In 1994, Marvel was on the verge on bankruptcy.
American business tycoon Ron Perelman had purchased the company in 1989, and shelled out $700 million on strategic acquisitions in just four years. Then, just as Marvel’s coffers were running dry, the comics bubble burst.
The collapse was simple. For years, hardcore collectors had been buying 20 editions of a single comic, keeping 19 in mint condition and reading one. This trend created the illusion of a far greater market than actually existed, and was only exacerbated by treasure-in-the-attic news stories and clever marketing ploys.
But as the cost of comic-books continued to rise - and their storytelling worsened - the comic fad went the way of Pogs, Pokémon cards, and Beanie Babies. In 1993 comic and trading card sales plummeted by 70%, and hundreds of comic retailers went bust.
Spider-Man: The Animated Series was Marvel’s hail-mary: a test to see if the universe could transition from one mass-market to another. The series was also Marvel Studio’s (then Marvel Film’s) first creation: giving TAS Abrahamic status in Marvel’s now crowded cinematic universe.
The show itself is exactly what you’d expect from the first effort of a new enterprise: creative, but chaotic. The mistakes range from goofy animation errors to strategic oversights, but none have stopped the show from entering the 90s cartoon hall-of-fame. So while the oversights don't stop us from loving the show, the 15 Biggest Mistakes In Spider-Man: The Animated Series do illustrate how far Marvel has come in their great migration from paper to screen.
15 The Daily Bugle Got Its Own Name Wrong
In one episode, J. Jonah Jameson is forced to into a hasty retreat from the enraged Scorpion, who he sent to attack Spider-Man. As the editor’s helicopter hovers over NYC, we catch a glance of the Daily Bugle building.
Astute viewers, and presumably all passing pedestrians, will have noticed the sign in fact reads ‘Dail-Bugle’, which now sounds like a very boring law partnership. In fairness, the animator may have drawn the building in first, and then realized he didn’t have space for all the letters. Who’s going to miss a little Y here or there?
You can’t blame every mistake on PAR-KER!
14 The Costumes Randomly Changed Color
Animators had to iron out some kinks when Spidey was first taken over by his black Symbiote suit. In the above shots, the suit’s white on black details mysteriously switch to blue as Spider-Man swings from one building to another.
More problematic still, Spider-Man’s classic red/blue costume would sometimes reverse its color scheme within a single episode. The colors of villains gloves, capes, and sometimes even facial features, were also subject to random change.
These may be minor issues, but they do signal a lack of agreement on character design within the animation team - something a more polished operation would avoid.
13 Mysterio Spelled Like a First-Grader
Fans will remember the episode Spidey broke into Mysterio’s lair and uncovered his evil plans (which were conveniently organized and labeled). What they may have missed, however, was Mysterio’s first-grade spelling mistake on the ‘Muscum’ roll, shown above.
‘Muceum’ we could understand. Sometimes c acts like an s; English is tough. 'Muscum' however. But hey, the guy’s a magician, not a copy editor! Plus he got ‘Bridge’ and ‘Mall’ right, so that’s two out of three.
Unlike us, Spider-Man passes up his opportunity to mock Mysterio’s spelling error, which is pretty out of character for an inveterate wise-cracker. This leads us to believe ‘Muceum’ was really a goof-up on the animators' part. If not, Mysterio’s lack of grade-school education is just one more mystery in an already enigmatic past.
12 The Art-Staff Mixed Animation Styles
While CGI was starting to catch on in 1994, it was not yet a reliable substitute for more traditional animation methods. Bound by budgetary constraints, TAS’s animators used a mixture of traditional techniques and new CGI technology. The hybrid was often awkward, particularly when a hand-drawn character was placed against a CGI background.
Adding to the confusion of working with a hybrid system, Marvel Films outsourced their actual animation to Japanese animation studio Tokyo Movie Shinsa, who had worked on Animaniacs and Gargoyles, among other projects. These decisions added moving parts to an already chaotic enterprise. No wonder some of the basic blunders above slipped through the net.
In other areas, however, the show's animators were meticulous. Background drawings were faithfully constructed from photo archives of NYC, and New Yorkers could recognize actual buildings as Spidey whizzed past. TAS was also the first animated Spider-Man project to populate street-shots with cars and pedestrians.
