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. 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
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 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 of 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; a precursor to the Spider-Verse event that
would hit the comics in 2014 and cinema in 2018.
|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) were
compelled by their symbiotes to hitch a ride on his ship in order to connect
with a hive-mind known as the Synoptic; which wanted 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 (utilizing 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 during a spat between him and Arad where he feared he might lose screen credit, 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 comic book 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
comic book-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’s music 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. A version of Unlimited’s world appeared in the cross-dimensional storyline Spider-Verse as one of the obliterated alternate dimensions. A surviving Spidey in the Unlimited suit later showed up in the 2018 follow-up, Spider-Geddon.
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; voicing him in the video games Spider-Man (2001), Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro
(both games also featured the Unlimited suit as an alternate costume), X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 and
a deleted scene in X2: Wolverine’s Revenge. Hale
would also reprise her role of Mary Jane in the Spider-Man game alongside her role of Black Cat from the prior