For the history of Spider-Man, check out the post here.
FOX Kids loved Spider-Man—they just didn’t want to pay for him.
Although Spider-Man: The Animated Series had come to an end, FOX was under a contractual obligation to produce another season in order to continue airing reruns of Spider-Man for an unspecified amount of time. Because of animosity between FOX Kids head Margaret Loesch and producer Avi Arad, and because continuing the show would have put a damper on their rerun plans, FOX opted to create a new show instead. FOX wanted to make the show as cheaply as possible and considered having Saban Entertainment re-present the very first 26 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man comic series with limited animation; similar to 1966’s The Marvel Super Heroes or today’s motion comics.
|They still got their adaptation briefly in the show's intro. The burglar escape scene shown here.|
Unfortunately, those plans were complicated when Marvel Entertainment entered into a deal with Sony Pictures that would eventually lead to the highly-successful Sam Raimi Spider-Man film trilogy, as well as MTV’s Spider-Man: The New Animated Series in 2003. Because of this, FOX and Saban suddenly had lost all access to Spidey’s classic library, his costume, and most of his supporting cast.
Producers Will Meugniot and Michael Reaves toyed with the idea of producing a series around the futuristic Spider-Man 2099 comic; however, they came to feel that Batman Beyond—which had debuted that January—already covered any territory they would have visited. They looked over the “shopping list” of characters Marvel wanted to see utilized that had been supplied to the production and decided that Counter-Earth would allow them optimal storytelling opportunities while explaining away the absence of recognizable Spidey characters. Counter-Earth was an extra planet in the Marvel solar system that was an exact duplicate to Earth. By this time in the comics, three versions had been featured each with a different creator (2006 would yield a fourth). Meugniot and Reaves decided to use the first version created by the mad geneticist The High Evolutionary as a means to conduct his experiments in an almost god-like fashion.
|Spidey's new duds.|
The original plan was to feature an Uncle Ben who didn’t die, resulting in that Peter Parker never learning the valuable lesson of power and responsibility and denying him the will to resist bonding with the alien Venom symbiote. The Spidey we all knew would somehow wind up on Counter-Earth and come into conflict with this alternate Peter while trying to find a way back home. Production began on the show until Marvel nixed the whole double Peter idea. The company was still feeling the effects of a particularly disastrous time in Spidey comics known as “The Clone Saga”; a decades-later sequel to Amazing Spider-Man #149 wherein the clone Spidey once battled returned and eventually replaced Peter in the webs while also establishing that Peter was the actual clone the whole time. Naturally, they were eager to avoid any association to that and forbade having two Peter Parkers present. Interestingly enough, the previous show ended with a truncated version of the saga using alternate reality duplicates.
|Carnage and Venom sporting a very different look.|
With the core of their show gone, producers scrambled to salvage the work they had already done while adhering to Marvel’s restrictions. The result became Spider-Man Unlimited, which shared its name (and nothing else) with the double-sized quarterly anthology series that ran from 1993-98. In the show, John Jameson (John Payne III), son of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson (Richard Newman), embarked on a mission to Counter-Earth, but Venom (Brian Drummond) and Carnage (Michael Donovan) are compelled by their symbiotes to hitch a ride on his ship in order to connect with a hive-mind known as the Synoptic. The Synoptic sought to spread symbiotes across Counter-Earth and eliminate all the human life there. Failing to stop them and vilified by the elder Jameson because of it, Spider-Man (Rino Romano) faked his death and briefly contemplated retirement. However, a message from John prompted him to “borrow” nanotechnology from Mr. Fantastic to create a new suit (borrowing elements of Spidey 2099’s costume in FOX’s attempt to emulate the success of Batman Beyond) and pursue the symbiotes on another mission launch.
