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

Years before the storyline was adapted to film, the 1990s Spider-Man animated series tackled the arc. It's no secret these series are funded with money from the action figures line, which is why Toy Biz exec Avi Arad was also a producer on the series. Arad understood the appeal of the black costume, and worked to adapt the story within the first year of the show. (Years later, as a producer on the film series, Arad lobbied for the costume to also appear in Spider-Man 3.) He actually has a writing credit on the episode "The Alien Costume, Part One."

And Arad's not the only one! He has a co-plot credit with Stan Lee, of all people. The script is credited to Meg McLaughlin, Len Wein, Stan Berkowitz, and showrunner John Semper, Jr. This was considered one of the most important episodes of the season, given the popularity of the costume. (And, naturally, the upcoming appearance of Venom.) Perhaps that explains why so many writers took a pass on this one?

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The challenge of Spider-Man is incorporating thirty years of continuity and telling coherent stories set during this time in Peter's life. And, also, appeasing the toyline.  Some episodes worked through this issue better than others. What's great about "Alien Costume" is the way it incorporates such an unexpected moment from the comics canon--but it works perfectly.

The show, naturally, doesn't address the linewide crossover "Secret Wars." (Yet.)  Instead, the alien symbiote--given the impressively pseudo-scientific name of "Promethium X" here--comes to Earth with astronaut John Jameson. It's an homage to the very first issue of  Amazing Spider-Man, which also had Spidey rescue J. Jonah's son from a crashing space shuttle. It's quite clever, and leads to a scene that would look amazing in live-action. When the shuttle crash lands and wipes out a few dozen cars on the George Washington Bridge...well, the animation doesn't sell the concept. But, it's still a fantastic idea. And it would've looked great in the films. (The goofy debut of the symbiote in Spider-Man 3 is pretty darn disappointing in comparison.)

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Spider-Man 3 does draw a decent amount of inspiration from these episodes, however. It's the cartoon that introduces the idea of the alien causing Peter to grow short-tempered and aggressive. (In the comics, Peter's merely sleepy.) How the movie dramatized this idea, clearly, is up for debate. But the idea comes from these episodes. The concept of Eddie Brock outright lying to the Daily Bugle, then getting caught by Spider-Man, also appears in the film. Peter falling asleep and waking to find himself in the black costume for the first time? Yes, that's in the cartoon. In fact, the movie adapts this nearly note-for-note.

Movies borrowing more from the cartoon than the comics isn't that outrageous. Bryan Singer's research for the X-Men films consisted of watching the '90s cartoon, rather than studying the comics. One moment from the comics loyally adapted into the cartoon would be the nightmare costume fight. It looks pretty cool, and remained in the show's opening credits for years.

By the end of the second chapter, Peter's realized the negative impact the costume's having on his life. Writers John Semper, Jr. and Brynne Stephens go through many of the comics' notes. The Vulturions are replaced by Shocker and Rhino, but the conflict does end at a church. Peter uses the sonics generated by the bells to remove the alien...forgetting Eddie Brock is nearby. Cliffhanger!

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