For many Spider-Man fans, the animated show from 1994 was their first exposure to the character and his villains. Fans were treated to the adventures of Peter Parker and his alter ego Spider-Man for five seasons. Those five seasons ran the gamut of great Spider-Man stories both old and modern. Watching the show was a bit like experiencing 30 years of Spider-Man comics compressed down to 22 minute episodes. The show was a massive powerhouse in the ratings for Saturday Morning cartoons. Between this show and X-Men: The Animated Series, Marvel had a one-two punch of cartoons that skyrocketed in popularity in the early 1990s.
Even though Spider-Man was a landmark show with phenomenal ratings, it was not without its problems. In fact, looking back on the series, the faults are much more pronounced than the more positive qualities. This series definitely shows its age when viewing through a more modern sensibility. Chief among those problems is the shoddy and poor animation of the show. That’s not to say Spider-Man is a bad television series. Even watching today there are admirable qualities about it. That’s why this list will cover seven awesome things about this show and eight things that are terrible about it.
15. SUCKED: HEAVY CENSORSHIP
It’s unrealistic to expect a children’s television show to contain brutal, grotesque violence. Any action in the show needs to be appropriate for the format. However, it is beyond ridiculous the level of censorship enacted upon this Spider-Man series. It’s honestly shocking any episodes were produced at all for this series with how restrictive the censors were in their guidelines.
There were many restrictions placed on the show since its very inception. For example, it could not feature any realistic looking guns, which meant that all the characters, even generic police officers or soldiers, had to carry laser weapons like they were in G.I. Joe. The words “kill,” “die,” or “death” could also not be said by any of the characters. Vampires were not to be depicted sucking blood, which kind of defeats the purpose, and quite famously, Spider-Man could not punch anyone. Pretty limiting for a superhero, huh?
14. RULED: FIVE SEASONS
It’s hard to think of children’s television shows that lasted more than a few seasons, let alone five! Spider-Man was a ratings powerhouse, which allowed the show to last for so long. With such a long run time, the creators of the show were able to give audiences a taste of the most famous Spider-Man story arcs from the earliest adventures to more modern stories with Venom.
To put it in another perspective, Batman: The Animated Series only had three seasons. That show had a lengthy hiatus between its later seasons as well. With Spider-Man, audiences tuned in time and time again to watch Webhead do battle with his greatest foes. For many people, it was a constant and dependable presence in the Saturday morning cartoon lineup.
13. SUCKED: BAD HUMOR
One of Peter Parker’s most defining characteristics is that he’s is a sarcastic quip machine while in costume. Unfortunately, in this show, Peter’s humor falls flat. Everything he says is a poor approximation of what humor should actually be. In the pilot episode he sees an out of control truck zipping down the street. Spider-Man says, “Another satisfied graduate of the New York City cab driving academy?”
That’s the first joke in the entire series and a foreshadowing of what was going to be in the rest of the series. It’s too long to be a quip. It’s such a wordy sentence that Peter’s voice actor can barely say the line. It’s a lame joke about crazy cab drivers in New York. This series is absolutely littered with these bad jokes and it makes it tough to watch the episodes.
12. RULED: ACCURATE ADAPTATIONS
Something that was great about Spider-Man was seeing famous story arcs come to life in animated form. Over the course of five seasons, audiences were treated to the symbiote suit Spider-Man, the Clone Saga, and even a truncated version of the original Secret Wars storyline. For Spider-Man fans, seeing these new and old favorites on the television was a delight.
It’s also a commendable decision by the show’s creators that the show was so close to its comic book roots; that’s art of what made it such a success. The writers of Spider-Man didn’t try to re-invent the character or make radical, questionable changes to the Spider-Man mythos. They knew they had a wealth of already great Spider-Man stories. All they had to do was adapt them into a different medium.
11. SUCKED: BAD CGI
In 1994, widespread CGI was in its infancy. Only a year prior, audiences were wowed with Industrial Light and Magic’s CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. For whatever reason, it was decided that Spider-Man would feature CGI animation in conjunction with the traditional two dimensional hand-drawn variety. It was not a good decision as the CGI in the show looks awful today.
Then again, even at the time it was rudimentary. Watching it now, the CGI looks dated and unfinished. The shots of Spider-Man swinging through the CGI New York City skyline break the immersion of the series. More modern cartoons have figured out how to mesh traditional animation with CGI. In Justice League Unlimited, the CGI Watchtower is not distracting. In 1994 ,the technology just wasn’t there to support the attempt.
10. RULED: NO ORIGIN STORIES
An origin story can be helpful for certain audiences who are unfamiliar with characters. Spider-Man, however, is one of the most recognizable fictional characters on the planet. Everyone knows what his super powers are and how he got them. The fact that the writers of Spider-Man decided to forgo a traditional origin story episode is commendable.
Rather, what we got was a show that from episode one jumped straight into the action. We did not have to spend half a season, or even a whole season, building up to the moment Peter Parker got his powers and turned into the Spider-Man. We have plenty of examples of modern superhero television shows that are prime examples of why it’s a bad idea to belabor an origin story. Even in 1994, the writers of this show knew it wasn’t appropriate.
9. SUCKED: AUNT MAY
Aunt May is certainly one of the most important characters in the Spider-Man mythos. To leave her out of a Spider-Man story is a criminal offense. She’s Peter Parker’s closest relative and a mother figure to him. However, in this show, the creators leaned a little too hard on Aunt May as a fretting, worried aunt. She’s constantly complaining about one thing or another to Peter.
