SPIDER-MAN's Amazing(ly Bizarre) Media History, Part 1

Newsarama readers might possibly be aware that hit theaters last week, rebooting the film franchise just five years after Sam Raimi's critically derided (but commercially successful) . All across America, fans and critics find themselves asking the same question: Too soon?

As initial box office and critical success indicates "no," our minds drift back to the many, many, many, many, many other times Spider-Man has been adapted to other media. There have been triumphs, there have been not-triumphs, there has been .

But through all the ups and downs, the universal truth of Spider-Man as a wisecracking adventurer and a hard-luck everyman have kept him an iconic part of the superhero landscape for five decades. And here is a special two-part look at many of the ways his story has been adapted to film, television and , with embedded video and a few comments from comic pros, to boot.

The 1967 Spider-Man Cartoon: Broadcast on ABC and featuring future animation legend Ralph Bakshi behind the scenes, this long-running Saturday morning standard brought Spidey's wit and colorful villains to the small screen, cementing the character's fan-favorite status among kids. You can watch the original episodes on Netflix Instant, on DVD, or <a href=http://marvel.com/videos/browse/tv_show/98/spider-man_1967>Marvel.com!</a>

Though the low budget meant plenty of recycled footage (much from the limited-animation ), the fundamental appeal of Spidey shined through, particularly in the immortal theme song. Hey, here it is covered by the Ramones in a music video from future directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris!

Spidey Super Stories: For a generation, their first exposure to Spider-Man was in these live-action sequences on PBS's , which featured low-budget but often hilarious pieces that teamed Spidey with the likes of a young Morgan Freeman — and kept his status as a hard-luck hero intact. 

Marvel also scored a long-running hit with the tie-in Spidey Super Stories comic book for younger readers, which featured such bits as cosmic villain Thanos in a helicopter with his name on it and Aunt May in a bathing suit being declared "a peach of the beach!" You had to be there.

Hmm, should we run the episode where Spidey battles a Yeti that sits on ice cream cones or a creature that's a living wall? How about both?


Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Super-Hero: The first effort at a Spider-Man musical was this prog-rock LP from 1975 that…oh, let's just let special guest star Mark Waid describe it! Take it, Mark!

Mark Waid: "A ROCKOMIC! I was nine years old when I heard this — "From Beyond The Grave!" a Stan Lee-narrated, John Romita LP-jacket-illustrated full-length, full-cast audio Spider-Man adventure with sound effects and music and A-C-T-I-N-G. That's right, MUSIC. Take that, Broadway! 

I haven't yet seen , but it's unfathomable to me that Bono could ever in his wildest dreams reach the lyrical heights of this choice verse from the opening track: "Crawl like a spider, love like a man, everyone's talkin' 'bout that Amazing Spider-Man!" 

Five six-minute chapters, each divided between A-C-T-I-N-G and a rock-opera
song, and I soaked up each track like a sponge as the local radio station doled them out one track per day for an entire week. An entire, very long week.

And I have to say, all joking aside, the plot's actually pretty good: Kingpin knows there's some connection between Spider-Man and Peter Parker, so he kidnaps Aunt May and tries to blackmail Pete into murdering Spidey! How does our webspinner get out of this jam? With the help of Doctor Strange! 

If you've not heard this, FIND IT."

Thanks, Mark Waid! If you'd like to learn more about this project's storied history, including how it featured Luke Cage on bass, you can read <a href=http://gone-and-forgotten.blogspot.com/2011/03/spider-man-rock-reflections-of-super.html>this article here</a>, or listen to this particularly rockin' track.

The Amazing Spider-Man 1977 TV Series: In the late 1970s, superheroes enjoyed a mini-renaissance on the airwaves thanks to hits like and . Former kid Nicholas Hammond took on the role of Spidey in this series, which got some initial buzz but put off comic fans for its lack of close ties to the comic storylines and characters other than having Peter Parker work at . 

Though the series only ran for two short seasons, telefilms combining episodes ran in syndication for years afterward. Here's a promo for the series with Spidey battling an evil brainwashing cult with its own ninjas

The Japanese Spider-Man Series: In 1979, Toei Company made a deal with Marvel to let the two companies use each other's properties. Marvel's main use was the Shogun Warriors series, while Toei made several of the weirdest adaptations of Marvel's work ever, including a animated TV-movie and this tale of a biker given powers from the planet Spider to battle Professor Monster and the Iron Cross Army with help from his giant robot Leopardon. 

Though utterly bizarre, the series proved successful in helping export Marvel concepts to Japan, and Leopardon's success as a toy helped encourage Toei to introduce giant robots into their series… or as you know it here, . Think it paid off?

Marvel.com <a href=http://marvel.com/tv/show/128/japanese_spiderman>has put all episodes of the series online for free</a>, so you can see the strangeness for yourself. And we've embedded the first episode below for you:

Spider-Man (1981 animated series): Released into syndication simultaneously with ' premiere on NBC (see next entry), this cartoon helped launch Marvel Productions and proved one of the closest Marvel Universe adaptations yet, pitting Spidey against many of his foes from the comics and featuring guest-appearances from the likes of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Ka-Zar, Medusa and more. 

There was even a continuing storyline within the series about Doctor Doom trying to conquer the world and Latverian rebels helping Spidey. Given that had just come out and Doom's voice was particularly Darth Vader-esque, there was probably a reasoning behind the character's prominence in this series, which for years made young people (read: this writer) think Doom was Spidey's archenemy. You can watch it on Netflix Instant and decide for yourself. 

In the meantime, here's a childhood favorite, "Revenge of the Green Goblin":

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends: Airing on NBC at the same time as the syndicated series, and rerun on the network well into the 1980s, this fan-favorite series was the first exposure to Spider-Man for many (again, read: this writer). This series expanded the cartoon storyline by teaming Spider-Man with former X-Men Iceman and Firestar, the latter an original character for the show who was later written into the comics.

Battling evil with their powers, wits and a strangely-well-equipped crime-lab dorm room, the self-proclaimed "Spider-Friends" starred in tales that narrated their individual origins, crossed over with other heroes (including an X-Men appearance where Wolverine inexplicably had an Australian accent) and had some particularly oddball tales, such as "The Fantastic Mr. Frump," where Doctor Doom inadvertently grants Lovecrafitan powers to an elderly misfit, or "Swarm," where the bee-based Marvel villain is portrayed as a Borg-like alien mass of bees that turns everyone around it into insect people and .

The series also introduced other original characters beyond Firestar, such as the Native American Indiana Jones-knock-off Hiawatha Smith, and the cult favorite "Videoman," an Atari-esque video game character brought to life, who was later featured in a 2006 one-shot by Sean McKeever and Patrick Oliffe that is kind of awesome. It even spawned a homage storyline in Ultimate Spider-Man a few years back.

The series is on Netflix Instant if you want to relive the adventures of the Spider-Friends, wonder how Aunt May's dog Ms. Lion kept those bows in her hair so neat, or just contemplate what happened with all those ice bridges Iceman traveled around on, like did.

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