Retro Marvel TV
Marvel's Not-So-Awful Animation of the 80s

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 27 Aug 2014 16:15
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And this would be the 80s Spider-Man cartoon that more people seem to remember. It's certainly the one I most remember, even though since it and I share the same birth year I almost-certainly must have watched it as re-runs.

If I can pause for a personal aside: I won't pretend that it's the best superhero cartoon or even the best Spider-Man cartoon... but I adore Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends. This show is pretty much my "origin story" as a nerd: It was the first place I ever saw or heard of Spider-Man, and for whatever reason his look and power-set hit a chord with me. I devoured every episode I could get my hands on, watching tape-from-TV episodes until I could quote them verbatim. And since the show was -- more than anything else Marvel had on TV at the time -- positively soaking in Marvel continuity (without exaggeration, basically every episodes features a guest-appearing hero or villain, often in groups) it was my gateway into both comics and the IDEA of continuity and shared-universes in fiction.

Anyway. What's the story here? Pretty basic: Spider-Man (here in Peter Parker: college student mode) forms a superhero trio with a pair of classmates who are also secretly superheroes. In fact, they're both former X-Men: Bobby "Iceman" Drake and Angelica "Firestar" Jones. Amusingly, this was meant to be an all-boys team featuring The Human Torch, but the same rights issues that kept him out of the '78 Fantastic Four also kept him out of this, hence Firestar -- who became popular enough that she was quickly added to the Marvel Universe in the comics. As a kid I was a lot more fond of Firestar than almost any other heroine in my action-cartoon rotation for reasons I didn't fully comprehend until revisiting the series as a teenager, where it was suddenly much more noticeable that her minimalist costume-design essentially rendered her as a nude figure painted yellow.

The show is goofy as all hell, and was still running on 70s cartoon rules about action so there's not nearly as much brawling and scrapping as would become the norm in Transformers or G.I. Joe a few years later. But what it lacks in those areas it makes up for in the sheer volume of (kid-friendly) fan-service wackiness: An Agatha Christie riff with Doctor Strange, Namor, Shanna the She-Devil and Captain America? Swarm, the supervillain made of bees? A meetup with Count Dracula, The Wolfman and Frankenstein's Monster? The first appearances in animation of the modern X-Men? (Twice?) The meta-on-meta spectacle of superheroes attending a superhero themed costume party dressed as other heroes (Iceman as Captain America, Firestar as Spider-Woman) ...except for Spidey, who wears a cheap, ill-fitting store-bought version of his own outfit?

It's also amusing (in retrospect) for some of its stranger plotting: The "Spider-Friends" all live as houseguests of Aunt May in the suburbs, and have managed to conceal an entire Batcave's worth of crime-fighting technology around the place unnoticed, for one thing. For another, the team has a decidedly unconventional (especially for kid's TV) dynamic: They're not so much "friends" as they are a hyper-competitive polyamorous trio that hasn't quite worked out their specific structure -- Peter and Bobby are both constantly bagging on each other for Angelica's attention (like two brothers fighting over mom) and Angelica basically encourages this at every turn.

Oh! And this was also where Aunt May's Lhasa Apso, Ms. Lion, came from -- and who doesn't like Ms. Lion?

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