11 The Executive Producer Wanted to Make it a “Toy Commercial”
Marvel ultimately made a wise choice in Israeli-American businessman Avi Arad as The Animated Series’ executive producer, but the decision was not without controversy.
Arad had founded the toy manufacturing company Toy Biz in 1988 and was renowned as a marketing genius. The toymaker made no secret that he intended the show to be “one big toy commercial,” promoting his Toy Biz lines to young fans. The strategy proved successful, but brought Arad in conflict with the show’s story editor, John Semper Jr., who prioritized plot and character development above merchandise sales.
Arad almost fired Semper over the row, but eventually the two met on common ground when Semper convinced Arad that the most effective commercial for Toy Biz was a well-written show. So, while the producers eventually found a balance, conflict between commercial and creative interests almost torpedoed the show before it started.
10 The Art-Staff Got the Pan Am Building Sign Wrong
As mentioned before, TAS art-staff would use photographic references and even city maps when constructing background shots. However, entire cells of mid-town had to be thrown out and re-drawn after the Pan Am building became the MetLife building.
Of course, drawing the wrong version of a building would be a forgivable mistake: except the corporate changeover had occurred an entire year before TAS even aired.
The mix-up was eventually blamed on having out of state art-staff, but considering the Pan Am building was the largest commercial office space in the world at the time, the swap would have been big news. And, after all, if your villains are using laser guns, you better make sure the buildings behind them are up to date.
9 Carnage Got Mixed Up With Venom (Only for a Second)
In the 10th episode of season 3, the Venom Symbiote returns to earth and reunites with Eddie Brock in jail. Once reincarnated as Venom, Brock breaks out, and then arranges for the jailbreak of fellow inmate Cletus Kasady. To help his escape, Cletus bonds with another Symbiote, which calls itself Carnage.
However, as Carnage smashes through the prison wall, there is a moment where he and Venom are inexplicably combined for a single frame. Perhaps an earlier drawing of Venom fit Carnage’s body position in the break-out, so the animators threw it in as a substitute to save time. But whatever the explanation, the transition is jarring enough to pick up without pausing or slowing down the footage.
8 The 'Day of the Chameleon' Episode is Incomprehensible
The final episode of season one - ‘Day of the Chameleon’ - features a shape-shifting terrorist Chameleon, on the run from Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.
The opening scene, where Chameleon’s helicopter smashes into a skyscraper, prompted ABC Family to heavily edit the episode after after the September 11th terrorist attacks. While the company’s sensitivity is commendable, their edits completely scrambled the episode’s opening scene. Dialogue had to re-looped, and production credits superimposed over opening scenes were also cut.
7 The Show's Finale Had an Extended Cameo
In episode 65 - the show's finale - Spider-Man travels to our dimension, where he meets Stan Lee. Stan and his and favorite creation have a heart to heart, and Spider-Man departs into the cosmos with the words “That Stan Lee, he’s quite a guy,” to which Madame Web responds “I think he’s truly special.’ If fans weren’t groaning when Stan Lee showed up, they were by now.
Of course everyone loves a 30 second Stan Lee cameo (his appearance in Thor: Ragnarok was particularly entertaining), but a three minute closing meta-scene pushes the envelope.
6 The Writers Weren't Allowed to use Some of Spider-Man's Biggest Foes
Through the early and mid-90s, Marvel planned a Spider-Man feature length movie to be directed by James Cameron. Although the film was never made, its producers called dibs on popular villains Sandman and Electro, preventing their appearance in TAS.
The TAS writers were forced to use Hydro Man (a clear poor-man’s Sandman), and eventually wrote a revised version of Electro, with a different look and genealogy (now son of The Red Skull).
In stark contrast to the show, Cameron’s original Spidey script was R-rated stuff; at one point Peter Parker explodes with the line “I’ll kill you motherf--ker!” and later makes love with Mary Jane atop the Brooklyn Bridge, breaking all sorts of city statutes.
Cameron reportedly tapped Leonardo DiCaprio for Spidey, and his old Terminator buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger for the role of Doc Oc. Reasons for the project falling apart were complicated, but had nothing to do with disinterested fans. Leo as Peter Parker? He might have won his Oscar without having to climb inside a bear.