|Spider-Man squares off against the Knights of Wundagore.|
Spider-Man found Counter-Earth was ruled by the High Evolutionary (Newman) and his Beastials; hybrids of animals and humans that he created. Apart from the average citizens were Evolutionary’s personal attack squad: The Knights of Wundagore (named for the mountain that served as their base in the comics). Jameson had fallen in league with human freedom fighters that were against the Evolutionary and his forces and refused to leave until they were free. Unwilling to return home without Jameson, Peter set himself up as a photographer for The Daily Byte under publisher Mr. Meugniot (originally named “Mineo” but changed to resemble the show’s producer, voiced by Garry Chalk), rented a room from single mother Dr. Naoko Yamada-Jones (Akiko Morison) and her son, Shane (Rhys Huber), and aided the freedom fighters as Spider-Man. Along the way, he encountered Counter-Earth versions of familiar Marvel characters, including heroic versions of the Green Goblin (Romano) and Vulture (Scott McNeil), an electric eel Beastial named Electro (Dale Wilson), a Kraven the Hunter-like mercenary called The Hunter (Paul Dobson), and X-51 (Wilson), one of the Evolutionary’s android law-enforcers that gained sentience and joined the rebels.
|Spidey with Karen O'Malley.|
Spider-Man Unlimited debuted on October 2, 1999. While not intended as a direct continuation of the prior show, Unlimited did attempt some connection to it; particularly by the inclusion of a snippet of Joe Perry’s theme when Spidey first appeared in the first episode. It also shared at least one cast member in Jennifer Hale who voiced Mary Jane in her only appearance, as well as Lady Vermin, another animal-themed character who developed an infatuation with Spidey. It’s notable that this was the first animated series to feature the underarm webbing on Spidey’s regular costume often seen in the comics.
The series was written by Meugniot and Reaves along with Steve Perry, Brynne Chandler Reaves, Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, Robert Gregory Browne and Mark Hoffmeier, as well as comicbook writer Roger Slifer and creative consultant Larry Brody. The show was animated by Koko Enterprises Co., Ltd. An attempt was made to give the show a more comic-like appearance with the use of dark shadows and picture-in-picture to simulate comic panels, not to mention comicbook-like captions. Spidey’s spider-sense was toned down from the previous series to be a sound with some accompanying flashes on the screen. The theme’s composers were Jeremy Sweet and Ian Nickus, who also composed the rest of the show with Shuki Levy, Haim Saban (under the alias Kussa Mahchi) and Ron Kenan.
|Spidey and Shane attempt to fix up X-51.|
After the first three episodes aired, Unlimited was removed from the schedule and replaced with Avengers: United They Stand. At this time, the FOX Kids schedule was in a state of chaotic flux as new VP of programming Roland Poindexter attempted to revitalize the network’s standing from fourth place behind Kids’ WB, Nickelodeon and ABC, as well as compete against the growing Pokémon craze. The second season for the show was already six scripts into production by the time FOX finally cancelled it in November of 1999, having met their contractual obligations to Marvel. Unlimited ultimately returned to the network in December of 2000 after re-airing the first three episodes and finished its run that March. As a result, the show ended on a cliffhanger that would never be resolved. Future episodes would have had the rebels win against Evolutionary and showcased more solo adventures of Spidey as he continued to search for a way home.
|The comic series.|
To promote the series, Marvel Comics began publication of a new short-lived volume of Spider-Man Unlimited in December of 1999. The first two issues, including the special #1/2 issue released through Wizard Magazine, recounted the first three episodes of the series, with the final three issues featuring original stories before the book was cancelled. All of the issues were written by Eric Stephenson with Andy Kuhn as the regular artist; however, Min Sung Ku drew #1/2 with Ty Templeton providing the cover, an homage to Spidey’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15. Marvel also attempted to integrate Unlimited into their regular comics by featuring the suit in issues 13 and 14 of the anthology series Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man.
Liberaton Entertainment UK acquired the rights to release the show on DVD in 2009, but went bankrupt before they could proceed with their plans. Clear Vision Ltd. gained the rights and released the complete series in 2010. No American home releases have been announced or planned, however the show was made available for streaming on Amazon. In 2019, it became one of the launch titles for the streaming service Disney+.
|The mainstream appearance of the Unlimited suit.|
Arad had planned for Unlimited to launch a series of Spidey mini-series, the first one to be called Spider-Man 2001. The failure of the show squashed those plans, but Romano was kept on as the official voice of Spidey in the years following. He would voice the character in the video games Spider-Man (2001), Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro and X-Men: Mutant Academy 2. Hale would also reprise her role of Mary Jane in the Spider-Man game alongside her role of Black Cat from the prior series.