The Surprisingly Serialized Nature of the 90s Spider-Man cartoon

I think it’s fair to say that almost all of us are aware of the 90s Spider-Man show. It makes the rounds on the internet every other week when people point out how over the top Peter’s acting can be at times and how ridiculously fast the pacing can be. However I, and many people my age, actually grew up with reruns of this show as our Spider-Man cartoon. As such, I decided to rewatch it and I was shocked at what I discovered.

Spider-Man the animated series is a surprisingly serialized show that sets up many plot threads that quickly get expanded upon in what I can only refer to as story arcs. It is honestly comparable to the much more beloved Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon from 2008.

Examples speak louder than broad statements though, so in this article I shall go over the first ten episodes of the show and demonstrate how well they flow into each other to form a cohesive yet chaotic narrative.

In the first episode of the show, Night of the Lizard, we are of course introduced to the wall crawler himself as he swings through the city fighting crime. In this episode Peter finds himself fighting against iconic Spider-Man villain The Lizard. I hope I don’t need to explain who The Lizard and Curt Connors are to anyone reading this as he’s basically Spider-Man 101.

After Curt Connors is cured this episode he becomes a recurring part of this show’s cast as someone Peter can come to for scientific problems. More importantly though, this episode gives us a strong introduction to Eddie Brock! Eddie is immediately established as a rival to Peter Parker at the Bugle with them throwing playful insults at each other and he’s immediately given a vendetta against Spider-Man as the wall crawler costs him $1000 dollars by preventing him from taking a photo of The Lizard and tying him to a lamppost!

Peter’s dynamic with the members of the Daily Bugle is further expanded upon in episode 2, Spider Slayer, where Peter is sent by Jonah to a charity auction while Eddie Brock tries to figure out Spider-Man’s identity with Norman Osborn and some robots made by Spencer Smythe to capture Spider-Man.

This second episode also introduces us to the Kingpin, who wants Spider-Man dead, and to accomplish this goal he recruits Alistair Smythe who blames Spider-Man for the death of his father in this episode. Turning Smythe into a supporting character who helps create villains similar to how Dr. Octopus was treated in Spectacular Spider-Man.

Brock’s failed plan in this episode causes him to get fired by Jameson, increasing his anger against Spider-Man! Which brings us to our third episode: Return of the Spider Slayer.

In this episode, Alistair Smythe sends another pair of robots to kill Spider-Man due to the events of last episode. He also brings along Jameson in an attempt to kill him for Eddie Brock’s actions and then attempts to kill Brock himself.

The Spider Slayer attempting to kill Brock gets him fired from yet another job, even further increasing his hatred for the wall crawling menace. I hope it’s becoming clear exactly what plot thread the season is setting up, so let’s fast forward a bit to episode 7.

Episodes 7-10 are a three part episode called The Alien Costume. Yes, this has all been leading up to me explaining Venom! Our episode begins with John Jameson, the son of Jonah Jameson, discovering some strange black goo on the moon and bringing it to earth.

At first the goo is of no interest to anyone, rather the radioactive material that was also discovered in space gets the attention of Smythe and the Kingpin who hire the Rhino to steal it.

While Rhino steals the radioactive material the black goo gets all over Spider-Man’s costume, as this is going on Eddie Brock gives photos to Jonah claiming Spider-Man stole the material, getting rehired in the process.

The alien goo then proceeds to meld with Peter’s suit, turning it into the now iconic black look. As Peter goes throughout his day he finds himself feeling much stronger than usual as well as having entirely new powers like being able to morph his clothing. However he is also subtly becoming more irritable and doing things such as snapping at Aunt May.

Realizing something is wrong, Peter goes to see Curt Connors for the first time since the first episode! Connors tells Peter his suit has been bonded with a symbiote and he needs to ditch it, Peter doesn’t listen however and instead heads to the Bugle to threaten Brock before Jameson has security shoot at Spider-Man before he flees.

The threats don’t stop Jonah from figuring out the Rhino was the actual thief though, causing him to snap at Brock and once again fire him. That night, Spider-Man fights the Shocker, who is working for Smythe, at a church and what has become the most iconic moment in the series occurs.

As Spider-Man brutally pursues Shocker, Brock appears and tries to fight Spider-Man himself (only to get tied to the church’s bell in the process). Realizing how violent he is becoming, Peter tries to take off the suit but is unable to. It isn’t until Brock struggles to break free and rings the bell that he is able to.

This arc brings together everything I have mentioned up to this point. Smythe, Brock, the Daily Bugle, and Kingpin’s motivations have all been explained in earlier episodes and came to an impact here as the symbiote drips onto Brock and transforms him into the murderous Venom: combining his own built up hatred of Spider-Man with the symbiote’s newfound hatred of him.

Because Venom was a relatively recent character and this show was the first adaptation of Spider-Man to have him when it aired it was very important for the writing team to make an excellent first impression for non-comic readers. The 6 episodes of establishing all the major characters in this arc before heading right into Venom really bring this all together.

My main point with all of that recapping is that this show was just as serialized and plot driven as later, more popular, Spider-Man shows. Moments like setting up Curt Connors early on and Eddie Brock’s entire character arc are done really well and I want people to recognize this instead of posting the same memes over and over!

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