Spiderman is the creation of Marvel Comics' founder Stan Lee and one of the earliest super-heroes to be featured in graphically illustrated magazines, or comic books, under the Marvel Comics name. The protagonist being a youth still learning about the ways of the world was quite innovative as a comic book premise, because before the advent of Spidey, most super-heroes had been mature, fully educated scientists prior to gaining their special abilities, for instance the members of The Fantastic Four and atomic researcher Dr. Bruce Banner, who transforms whenever angered or outraged into the Incredible Hulk. The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and Spiderman were Marvel Comics' most successful magazine publications in the mid-1960s, but Spidey's popularity eclipsed that of the others, probably because children and teenagers, the majority of comic book buyers, identified best with young Peter Parker. Discussions commenced between Marvel Comics and the American television networks on a possible television life for Spidey, and, in 1967, Spiderman web-swung from comic book preeminence to his own television show.
The first season of Spiderman was the work of Grantray-Lawrence Animation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In the late 1960s, the Canadian dollar was nearly at par in value terms with its U.S. counterpart. So, no appreciable financial benefit existed for situating the Spiderman production team in Canada. Though some Canadian talent was employed in the project, animators from the United States brought to Toronto at considerable expense comprised most of the personnel behind Spidey's first foray onto television. Grantray-Lawrence was contracted by Krantz Films and Marvel Comics to yield 52 shows of Spiderman for the U.S. ABC television network but went bankrupt after the first season of 20 installments, and so was the remainder of the 1967-70 Spiderman television series completed in New York City at Krantz Films by new executive producer Ralph Bakshi.
Bakshi introduced to Spiderman techniques of economized animation, such as superimposing lip movement over otherwise static shots of characters and repeating animated action against changing backgrounds, in strict adherence to the reducing production budget and to deliver episodes to ABC as per the increasingly rushed timetable specified by the television network. In the interest of variable background, Bakshi chose to guide the exploits of Spidey into the realm of outlandish and "trippy" science fiction and fantasy, resulting in a widely divergent contrast of style between Season 1 and the subsequent episodes of the Ralph Bakshi New York City unit.
Season 1 is more formulaic than its successors. It tends to focus on the interaction between Parker, Brant, and Jameson at the Daily Bugle; in fact, Brant and Jameson are in every episode of Season 1 and make only sporadic appearances in Seasons 2 and 3. Also, Season 1 usually features villains from Spidey's comic book adventures, among them Dr. Octopus, the Lizard, Mysterio, the Vulture, the Scorpion, the Green Goblin, and the Sandman. In the other two seasons, few of the classic comic book villains are used.
Stylistic changes between Seasons 1 and 2 are most evident in the look of the episodes. The Daily Bugle is a more spacious, less cozy workplace in Seasons 2 and 3, and several episodes have an autumnal motif coincident with such evidence of urban rot as tattered, old posters on fences and neglected alleys. Opposed to the cloudless, light-blue sky of most first season entries is the overcast gloom of Seasons 2 and 3. Seemingly impenetrable, multi-colored, dark clouds serve as nihilistic backdrop to Peter's anxiety as a studious youth in the freewheeling, psychedelically sensual culture of the late 1960s, to Spidey's adventures in exotic places and times, and to his battles against madmen with somewhat more grandiose schemes than those of the man-creature (e.g. the Vulture, the Scorpion, the Rhino, etc.) antagonists of Season 1.
Titling of episodes is different also. In Season 1, all stories begin with a brief prologue that reaches a high point of action or suspense, followed by a title card with unfancy, yellow letters set against a screen-spanning spider web, behind which are New York City metropolitan buildings and blue sky. Episodes of Seasons 2 and 3 are without prologue, their titles immediately appearing in typewriter-style, white lettering of various degrees of size, amid a Moonlit, nighttime pier. One could be tempted to refer to Season 1 entries as "web" episodes and to those of Seasons 2 and 3 as "piers". In "The Origin of Spiderman", the pier is the location to where Peter, having been bitten by the radiation-exposed arachnid, drives his motorcycle and pauses to think about the amazing feats of which he has found himself to be capable in the previous hours. In further episodes of the second season, Spidey web-swings past this same pier. The webbing-and-skyscrapers background was used for the closing credits of all Season 1 shows, and second and third season installments all end with credits printed against the pier. Titles for third season Spidey adventures stay on screen somewhat longer than do those of Seasons 1 and 2. This may have been in reaction to complaints by younger viewers that they had not had enough time to fully read longer titles.
