timely Comics, including the Black Marvel (Paul Winfield), Miss America (Kathy Garver), the Whizzer (Walker Edmiston) and the Thunderer (Hansford Rowe), as well as Captain America and Red Skull. “The Return of Hydro-Man” was a two-parter that revealed Mary Jane, who had returned after disappearing into a portal with the Green Goblin at the end of the third season, was a clone made from ex-boyfriend Hydro-Man’s (Rob Paulsen) DNA, and that the real one was still lost somewhere (as a way to keep Spidey from “getting the girl” and undo the season-opening wedding episode). “Secret Wars” was a three-episode adaptation of the mini-series of the same name, which featured return appearances by Captain America and Iron Man, and the show’s debut of the Fantastic Four (only Quinton Flynn reprised his role as the Human Torch from the second season of the recently-cancelled series as Semper really wasn’t a fan of that show). Originally, all the X-Men were to be featured again, but due to time constraints they were cut out of the final story. Storm was chosen to represent them as her original actress from their series, Iona Morris, was the only one based in Los Angeles where Spider-Man was recorded (X-Men was recorded in Canada). Hulk and She-Hulk were also supposed to appear, but couldn’t due to their own series running on rival network UPN at the time (Semper did go on to write two episodes for that series).
The final two-part episode, “Spider Wars,” was the culmination of Semper’s plans for the series, and what the precognitive Madame Web (Joan Lee, wife of Stan Lee) had been training Spidey for throughout the course of the series. In these episodes, Spidey was teamed with several other versions of himself from various dimensions to stop another version that had bonded with the Carnage symbiote from destroying all reality with the goblins Hob and Green. Amongst the Spider-Men were one who kept his extra arms from his mutation, a wealthy version in the one-off armor from Web of Spider-Man #100, one wearing Doc Ock’s mechanical arms, clone Ben Reilly as the Scarlet Spider (Spider-Carnage wore Ben’s uniform from his brief run as Spidey in the late 90s, which is where the character first appeared), and an actor portraying the character created by Stan Lee. The show’s Spidey was taken for a face-to-face with his creator, Stan Lee (playing himself), before being allowed to resume his search for Mary Jane. Incidentally, this story featured the only series appearance of Gwen Stacy (Mary Kay Bergman) as the fiancée of the wealthy Spider-Man.
While Semper had always known how the series was going to end, he left it open for future installments if so ordered. Unfortunately, additional episodes were not forthcoming. Margaret Loesch, head of Fox Kids, was often at odds with Arad and used the series as a weapon against him. Production ended and Marvel Films closed up shop following their sale, along with parent company New World Entertainment, to News Corporation/Fox. Until Ultimate Spider-Man debuted in 2012, the series had the most episodes of any Spider-Man-based series. As of this writing, it still holds the title for the longest-running show at five seasons. The series was nominated in 1996 for an Image Award for “Outstanding Animated/Live-Action/Dramatic Youth or Children’s Series/Special” while Semper won an Annie Award in 1995 for “Best Individual Achievement for Writing in the Field of Animation” for the episode “Day of the Chameleon.”
As mentioned, the series was heavily influenced by the toys, and the toys themselves came to be influenced by the series. Six waves of figures were made under the “Animated Series” banner before subsequent series began receiving their own themed names and accessories. Although not as directly tied into the show as the first six waves, appearances of certain characters on the show led to consumer demand for their inclusion; including Dr. Strange, Captain America, and Electro. 10” versions of these figures were also produced, as were small steel figure two-packs. In 1995, McDonald’s featured a set of 8 toys in their Happy Meals with a combination of full figures and vehicles.
|Spider-Man Adventures featured a simpler style compared to other comics.|
The first season was adapted into comic form as Spider-Man Adventures for the first 13 issues of the series, with the first four later reprinted in Kellogg’s Froot Loops Mini-Comics #1-4. The final two issues began telling original stories set in the animated universe, and the comic was rebooted and retitled as The Adventures of Spider-Man for an additional 12 issues of original tales. In 1996, Toy Biz released several CD-Rom comic that featured several full comics, clips from the cartoon, and narration by Barnes on the Spidey version. Barnes, as Spidey, also instructed users on how to navigate around the discs and their content.
