Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends – The Secret Origins!

Well, as my review of The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians got some likes and there were requests for reviews of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, I figured I’d give them a shot. The show came out in 1981, alongside the solo Spider-Man show, and ran for three seasons, spanning 24 episodes. Today, I’m just going to look at season 2, the shortest season, from 1982. Three episodes, each focusing on the origins of Spidey and his two college roommates/partners in crime fighting, Iceman and Firestar. Don Glut (prolific animation writer and pretty much the “father” of the Dinobots) handled the Iceman and Spidey episodes and Christy Marx, head writer for Jem, handled Firestar.

The Origin of Iceman

Iceman begins to lose his powers, prompting the use of a memory probe to contrive a reason to recall his origin. Immediately noticeable is how good the animation is with lots of cool background details, light and shade, special effects and things to pick out in many shots. We get a flashback cameo for the X-Men (original lineup of Professor Charles Xavier, Angel, Beast, Marvel Girl [Jean Grey] and Cyclops), who will be back in a more prominent role in the Firestar episode.

Video Man, the quite lame 2D computer game villain, returns as the guy to team up to fight, but the main antagonist is really J. Jonah Jameson, played up as the real skeevy huckster that he is, initially putting a bounty out to capture Spider-Man that Iceman went in for. Iceman is quick to bring it up to him when JJ gets trapped inside the scary arcade machine world that Video Man was spawned from (when asked to save him, Iceman rebuts sarcastically “Do I get a signed photo if I do?”).

Something that becomes a pattern with these three episodes is that the main story ends up becoming secondary to the origin story, so character development is prioritised over plot and action, which is fine, but it feels a little bit of a waste of an otherwise decent premise (Video Man drawing out a quasi-Pacman and a UFO from a Space Invaders-esque game to menace the Amazing Friends is quite fun).

Iceman, being the star of the episode, gets some pretty good lines, which Frank Welker delivers with the humour that they’re intended with:

  • On working out how to defeat Video Man: “Hooray for education!”

  • Encouraging Firestar “Come on baby, light your fire!”

 

Along Came Spidey

The Shocker has escaped prison and is out for revenge against Spider-Man! In the midst of a battle between them, Aunt May is hurt, which prompts Spidey to remember another time where someone close to him suffered because of something he did or didn’t do.

The Spider-Man origin story is a classic, told as well here as in most places. Background details like Peter being an orphan looked after his aunt and uncle, getting picked on for being a science nerd by Flash Thompson, getting his powers from the radioactive spider and venturing into the wrestling arena, complete with the musclebound wrestler who’ll take on all comers and demolish them (Crusher Hogan) and the sleazy promoter. The wrestling match has some great animation and moments, with Spidey showing off his agility by creepily walking the ropes and his power by hoisting Hogan over his shoulder, climbing up the corner post that extends to the lights ready to slam him before he concedes.

The direction of the episode is as filmic as they can get on a TV budget, with the light and mood matching the sombre mood when Parker finds out Uncle Ben has died. Great suspense music, too. You can really tell they were going all out to produce a high quality programme, with writers who were invested in the material. I don’t know if this was done on purpose, but casting John Stephenson as both Shocker and Uncle Ben for this episode was a great idea, as he gets to represent both the evil and the good in Peter’s life here.

 

A Fire-Star is Born

Firestar and Iceman are heading to an X-Men reunion, sans Spidey, who at the same time is fending off Juggernaut, who is out for blood against his stepbrother, Charles Xavier. Juggernaut’s voice is provided by William Marshall, who was Blacula and the King of Cartoons from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, which is an awesome voice, but doesn’t really match the appearance and demeanour of Cain Marko. It’s a bit like playing a role as Shakespearean in an action movie.

Juggernaut’s campaign against Xavier ultimately leads to a standoff against the combined team of the Amazing Friends and the X-Men (this episode represented by Angel and Cyclops as well as new members Storm [with a lot of skin on show, presented as a sex symbol] and Wolverine [with the odd Australian accent his early incarnations got until Cal Dodd mastered it]). Storm’s weather powers are presented really ominously, but Xavier gets the short end of the stick, with his telepathy sounding like a crackly TV. Cyclops, never the cool guy in the X-Men, sounds especially bland here. A few animation shortcomings are shown during Juggernaut’s rampage, with a wall torn down and bending like tinfoil and a computer station and wall burst through that looks all like stone, not a mixture of brickwork and metal, plastic and wiring.

Monster heel Juggernaut aside, the real villain of the episode is Firestar’s archenemy from childhood, Bonnie (who you know they wanted to call Bonnie the bitch!). Picking on Angelica from an early age because of being poor, having a single father and sometimes not being able to control her nascent powers, she’s christened Jinx Jones or Angelica Jinx (or Angelica Drinks as Kathy Garver fumbles it at one time, as well as pronouncing Magneto as Mag-net-oh, rather than Mag-neat-oh in a cameo alongside a Sentinel).

Firestar has a Carrie moment at the school ball after Bonnie the bitch throws a drink in her face, pushing her to Batman intimidation/confession tactics when she frames her for the theft of a cup. Bonnie also uses her dull-witted hunk of a boyfriend Dave in her plot against Angelica. With her driving a Porsche while at high school, she obviously had rich parents or some sugar daddies on standby!

It’s actually this conflict that probably makes the Firestar episode the strongest of the three. Bonnie is a terrific villain and Christy Marx really makes you hate her. The Spider-Man origin story is the obvious classic, but like the Iceman episode the hurt Aunt May plot isn’t developed enough and would have made a great episode by itself, with Peter going through some Spider-Man No More inner conflict.

Again, hope you enjoyed this review, it was great to watch the episodes again. After Friday, if there’s the interest, I’ll look at the first season of thirteen episodes, the third season of eight episodes, then possibly the solo 1981 Spider-Man show that ran for two seasons with Ted Schwartz playing Spidey in place of Dan “Bumblebee” Gilvezan. I’ve also got ideas of moving backwards through the DC archives with Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show.