Hey Kiddies! It’s Saturday morning! You got your TV? You got your big bowl of Sugar laden cereal? You pumped to go to the mall later and look for all the toys you are about to be bombarded with over the next few hours? If all of those answers are “Yes” then you were definitely a child of the 80s like myself, and that means you were raised on Saturday morning cartoons! But not just any cartoons, but some of the very best ever created!
One of those was the fantastic “Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends”, a show produced by Sunbow (which pretty much served as Marvel’s animation wing) between the years of 1981 through 1983 for NBC. It ran for 24 episodes over the course of those 3 years, and pretty much served as Marvel’s version of the popular DC Comics animated series, The Super Friends.
Spidey, along side his super pals, Firestar and Iceman, battle many of Marvel’s most fearsome foes such as Dr. Doom, Juggernaut, Magneto, and the Green Goblin, as well as team up of with great guest stars such as Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk!
What with Spider-man: Far from Home setting the world on fire with Spidey fever once again, I thought I’d take some time to give shout outs to my top 5 favorite episodes of this classic cartoon show!
So without further ado, SPIDER FRIENDS! GO FOR IT!
5. Video Man
Perennial Spidey baddie, Electro, has hatched a brand new scheme. After ensuring that special “Video Man” arcade cabinets have been installed in the lobbies and break rooms of major banks and army bases, he unleashes his most diabolical creation: A sentient energy creature that resembles the same Video Man game character.
Armed with video game like energy blasts, Electro plans on using his electronic life form to steal cash and secrets from everywhere. Of course the Spider Friends rush to the scene to stop this technological terror, but when Iceman is absorbed into the Video Man game itself, can Spidey and Firestar beat the High Score to save their friend?!?
Why it’s so good:
This episode seems to encapsulate why the Amazing Friends series was so great! It’s campy, fun loving attitude can be best summed up in the fact that jerk jock for the ages, Flash Thompson, gets transported into an early 80s vector style arcade game and gets his ass handed to him continuously by a vengeful pong ball. I mean, seriously, read that sentence again and tell me it doesn’t make you smile.
In now almost a love letter to the 80s, this episode is so wonderfully retro that it strikes a cord with me more now than it ever did when it first aired. This is mainly because I’m a sucker for the old days of the arcade, filled with young adults popped quarters into game after game, taking the occasional break for a bite to eat or play a game of air hockey.
I’m not sure why Petey and his pals are studying in such a noisy joint. Maybe it’s to hone their concentration skills as if you can cram for a calculus final over the din coming from Pac-Man and Dig Dug, I guess you can stay focused against the likes of Dr. Doom.
I will say though that the concept of Video Man to me as a young kid was kind of terrifying. From evil red eyed two dimensional design, to his ability to move through wires, to those energy beams that could suck you into a video game and make you Electro’s plaything, it was enough to give a 5 year old some pause in those dark quiet moments before bed.
I’ll just get up for a second out of bed. Gotta make sure my Atari is unplugged…y’know just in case…
Video Man was actually one of the very few super villains that this show created that was not based in part on any preexisting Marvel character. Honestly the only other ones I can think of are the classic half man/half spider creature Arachnoid, who was pretty much a stand in for Morbius, and Iceman’s “sister”, Lightwave. Although to fair, Lightwave was actually more of a corrupted super hero than a villain so I think that’s only have a point.
Anyways, not only was he an original character, he’s the only villain that appears on the show more than once. He makes a triumphant return in the second season episode “The Origin of Iceman” as well as a third appearance in the following season’s “The Education Of A Superhero”. However, like Lightwave above, by the third time he meets with the Amazing Friends, he’s actually made a full face turn, becoming a hero and helping them fight the evil mind controlling Gamesman. Not bad for this pixelated powerhouse!
As a side note, when I was little I actually thought there was a “Video Man” video game in arcades, and would search every one I went to for a few moments, hoping that I could find it. Alas…it was all a narrative ruse.
4. The Origin of the Spider Friends
Stan Lee narrates the previously untold story of how the Spider Friends first joined forces and more importantly how they got their incredibly sophisticated secret computer crime lab within Aunt May’s brownstone.
When the super villain, The Beetle, attacks a ESU college trade show seeking the latest computer technology Stark Industries has to offer, Spidey gets an assist from two newcomers to the New York super hero scene in Firestar and Iceman. After discovering their secret identities by accident, Spidey decides that he will reveal his own identity in hopes of creating a permanent superhero team with the two mutants.
However, the Beetle is not done with Stark Industries just yet as he has his eyes on the brand new “power booster” unit which will multiply the strength of his own super battle armor 100 fold. Now the Spider Friends have to survive their baptism of fire as a team in order to save both the power booster as well as Tony Stark from the Beetle’s rampage!
Why it’s so good:
Well first off, I am a little biased. It one of two episodes I had on VHS tape growing up so I did watch this episode several hundred times, thus permanent ingraining it in my consciousness as one of the episodes I instantly think of when the show is mentioned.
