I have always been a fan of Marvel Comics, ever since I was a little boy. So, the sad news of Stan Lee’s recent passing made me think about how I first became so hooked on the stories of his most seminal characters. Chief among them for me, and many other young Marvel fans, was Spider-Man. I think any comic book fan could see, or wanted to see, a bit of themselves in Peter Parker. He is a young, geeky guy who always strives to do the right thing, and of course tell a joke or two whilst he’s at it, just as Stan Lee meant to write him.
However, like many fans born in the late nineties, we didn’t first encounter Spider-Man through the comics as our predecessors had done, or through the MCU films as young people today will. We first met Peter Parker on our small screens, primarily in the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon series. I, for one, remember racing downstairs with my brother on many Saturday mornings to watch the reruns of the show that had finished in 1998, the year I had been born.
This allowed children who would never have been able to access those comics, especially in the rural UK where I lived
Spider-Man: The Animated Series was unique in that its episodes were often either directly or loosely based on specific runs of the Spidey comics. This allowed children who would never have been able to access those comics, especially in the rural UK where I lived at a time where the internet was still in its toddler stage, to see pivotal wall-crawler stories. Plots such as ‘Til Death Do Us Part!’ from Web of Spider-Man #1 (where Spider-Man rids himself of the symbiote that would eventually become his archnemesis, and sometimes ally, Venom) and ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died’/ ‘The Goblin’s Last Stand!’ from The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (a pivotal moment in the evolution of Peter Parker as a character) were made available to a new generation of children across the globe.
I will probably never forget the tune of the program’s incredibly nineties theme. It perfectly and succinctly illustrated the origins of the web-head, an origin which is now known to nearly every person in the western world. However, it was not only the origin of Spidey himself that the show presented to children. Spider-Man has possibly the greatest rogue’s gallery in comics, if you don’t include Batman’s, and the show made a point of showing you as many of the web-slinger’s villains as possible. The origins of big-name villains like the Lizard (Season 1 Episode 1 being based on The Amazing Spider-Man #6) and Doctor Octopus (Season 1 Episode 4 being based on The Amazing Spider-Man #3) are revealed to the viewer, but the program also makes time for lesser known villains like Tombstone, Hydro-Man, or the Spider-Slayer.
I heartily recommend that any fan of Stan Lee’s work who is feeling down in the wake of his death should go out and try to watch a few episodes of this fantastic show
Along with this, the show could be seen as the precursor to the MCU, it being the first example of a widely popular cross-over universe of Marvel characters. The X-Men of the equally popular X-Men: The Animated Series (running from 1992-1997) make an appearance in a two-part episode in Season 2, as well as appearances from Dr Strange, the Fantastic Four and many of the Avengers throughout the show’s run. If anything, this is even more accomplished than the MCU, which for rights-based reasons, has yet to include the Fantastic Four or the X-men.
Ultimately, I heartily recommend that any fan of Stan Lee’s work who is feeling down in the wake of his death should go out and try to watch a few episodes of this fantastic show. Even if the animation and voice acting has aged in the last couple of decades, the program is a testament to the man who brought Spider-Man into the world. The cartoon meant that, today, Spidey isn’t just Queens’ friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, but the world’s.