?Originally airing from 1981 to 1983, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends ran for three seasons — the second of which only consisted of origin stories for the main characters — before getting canceled. Thanks to endless reruns and syndication, it seems like there were many more than the 24 episodes that were actually produced. In case you somehow missed out on the magic, let me bring you up to speed. The series teamed up everyone’s favorite wall crawler with Iceman, one of the original X-Men, and Firestar, a new mutant who was created for the series. Living together with Peter Parker’s Aunt May and the puntworthy canine Ms. Lion, the so-called Spider-Friends battled a rogue’s gallery of Marvel Comics villains along with some interesting original foes.
Not as fondly remembered as Spidey’s trippy 1960s toon or as forgotten as the Web-head’s 1981 solo cartoon, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends is a series that remains irrevocably linked with 1980s nostalgia. This is hardly a bad thing. When viewed through 2011 eyes, it offers up fun, if lightweight, storytelling that serves as gateway drug to the animated wonders of the Marvel Universe. Although the series is available on DVD in Canada and the UK, there has yet to be an official U.S. release. Bootlegs are readily available online, but given the various edits of the episodes that have been released over the years (including ones with and without the narration from Stan Lee that enhances the enjoyment of the show) there’s no guarantee that you’ll be getting the show as you remember it if you obtain it through illicit channels. So until the glorious day when a non-copyright infringing DVD set hits American shores, let’s reflect upon the best and worst episodes that the program had to offer. Spider-Friends, go for it!
5) Triumph of the Green Goblin
The series made its debut with this thrilling episode in which the Spider-Friends fought the Green Goblin. As can be expected, legends were made and heroes were born in the ensuing battle, which, for reasons best left unexamined, had Norman Osborne physically transforming into Gobby instead of wearing a uniform as usual. Such a liberty-taking change to established character lore is easily forgiven because this episode also includes a superhero costume party sequence that is arguably the high point of the entire series. Ever wanted to see The Thing bust a move along of Medusa? You’re in luck. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends had a ridiculous amount of party scenes during its short run (the less said about the astrology party featured in “Spidey Meets the Girl of Tomorrow” the better) and none came close to matching the joy of seeing ESU students strutting around a dance floor dressed as Marvel Comics characters. Much more than just the first episode of a cartoon classic, “Triumph of the Green Goblin” is a testament to corporate synergy.
4) The Origin of Iceman
Nearly 30 years after Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends has left the airwaves, the show is primarily remembered for unleashing two new characters upon the pop culture landscape: Ms. Lion and Videoman. The former is Angelica Jones’ dog who serves as “comic” relief a la Orko, Snarf and that mentally impaired redneck canine that Scooby-Doo hung out with that one season. Clearly, I won’t be singing Ms. Lion’s praises here, even though her action figure sits not ten feet from where I type these very words (shameful, I know). Instead I choose to focus on Videoman, the 8-bit wunderkind who stole my heart. Initially featured in a first season episode as a creation of Electro’s, Videoman proved so popular that he was brought back two more times. We will get to his third and final appearance on the flip side of this list, but for now let us celebrate how “The Origin of Iceman” marked the apex of Videoman’s badassery. Donald F. Glut — who also wrote the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back — scripted a brilliant episode that clues viewers in on how Bobby Drake became Iceman. When his mutant powers begin to fail, Iceman gets hooked up to a memory probe with hopes of finding an explanation of what is happening to him and why. By using this plot device, Glut neatly circumvents the information dump problems that typically plague origin episodes. We still find out how Drake became Iceman, but it seems a bit more organic than just having the character talk to Spidey and Firestar about his past. Meanwhile, an equally awesome B-plot has Videoman now working independently to drain all the electricity from the city. To complete his plans, he decides to abduct J. Jonah Jameson and place him inside a Videoman arcade game. Of course, there’s no good reason for this to happen other than to entertain audiences with some classic JJJ bitching and to pay homage to Tron, but it hardly matters. Ultimately, Videoman was destroyed — first by the Spider-Friends then by the show’s production staff –but he still lives on in the hearts of children of the 1980s. Or at least this one.