Due to limited budget and reduced time for production, many third season installments reused animation heavily from episodes of Seasons 1 and 2, to the extent of practically repeating the plots of episodes from the former seasons, and two episodes, one in Season 2 and the other in Season 3, incorporated a bulk of animation from the Rocket Robin Hood (1966-9) television series, whose grimly impressionistic visual style of later episodes is strikingly similar to the Season 2 and 3 Spiderman.
Before the closing credits of each episode, Spidey tells to the audience what will transpire on "next week's show". In Season 1, scenes from the upcoming episode accompany Spidey's description of his next adventure or, in most cases, adventures, in that 18 of the 20 Season 1 episodes consist of two self-contained, separate stories. In Seasons 2 and 3, there are no scenes from the upcoming episode coincident with Spidey's voice-over. Instead, a montage of rapid cuts from Season 1 was used. Spidey's descriptions are not always correct. His "next week's episode" statement for "Rhino"/"The Madness of Mysterio" erroneously forecasts the second adventure to be "The Scorpion and the Spider", featuring not Mysterio, but the Scorpion, no doubt in a planned reconstituted story using animation from one or both of Season 1's Scorpion stories.
Spidey's first television series was initially broadcast in the U.S. on Saturday mornings on ABC. The first episode to be telecast was "The Power of Doctor Octopus"/"Sub-Zero For Spidey" on Sept. 9, 1967. For the full run of Season 1 in 1967-8 and of the second season in 1968-9, Spidey was seen at 11 A.M. Atlantic Time. ABC's last Saturday morning broadcast of Spiderman was on Aug. 30, 1969, with 39 half-hour episodes (many with two separate stories) having been transmitted. The web-swinger went on hiatus until the following March, when a third season began a six-month run, from Mar. 22 to Sept. 6, 1970, on Sunday mornings, at 11:30 Atlantic Time. "Revolt in the Fifth Dimension" was not included in ABC's broadcast of Season 3, and speculation is that incidence of death, spatial spookiness, and extreme psychedelia were the reasons for ABC's censorship of this episode. The first season adventures, "Sting of the Scorpion"/"Trick or Treachery", were repeated in its stead. Season 3's thirteen episodes were added to the 39 prior installments in the syndication package to be distributed hereafter.
Spiderman's acting talent included Bernard Cowan, the dialogue director, narrator, and voice of some supporting characters. Paul Soles, remembered by Canadians as the Lawbreaker on CBC's mid-1970s television series, This is the Law, was both Peter Parker and Spiderman. Peg Dixon gave vocal life to Betty Brant and various of Peter's love interests, and Paul Kligman's distinctive, high-pitched, nasal voice is heard in the rants of J. Jonah Jameson and several villains. Gillie Fenwick, who voiced the Sheriff of N.O.T.T. in Rocket Robin Hood and played butler to Jack Palance in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968), went uncredited for his work as Doctors Smartyr and Conner and the catly sorcerer, Pardo. Likewise without credit were Len Carlson as Captain Stacy, Chris Wiggins, lead actor in television's Swiss Family Robinson (1972-3), as Mysterio and Fifth Dimension overlord Infinata, and Tom Harvey, a regular cast member on the Bizarre comedy television series of the 1980s, as Master Vine in "Vine", the radiation specialist in "Specialists and Slaves", and some of the New York City officials and policemen.
Perhaps the most famous aspect to the 1967-70 Spiderman is its opening and closing theme song, which was performed by a vocal group to lyrics written by Paul Francis Webster and quick-tempo instrumentals performed by Bob Harris- and published by Buddah Music, Inc..
