Nostalgia plays odd tricks on the brain. Sometimes a TV show stands out in your mind as the pinnacle of a character’s non-comic book existence. Sometimes you remember a show being intelligently written and filled to the brim with cameos far and wide, a show that dug deep into the mythology of its character. Spider-Man: The Animated Series is not exactly that show.
Don’t get me wrong, the show adapts freely and liberally from the comics, but it doesn’t always do so successfully. Compared to how interesting and still engaging Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men remain, two shows that shared the same Saturday morning lineup with this one, this iteration of Spider-Man feels weak and anemic in comparison. But what it does right, it does really right.
Chief among the things that the series did right was Christopher Daniel Barnes’ vocal work as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He strikes the right balance between everyday workingman’s blues and sarcastic superhero. The reoccurring guest stars from far and wide in the Marvel universe was also a nice touch, some characters are developed and utilized far more successfully than others, but seeing Spider-Man team up with the likes of Iron Man, Doctor Strange, the X-Men, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and numerous others is a real treat. And it did something that fellow Marvel-related animated series X-Men did around the same time, it created storylines that would take their sweet time to develop, some would go on for only a few episodes, while others would build for the duration of a whole season. Things that would happen in the finale of one season would be one of the major story arcs in the next season.
And now for the negatives….
While many storylines were adapted from the comic books and given full room to breathe and grow in an organic way, others were rushed through and sloppily resolved. Carnage immediately springs to mind, as he is quickly introduced and killed off with quick succession. The same could be said of the team-up storylines – Dr. Strange’s in particular is unbelievably corny and wince-inducing, seemingly slapped together to force in dispirit story ideas.
I normally try to be fairly nice to a Saturday morning cartoon’s animation style, especially if it’s an older show. That kind of rapid pace means that not every episode will be up to standard, and sometimes shortcuts will be necessary. But Spider-Man cuts so many corners and exaggerates so much of the proportions that it begins to look thrown together. Episodes clearly recycle footage with little attention being paid to what the circumstances are; action scenes with the Lizard are the worst offenders as they clearly reuse footage from the series premier – an episode mostly taking place in darkness and in sewer systems.
And the fact that Peter Parker looks even more muscular and gigantic with his shirt off than in uniform is beyond preposterous. This was a common problem with all superhero cartoons in the 90s, bigger meant better for all male characters. Even Dr. Octopus, normally a short and pudgy character, was given a six-pack and biceps as big as his head.
Don’t get me wrong, I still hold a very fond place in my heart for this show, but it’s not the show that I remember it being. I remember a smarter, better drawn, more consistent series. It’s not the worst offense to happen to Spider-Man, but it’s not the definitive adaptation of the material that I had once thought it was.