Along with a wide assortment of merchandise including clothing, stickers and playing cards, in 1995 Ralston released a limited-edition cereal based on the series. It had web pieces with spider-tracer, pumpkin bomb, camera and Kingpin marshmallows. It also came with a set of trading cards to collect, a different one in each box. Chef Boyardee released cans of Spider-Man pasta, which had webs, his face and Spidey leaping as shapes, and Betty Crocker produced themed Fruit Roll-Ups. Barnes reprised his role for the commercials, which featured similar but cruder animation in comparison to the series.
|Spider-Man's card from the 1995 Fleer Ultra series.|
Spider-Man was represented in trading card form. For the 1995 Fleer Ultra Spider-Man set, characters who appeared on the show received a television in place of their first appearance cover on the backs of their cards and a factoid about the show. The series was also featured in the 1995 Fox Kids trading card set with other network shows and as part of the 1996 Marvel Vision set along with the other three early 90s Marvel cartoons.
Western Technologies released a video game based on the show through Acclaim for Sega Genesis and LJN for Super Nintendo. Both versions featured the same story and most of the same characters, although the SNES version had additional characters and levels. While it featured designs used on the show, the game did include characters who had yet (or never did) appear on it; including the Fantastic Four as collectible helpers (two years before “Secret Wars”). Knowledge Adventure released Spider-Man Cartoon Maker, which allowed users to create their own movies using settings and animated sprites from the show. Barnes provided narration, while an example story retelling Spidey’s origin was written by Semper and directed by Joseph Adler.
Before recently, Spider-Man was the only pre-2000 Marvel series to receive regular DVD releases by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, which were conversions of their previously released VHS collections. Most of the sets featured four episodes with a similar theme, and occasionally a bonus episode from the 1967 series. The release of Daredevil vs. Spider-Man also featured the 1990s Fantastic Four episode “And a Blind Man Shall Lead Them.” In Canada, the “Mutant Agenda” DVD was a re-issue of the 1997 Marvel-New World/Telegenic VHS and contained two bonus 1990s Iron Man episodes. “The Hobgoblin” was a re-release of the 2002 VHS that contained the two-part introduction of the character. In the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany, Clear Vision Ltd. released all five seasons and a complete collection between 2009 and 2011. Although still to be released as a whole in North America, the series was made available on streaming sites and on Marvel.com. In 2019, it became one of the launch titles for the streaming service Disney+.
At 2014’s Comikaze Expo, Barnes, Ballantine, Hale, Imhoff, Saulsberry, Berger and Labyorteaux, along with Semper and a pre-recorded message from Asner, gathered together to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary with a panel. There, Semper announced a crowdfunded animated series for 2015 called War of the Rocket Men featuring the voices of those mentioned, and Larry Mandley. Semper also launched Cartoonspiderman.com, a website devoted to the production of Spider-Man, and a Facebook group where he often delves into stories about it. It was there that Semper laid to rest the long-standing rumors that his show was under heavy network censorship (such as denying Spidey the ability to punch anyone), which arose from an off-handed comment in an interview about some of the sillier notes the network did supply (a standard occurrence in animation). Semper, who knew from experience what would fly in children’s animation, simply chose to keep the violence minimal and have Spidey find other ways to beat his foes.
Following the series, Barnes made a return to the character (although alternate reality versions) several times in video games. He voiced Spider-Man Noir in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Spider-Man 2099 in Spider-Man: Edge of Time, and the black costume and Superior versions of the character in Marvel Heroes. Hale, also appearing in other Spidey projects, returned to her role as Black Cat for the 2000 video game Spider-Man.