Episodic musical scores became increasingly moody from season to season, with particularly eerie compositions for "Menace From the Bottom of the World" and "Revolt in the Fifth Dimension", 1960s dance music for stories ("Swing City", "Criminals in the Clouds", "Diamond Dust") involving Parker's school life, dramatic drum music and symphonic bursts and crescendos for the onslaught of "Blotto", and horn toots accompanying the prowl of the giant cat in "Pardo Presents". Some of the tunes for Spiderman were library music used in The Fugitive (1963-7), Doctor Who (1963-89), and some American Public Service Announcements. The haunting melody heard when Spidey first enters Mole City in "Menace From the Bottom of the World" and while he is being "iced" in the nuclear freezer in "Cold Storage" was a regular fixture of the soundtrack for the 1980-1 season of Dallas (1978-91).
Because its first season had been produced in Canada, this Spiderman series has enjoyed almost constant broadcast in Canadian markets. Through the early to mid-1970s, it was run, with its episodes in production order, on affiliates of Canada's CTV network on weekdays or Saturday mornings. Maritime Canada's CTV stations ran it on Saturday mornings together with Krantz Films' other properties, Rocket Robin Hood, Max the 2000-Year-Old Mouse, and Professor Kitzel, in addition to the original The Littlest Hobo (1963-5), on a morning-long show called Funtime, hosted by two wisecracking hand-puppets.
By 1976, Spiderman episodes started being distributed in no particular order. Some episodes were seldom shown for awhile as others were run excessively. In the late 1970s, Spidey's adventures became less readily available on television stations in Canada, but in 1981, distribution of the show resumed with intensity, as it was broadcast as an after-school attraction on many Canadian television stations, again with the episodes transmitted in no particular order. Indicative of such fractured Spiderman series presentation was the complete absence of "Diet of Destruction"/"The Witching Hour" and "To Cage a Spider" on television station CHSJ in New Brunswick, Canada in the 1981-2 broadcast season while in said season "Spiderman Meets Skyboy", "Horn of the Rhino", and "The Night of the Villains"/"Here Comes Trubble" aired on CHSJ as many as eight times.
Likewise sporadic were Spidey adventure releases on videotape and videodisc. Episodes of Spiderman's second season became available in 1982 on MCA Home Video. A SPIDERMAN videotape consisting of the first five episodes of Season 2 was sold for an at-that-time typically high price. It was followed in 1983 by THE BEST OF MARVEL COMICS, a single-videotape compilation of episodes of The Fantastic Four and Spider-Woman, these Marvel Comics super-heroes also having attained U.S. network television shows, plus one episode of Spiderman ("Diamond Dust"). A British videotape release of Spiderman episodes in autumn of 1982 contained "The Power of Doctor Octopus"/"Sub-Zero For Spidey", "Where Crawls the Lizard"/"Electro the Human Lightning Bolt", and "The Menace of Mysterio".
RCA's CED Selectavision videodiscs are remembered by videophiles for skips galore and audio problems of various kinds. On a SPIDERMAN CED videodisc in 1983 as sold by RCA were "The Origin of Spiderman", "Where Crawls the Lizard"/"Electro the Human Lightning Bolt", "The Sky is Falling"/"Captured By J. Jonah Jameson", "Horn of the Rhino", and "The Terrible Triumph of Doctor Octopus"/"Magic Malice".
