On the back of the success of X-Men: The Animated Series, it wasn’t long before a Spider-Man series also hit our television sets in the early 90’s. First airing in the US on November 19th 1994, Spider-Man: The Animated Series became the first Spider-Man TV series since Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends ended in 1983. Just like X-Men: The Animated Series, it ran for 5 seasons, but could/should easily have been more; circulated speculation of executive arguments caused the show to be ultimately cancelled, with its ending open-ended as a result.
Across its 65 episodes, Peter Parker’s life as Spider-Man is presented from his days as a college student. The series charts the development of both Peter and titular hero, and how both directly influence the other. College life, dating, break-ups, jealously, anger and even tragedy are all depicted in a faithful manner to the source material. Despite its demise, Spider-Man: The Animated Series truly remains the greatest animation adaption of Marvel’s beloved web-slinging hero. Thanks to the arrival of Disney Plus, we all get to relive it over and, you bet, over again. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here are the top episodes across its five fantastic seasons.
Night of the Lizard (Season 1 Episode 1)
The first season is all about introductions. This pilot episode introduces Peter’s life as Spider-Man, which has already begun, as has his freelance photography job at the Daily Bugle. It also lays the groundwork perfectly for the show’s tone, and of the characters that surround Spider-Man/Peter. There’s his boss at the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, as well as Eddie Brock and Curt Connors, both of which become more complex characters in both Peter and Spider-Man’s life. The latter is another pilot introduction in the guise of The Lizard. As the first of many villains to cross Spidey’s path, The Lizard serves as a perfect example of how those existences cross paths. As for Peter/Spidey himself, he is perfectly crafted as the most human of superheroes. Peter’s delicate balancing of social, academic, financial and of course superhero responsibilities is cleverly conveyed from comic strip to screen. Peter’s superhero duties often take precedence over his own life, but here he is grounded by the reality of making $1000, money Peter sorely needs. In the end, he gives that money to his Aunt May, who needs it even more. After all, this is what Spider-Man is all about: setting a great example for everyone.
Menace of Mysterio (Season 1 Episode 5)
One of Spider-Man’s greatest attributes is his dedication to the good fight. When Spider-Man is framed for a museum break-in by an imposter for all to see, with the city turned against him, he is not deterred. But if it wasn’t Spider-Man, who was it? Welcome to another villain introduction. Welcome to Mysterio. Those of you who have watched the latest Spider-Man movie, Far from Home, will be somewhat familiar with Mysterio, otherwise known as Quentin Beck. He is the master of illusion, and in this John Semper, Stan Berkowitz and Marv Wolfman-penned episode, Mysterio even has Peter’s Aunt May fooled into thinking Spidey is the bad guy! But Spidey being Spidey, as well as Peter being Peter, he perseveres where most would have given up, in order to clear his name. After all, Spider-Man doesn’t fight for the glory; he fights because it’s the right thing to do.
Mutant Agenda (Season 2 Episodes 4 + 5)
Crossover time! Spidey is beginning to go through extreme changes as he begins to evolve from the spider bite that gifted his abilities. Dubbed “Neogenic Nightmare”, it’s a season-long arc with mutations, vampires, The Punisher, Blade as well as the usual criminal rogues’ gallery. To help face his own mutation issues, Spidey visits the X-Men for a cure. Spidey’s misinterpretation of the X-Men and its goal of human-mutant coalition inadvertently uncovers an anti-mutant plot disguised as the “cure” Spidey may need. Let’s be honest, there is always time for a crossover in comics, so why not in animation also? Here we have the also bonus of an injection of the same X-Men, voices and all, from the peerless, parallel-running X-Men: TAS show. It’s a great 2-part adventure for fans of both shows, and feeds seamlessly into this show’s season-long narrative format.
The Alien Costume (Season 1 Episodes 8-10)
Spider-Man: The Animated Series’ injection of Venom fits in perfectly with the first season of villain introductions. J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son, John, comes back from space with a rock believed to be more powerful than plutonium. The homecoming is met with a crash due to a black liquid substance from the rock, named ‘Promethium X’, which attaches itself to Spidey’s suit as he rescues the space crew.
Comic fans will no doubt immediately compare the symbiote’s origins with that of this more science fiction approach. Spider-Man’s print parentage of course had the suit acquired during the Secret Wars saga which wouldn’t be told in the animated counterpart until the end of the show’s run. There is nothing unmistakable however about Venom’s origin, or the influence of the symbiote on Peter leading up to one of Spider-Man’s most pivotal moments in history. Christopher Daniel Barnes really excels as ‘angry’ Peter as he dangerously descends further and further away from his own superhero moral code. As early as the first season the producers were not afraid to stretch beyond the single episode format very early on. This 3-episode marvel is one of the best told stories across all its five seasons. The cliff-hanger endings leave you wanting more, the less-frenetic-but-still-frenetic pacing is also a very welcome change. You will struggle to find a better hour of Marvel animated television.
Do you agree with these best episode picks? Which ones would you add, if any? Let me know in the comments below!