However, unlike some origin stories, this one is remarkably well done. You get a great little “meet cute” between Spidey and his future friends in both their alter egos as well as during the fight with the Beetle, and you can tell even from those early meetings, these characters were gonna get along like a house on fire.
Plus, unlike the comic books, the Beetle is actually a pretty credible threat in this, portrayed as a pretty stacked armored ne’er do well. Plus he’s got that maniacal power hungry unhinged side to him which is somewhat chilling for an Amazing Friends villain, albeit more than a little over the top.
Overall, it is probably the episode I would still show any kid first if they never saw the series. I feel it does a great job of laying everything out you need to know about the series without getting over talky or boring, which again is pretty rare for original stories.
This episode features a cameo by Tony Stark’s famous alter ego, Iron Man, although he doesn’t help in the battle against the Beetle as he’s off in space helping protect the space shuttle from an asteroid storm.
It’s interesting though that it was in fact Tony Stark that gives Spider-man and his Amazing Friends their crime computer technology. Although it’s just a strong coincidence, it does somewhat foreshadow the relationship that Spidey has with Tony Stark now in the MCU movies with Stark being his benefactor. It almost begs to have Firestar and Iceman show up at MCU Spidey’s house with a football trophy and tell the teenage webhead: “GO FOR IT!”.
3. The Triumph of the Green Goblin
The Green Goblin has returned! Originally thought to be cured of his Green Goblin “condition”, industrialist, Norman Osborne’s evil alter ego resurfaces after he survives a stressful plane crash. Hell bent on transforming all of New York City into goblin like creatures like himself, the Green Goblin hatches a plan to kidnap his niece, Mona, and test his new goblin serum on her to see if she too will transform. If this successful, the next step will be to introduce the serum into NYC’s drinking water!
Fortunately, Mona is at a ESU college costume party also being attended by Peter Parker, Angelica Jones, and Bobby Drake aka the civilian identities of the Spider Friends! When the Goblin strikes, our heroes jump into action, not only rescuing Mona but stopping the Goblin serum before it can mix with the city’s water supply.
Why it’s so good:
Look. If you are going to have a Spider-man cartoon, there is a very short list of villains that absolutely need to appear. That list starts with the Green Goblin and ends with Dr. Octopus. These are the big two. They are Spider-man’s all time most arch enemies, and they should be showcased in all their devilish glory.
Unfortunately, we got somewhat of a throw away episode for Dr. Octopus with the weepy “Girl from Tomorrow” episode from season 3. But with that said, luckily, we got an perfect gem of an episode for the Green Goblin, which again cements the villain’s status as the one guy Spider-man does not want to mess with. Channeling his inner “Joker”, we get a Goblin in this episode which is completely unhinged ready to poison a whole city and turn them into grotesque green skinned creatures which are just as insane as he is.
It’s honestly one of the few plots portrayed on the show that Spidey has to take deadly serious, as the Goblin can not be stopped by nothing less than sheer determination.
Plus, I’m not sure why but I always loved the notion of the Green Goblin being like some sort of “Hulk” like transformation that Norman undergoes as opposed to a mask he puts on.
I’m not saying I’m equating it to the same thing that happened in the Ultimate Spidey Universe where he would transform into some big bulky monster, but I do like him changing into the Goblin we all know and love. It makes narratively a lot more sense, than it being just simply a costume, and adds to the characters overall menace, that he’s no longer a normal human just under a mask.
Originally, Spider-man and his Amazing Friends was not supposed to have Firestar as a member. It was supposed to have the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch instead, especially given he and Spidey have been long time friends in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, the Human Torch character was tied up in development deals of his own for some sort of potential live action TV series, so the character couldn’t be used.
However some animation had already been done for the series, including renderings of Mary Jane Watson, Spidey’s red headed bombshell of a girlfriend, for the costume party portion of this episode. In order to save on animation costs, the decision was made to use the Mary Jane design for Firestar’s alter ego, Angelica Jones. So if you ever wondered just why those two characters look so much alike, there’s your answer.
2. The X-Men Adventure
While visiting Firestar and Iceman’s old teammates, the X-men, over at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the Spider Friends find themselves embroiled in a revenge plot being carried out by an old flame of Firestar’s named Nathan Price.
After an dangerous experiment was sabotaged by A.I.M., Nathan Price was caught in an explosion and half of his body had to be replaced by cybernetic implants, similar to the Marvel character, Deathlok. Now calling himself Cyberiad, he has vowed to destroy Firestar and her friends for her failure to save him previously from his horrible fate.
To this end, he has taken over Cerebro at the X-Mansion and is using the house’s own defense mechanisms, including the famous Danger Room, against both the Spider Friends and the X-men assembled there. It’s a race against time as the combined might of Spidey and some of the world’s mightiest mutants must overcome the various death dealing threats the mansion has cooked up to stop them from defeating Cyberiad.
Why it’s so good:
Do I really have to spell it out? At the time this episode came out in 1983, the hottest properties that Marvel had in their arsenal were Spider-man and the X-men. The X-men especially were in on everyone’s watch list in wake of several years of incredible years of storytelling thanks to Chris Claremont’s efforts with events like “Dark Phoenix”, “Days of Future Past”, and “God Loves, Man Kills”.
