Spider-Man (1981) 1 season, 26 episodes.
There were two Spider-Man cartoons that hit the airwaves in 1981. This is the other one.
The one everyone remembers is SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS. SPIDER-MAN was released alongside AMAZING FRIENDS and while the look is the same, and while the two series appear to be taking place in the same universe (minus a discrepancy in the depictions of Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and a change in Peter Parker’s voice), it’s the cartoon with Iceman, Firestar, and Ms. Lion that people tend to wax nostalgic about.
I’ll get to that cartoon in time, but for now, it’s the plainly titled SPIDER-MAN.
It’s plainly titled and plainly executed but there’s a lot to like about SPIDER-MAN. We’re hanging with a college-aged Peter Parker who still lives upstairs at Aunt May’s house. He attends college, but he’s perpetually not doing his homework or missing class because of his wall-crawling activities. He takes photographs of Spider-Man for The Daily Bugle to earn some cash, and he spends his time at the Bugle both disappointing Betty Brant by continuously standing her up on dates and disappointing J. Jonah Jameson by continuously taking great photos of Spider-Man.
It’s a totally-recognizable World of Spider-Man here. The only thing really unexpected is the inclusion of Mortimer, J. Jonah Jameson’s whiny, semi-incompetent nephew, who I’m guessing has been included to give Peter some kind of personal victories instead of saving them all for Spidey.
The best way for me to describe SPIDER-MAN is to think of it as a random back-issue from the late ’70s, done by fill-in artists. These are largely stand-alone adventures and largely formulaic but the producers do a good job of rotating through formulaic elements instead of jamming them all into every episode. You know Peter is going to have trouble doing his schoolwork, but the show doesn’t give it to you every episode. You know Aunt May is going to be both super-concerned for Peter and disapproving of Spider-Man, but we don’t see it every episode. You know there’s going to be a villain, but we don’t see the same rotation of villains.
The single best thing about SPIDER-MAN is the variety of guest stars. We don’t just get the Lizard and Mysterio, we get Magneto and Doctor Doom. In fact, Doctor Doom is something akin to the house villain for SPIDER-MAN, appearing six times in a connected set of stories. It’s pretty unique and awesome that amidst all these stand-alone episodes they would string together six Doctor Doom stories in a connected plot that sees him trying to gain control of the United Nations, as the lower Latverian classes plot revolt.
It’s a shame that the plot is so lame but it’s a nice attempt. (Doctor Doom takes over the United Nations? Er … he does understand how the UN works, right? Well, apparently not.) It’s also great to see Spider-Man get caught up in a Red Skull/Captain America story, and get involved in a Ka-Zar/Kraven story. We get to see the Wizard and Medusa, the Circus of Crime, the Black Cat, Sandman, Doctor Octopus, and the guest-star highlight of the series sees the Kingpin dumping chemicals into the ocean, which ends up getting Namorita sick, so Namor brings her to a hospital where she’s put into the care of … Dr. Donald Blake! Namor then flips his gourd and goes on a rampage, forcing Spider-Man to try and stop him.
Thor never shows up, either, so it’s literally a cameo by Don Blake! You can tell that the people involved with this series liked the comics when you get a Don Blake cameo without Thor attached to him.
Namor ends up passing out during his “war on humanity’s pollution” and Spidey saves him. As thanks, Namor says, “Thank you for saving my life, but now I’ve got to resume my war on your pollution.”
Which, you know, is why there were fighting in the first place.
Spidey convinces him to convince people of influence instead, so Namor goes and kidnaps Jameson, flying him above the city to show him all the pollution. In the process, they spot the Kingpin, Hammerhead, and Silvermane dumping Spider-Man into the ocean so Namor hangs JJ on a flagpole high over the city, goes after the bad guys, and completely forgets about him.
When Namor goes after the crime bosses, Silvermane asks him, “You you know who I am?”
“You. Are. Scum.”
Darn right, Namor. Darn right.
SPIDER-MAN isn’t one of the greatest cartoons ever made, but it is a really enjoyable throwback cartoon. If you’ve got a hankering for some pre-Everything Got Complicated Spider-Man, this 1981 series should hit the spot.