When Spider-Man: The Animated Series Went... Dark

Welcome to Adventure(s) Time’s fifty-ninth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. With the upcoming release of the Venom film, I thought a review of the original adaptation of the comics' classic could be fun. That's right, for the first time, we're looking back on 1994's Spider-Man: The Animated Series.

Most comics fan are aware of the origin of Spider-Man's black costume in Secret Wars #8. His costume has been damaged in battle, there's an alien machine that generates cloth, so Spidey experiments with a new look, inspired by the second Spider-Woman.

It's impossible to appreciate today, but the move was shocking for 1984. While Spider-Man is associated with numerous costumes today, in the first twenty-two years of his existence, he'd never switched looks before.  In the first reprint of the black costume storyline, Marvel editor Jim Salicrup recounts the mainstream media attention Spider-Man's new costume received. Per Salicrup, established popular heroes don't change their costumes. Only "second-stringers" experimented with new looks. For the major heroes, you don't mess with success.

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The hook of  Secret Wars was for the miniseries to initiate real change in the ongoing titles.  Amazing Spider-Man #252 is actually the comic that debuted the costume, with its May 1984 cover date. Secret Wars #8 is dated December 1984--the idea was for Marvel titles to address the Secret Wars changes over the course of the year. It's the final issue plotted by Roger Stern, with new writer Tom DeFalco stepping in to script. Ron Frenz, soon to be a Spidey legend, is the penciler.

Amazing Spider-Man 252

It's somewhat quaint in retrospect. Although this is clearly Spider-Man, the public can't discern this mystery hero's identity.  Some New Yorkers are even terrified of this man in black!  The main conflict in the issue has Spidey aiding a bickering couple. He takes them to the rooftops, offering a new view of New York. Spider-Man is grateful to be back in town, happy endings all around.

Amazing Spider-Man #252 is one of the most popular Marvel comics of the decade. Not only were kids stunned by the cover, but some readers cite it as their first comic ever.  The comic was given away as a part of a Cookie Crisp cereal promotion. (It's a fantastic idea. Too bad the opportunity was rarely exploited again.)

Peter Parker is thrilled with the new costume. It rarely requires cleaning, can generate its own pockets and webbing, and can morph into any clothing Peter imagines. As the issues go on, we see unexpected consequences of this alien costume. Peter finds himself sleeping all day. At times, he's overwhelmed by lethargy. The final straw occurs in Amazing Spider-Man #258, when the costume oozes across the floor, covering his sleeping body. The costume animates Peter, swinging him across the city. Peter experiences a nightmare during the encounter, imagining violent ghost images of his costumes.

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When Peter wakes, he decides enough is enough. He visits Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four. (Something he told himself he'd do, all the way back in  Amazing #252. He's a busy guy.) This is when he discovers the costume is alive! A living symbiotic creature attempting to bond to him permanently, in fact. Funny how non-shocking this seems today. It's famous comic book lore, almost as well-known as Spider-Man's origin.

Web of Spider-Man 1

The rejection angers the symbiote, a story eventually resolved in Web of Spider-Man #1 (April 1985). From writer Louise Simonson and penciler Greg LaRocque, more of the familiar lore debuts. The symbiote returns to feed on Peter. As Spider-Man travels to the Baxter Building for Reed Richards’ help, the Vulturions attack. (They're a group of small-time criminals who stole the Vulture’s technology to gain vengeance on Spider-Man.) He fights them off and follows the sound of church bells. Standing in the bell tower, the sonic blast harms his costume, but nearly kills Spider-Man. The alien actually pulls Spider-Man to safety before it disintegrates.

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We think it disintegrates, at least. More on that later. The image of the church bells hammering the symbiote has become iconic. As much grief as Spider-Man 3 gets, one of the more memorable scenes of the Raimi films adapts that moment.

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