Fortunately, more often than not, Aunt May is regulated to quick scenes with Peter away from the main action of any given episode’s story. Of course, every once in a while she becomes a damsel-in-distress and Spider-Man must save her. Aunt May should be a positive and supportive of Peter; instead, the writers made her more of a source of stress for Peter and his double life as a superhero.
8. RULED: COMIC WRITERS
The history of comic book adaptations is rife with examples of non-comic book creatives meddling and ruining famous characters. Think of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin or Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four or Canon Film’s Captain America. These are all beloved characters. It’s not their fault the movies ended up being terrible. It’s because the creators at the helm didn’t understand what they were working with.
In Spider-Man, a lot of episodes were written by comic book veterans. Marv Wolfman, John Romita Sr., Gerry Conway, and Len Wein are just some of the writers who lent their hand at drafting episodes of the show. That these and other industry writers were on board for this series is what made the series so accurate in its portrayal of Spider-Man.
7. SUCKED: PETER PARKER IS OLD
Supposedly Peter Parker is 19 years old in this cartoon series. That is certainly hard to believe. The character design and voice of Peter makes him seem like a 25 year old, at least. In this show, he somehow looks more muscular out of costume than in costume. The dissonance between the age he is supposed to be and what he looks like makes the show hard to watch at times.
Furthermore, it can be argued that the best Spider-Man stories take place when Peter younger and in high school. The mixture of teen angst and a blossoming superhero career yields untold dividends in storytelling potential. As we’ve seen in the comics time and time again, it is a lot harder to write compelling Spider-Man stories when Peter Parker is out of school.
6. RULED: ALL THE VILLAINS
One thing this animated series did not shy away from was showcasing the depths of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery. Spider-Man’s villains are in the highest echelon of comic book characters. Of course in this series, the heavy hitters were Kingpin, Green Goblin, Venom, and Doctor Octopus. This series had a version of the Sinister Six called the Insidious Six. There were even appearances from non-Spider-Man villains like Red Skull, Doctor Doom, and Dormammu.
What was really great about the show is that the writers dug deep into the Spider-Man mythos to showcase villains who wouldn’t normally be included in a Spider-Man tv show. In the show, Tombstone, Alistair Smythe, The Owl, Hydro-Man, Hammerhead, and The Chameleon all made appearances. Weirdly enough, the only major villain not to appear was Sandman. But with a roster that deep, Sandman was hardly missed.
5. SUCKED: CONFUSING STORYLINES
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with isolated, stand alone episodes of television. Nor is there anything wrong with serialized episodes that require the viewer to watch everything in order. However, in the case of Spider-Man this show had a confusing over-arcing plot from week to week. Maybe the show’s creators wanted to mimic the feel of reading the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man comic book series.
Back in 1994 audiences, especially children, weren’t used to watching a cartoon that had serialized storylines. Moreover, this show aired on Saturday mornings along with all the other entertaining, yet disposable, television shows that were excuses to market toys and cereals. Audiences were punished if they happened to miss a week of the show. That’s not a good storytelling choice.
4. RULED: HERO CAMEOS
Much like the villains, the creatives behind Spider-Man did not shy away from featuring other heroes from the Marvel pantheon. Of course, plenty of heroes who operated out of New York City made cameos. There was an extended storyline featuring Daredevil. The Fantastic Four and X-Men showed up. Even The Punisher, heavily censored of course, made an appearance.
Unlike today with the war between Marvel Studios and Fox, any character could appear on Spider-Man. The X-Men, hot off their own animated series, had a cameo. Tony Stark, Captain America, and Nick Fury were present. The fact that all these characters appeared in the show captured the tone and feeling of reading the comics perfectly in a way current movies still haven’t quite figured out.
3. SUCKED: VOICE ACTING
This entry is not meant to disrespect voice actors as a whole. They have a much harder job than people realize. However, in the particular instance of this show the actors and actresses who were hired didn’t do such a great job. At best, the line readings were reminiscent of soap opera actors. At worst it was annoying and painful to listen to.
Even at the time there was no excuse for poor voice acting. Just two years prior, Batman: The Animated Series premiered and contained some of the best voice acting not just in television but any form of animation at the time. The worst offenders of the bad voice acting were the villains. Every actor spoke completely over the top in a way that ruined the immersion of the series, even for less discerning viewers, like its target demographic, children.
2. RULED: INTRO/THEME SONG
A television show, animated or otherwise, must have a great theme song. It quite literally sets the tone for what’s to come. The theme song is like a Pavlovian bell that alerts audiences to what they’re about to see. A lot of the greatest theme songs stand alone as great songs. The theme to Spider-Man is one of the all time greats. Believe it or not, the song was composed by Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry!
The awe-inspiring guitar licks get audiences hype for what they’re about to watch. The guitar is meshed perfectly with the synth vocals chanting Spider-Man’s name. The quick edits that accompany the theme song are a perfect match for the rocking song and give the audience a helpful reminder of what they’re about to see, which was something truly special indeed!
1. SUCKED: BAD ANIMATION
When a live action production, whether it’s a movie or tv show, has poor production value, it devalues the experience of watching it. The same goes for animation. Cheap and poorly done animation is distracting and takes viewers out of the moment. It’s a shame that what is arguably the best Spider-Man animated show is also one of the worst in terms of animation.
The best word to describe the animation of Spider-Man is janky. The characters have no fluidity to their movement and the action scenes are stilted. Sometimes it seems like this show is only a step above those motion comics that were all the rage in the early 2010s. The colors in the series also looked cheap like the series was animated with Microsoft Paint. It’s a miracle this show was so beloved by audiences in spite of its poor animation, and yet — even with us, it certainly was!
What were your favorite (and least favorite) things about Spidey ’94? Let us know in the comments!
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