"Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends DVD": Appreciating The 80's
Despite the popularity of the show, its title character, and the current boom for nostalgia on DVD, Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends has been shockingly absent on disc. This is all the more surprising as there have been three golden opportunities (the three Spider-Man movies) in the last few years to release it.
At last, though, this grave injustice has been rectified with Liberation’s release of the complete first season of Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends. Thirteen of the show’s 24 episodes are collected in this volume, with the remaining episodes due to be released later in the year. (A complete series set will follow.)
The packaging is pleasant enough, though its Spider-Man, strangely, seems more similar to Steve Dikto’s original interpretation than to that of John Romita Sr. who provided the inspiration for the show’s look and personally designed Firestar’s costume. Kudos for attempting to go old school with their covers, although they lose fanboy points for failing to draw Firestar’s beautiful face properly!
The origins of Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends are strange and peculiar. In their attempt to get their flagship character on TV each week, Marvel produced a syndicated solo Spider-Man show in an attempt to prove that superhero cartoons could work on television. (This would seem like a no-brainer, but the 1980’s animation market struggled with superhero cartoons, as any X-Men fan will tell you.) Their plan worked: shortly after the premiere of the solo Spider-Man show, NBC decided they did indeed want the webslinger on their network. The network being a network, however, it had its mandates. While Marvel’s previous attempts at Spider-Man had him in his traditional loner role, trying to live some semblance of his normal life while fighting crime as the Amazing Spider-Man, NBC insisted he be part of a crime fighting team. Rather than having Spider-Man join the Avengers (because even idiotic network suits knew what a horrible idea that would be) a new team was created. Popular X-Man Iceman was chosen as Spidey’s best friend, while new original creation Firestar was chosen as their potential love interest—and presumably, to attract young girls to the show. (It’s been rumoured that the Human Torch was originally intended to be the remaining member, but his rights were tied up in a live-action deal—the same deal that kept him out of Marvel’s previous Fantastic Four series, or so the legend goes.) The remaining mandates were common place in the 80’s: the team had their own supercomputers in their living room, and they were given their own pet dog, Ms. Lions. Apparently, the puppy was the deciding factor in the show getting green lighted, much to the annoyance of everyone who ever watched the show. Don’t expect a surprise cameo from her in Spider-Man 4.
So the Spider-Friends, as they were lovingly dubbed, premiered on NBC in 1981, and what fun they had. The show followed the adventures of the three as they studied at Empire State University and fought the various villains the Marvel universe had to offer. In this set alone, the troublesome trio battle The Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, The Red Skull and countless others. The show is typical of the 1980’s: not to be taken seriously in the slightest. The mindset of network cartoons of the era seemed to be that if even one viewer or their overbearing mother got offended at the show’s content then the entire universe as we know it would cease to exist. This meant that there was no real violence to be found and very little drama, just to avoid potentially upsetting viewers. This meant that comedy was the only real option available to them, which works well for the show and helps to create a wonderful tone throughout the series.
This is where Amazing Friends tops the solo show: it is so much more fun. It’s daft, it’s childish, and it’s cheesy, but these are the show’s strong points, writing-wise. The show has a definite charm, which is why it’s so fondly remember over 20 years on. The three leads have chemistry as well: Firestar is simply adorable, Iceman is a text book example of a brilliant comedy sidekick, and Spider-Man is as witty as he’s ever been. There’s also an underlying romance between Angelica and the two superheroes, rarely found in animation at the time (and still annoyingly absent now, with the exception of the recent The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon.) There are a few sweet romantic moments between them, as neither Spidey or Iceman will make a proper move on her, in case it ruins their friendship and causes the end to the Spider-Friends.
My fondest feelings towards the show come from its visuals. Animation-wise, it’s standard 80’s faire, but it is worth noting that very little stock footage is used; even the scenes of Spider-Man web slinging are original animation each time, a rarity in the era. The designs is where the show shines, being based upon the legendary artwork of Amazing Spider-Man extraordinaire John Romita Sr., considered by many to be the definitive Spider-Man artist. While the colouring is occasionally odd, the models themselves are beautifully simple yet elegant. The designers of the 1990’s Spider-Man cartoon could’ve learned much from this show’s looks; if they had, possibly their show would be recalled in a much fonder light.
The show comes from the pre-Batman: The Animated Series era, so supervillains with cackling laughs and squeaky voices are the norm, lest dramatic performances make them appear too menacing. Thankfully, the three leads are cast well, with the ever-dependable Frank Welker once again stealing the show as dumb-ass Bobby Drake.
Highlights of the set include “7 Little Superheroes”, “Triumph Of The Green Goblin” and “The Crime of All Centuries,” which all serve as great cereal fodder. On the other hand, “Swarm” gets a little tedious, and “The Fantastic Mr Frump” only serves to make the once bad-ass Dr. Doom look like a simpleton (surprising, as he was cast superbly, far better than most other attempts believe it or not.)
As with Liberation’s other releases, there’s a short video explaining how the transfer was cleaned up, and that’s your lot. Later volumes will apparently have exclusive interviews with Dan Gilvizan, the voice of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in this show. But you’ll be buying this DVD for its content rather than its extras.
If you’re not one for 80’s cheese then I couldn’t imagine you enjoying this. Spidey fans will get a kick out of it (if only to see the stellar artwork) and if you’re a child of the 80’s, I have only three words for you: Go for it.