Monday, August 1, 2011
Marvel Flashback: Syndicated Spider-Man Cartoon, 1981-1982
If you grew up in the 1980s like I did, it's safe to assume that you heard about Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, a cartoon that aired on NBC on Saturday mornings from 1981 to 1983. However, it's not safe to assume that the same people have heard of the syndicated Spider-Man cartoon that ran on weekdays from 1981 to 1982. I know I sure didn't.
I normally wouldn't do a post about a little-known superhero cartoon, except to say that I regard it as a personal discovery. That's one of the joys of being a horror/sci-fi geek: finding the little oddities and obscurities in the genres that you love so much, even when you think that you know all that there is to know about your sources of obsessive geekery. It's kind of like finding out that Larry Hagman himself directed Beware! The Blob (a.k.a. Son of the Blob), the one and only sequel to The Blob, or that Kenner goofed up some of the action figures in its Star Wars toy line. Read on to learn more about this little-known slice of animated web-slinging history.
I didn't know that a syndicated Spider-Man show existed in the early 80s until one of our local syndicated TV stations started re-running both Spider-Man and Spider-Woman cartoons as part of a single package in 1985. The episodes would air during the early afternoon when I was still in school and my family didn't have a VCR yet, so I couldn't watch them on a regular basis. In fact, I didn't even know they were on the air until I ran into an episode of Spider-Man while I was flipping through the channels during one of the school holidays.
What baffled me about the syndicated Spider-Man is that it was nearly identical to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. The backgrounds and character designs were the same, the background music was the same, and the voice talent was the same. The only major difference was in the actor who provided the voice of Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Ted Schwartz provided the voice in Spider-Man, while Dan Gilvezan provided the voice in Amazing Friends. Thus, I was very confused when I saw the syndicated Spider-Man for the first time. I had seen every episode of Amazing Friends, so I couldn't figure out how I missed the Spider-Man adventure I was seeing that looked and sounded so much like an Amazing Friends episode.
Obviously, Marvel contracted with the same company for both of the Spider-Man and Amazing Friends cartoons. I'm guessing that the folks at Marvel who supported these productions thought that by having both cartoons on at the same time, budding Spider-Man fans could have six days worth of web-filled action, Monday through Saturday. However, limited distribution on syndication curtailed the number of kids who saw the stand-alone Spider-Man cartoon, leaving only Amazing Friends on NBC to introduce young viewers to wonderful world of Marvel Comics. Curiously, while Spider-Man only lasted for one season and Amazing Friends lasted for three, Spider-Man had 26 episodes and Amazing Friends had 24.
I've tried to piece together the exact relationship between Spider-Man and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, but I haven't been able to dig up many solid details regarding who was responsible for both shows. Wikipedia does mention this interesting tidbit in their page for the syndicated 80s Spider-Man:
"Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was originally believed to be something of a sequel to this solo Spider-Man animated series, although this has since been disputed since both series were originally first aired at the same time on September 12, 1981. The two series are connected in the latter's third-season episode “Origin of the Spider-Friends.” ... The animation to both incarnations and its soundtrack are completely identical, although the voicing actors are different. ... The third season Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends episode “Attack of the Arachnoid” borrows the majority of its plot from “The Web of Nephilia” from this (syndicated) series. ... In the episode "The Prison Plot" of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, there is a flashback sequence that depicts a scene from "When Magneto Speaks...People Listen", confirming the sequel theory."
According to the 1981 Solo Spider-Man Cartoon Webpage: "Designed to follow on from the 1967 Spider-Man show in syndication, and featuring the same cast of regular characters, the (1981) show chronicles the adventures of Peter Parker as Spider-Man during his college years. His responsibility to be Spider-man causes problems with his work, his studies, and his romantic involvement with Betty Brant. Other characters included Peter's Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson-editor of the Daily Bugle."
Judging from the two descriptions I found, I guess you could say that the 1967 Spider-Man, the 1981 Spider-Man, and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends are an animated trilogy of Spider-Man adventures.
Thankfully, you can still watch episodes of the 1981 Spider-Man cartoon and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends on YouTube. These cartoons may not be as good as the superhero cartoons of today, but they serve as great examples what the cartoons were like in a time when superheroes weren't as popular as they are now.