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Spider-Man in the Media


Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can. Spins a web any size, catches thieves just like flies, look out, here's comes the Spider-Man. So start the lyrics of one of the most famous superhero theme songs in history. Peter Parker was first bitten by the radioactive spider that gave him superpowers in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962), but Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's creation would surge in popularity in 1967, with the debut of ABC's animated Spiderman series (without the official hyphen).

Following their work the previous year with the syndicated daily animated program called The Marvel Super-Heroes, animators and producers Robert Lawrence, Grant Simmons, and Ray Patterson—under the company name of Grantray-Lawrence—debuted the Spiderman cartoon on September 9. Opening the show was the catchy, jazzy theme song by Bob Harris and Paul Francis Webster. Viewers expecting the limited animation of Marvel Super-Heroes were treated to better visuals—even if much of the web-slinging scenes were reused over and over again—by animators including Disney artist Shamus Culhane and a young Ralph Bakshi.

The Spiderman stories hewed closely to their comic-book counterparts. Villains included Doctor Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, the Green Goblin, and the Lizard, and also newly created villains such as the Imposter and Dr. Zap. Canadian actors were used to fill the voice roles; Bernard Cowan played the hero for the first season, while Peter Soles became his voice for the second season. A total of 52 half-hour shows were completed, with 50 eleven-minute stories and 27 twenty-two-minute stories included. Spiderman was popular enough to last until September 1970, and has been a hit in syndication markets ever since.

The next place Spidey appeared was a surprise for fans. Children's Television Workshop had a public television series called The Electric Company. The educational show started in 1971, but it was during the 1974–1977 seasons that it had a special guest-star. A live-action Spider-Man appeared in almost thirty short segments, fighting Dracula, the Wall, a Yeti, worms, and assorted nasty people. The shorts taught young viewers life lessons, though the always-silent Spider-Man (Danny Seagren) wasn't his usual talkative self; instead, thought balloons above him expressed what he was thinking.

With the exception of some full-cast audio adventures and a rock opera released on record and tape, Peter Parker's alter ego was down for another few years, until Stan Lee hit Hollywood. There, Lee sold CBS on the idea of a Spider-Man live action series. Charles Fries was soon producing the show, and on September 14, 1977, Spider-Man premiered in primetime with a two-hour pilot film. Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp in The Sound of Music) snared the dual role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, while David White (of Bewitched fame) played the blustering J. Jonah Jameson. The younger Aunt May was played by Irene Tedrow, while Michael Pataki played the new Police Captain Barbera, a constant thorn in Spider-Man's side.

Although Spider-Man did well in the ratings—and a semi-regular series called The Amazing Spider-Man ran in Spring 1978—CBS failed to greenlight a regular series. Eight more episodes spottily aired from September 1978 through July 1979, before the network chopped Spidey's web-line in two. Although the series did not feature any costumed villains, and the web-shooting effects were cheesey, the wall-crawling scenes with stuntmen subbing for Hammond were excellent.

Spidey's next media appearance was never seen by U.S. audiences (except on bootleg videos). A Japanese Spider-Man (pronounced Soupaidaman) ran on TV Tokyo from May 7, 1978 through March 14, 1979. There were forty-one total episodes, produced by the famous Toei Company. In this version, motocross racer Yamashiro Takuya (Kayama Kousuke) was given a special bracelet by a dying spider-alien. Using his new powers to stick to walls and spin webs, Spider-Man was also equipped with a flying car called the Spider Machine GP-7, a flying fortress called The Marveller, and a giant robot called Leopardon which would throw its sword to stop evildoers. Invariably, Spider-Man would face alien creatures from the Iron Cross Group, all of which could grow to be giant-sized monsters. Leading the Iron Cross was Professor Monster (Andou Mitsuo) and Amazoness (Kagawa Yukie).

Back in the States, animation beckoned again, and Spider-Man answered the call, appearing as a guest-star on ABC's Spider-Woman series from DePatie-Freleng during the 1979–1980 season. That company would also develop a new spider-series for NBC, debuting Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends in September 1981. With smooth animation that echoed comic-book artist John Romita's style, the series teamed Spidey with fellow crime fighters Iceman and Firestar, a female character created especially for the show. Spider-Friends, as the show was called by fans, often guest-starred other superheroes such as the X-Men, Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, Dr. Strange, the Black Knight, and even little-known jungle heroine Shanna the She-Devil! Villains included the Red Skull, Mysterio, Green Goblin, Chameleon, and Loki.

In September 1982, the series expanded to an hour, with new adventures of the Hulk taking half the time slot for The Incredible Hulk and the Amazing Spider-Man. The third and final season of the series in 1983–1984 found the billing reversed and the show became The Amazing Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk. Concurrently with the first Spider-Friends series, a syndicated Spider-Man solo series ran in some markets. The twenty-six episodes had actually been completed prior to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, but aired in the 1981–1982 seasons. Because they were not syndicated in all areas of the country, this is one of the least-known versions of Spider-Man on television. In this series, the plots again stayed close to their comics roots, and Spidey battled Dr. Doom, Electro, the Lizard, Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin and Kingpin. In 1988—the year after the web-spinner debuted as a giant balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade—the Spider-Man solo episodes were re-syndicated as part of the Marvel Action Universe series.

