I’ve always had a soft spot for Spider-Man. He was the first comic book superhero I was introduced to as a child, and there's a reason he remains a fan favorite even after eight live-action movies in 18 years.
I didn’t get into Spider-Man until the '90s, but Peter Parker made his TV debut in 1967 in the form of the animated series, simply entitled Spider-Man. Like the 1960s Fantastic Four cartoon, this not exactly a high-budget cartoon, and it’s not widely circulated anymore. I actually had never seen this iteration of Spider-Man before, but luckily, some kind soul uploaded some episodes to DailyMotion. While the cartoon isn’t on TV anymore, 1967 Spider-Man has been receiving much more attention in the recent years — through memes.
People love these memes. They first originated in 2009 — oddly enough on 4Chan — but others (i.e., more normal people) picked them up and ran with them through the internet. They’re pretty popular right now -- probably because everyone is currently stuck at home and desperately trying to find something remotely humorous to bring a little happiness into our sad, stifled, quarantine lives. Naturally, I had to get to the root of the source and see the actual cartoon that brought us such joy through its subsequent memes.
Obviously, the most well-known part of the cartoon is the famous Spider-Man theme song — this is where it all began.
Yes, it’s catchy, yes, it’s ungodly annoying, and yes, it will absolutely drill itself into your brain and stay buried there for the rest of your life.
You’ll notice pretty quickly just how low the production budget was for this show. First of all, the webbing on Spider-Man’s costume only covers roughly 10 percent of his costume — just the mask, boots, and gloves.
The animation itself is also very stiff, and the characters’ movements do look vaguely unnatural. If you watch enough episodes, you’ll soon realize just how many shots there are of Spider-Man web-swinging through New York -- and how similar all those shots start looking. Because yes, there’s quite a lot of reused animation throughout this show.
The voice acting is solid, I don’t have any complaints there — although, I will say that Spider-Man/Peter Parker sounds like he’s around 35-year-old rather than 17 or 18.
Come to think of it, Peter looks like he’s around 35-years-old, too. I know it was the '60s, but you can’t tell me that this is supposed to be a high-school student.
The good news is that we do get to see Spider-Man battle it out with his usual comic book foes like Mysterio, the Vulture, the Green Goblin, Electro, and the Lizard.
However, you will notice that some of these characters look a little...odd.
For example, the Lizard kind of looks like the demonic love child of the Cloverfield monster and Liz the lizard from The Magic School Bus.
And Mysterio resembles a creepy alien space creature who wears his eyeballs outside of his helmet as fashion accessories.
The storylines likewise get incredibly weird.
In one particularly bizarre episode, the Green Goblin takes up witchcraft, hoping he’ll be able to control demons from the underworld. He uses a spell to turn Jonah Jameson into his personal medium so he can raise the dead. Except, when Gobby actually manages to raise some spirits, the undead beings are royally unimpressed and tell him to piss off before going back to hell. I swear to God, I am not making this up.
In another episode, Jonah Jameson gets an old school Spider-Slayer robot with his very own face emblazoned on it.
I’m not going to lie, but it is pretty hilarious to watch Spider-Man have to duke it out with a flimsy robotic Jameson — who is taken as an actual serious threat.
These utterly absurd storylines are what truly make the show entertaining to watch. If you’re looking for a laugh from this cartoon, it’s going to come from these ludicrous episodes — because you’re probably not going to be chuckling over Spider-Man’s corny wisecracks. The show clearly wanted to keep Spider-Man’s portrayal as a fast-talking jokester, and maybe his jokes would have been considered funny in the late ’60s, but watching them today, they’re kind of lame.
Unlike more recent Spider-Man cartoons, we don’t get much of a deep dive into Peter Parker’s personal life or any of his inner conflicts and struggles of being a superhero — nothing much beyond the usual origin story and his uncle’s death.
Outside of superheroing, we see Peter with his Aunt May and sometimes flirt with the inexplicably red-haired Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brant (Mary Jane Watson apparently makes a brief appearance in Season 3), but that’s about as deep as Peter’s personal life gets.
Spider-Man did have a respectable run, lasting until 1970, which is pretty good by cartoon show standards. However, from the episodes I was able to access, Season One is the one to watch because it features all the best villains. By Season Two, we see those villains far less, and most of Spider-Man’s adversaries become forgettable, one-episode bad guys that were often never seen again. Also, in Season Two, the animation budget seemed to get worse when cartoonist Ralph Bakshi started recycling clips from another cartoon he was producing called Rocket Robin Hood — a show whose name raises so many questions that I'd probably need to devote an entire article to answering them.
I'm surprised Spider-Man ran so much longer than the Fantastic Four cartoon, which premiered in the same year. Spider-Man lasted three seasons versus Fantastic Four’s single season. It may have been that Spider-Man’s overall popularity won out over Marvel’s First Family when it came to attracting viewers. However, I’m going to assume this was due to the fact that most people in the late ‘60s probably were restricted to roughly three TV channels, and parents demanded that one of those channels needed to broadcast something to keep the kids quiet so Mom and Dad could chug their martinis in peace in the next room.
Rewind is an Inverse series that remembers the forgotten performances we love.