It’s the 50th anniversary!
Batman may be my favorite superhero but if push came to shove, I think I’d have to say that the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon is my favorite animated series of all time.
Not the best, mind you. That honor would go to Justice League Unlimited. But no show, not even Filmation Batman, presses my nostalgia buttons quite like the often slipshod, sometimes maddening Spidey cartoons produced by Grantray-Lawrence and Krantz Films from 1967 to 1970.
Spider-Man premiered on ABC-TV on Sept. 9, 1967 — so the show is celebrating its 50th anniversary. My initial inclination was to post a Top 13 episodes list but as I started putting one together, I realized it wasn’t something I was capable of doing. Part of the reason, as I’ll explain further below, is that there are episodes I haven’t seen in years or perhaps ever, and I wasn’t really eager to binge-watch them. But more importantly, the overall experience of watching the show for me supersedes any specific installment, though I definitely have my favorites.
It’s that experience that I want to celebrate here with 13 GREAT THINGS ABOUT THE 1967 SPIDER-MAN CARTOON:
1. To this day, Spider-Man ’67 is my prime Spider-Man, my favorite above all others, whether it be movies, comics, you name it. I know this makes me weird but it happens to be the case so I can’t apologize for it. Much of that has to do with it being my first Spidey and the one that most influenced my love of him when I was a kid. (I had more Spider-Man toys than any hero save Batman.)
I only had a relatively small stack of Spider-Man comics (circa 1973-4 or so) but the cartoon was one of those things I lived for.
2. I used to watch it on Channel 5 after school in New York but it often proved elusive: In those pre-VCR days, sometimes it would air in that half-hour before school ended so I’d just miss it, to my frustration. (Though “sick” days came in handy!) Other times it was off the schedule completely and I’d have to try to find it on a UHF station and squint through the snow, catching only the ghostly image of Spidey swinging through the city. Other than Bugs Bunny, no other cartoon loomed as large for me, for as many years as Spider-Man did.
3. That theme song is great, sure. But you know what’s better? The incidental music, which is TREMENDOUS. Across all the seasons, it’s a mix of snippets by a bunch of composers, including Ray Ellis, Syd Dale, Kenny Graham, David Lindup, Alan Hawkshaw, Johnny Hawksworth, Johnny Pearson and I’m guessing others. Many of the cuts were engineered for generic TV use. Sadly, there’s no soundtrack available but I’ve been able to make my own extensive playlist by hunting around the web. (Google it.) A good number of the tracks can be found on iTunes if you search the KPM music library. This video is a wonderful collection:
4. Overall, I prefer the lighter, earlier episodes featuring Spidey’s comic-book villains. They’re closer to the source material, obviously, with a number of them based on the comics, as I found out years after I first watched them. I’m also of the mind that their shorter run times really help these episodes move.
5. Because, my lord did they pad episodes with Spidey swinging … and swinging … and swinging … and sometimes even more swinging. So many of those snippets are awesome. But, y’know, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing…
6. That said, I think my favorite episode is Menace From the Bottom of the World, one of the Season 2 episodes that bear little resemblance to the “real” Spider-Man. Manhattan buildings have been dropping out of sight and Spidey investigates. He enters a subterranean world of hungry, flying creatures; acid-trip caves; and a cubist compound populated by blue giants and loose-limbed ape people. Turns out, said ape people are being duped by a human disguised as one of them. He’s finally unmasked as an average crook. For reasons that go unremarked upon, he has green skin. The episode zips from exciting to creepy to hilarious and it’s all aided by the, ahem, note-perfect musical cue choices and psychedelic color palette.
7. Speaking of strange bits of character “casting,” why did Mysterio look like Mr. Spock when he tooks his helmet off in Season 1’s awesome The Menace of Mysterio?
8. Of all the Season 1 villain episodes, I think I dig Where Crawls the Lizard the most, though anything with Green Goblin and Electro are in there too. And of course the multi-villain extravaganza To Catch a Spider is fantastic. I also dig The Spider and the Fly. Love the outfits on the twins.
9. You should check out J.J. Sedelmaier’s piece on where Spidey’s animation fits into cartoon history. (Click here.) Of course, the most famous animator to work on the show was Ralph Bakshi, who’s chiefly credited with bringing that ominously offbeat feel to the show after Season 1. The Origin of Spider-Man, the first Season 2 episode, acts as a sort of reboot of the series. It’s a note-for-note adaptation of the most recent comics version. But there’s more to it, because Bakshi and co. utilize that signature unsettling style.
10. Which leads us to the infamous Revolt in the Fifth Dimension, the Spidey cartoon so unhinged that ABC wouldn’t run it. I’m guessing you know how the episode was basically a repurposed Rocket Robin Hood episode with Spider-Man dropped into it. Well, it definitely lives up to its bizarre reputation — and I really dig it. But I think I Phantom From the Depths of Time was even more discomforting, with its gigantic robot beetles. Come to think of it, that was also a Rocket Robin Ripoff. Hmm, maybe I oughta track down that series. I’ve never seen it.
11. When I read a Batman comic from the ’60s, I hear Olan Soule’s voice. When I read a Batman comic now, I hear a combination of Kevin Conroy, Christian Bale and, well, myself. When I read a Spider-Man comic, it’s Paul Soles all the way. And as much as I love J.K. Simmons, nobody has done J. Jonah Jameson’s voice better than Paul Kligman.
12. I missed Peter’s personal life on this show. We got the Bugle all the time and we’d see Pete at school or with friends, but I really would have loved for Gwen, M.J. (especially) and Harry to be recurring characters. We got some Aunt May — just enough for my liking.
13. Can someone please give me a rational explanation for why I sit here, writing this on the show’s 50th anniversary, that there’s no commemorative Blu-ray set? This show, which remains so memorable that filmmakers still use its theme in the movies, deserves that comprehensive treatment. Still, I’m awfully glad I grabbed the DVD set when I had the chance in 2004. It’s great not having to rely on those Channel 5 programmers anymore. Because getting to watch Spider-Man whenever I want is one of those 21st century joys that take me back to the 20th.