In 1985, Prism Video began releasing THE MARVEL COMICS VIDEO LIBRARY, an ambitious collection of videotapes containing the previously televised adventures of such Marvel Comics heroes as Spidey, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, the Mighty Thor, the Thing, the Sub-Mariner, and Iron-Man, and the nefarious deeds of such villains as the Vulture, the Sandman, the Green Goblin, Dr. Doom, the Mole-Man (from The Fantastic Four), Magneto (also from The Fantastic Four), and the Red Skull. Several Spiderman episodes were included in this collection. The intention apparently was to continue releases until every episode of every available series was on videotape, but the company canceled the videotape series after two sets of volumes had been released featuring each hero and one set of volumes had been released featuring each of the aforementioned villains. Among the Spiderman episodes on the Prism videotapes were "The Power of Doctor Octopus"/"Sub-Zero For Spidey", "Never Step On a Scorpion"/"Sands of Crime", "Diet of Destruction"/"The Witching Hour", "The One-Eyed Idol"/"Fifth Avenue Phantom", "Spiderman Meets Dr. Noah Boddy"/"The Fantastic Fakir", "Return of the Flying Dutchman"/"Farewell Performance", "The Golden Rhino"/"Blueprint For Crime", "The Spider and the Fly"/"The Slippery Doctor Von Schlick", "The Vulture's Prey"/"The Dark Terrors", "The Terrible Triumph of Doctor Octopus"/"Magic Malice", "Fountain of Terror"/"Fiddler On the Loose", "To Catch a Spider"/"Double Identity", "The Origin of Spiderman", "Criminals in the Clouds", "Spiderman Battles the Molemen", "Phantom From the Depths of Time", "Neptune's Nose Cone", "Spiderman Meets Skyboy", "To Cage a Spider", and "The Winged Thing"/"Conner's Reptiles".
FOX Video in late 1998 began distribution of a videotape containing "The Origin of Spiderman" and "Kilowatt Kaper", plus an interview with Stan Lee. Although only of 45-minute length, this videotape was selling for $20 at comic book specialty stores.
Then, in 2002, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a.k.a. Disney, acquired the rights to home videotape and digital videodisc (DVD) for all television incarnations of the intrepid web-swinger. Prior to the theatrical premiere of the 2002 Spider-Man live-action feature film starring Tobey McGuire, Buena Vista released a SPIDER-MAN: ULTIMATE VILLAIN SHOWDOWN DVD containing episodes of Marvel Entertainment's 1995-8 Spider-Man television series. As glossy and dynamic as that new animated cartoon Spider-Man was, it lacked the "groovy" panache of the 1960s Spidey. However, it received priority for DVD due to wider recognition by younger audiences as a more current portrayal of the Spidey story. The 1967-70 Spiderman was represented on the DVD only by a single episode, "The Origin of Spiderman" yet again, as a special feature with a Stan Lee introduction. Later in 2002, Buena Vista continued the 1990s Spider-Man's DVD exposure with SPIDER-MAN- RETURN OF THE GREEN GOBLIN, an offering of further 1995-8 Spider-Man episodes, for which "The Terrible Triumph of Doctor Octopus"/"Magic Malice" was a bonus feature. And to coincide with the theatrical film debut of Daredevil, one of Marvel Comics' secondary tier of super-heroes, Buena Vista issued in 2003, DAREDEVIL VS. SPIDER-MAN, yet another 1995-8 Spider-Man vehicle for DVD, on which there was an added 1968 attraction, "King Pinned", included because the villain of said episode is a recurring foe of both characters.
Anticipating media attention to concentrate upon Spidey with the summer, 2004 blockbuster movie, Tobey Maguire's return as the web-spinner in Spider-Man 2, Buena Vista began a restoration process, in Australia of all places, for the 1960s television series, honing the 52 episodes for digital video. Could this, enthusiasts wondered, mean a DVD release in full for Spiderman (1967-70)? Indications of this were elusive, until the early months of 2004, when a reliable source informed this writer that all 52 episodes were planned to be coming to DVD in a collector's edition box set later in the year. Indeed, the entirety of Grantray-Lawrence and Ralph Bakshi's Spidey was to go digital in 2004- and with bonus material!
Spiderman was transmitted on YTV Canada between 1994 and 1998, concurrent with the 1995-8 Spider-Man. Then, in September, 2001, Teletoon, Canada's cable television animation channel, included Spiderman in its "Teletoon Retro" broadcast slot, omitting "The One-Eyed Idol"/"Fifth Avenue Phantom" probably because of the unflattering depiction of an aborigine in the first of the two adventures.
Bernard Cowan (Narrator and various voices)
Art director Gray Morrow
Paul Kligman (voice of J. Jonah Jameson and others)
Producer Ray Patterson
Music writer Bob Harris
Images from "Knight Must Fall", "The Spider and the Fly", "To Catch a Spider", and "Blotto", plus the title shots and all generic images © Krantz Films
Textual content © Kevin McCorry, with all rights reserved