In November 1994, Fox aired a preview episode of a new animated Spider-Man series (often called Spider-Man: The Animated Series, though not in the credits), but the series proper did not begin until February 1995. After comic-book writer Martin Pasko left the show in its developmental stages, animation veteran John Semper stepped in to finish development and get the show on track. Although the first season started out with single-part stories that had some character continuity, by the end of the season, and into the next, the show had multi-episode story arcs. The creators brought in many aspects of the Spider-Man comic-book universe, including the black alien costume, and friends and foes such as Venom, Morbius the Living Vampire, the Punisher, Rocket Racer, Hydro Man, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Carnage, Kraven, Black Cat, and more. By the end of its high-rated fifth season in 1998, sixty-five adventures had been produced, giving this Spider-Man the record for highest amount of Spider-time on television.

In October 1999, Fox decided to relaunch Spidey in a new milieu. In Spider-Man Unlimited, the web-spinning hero was accidentally trapped on Counter Earth, a parallel world like Earth except for beastmen bred by the High Evolutionary, though Spidey also faced Venom and Carnage there. Attired in a new costume and aided by Machine Man X-51 and good versions of Vulture and Goblin, Spider-Man fought to protect the people of Counter Earth. Although the series was intended to run at least three years, Spider-Man Unlimited flopped in the ratings. Taken off the air with only four episodes shown, the series finally returned in December 2000 for the remainder of its initial thirteen episodes.

Part of the reason that the concept of Spider-Man Unlimited was so far away from its comic-book reality was that the Spider-Man feature film was finally about to get underway. It had been a long time in coming. A movie version of the web-spinner's adventures was first announced in the early 1980s, with Poltergeist helmer Tobe Hooper originally slated to direct a big-budget pic for Cannon from a script by Leslie Stevens. Then Hooper bowed out and the film was announced for Christmas 1985, directed by Joseph Zito (Missing In Action III) with a script by Ted Newsom and John Brancato. Further announced dates included Christmas 1986, Easter 1987, and Christmases 1987, 1988, and 1990. Multiple scripts were written, by Joseph Goldman, Barney Cohen, Don Michael Paul, Ethan Wiley, Frank LaLoggia, and Neil Ruttenberg. Even the movie company changed, with the collapse of Cannon; movie mogul Menahem Golan's 21st Century Productions picked up the rights, and Golan planned to have Captain America feature-helmer and B-movie man Albert Pyun direct.

Through the 1990s, scripting or getting attached to the upcoming Spider-Man film production seemed almost a cottage industry. A pilot script was written for a new ABC TV series by Manny Coto, working for New World (which owned Marvel). On the film front, Terminator and Aliens director James Cameron wrote a treatment and planned to direct the proposed feature. The web became even more tangled as Golan sold pieces of the rights to Vicaom, Carolco, and Columbia Tri-Star, and Carolco eventually sold their rights to MGM. In 1993 and 1994, multiple lawsuits were filed by all the companies claiming to own the Spider-Man rights. The battles finally ended in 1999, and on March 1 of that year, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Marvel Enterprises announced a deal to develop Spider-Man for film, television, and merchandise.

Work began on a new script, with David Koepp adapting Cameron's treatment, then Scott Rosenberg and Alvin Sargent coming aboard. Practically every young male actor in Hollywood (and a few older ones) were rumored to be testing for the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and multiple hot film directors were rumored to be helming. In 2000, the dust settled, and Sam Raimi was announced as the director, with Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man. Other cast members included Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, and Kirsten Dunst as girlfriend Mary Jane Watson. As rumors flew fast and furious on the Internet, the most controversial element of the film was that Spider-Man's webshooters would be organic, with the webbing coming directly from Parker's wrists.

By the time of its release on May 3, 2002, Spider-Man was one of the most widely anticipated films of the new millennium. Merchandising was omnipresent, and opening weekend netted over $114 million! The film would eventually top over $400 million in the United States alone. Critics adored the film, and fans did as well, thanks to a pleasant story, good acting, incredible special effects, and a costume that made real Spider-Man's red-and-blue comic-book threads.

Even as filming for Spider-Man 2 was underway, in July 2003 MTV debuted a new computer-animated Spider-Man series that took its continuity not only from the Spider-Man feature film, but also from 2003's Daredevil movie (with a guest-appearance by the Kingpin). Acclaimed Ultimate Spider-Man comic-book writer Brian Michael Bendis took an active part in developing the series, which skewed older than its animated predecessors. Stars aplenty dropped by to voice characters: Neil Patrick Harris took on the title role, with Lisa Loeb as Mary Jane, while guests included Gina Gershon, Ed Asner, Rob Zombie, Jeffrey Combs, and Michael Clarke Duncan. Only thirteen episodes of the MTV series were produced.

Announced to debut on July 2, 2004, Spider-Man 2 sees many returning cast members from the first film, including Maguire, Dunst, James Franco as Harry Osborn, Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, and J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. New to the cast this time is the pre-Lizard scientist Dr. Curt Connors (played by Dylan Baker), and the mechanically armed villain Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina). With Sam Raimi back in the director's chair as well, and a script by Koepp, Sargent, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Michael Chabon, the web-slinger is again poised to make a multi-million-dollar mark in theaters and in the licensing arena. Uncle Ben may have warned Peter that with great power comes great responsibility, but as Spider-Man's media appearances have shown over the years, with good spider-stories come great paychecks as well. —AM

Spider-Man 3 once more united the cast as several challenges face Peter Parker: a villain made of sand, a vengeful Harry who still blames Peter for his father's death, and an evil, black creature that takes over Spidey's suit and transforms the hero into a villain himself. Released by Sony Pictures in 2007, the movie proved to be another success at the box office. What was definitely not a success, however, was the 2010 attempt to adapt Spider-Man as a Broadway musical. Called Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the musical's book was written by Julie Taymor and Glen Berger, with music by Bono and The Edge. Described as the most expensive on-stage production in Broadway history, it was plagued by technical problems and panned by critics who saw one of the many preview performances.


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