Spider-Man, like many popular characters, has been subject to an abundance of TV and film adaptations over the years. Starting with the 1967 animated show (which gave us that iconic theme song – and those beautiful memes!), Spidey has been reworked for children’s television eight times as of the time of writing.
However, where reworking is concerned, Spider-Man: The Animated Series took things up to eleven. Unlike, say, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends where the writers created Firestar exclusively for their show, the 1994 series made significant changes to Spider-Man’s lore. Now, lore changes can either be good or bad, depending on their nature and execution. However, in the case of Spider-Man: TAS, it’s most certainly the former.
10) The Kingpin
While in the comics, the Kingpin is known publicly as a crime boss, it’s not that straightforward in the series. Instead, as shown in the Hobgoblin episode, Fisk takes cover as a public philanthropist to veil his criminal activities. He is only known as Kingpinto his criminal associates.
Furthermore, Peter himself doesn’t even know initially. He only learns of his powerful enemy in Season 3, thanks to fellow superhero Daredevil. Until this point, Kingpin is like an invisible mastermind pulling the strings to destroy Spider-Man.
9) J. Jonah Jameson
In the original comics, Jameson hates Spider-Man because he’s secretly jealous of his selflessness and responsibility. However, the cartoon takes a different tack. Instead, Jameson distrusts Spidey because his wife was murdered by a masked man when he refused to back down on a story.
This backstory, revealed early on, gives Jameson a compelling three-dimensionality. Not only is this missing from the comics, but it’s absent from the oft-lauded Spectacular Spider-Man series. Later in the series, Jameson even helps Peter with his wedding. It shows that, deep down, Jameson has a soft spot for his freelance photographer and fleshes him out in a way other Spidey media doesn’t.
8) Flash and Debra
In the comics, Flash Thompson and Debra Whitman never date. However, the 1994 animated series shakes things up by introducing a cute little romance subplot between the two. Sure, TAS can be quite fast-paced, and often the side characters are overshadowed by Spider-Man’s adventures. However, it’s notable enough to make this list.
Upon meeting in Season 2, Flash just sees Debra as a typical science geek. In return, Debra sees Flash as a typical brainless jerk jock. However, as the season progresses, they begin to care for one another. In fact, the relationship brings out the best in Flash. Even after Vulture drains her youth in his episode, he shows that he cares for Debra no matter what she looks like. This subplot is small – but it’s a charming and beautiful addition to the Spider-Man story.
7) Peter Knows Eddie Before Venom
It’s taken for granted in later Spider-Man adaptations, but Spidey TAS is the first adaptation to have Peter know Eddie before he turns into Venom. Of course, it has the advantage of hindsight since the comics went for decades before Venom was even a concept. But still, props must go to how they handled Brock.
At the beginning of the series, Brock is a corrupted, selfish reporter. However, his thirst for breaking stories is thwarted regularly by Spider-Man. Eddie loses all credibility by the time he becomes Venom. This, therefore, gives the audience a clear picture of why he hates Spidey.
At the time of Spidey’s inception, radioactive origin stories were big at Marvel Comics. Thus, Stan Lee had his teenage hero bitten by a radioactive spider to get his superhuman powers. However, as many point out, even if a common house spider were to get irradiated and bite you, there wouldn’t be enough radiation in the spider to have any effect on you.
And so, the animated series has Peter bitten by a spider caught in a ‘Neogenics’ ray. Here. Neogenics are a fictional, radical emerging science. It’s mostly utilized in the form of a genetic ray which leads to the creation of Spider-Man and, later on, Morbius.
5) The Personality-Changing Symbiote
Remember the personality changes Peter undergoes in Spider-Man 3 upon donning the black suit? You can thank Spidey TAS for this. Uh, not for the terrible dancing, mind you. Just the darker Peter.
Peter’s personality changing upon wearing the symbiote makes sense. The symbiote feeds upon its host, amplifying its negative emotions, later doing so to Eddie Brock. Somehow, it feels appropriate that it would amplify Spider-Man’s darkness, too. This extra dimension to the story also increases the danger of the costume, since it isn’t just clinging to Spidey – it’s also destroying his personal life, too.
4) Doctor Octopus’s Origin Story
Spider-Man: TAS tinkered with a lot of backstories, but Doc Ock’s was the most interesting. Whereas in the comics, Octavius becomes bad because he wants to regain the respect he never had before his big accident, animated Otto is angry at the Hardys for de-funding his scientific research which indirectly led to his mechanical arms fusing with his body.
The animated series also did something significant that may have inspired 2004’s Spider-Man 2 – they gave Ock and Peter a personal connection prior to his transformation. Here, Octavius turns out to be Peter’s former science camp teacher. The backstory gives Ock a surprising amount of depth not present in the original comics.
3) Black Cat’s Origin
For most of Spider-Man: TAS, Felicia Hardy is pretty much Gwen Stacy in all but name. Well, apart from her rich family background, that is. It’s not until late in the series that Felicia finally takes up the Black Cat mantle comic fans know and love. However, the 1994 cartoon helps raise the credibility of Black Cat a notch compared to the source material.
This is executed by giving Black Cat superhuman strength, agility, and endurance. Much like how Kingpin gives Cat her Bad Luck powers in the comics, he actually subjects her to the same experiments used to make Captain America. The fact that Felicia’s hair colour changes upon activating her powers is a more credible disguise than the comics. Also, the fact this version possesses superhuman abilities helps us believe she can fight alongside heroes like Spider-Man and Iron Man.
2) Spider-Man’s Mutation is Natural
In the comics, Spider-Man starts growing extra arms after drinking an experimental serum. However, this effect is unintended – Peter designs the serum to erase his powers so he can live a normal life. However, in the 1994 cartoon, the writers cleverly write in Spidey’s mutation as a natural byproduct of his DNA.
In other words, Spider-Man was doomed to mutate further the moment he was bitten by the spider. While this story change is wonderful enough, the series makes Spidey’s quest to cure himself an arc that covers multiple episodes. This makes the episode when he transforms into Man-Spider even more impactful, given several episodes of build-up.
1) Web-Shooter Origin
In the original 60’s comics, Peter develops his iconic webbing himself. A nerdy, overachieving science student, the super-powered teenager creates a pair of wrist-activated devices that shoot webbing. Now, while many debate the credibility of a high school teenager producing concoctions even US Government scientists can’t develop (i.e. Spider-Man Director Sam Raimi), the 1994 animated series jumps this hurdle in a creative manner.
Rather than develop the shooters without explanation, the show explains that the infamous spider-bite gave Peter the “instinctive knowledge” to create his own webbing. Spidey explains this outright to a young fan in the Season 3 episode, Make A Wish during a recount of his origin story. Now while this idea appears simple, it’s a cool explanation for something glossed over in the comics.
What do you think are the best changes made in Spider-Man: The Animated Series? Do you think Spider-Man: No Way Home and Morbius will make effective changes to the established lore? Be sure to let us know!