3) Spidey Goes Hollywood
To sum up, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films never featured a shark attack, a giant monkey battle or a fight with the Incredible Hulk. They did however include Macy Gray, a Green Goblin costume straight out of Starkid and a building-sized Sandman who’s a doppelganger for Belial in Basket Case. It seems to me that the Spidey flick featured in this meta-tastic episode knows what comic book audiences truly want. Marc Webb, take note.
2) Quest of the Red Skull
If you watch the above video and it seems unfamiliar to you, that’s no surprise. “Quest for the Red Skull” is the closest thing that Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends ever had to a controversial episode. In the adventure, an Indiana Jones-styled professor named Hiawatha Smith enlists the help to Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar to stop the Red Skull from finding a hidden cache of Nazi weapons. Featuring a swastika monolith, a cartoon F?hrer, characters Sieg-Heiling and the Red Skull declaring his desire to become “the next Hitler” and bring about World War III as plot elements, the episode isn’t exactly appropriate for toddlers looking to see Spidey catching thieves just like flies. Although it was pulled from syndication, thanks to the wonders of YouTube viewers can once again enjoy the solid storytelling and adult subject matter the installment has to offer.
1) The Origin of the Spider Friends
Having previously told us about what makes Iceman tick, Donald F. Glut went on to illustrate exactly how and why Spidey, Iceman and Firestar decided to become a team in this third-season installment. As the episode indicates, they had more than a little help from Tony Stark (which makes you wonder if they were ever nervous about him getting sauced and spilling the beans on their whole operation). The best part of this is the reveal that the ongoing cock-blockery between Peter Parker and Bobby Drake over Angelica Jones’ affections featured throughout the series’ run goes back to their very first meeting. Did they ever just say fuck it and have a superhot superhero m?nage-a-trois? This is but one of the countless unanswered questions the premature cancellation of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends left us with.
Hit the jump for the significantly less amazing episodes of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.
5) Mission: Save the Guardstar
One of the most annoying games of childhood is when someone makes you look at your shirt and then puts their finger in your face to ridicule you because there was nothing to see. This episode pulls the same kind of bullshit fake-out nonsense. After an elaborate setup involving a rogue mutant — but not Rogue, the mutant — and S.H.I.E.L.D., a Nick Fury cameo seemed certain. Instead, audiences were forced to watch some shitty S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Buzz Mason — wasn’t he also a writer for G.I. Joe? — manipulate Iceman’s heretofore unmentioned mutant half-sister Lightwave into doing his bidding. Speaking of Lightwave, she spends the episode alternating between bitchy and cunty before Spider-Man gives her some half-assed pep talk about how she truly loves her brother and she almost resembles a sympathetic character for a minute before the closing credits roll. You’ll notice I haven’t said too much about the plot here. That’s because there isn’t one so much as there are scenes that begin, ramble on for a bit, then end (we’re talking latter-era George Lucas storytelling techniques here). Yes there’s some ranting about a satellite called the Guardstar and how it must be protected and blah blah, but really you’ll still be too busy waiting for Nick Fury to show up to save the day to care. 28-year-old spoiler alert: He doesn’t. Fury isn’t even mentioned actually, and Buzz Mason is the jerk responsible for all the shit that almost goes down here. If you still are bothered by Mason’s actions and how they cast a bad light upon S.H.I.E.L.D., think of him as an early Skrull infiltrator. Or just go back and watch the episode where Spidey gets chased by Pac-Man again and forget all about this one.
4) Seven Little Superheroes
In this installment, the Chameleon sets a trap for Spider-Man, Iceman, Firestar, Captain America, Sub-Mariner and, um, Shanna the She-Devil by having them gather on a remote island so that he can use his abilities to impersonate and destroy each of the heroes. Due to an unexpected plot development in which Aunt May suddenly has more to do in life then get caught going into pawn shops by Peter, the Spider-Friends are forced to bring Ms. Lion along to. Before you can say “dog ex machina,” the canine saves the day by constantly sniffing out the Chameleon’s true identity — validating every criticism ever leveled at the character along the way. But there are more annoying things going on here than plucky dogs. My main problem is how the episode makes a point to gather together a group of Marvel A-listers and proceed to give them nothing to do but suffer a bit, whine and disappear (the Sub-Mariner comes off especially bad). As “The X-Men Adventure” proves, the series would get better at handling multiple characters. Not that it makes this pile of Ms. Lion droppings any less pungent. And Shanna? Really? What, was Dazzler too busy? Sheesh.