So basically you get a great little adventure with our friendly neighborhood Spider-man and what many consider the all time classic X-men line up. The only thing missing from this episode was Wolverine, but if you want him on this show, all you have to do is check out the second season episode “Firestar is Born” for some popping claws action.
I will say my only complaint about the episode is the hokey love affair between Firestar and Cyberiad (which was also an original villain…making me a liar from my earlier Video Man review). I mean when did Firestar have time to go run off with Nathan Price anyways. She’s only like 20 or 21 in this show anyways based on her being enrolled in college. Did she turn 18 and fall madly in love with a scientist twice her age?? That’s just super creepy!
Eh…maybe I’m just pissed over anyone Firestar would have the “hots” for other than Spidey. They are the OTP of this animated show. I will not hear another word on this!
This episode was another in several attempts to backdoor an X-men pilot into the American consciousness and thus start a brand new animated series for Marvel. According to press reports from 1983, the proposed X-men series for NBC Saturday mornings which would follow Amazing Friends would have starred a team similar to the one we got in this episode with Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler, and now deceased X-men member Thunderbird.
However in addition to those characters we would have also gotten “Lady Lightning” which would have pretty much been Carol Danvers in her Ms. Marvel persona, as well as Amazing Friends original character, Video Man.
I won’t lie. I would have watched the hell out of that cartoon show as a kid. That is the definition of a wasted opportunity.
Oh well, Marvel would eventually try again with a pilot for the X-men cartoon with their “Pryde of the X-men” episode (which served as the basis for the classic X-men arcade game).
1. Seven Little Superheroes
The Chameleon is back, and he wants his pound of flesh! The Grand Master of identity theft has hatched an elaborate revenge scheme from his castle base on Wolf Island against many of his super heroic foes. This includes not only Captain America, Namor, and Dr. Strange, but also the Spider Friends!
After luring the heroes to his base, he begins to pick them off one by one, using not only the multitude traps at his disposal, but the heroes own sense of trust, as he impersonates them so convincingly that it sows suspicion between them. In the end, it’s up to Spider-man and his faithful dog, Ms. Lion, to rescue all his captured friends before Chameleon can blow up the castle, sealing their combined fate!
Why it’s so good:
When you are a kid, the one thing you want to do is come up with stories in which all of your action figures can fight together against one common super baddie. Maybe that baddie has monsters that work for him or deadly traps and obstacles that your heroes have to overcome, but more or less they are all working together team up style.
This episode of Amazing Friends perfectly encapsulates that feeling of dumping all of your random figures out on the floor and creating that shared sense of adventure. Sure, it makes no sense why Shanna the She Devil makes an appearance among the likes of Captain America and Dr. Strange, but its no different than your random Princess Leia figure suddenly becoming caught up in the action figure tales of your Secret Wars Spidey, a Kenner Super Powers collection Hawk Man, and Snake Eyes from GI Joe. These characters are friends because they are all “good guys”, that’s all you need to know.
No fancy backstory or explanation necessary.
Let’s just get along with the adventure where there are poison darts, robot spiders, giant red monster cyclops, and exploding volcanoes! Now we’re talking!! That’s pretty much dumping the rest of our toy box out and any random toys like giant rubber snakes or that “slime monster” you made out of Play-dough are also credible threats.
Also, let’s give the bad guy the power that he can sometimes transform into the good guy figures and fight against them. Yeah, we totally did that as well, because I mean we only had so many figures, right?!? We needed to have Hawk Man turn bad through mind control or duplication or whatever so he could punch Spidey for a while!
(The Chameleon for the record was never as cool in the comics as he is in this story. Here he’s a menace on the level of Dr. Doom, able to concoct nefariously elaborate plots that nearly kill supremely powerful heroes like Dr. Strange. Definitely not the Kraven flunkie we often times see!)
Yep, this is the best episode of the series because it’s like an animated version of a 7 year olds’ fever dream of a play session one rainy Saturday afternoon. It’s so pure. It’s so simple. It’s exciting and full of adventure and danger. And the pet dog is the ultimate reason the heroes win!!!
I mean, who does that?!? I just have no more words how happy this episode makes me!
Plus, like with Origin of the Spider Friends, this was the other episode of this show I had on VHS tape growing up, and I watched even more times than Origin. Yeah, for a kid that didn’t have cable because he grew up in the sticks, this was one of my “go to” shows when I was bored. Just popped this sucker in and let my imagination go wild!
I was originally going to talk about Shanna the She Devil in this section, but I already covered my thoughts on her in my Wolverine review last month.
So instead, I’ll just mention one of my favorite parts of this episode has always been the giant red cyclops demon that attacks Dr. Strange! It reminds me so much of the classic Kirby/Ditko designed monsters of the month from the Pre Marvel Era stories in Tales to Astonish or Strange Tales or whatever.
In fact, I scoured the internet and my collection of issues in hardback omnibus to see if I could find a monster that looked like this one from those issues. So far, no such luck.
However if any of you know of a monster from old Marvel books that might look like this cyclops, please leave your suggestions below!!