The 1960s « Spider-Man » Cartoon Was So Much Weirder Than You Think

The Big Picture

  • Spider-Man, the 1960s animated TV show, offers a unique and strange adaptation of the beloved character, with a tinge of psychedelia and groovy music.
  • The show’s first season follows a conventional storyline, featuring classic Spidey villains and a faithful representation of the comic book run.
  • Despite its cheap animation and low-effort visuals, Spider-Man is aesthetically appealing and captures the essence of the early comics, with fun characters and a jazz and funk-laced soundtrack.

Ever since Spider-Man first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15, he’s been adapted to just about every medium possible, but no adaptation rides the line between conventional and strange better than the simply titled 1960s animated TV show, Spider-Man. This show first premiered in 1967, starting out with your typical Spidey villains and story types, but as creative forces changed behind the scenes, so did the show — big time. Like the world around it, Spider-Man would go on to usher in the late 60s and early 70s with a tinge of psychedelia, groovy music cues, and a few sci-fi plots that feel way more along the lines of a dime-store pulp novel than they do a Marvel comic book. Spider-Man is bizarre, plain and simple. If you need of a new spin on Marvel’s most popular character, then you don’t need to look any further than his screen debut.

By 1967, Spider-Man had quickly climbed the ranks to become one of the most popular superheroes in the world. Once he was introduced in the comics in August 1962, readers latched on to him and fell in love. He would spend the next five years living exclusively in comic books, but his growing presence in pop culture would also mean loads of money could be made elsewhere! Given what was possible in the 60s, a movie might have been out of the question, but animation would be perfect. And so it was, the world was blessed with 1967’s Spider-Man cartoon.

‘Spider-Man’ Started Off as a Faithful but Rough Adaptation

Spidey’s (Paul Soles) first jump off the page started out pretty conventional by his standards. The first season of Spider-Man kicks off with a friendly neighborhood representation of ol’ webhead. There are pretty standard battles against foes like the Green Goblin (Len Carlson), Doc Ock (Vern Chapman, Tom Harvey), the Lizard (Gillie Fenwick), and Mysterio (Chris Wiggins), along with the usual supporting cast — folks like Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson (both Peg Dixon), and, of course, J. Jonah Jameson (Paul Kligman). Don’t forget its iconic opening song — « Spider-Man, Spider-man, does whatever a spider can » — not just one of the most famous superhero themes ever, but one of the most famous theme songs for anything. The first season of Spider-Man plays as a fun, by-the-numbers 60s animated kids’ show. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything; it just feels like the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run coming to life.

Honestly, half of the fun of watching this series is laughing about its cheap quality. Sure, it was the 1960s, so this show was never going to have super fluid animation or be beautiful look to it. But even for its time, Spider-Man feels like it was made for pennies. Loads of hilariously low-effort animation cycles are used through the majority of episodes, with hardly any frames being animated at all. There are even just static, frozen drawings of people that only have their mouth moving a lot of the time. Its rigid visuals might be off-putting to some, but if you’re a fan of the early Spider-Man comics, then this show is an easy sell, at least aesthetically. And don’t forget the jazz and funk-laced soundtrack!

Thankfully, everyone behind the scenes had a heyday with just about every visual aspect possible besides the actual character animation. This cartoon is full of goofy visual transitions between scenes and especially generous with shots starting out being framed normally before spinning out of control like a « breaking news » newspaper flying at the screen. (That one was a real favorite of theirs.) The characters themselves might not move as much as you’d like, but at least the screen itself does!

We get tons of montages of Spider-Man swinging all over New York City. Believe me, if you ever felt like you needed more content of Spider-Man swinging around, just kick back, strap on a VR headset, fire Spider-Man up, and you’ll be set for life. This show never ever gets tired of showing him going from A to B. Hearing Spidey zip around buildings and through the air accompanied by goofy sound effects is just so simple and fun. Watching this show just feels like you’re drinking a nice glass of water after drinking nothing but soda for years. It’s so bare bones it’s hilarious.

RELATED: Kraven the Hunter Isn’t Interesting Enough Without Spider-Man

Fun Characters, like J. Jonah Jameson, Anchor the Show

Image via Marvel Comics Group

The characters are all on point as well. Everyone, ranging from Spidey to his friends and foes, is perfectly characterized. That being said, this show cranks their personalities up to a million. Everyone expresses themselves in the most lovably obnoxious way. The way that people talk and think in Spider-Man could best be compared to your friend who you’re driving home right after they had wisdom-teeth surgery. They all talk like a bunch of maniacs, but either with a delivery level at 0 or 100 — there is no in-between. Take Spider-Man himself. If we were basing things off his voice, then you’d never assume that anything was ever going wrong in New York City. And yet, somehow, Paul Soles’ performance as Spider-Man/Peter Parker still absolutely rocks. He’s just got a phenomenal voice! Does he sound like a teenager? Not even a little bit. But he’s got a great voice, so who cares?

Take the episode « Menace from the Bottom of the World, » for example, when a bank randomly falls into the Earth’s core. Spider-Man travels inside the Earth to find out what happened, only to be attacked by a bunch of terrifying pre-historic flying beasts. But just before he can be attacked, like a total geek, Spider-Man says, « Boy, I hope they’re on their way south for the winter. » Dude is just cracking jokes while monsters circle overheard. Then there’s J. Jonah Jameson, who has always been characterized as an angry loudmouth but really earned his reputation because of this show. He is never, ever chill. Besides being fired up 24/7, he’s also kind of the second lead in this show. Jameson is always sending Peter Parker off on the dumbest, most terrible jobs that you could ever imagine sending a teenager for, but they somehow always lead to exactly where Spider-Man needs to be. So … thanks, J. Jonah, I guess?

Ralph Bakshi Puts His Own Weird Spin on ‘Spider-Man’

Spider-Man fights Doc Ock in the Spider-Man cartoon that debuted in 1967
Image via Marvel Comics Group

Okay, so maybe that first season didn’t have enough spice to keep you interested. Perhaps you were put off by its endlessly recycled animation and unintentionally hilarious characters. Well, I’d advise against quitting the show because Ralph Bakshi — yes, that Ralph Bakshi — came on to produce Spider-Man for its second and third season, and things get weird fast. (Who knew that before he became an underground animation legend, Bakshi worked on kids’ cartoons!) This is when Spider-Man became notably weird and psychedelic, as Bakshi and his team started stuffing episodes with odd sci-fi concepts, trippy background visuals, and a more serious tone in general. It’s still the same old goof-fest of a show, but you’d be mistaken to say that it’s exactly the same. If you know anything about Bakshi’s works from the 1970s on, this should be no surprise.

If we’re talking about a pure vibe check, you could make the argument that the 1967 Spider-Man series, which wrapped up its three-season run in 1970, is the most fun thing that’s ever happened to the character. It’s got unintentionally hilarious performances, loads of fun ideas for episodes, some truly bizarre sci-fi adventures for Spidey, a bangin’ soundtrack that ranges from funk to big band, and some truly psychedelic visuals. Spider-Man is a trip, one that will leave you laughing the entire time while also feeling an odd sense of coziness from its meat-and-potatoes animation style. This series deserves to earn an audience beyond the Internet just recycling its memes.

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