The 60s Spider-Man cartoon was the kiddy equivalent of crack cocaine, guaranteed to hook young viewers as soon as they got their first taste. There’s something about the dazzling colors, catchy music and easy-to-follow storylines that make you crave more.
Thirty years later, a reincarnation of the cartoon had to be pushed to more savvy children with more distractions (video games, niche channels) and shorter attention spans. Compared to the more innocent, gentler gateway drug that was the Spidey of the 60s, this was crystal meth.
Amazingly, the 90s series successfully stays true to its comic book progenitor while ramping up its narrative pace for Generation Y. Events happen with the rapidity of a movie trailer, barely pausing for breath. Introspective moments occur only when Spider-Man is swinging through Manhattan, expressing his feelings via voice-over. Characters are developed through flashbacks. Emotional moments are described by the heroes rather than felt by the viewers.
The intense pace allows room for various Marvel personalities to pop up. New York is visited by Kraven the Hunter, Nick Fury, Morbius the living vampire and Blade. Big Apple residents like the Kingpin, the Vulture and the Scorpion also make appearances. Regular supporting characters such as J. Jonah Jameson, Flash Thompson and Aunt May are present but never overused.
As the series opens, Mary Jane has disappeared and the Green Goblin has been sucked through a portal into another dimension. With MJ out of the way, Spider-Man finds himself falling in love with the mysterious Black Cat, a super-powered heroine who is forced to commit crimes by the Kingpin. The air of mystery is quashed from the get-go when we’re told that the Black Cat is Felicia Hardy, a beautiful young heiress who has featured in the cartoon since season one.
Felicia had a thing for Morbius back in his pre-vamp days, so when he tracks his undead mother out of NY Felicia is impelled to follow. Spider-Man’s love is left unrequited, but it’s probably for the best – Mary Jane comes back on the scene, completely unaware of where she’s been since the end of season three. One episode later, Peter Parker considers telling her his secret identity.
Peter’s fickle longings aside, this season is a fun way for younger viewers to see the likes of the Punisher, Shocker and Mysterio in action. They’ll also enjoy the primitive examples of CGI in Manhattan’s concrete canyons, which give some scenes a videogame feel. Since guns and blood are a no-no on Saturday mornings, they’re replaced by lasers and plasma.
For older fans of the comics, this will seem more like a jumbled, diluted run-down of some of Spidey’s greatest hits. For example, the Black Cat saga took months to develop in print but it’s rushed through in a few episodes here. Similarly, Harry Osborn’s identity as a new Green Goblin is uncovered in the space of twenty minutes – and even then, we know the truth long before Spidey does. So instead of getting into an adventure with the hero, we’re always one step ahead of him – useful for any dimwitted kids who are watching, but a chore for the rest of us.
However, the cartoon’s still entertaining to watch, the theme tune is almost as catchy as the original and there are some notable vocal cameos from TV stalwarts like David Warner, Nichelle Nichols and Edward “Lou Grant” Asner as JJJ.
These DVDs contain all eleven episodes of the fourth season.
New Spider-Man Volume 4 is out now.