How Spider-Man: The Animated Series Adapted Lee & Ditko's Classic Stories

Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's sixty-sixth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we honor two of  the icons we lost this year, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Many of today's fans were first introduced to their most famous collaboration through the 1990s Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which featured a few stories lifted directly from the original comics.

One of the earliest stories adapted was The Amazing Spider-Man #13, "The Menace of...Mysterio!" The animated adaptation aired on February 25, 1995, featuring a script from John Semper, Jr., Marv Wolfman, and Stan Berkowitz. While some of the villain introductions varied greatly from the comics canon (we're looking at you, Electro), Mysterio's story hews close to the original comic.  The plot begins with a daring robbery at a New York museum's Egyptian display.  A robbery committed by the amazing Spider-Man!

This is all news to Peter Parker, who's asleep upstairs at Aunt May's home. A phone call awakens him the next morning. It's MJ, rather aggressively suggesting they go on a date. Their phone conversation is a little unusual, with MJ carrying on the dialogue while in the midst of her workout routine.

This is all sanitized for Saturday morning, but it certainly seems as if the producers were working in some of the MJ cheesecake shots that were so prominent in the comics from the late '80s to early '90s. It might be the only time the show made a conscious attempt at sexualizing MJ--she's not exactly a bombshell for most of the series.

Anyway, an enthused Peter goes downstairs and soon has his spirits crushed. Aunt May is watching news footage of the robbery.  And, naturally, she views it as more evidence that this Spider-Man is very bad indeed. Peter, incredulous, goes to the museum to investigate.  There, he runs into NYPD Lieutenant Terri Lee.

Terri's an original creation of the cartoon's, apparently a substitute for Jean DeWolff. DeWolff was another reluctant female NYPD ally of Spidey's from the comics. She was killed off in the mid-1980s, and never appeared on the series. If it's true Gwen Stacy never appeared because Stan Lee didn't want kids to become invested in a character only to learn she's now dead in the comics...it's possible DeWolff was "banned" for similar reasons.

Lt. Lee is irritated by Peter's clumsy attempt at stealing evidence from the scene, but soon comes to view him as an important resource on all things Spider-Man. She's attempting to drag Peter downtown when Mysterio makes his first official appearance. He amuses the museum crowd with special effects tricks, and makes his exit by embarrassing Spider-Man with an illusion.

With Lt. Lee's help, Peter continues to investigate the imposter, who he soon discerns is Mysterio. J. Jonah Jameson eats up Mysterio's declaration that he's going to take in the criminal Spider-Man, declaring Mysterio the true hero. Along the way, we have two flashbacks.

One has Peter reminiscing on his origin, a first for the show. (He appears in the pilot already well along in his career, it seems.) It's pretty loyal to the traditional comics origin, although the same model for College Peter is used, implying he was never Spider-Man while in high school. (He's even in the same shirt he always wears.) Another alteration is the elimination of Spidey's stints on Ed Sullivan-style variety shows. A wrestling career takes its place, which makes sense. Variety shows were quite dead by the 1990s, while professional wrestling remained popular. You see a similar move in the 2002 film; treating Spidey's one wrestling match from his comics origin as his "showbiz" career.

The second flashback established why Mysterio is determined to ruin Spider-Man's reputation. NYPD file footage reveals Mysterio as Quentin Beck, a special effects expert who botched a job during a movie shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge. Spider-Man's appearance saved lives, but also exposed Beck's recklessness. He was arrested, served a year in prison, and now holds a grudge.

He's also holding on to the most stereotypical of all '90s "Hollywood type" hairstyles. Bleach blond hair pulled into a short ponytail. Yikes.

Peter's frustration with Mysterio's frame job, and his missed date with MJ, causes him to give up his life as Spider-Man. It's a guilt trip from Lt. Lee, and his memory of Uncle Ben's "great power" speech, that inspires him to keep going.

In the end, Mysterio is apprehended at his abandoned movie studio hideout, Jameson is humbled, and MJ agrees to give Peter a second chance. Yay, happy endings.

NEXT PAGE: What Spider-Man: TAS Kept (And Dropped) from the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Stories

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