Retro Marvel TV
The Not-So-Amazing Spider-Man

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 9 Jul 2014 12:00
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amazing spider-man climbing

What I wouldn't know until many years later was that this was a TV movie, and a pilot for a short-lived (and low-rated) TV series, one of Marvel's many failed attempts at another Incredible Hulk-sized network hit. In case you were wondering: Yup, this is the point in the timeline where these revisitations start to get increasingly ever more obscure.

Unlike Hulk, which kept only the basic idea of a guy named Banner morphing into a green ogre when he got mad and rewrote a new mythos of its own from the ground up, this Spider-Man is a largely more faithful retelling of the original comics. The main difference is that Peter Parker is already a twentysomething College student (but because this is 70s TV looks well over thirty as played by actor Nicholas Hammond) working for Jonah Jameson when he's bitten by a radioactive spider and gets his powers. In addition, Aunt May already appears to be a widow (Ben Parker isn't mentioned and doesn't play a role in Spidey's origin).

One thing the movie (and the short-lived series that grew out of it) does have in common with Incredible Hulk is a lack of Marvel supervillains, a disappointment that didn't escape my notice even when sitting in awe of its existence as a kid: I kept waiting for the introductory villain (a crooked self-help guru using radio-waves to mind control people into committing robberies) to transform into Doctor Octopus or somebody, but to no avail.

amazing spider-man webs

Still, if the main thing you wanted to see at the time was a flesh and blood actor doing Spidey-stuff, it basically delivered what could reasonably have been expected -- even if mostly through trick edits: Hammond's Spider-Man shoots a "web" rope skyward, the footage cuts to a different angle of Spidey scaling a building via a significantly stronger-looking cable, repeat. He sprays a volley of silly-string onto his attackers in one shot, and in the next they're all wrapped up in a net. There was even enough money in the stunt budget for some half-hearted but charming web-swings.

The series ultimately ran for only 13 episodes (the pilot movie ran as a theatrical feature overseas), spread across a pair of abortive attempts to launch it. So goes the story, CBS wasn't particularly fond of it as the network owners were getting self-conscious about being "the superhero network" between this, Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman and movies/series already planned for Captain America and Doctor Strange; and Stan Lee was uncharacteristically public about disliking it. Audiences were largely indifferent.

The second two episodes, "The Deadly Dust I & II" were released theatrically and on video as a movie, retitled as Spider-Man Strikes Back; followed by the two-part "Spider-Man visit's China" series finale "The Chinese Web" rechristened as Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge. At this time, most versions are fairly difficult to find for legal sale.

It's not difficult to see why The Amazing Spider-Man didn't take off in the U.S., but what few Western fans didn't realize was that across the ocean a much different Spidey was making a major name for himself on live-action TV... in Japan!

Tune in next week for look at Spidey's exploits across the sea.

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