3) The Fantastic Mr. Frump
At one point in this episode, Spider-Man and Firestar are discussing how important it is to keep a magical amulet away from Dr. Doom when Iceman asks “we don’t want Doom having his morning eggs?” Such is the level of comedy on display in “The Fantastic Mr. Frump.” The titular Frump is a schmucky Debbie Downer type who keeps getting fired from various odd jobs. When Doctor Doom — who for some wonderful reason sounds exactly like the Loc Nar from Heavy Metal — drops the aforementioned amulet, it falls into the possession of Mr. Frump. At first, the ne’er-do-well does sensible things with the object’s unlimited power like make hot dogs appear from nowhere. But then he is tricked by Doom and all hell breaks loose. Before you know it, the Spider-Friends are fighting popped-into-existence enemies like Genghis Khan and Cerberus. Fortunately for them, Mr. Frump is almost as imbecilic as Iceman and he is soon defeated. Because the amulet is destroyed, the pals have all memories of their adventure erased. Audiences aren’t so lucky. An interesting point that is brought up and never elaborated on is how Frump once worked for Aunt May. The reasons as to why he left her employ are never stated, but given how he conjured up a cat and called it his soulmate, I’m pretty convinced he got the boot for trying something with Ms. Lion’s ass.
2) The Education of a Superhero
By the title, you would think this episode would be some To Sir, With Love-styled shit in which Firestar teaches a strapping young hero the, um, ins and outs of costumed crimefighting. No dice. The epitome of how a show can have contempt for its audience, “The Education of a Superhero” reintroduces Videoman as the heroic alter-ego of nerdy nebbish Francis Byte. When the villainous Gamesman begins using TV and arcade game screens to control the minds of New Yorkers, a mishap gives Byte the ability to transform into Videoman at will. Because his powers are so new to him, he causes problems for the Spider-Friends as they battle the Gamesman…and a truly inane script. At the end of the episode, the X-Men show up to take him to Professor X’s school and help him learn about his abilities. *cough* backdoor pilot *cough*. This televised injustice aired during the series’ third season, and by this time Videoman already had a substantial following (at least he did on my schoolyard). It’s perfectly understandable that Marvel would try to milk the character for all that he was worth, but what is baffling is why they chose in this episode to pretend that Videoman never appeared before. If the plan was in fact to have Videoman studying with Professor X et al, then why didn’t he appear in “The X-Men Adventure” which aired later in the season? And most of all, why am I pushing 40 and still so bothered by shit like this?
1) The Transylvanian Connection
Retitled “The Bride of Dracula!” for syndication, “The Transylvanian Connection” is a stinker by any name. The episode begins with Bobby, Peter and Angelica at yet another dance. What begins as a typical episode soon takes a detour in Batshitcrazyville when it is revealed that Count Dracula is shaking his groove thang alongside of Flash Thompson and the gang. It turns out that the Count has been traveling the world looking for the woman of his dreams who, fortuitously enough, turns out to be Angelica. After giving her the vampire equivalent of Rohypnol with his crazy mesma-stare, the new couple jets off to Transylvania (with the Wolf Man piloting, natch). Spidey and Iceman temporarily put aside their eternal dick-measuring so that they can stow aboard another plane. Once they get on the ground, the pair discovers that Dracula has taken Angelica/Firestar as his bride and they will “rule the universe as husband and wife”–as if the Martians wound stand for such shenanigans. Fighting ensues, including a battle with a robot Frankenstein who seemingly shops at Urban Outfitters and the previously mentioned Wolf Man whose name we find out is really “Wolf Thing.” My head hurts. In order to save the day, Spider-Man must get Firestar to break Drac’s curse by remembering her former life. He does this by repeating “Aunt May,” and “Miss Lion” repeatedly. This dubious course of action results in the following visual:
?Have fun sleeping tonight with that image in your head. After the increasingly Rain Man-esque Iceman decries “no more Mr. Nice Guy, now it’s Mr. Ice Guy” to no one in particular, Firestar makes Drac and the rest of her supernatural foes into normal people again. Huh? Then the Spider-Friends return to New York City…where the dance from the start of the episode is STILL GOING ON. So what have we learned here? Other than the fact that ESU is greatest party school in the nation, not a goddamned thing.