5 The Show Liked to Recycle Footage
TAS was no stranger to re-using footage from earlier episodes - a particularly egregious sign, when done more than twice. In fact, the show’s frequent shots of Spider-Man swinging through NYC were basically a dozen or so sequences played in different order, or flipped from left to right.
Other examples included using the same shot of security guards running at Spidey and Wolverine three times in one episode, repeating a shot of the Beast swinging through the jungle, and reusing footage of the Green Goblin tossing pumpkin bombs (which, in fairness, is probably muscle memory for him at this point).
Of course TAS were far from pioneers in the practice. Everyone from Disney blockbusters to My Little Ponies has re-used, or only slightly modified, old animation at one point or another - and Spider-Man’s 1967 manifestation unashamedly used stock footage to fill in episodes.
4 Spidey Did NOT Look Like a Teenager
TAS stars a 19 year-old Peter Parker, in his first year at the fictional Empire State University. The choice is an obvious one, as most adaptations put Peter Parker either as a high-schooler, or grown man working full time at the Daily Bugle. But leaving aside the plot complications of having a college-age hero, the visual depiction is simply off.
At a glance, Peter Parker looks more like a 25 year-old professional athlete than a 19 year-old college freshman. Honestly, with that jawline, all you have to do is dye the hair black and whack some glasses on, and you’ve got Clark Kent. And, of course, the baritone voice acting didn’t help.
Hollywood now seems to understand Peter Parker is best portrayed as a high-school geek. New, mysterious powers are an ideal metaphor for puberty, and Spidey’s always been more brains than brawn. So fans of Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield types will find TAS’ barrel-chested hero especially jarring.
3 The Show Was Hard to Drop and Pick Back Up
There’s nothing inherently wrong with serializing a show vs. making it episodic. But TAS was a kids show, and most kids were used to series they could drop and pick back up.
The difference was a function of TAS’s comic-book format. Semper ordered his episodes to be called chapters, and ensured seasons were structured around detailed story arcs. This, along with faithful adaptations and actual comic writers on staff, endeared to the show to fans of the original comic series. However, it also meant viewers could easily get lost, especially when the producers inserted new villains and heroes in an attempt to sell more toys. In fact, back in your childhood, you may have missed entire sub-texts and characters.
All things considered, serializing TAS was more of a trade-off than an out and out mistake, but it did leave some young fans feeling confused, and makes dipping back in difficult.
2 There Was No Backstory
Back to the Spider-Man feature length fiasco, TAS was not allowed to give Spidey an origin story because it overlapped with Cameron’s script. The show's fans eventually got some context in season 3's “Make a Wish” episode, when Spidey explains to a little girl named Tania why he became a superhero in the first place. Tania is presumably suffering from a terminal illness, although censorship prevented a full explanation.
We should mention that some fans actually appreciated the lack of preface. No build-up or rising action meant fans were plopped straight into the thick of things. And after all who doesn’t know the radioactive spider story by now? More often than not, origin stories for famous characters come up with ridiculous twists to avoid complete redundancy.
1 The Whole Thing was Comically Over-Censored
Censorship isn’t an issue if you’re making a show about lovable aardvarks or magic school-busses. However, TAS was about a badass crime-fighter cleaning up the streets of NYC one punk at a time. Nevertheless, constraints in the 90s were so tight that writers couldn’t use the words ‘death’, ‘gun’, or ‘kill’. The cop who told Peter about his uncle's death could only say: "I'm sorry, kid. The guy was armed."
Guns that fired bullets were also forbidden, so even petty hoods were equipped with high-tech laser pistols. Blood became ‘plasma’, and Spidey’s traditional foes ‘The Sinister Six’ were renamed the ‘Insidious Six’ - which sounds more like a family of STDs than a criminal gang.
But most restrictively, Spider-Man was not allowed to throw punches, break glass, or disturb pigeons. This led to a lot of jumping around, grappling, and throwing stuff (although not near windows). Still, children who watched the show at a strict grandparent’s house could undoubtedly relate.
Did we miss any hilarious errors in Spider-Man: The Animated Series? Let us know in the comments!
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