If you’re like me, you saw the second trailer to “Captain America: Civil War” and you were very shocked and incredibly excited to see Spider-Man appear before the clashing of titans to give us a trademark quip before stealing Captain America’s shield. It’s only a three second clip, but it says a lot about what Marvel is planning to do with the character, and how it promises to be every way superior to Sony’s previous cinematic efforts. The Marvel Cinematic Universe almost feels complete. Now if someone can twist the arm of FOX with “Fantastic Four”… I digress. In either case, the welcome presence of Spidey had me thinking about his animated presence on television and how some studios have gotten him all wrong, while others have gotten him just right. Here are the animated versions of Spider-Man ranked from the absolute worst to the absolute best.
What is your ranking for your Friendly Neighborhood Wallcrawler?
Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)
Originally premiering on MTV and taking off from the success of the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movies, the computer animated Spider-Man series had big aspirations but ended up being such a miserable and often stale show that did nothing but spotlight the faults of the movies. Though Neil Patrick Harris is a fine choice for Peter Parker, the series tried its best to turn Spider-MAn in to a property for an audience in their twenties. It tried to accomplish this task by turning Spider-Man in to a grim and bleak series with almost no entertainment value. To make things worse, the animation often stunk, and the series did a lot of damage by trying to re-invent Spider-Man’s rogues. What was most distracting about the series was that it was explained producers had a hard time animating long hair, so shocking enough every woman on the show either had short hair or their hair in a constant bun or ponytail. It becomes a huge distraction in an otherwise brutally boring spin-off.
Spider-Man Unlimited (1999)
Did they… not have the rights to Spider-Man 2099 or something? Seemingly capitalizing off of the new wave of superheroes, “Spider-Man Unlimited” either came out at the wrong time or was just plainly pointed out as being a riff on “Batman Beyond.” Either way, out of the pair of series from rival companies that premiered at almost the exact same time, “Batman Beyond” ended up being the superior sequel with a brilliant legacy, while “Spider-Man Unlimited” was on TV and just cancelled. It was poorly animated, badly written and turned the flawless Spider-Man costume in to a painfully convoluted and designed mess. Meanwhile to further the silly censorship issues with the original 1994 animated series, this time Peter Parker ends up on an alternate planet fighting animal men, mutants, and robots, because we wouldn’t want to ruin our children by showing Spider-Man punching out actual bad guys. Even at sixteen, I thought “Spider-Man Unlimited” plain stunk, and it’s still one of the character’s costumes to date.
As much as I loved the FOX series as a kid, “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” has aged terribly, and the more the years pass, the worse it’s become. “Spider-Man” garners some of the worst animation of any of the Spider-Man iterations, with some of the stiffest animation ever conceived. With a character like Spider-Man you need fluid motion and sleek designs and the series offered none. To make matters worse while the series garners some entertaining and emotional angst courtesy of Peter’s increasingly difficult life, the show never really feels exciting or suspenseful and that’s thanks to FOX’s strict enforcing of censorship on the series.
I can kind of understand not allowing actual guns to be shown or fired, I can also kind of compromise with no mention of murder or death, but FOX became absolutely ridiculous by not allowing Spider-Man or any character to throw a single punch, and forbidding Spider-Man to disturb pigeons when landing on buildings. Through the strict censorship a lot of edgy characters suffered from the Punisher, and Blade, right down to Morbius the living vampire who craved “plasma” and sucked life force from people through squid like suckers from the palms of his hands. The show becomes increasingly worse as it progresses and puts the final nail in the coffin when Spider-Man travels through an alternate reality and meets Stan Lee, acknowledging he’s a fictional character.
Ultimate Spider-Man (2012)
Yes, I admit that I really enjoyed this series in its original first season. It brought us Power Man and Iron Fist, and a slew of underrated superheroes fighting alongside Spider-Man, but dear god did the show sink in to repetition so quickly once the second season reared its head. Every episode revolved around the venom symbiote breaking loose, Doctor Octopus breaking loose, and Peter Parker eventually switching bodies with another Marvel character. It’s bad enough the whole gimmick of body switching is cheesy, but he switches bodies with Hulk, Wolverine, and even Loki. I give “Ultimate Spider-Man” a lot of credit for bringing a lot of underrated characters to animated form, including the heroes for hire, Nova, White Tiger, and Miles Morales, but the show got really old, really quickly, and I just stopped watching. There’s only so many times a villain can infilrate the allegedly top secret high security facility known as SHIELD before you just throw your hands up and call it quits.
Listen bud, he’s got radioactive blood. This series gets a lot of credit for making Spider-Man instantly recognizable thanks to the admirable attempt at an animated adventure series with Spider-Man at the center. Its kick ass theme song reflects the series’ generally wonky tone and atmosphere, both of which has paved it as a genuine classic of Marvel Animation, and has also helped it regain legendary status by becoming one of the funniest internet memes of all time. “Spider-Man” is still a wonky and surreal animated series perfectly reflective of the time period it was conceived. The animation is stiff but the scenery and villains are often very surreal and psycadelic, almost in the realm of Warhol. Plus once Ralph Bakshi begins handling the show with his signature animation, the show really goes in to trippy territory. Here comes the Spider-Man! IN COLOR!
This aired around the same time as “His Amazing Friends” and is often considered the lesser of the pair of eighties “Spider-Man” animated series. That’s not fair considering “Spider-Man” gets the job done as a simple, and straight forward look at Spider-Man fighting crime and dealing the bad guys punches, butt kickings, and funny quips. Other “Spider-Man” series relied on a gimmick, however minute, but this series doesn’t really seem to offer anything but Spider-Man. That’s probably why it’s not a cult gag like the 1967 version, or a game changer like “His Amazing Friends.” The innocuous but entertaining series centers on our friendly neighborhood wallcrawler, who stops bad guys like Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin, all while trying to get term papers in to class. I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a fun and simple animated series completely overshadowed by its more dynamic and action packed sibling starring Iceman and Firestar.
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981)
This series took the Spider-man mythos to a goofy level, but I kind of love how they integrated a lot of new elements. I’m not a fan of the spunky dog that aides our heroes, but Spider-Man at least teams up with underrated X-Man Bobby Drake, and original character Firestar, who is quite and entertaining creation all things considered. She’s not just an obligatory female added to create a female dynamic. She’s a fun and well realized superheroine who has her own adventures. “His Amazing Friends” really manages to entertain with the trio of Spider-Man heroes battling all kinds of foes, while Marvel’s heroic and baddies occasionally intervene to make things interesting for our heroes. There’s even a few appearances from the X-Men in one of their first animated appearances, ever. There are also some fun appearances by Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, as well as some of the most iconic Spider-Man rogues of the period. It takes the Spider-Man lore to a fun and admirably silly level I still quite love.
The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008)
Where do I begin? Sure, the 1994 series has the superior theme song, but “The Spectacular Spider-Man” trumps the Saban series in every way, shape and form. There’s diversity, intelligent storylines, brilliant arcs, wonderful voice performances, a unique animation style, and a sense of originality instilled in this new version. Based around the classic and Ultimate universe, Spider-Man is the hero we’ve come to know and love, except he’s just so much more complex and interesting this time around. “The Spectacular Spider-Man” was a victim of the writer’s strike, causing a huge stall in production. By that time, Disney had begun their Marvel Cinematic Universe, thus the show was cancelled in favor of the shallower and louder “Ultimate Spider-Man.”
That’s a shame, since this iteration is easily the best animated Spider-Man series of all time. It’s fun, exciting, and emotionally complex, not to mention rethinks a lot of characters, including Gwen Stacey as a geeky but lovable friend to Peter, and turns Mary Jane in to more of a side character who gradually progresses in to a love interest for Peter. And I mean gradually. It’s a crime “The Spectacular Spider-Man” had such a short run, as it is the definitive animated take on the character acknowledging its audience’s intellect by making the series complex, while also embracing teen melodrama with great restraint. I really hope people seek this out on physical media or onine form, as it’s such a wonderful iteration of the Wallcrawer.