Sixteen years ago, Fox KIDS produced a show which introduced millions of future geeks to the Wall Crawler in all his 3-D animated glory…
Two years ago, the WB did the same thing…
How does the former hold up against time and nostalgia itself? Let’s find out…
Written By: Gerry Conway, Stan Berkowitz, John Semper
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)
Based on Amazing Spider-Man # 6
THE PLOT: University student Peter Parker spends his free time dressing up as a crime fighter and taking pictures of himself chasing after reckless drivers. When a creature dubbed “The Lizard” shows to have connections to his Science professor, young Parker must overcome his prejudice of the sewers and stalk the creature as the Amazing Spider-Man!
LONG STORY SHORT: Spider-Man manages to revert the Lizard back to Curt Connors, nab the pix needed for the $1000 reward bonus, and end the day with forced bed rest from his doting Aunt May. All in a day’s work for our hero.
MY THOUGHTS: Right off the bat I feel I must illustrate how this is a very hard episode to review, let alone the series itself. Without giving away too much of the mystery that is “that guy who reviews the cartoons”, I am a child of the nineties. With that comes gained knowledge of much of the Marvel Universe through the various animated series that were being shelled out through the decade. X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hulk and later Hulk and She Hulk Hour *shudders*. I, like many others, was there to absorb and obtain character and concepts through generally great voice acting and lame animation. So when it comes time to review the most prolific Marvel cartoon to come out of that decade, one approaches the task with a modicum of worry. Is it possible to be objective, diplomatic and fair? Or will I drown in the sea of nostalgia with its bliss of reminiscence?
Thankfully enough time has passed where I can at least put on a face of objectivity, and if I fail to move beyond throes of nostalgia whimsy then I can at least comment on what plagues the show in general. This is the funny thing about the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon, and something similar I found happening to the relative opinion of Spider-Man 3. For all its flaws (and there are a number of them from episode to episode) the series does do a heck of a lot of things so very right that I personally feel they get lost through time and memory. This premiere episode in particular is in my opinion a great example of how amazing the show really could be at times, and though the majority of the episodes in the future fail to meet the level of quality, to discount it being presented here is to greatly undermine true art being produced. What makes “Night of the Lizard”
difficult to review is that the plot is strictly linear and simplistic. There is no set up besides character establishment and Eddie Brock’s hatred of Spider-Man, and nothing concerning the story differs greatly from a typical monster movie plot, nor does it from the Lizard’s stories in Amazing Spider-Man. And yet this episode stands above nearly all other sixty-four that follow in how the little things truly make this quality entertainment. For one thing the animation is absolutely perfect. TMS is a well-renowned Japanese animation studio that has done work for various other 90s cartoons such as Tiny Toons, Batman: the animated series, Superman and Batman Beyond. (Return of the Joker is the last time I remember recognizing and seeing its work) Its style works wells off of highly animated and energetic characters such as super heroes, and Spider-Man is no exception. The way in which he’s captured physically is almost devilish in design, making him agile, athletic, strong and fast without straying from the natural and even humanistic. This is easily the best I’ve ever seen Spider-Man in terms of movement, with the MTV series coming in a (distant) second. The reason? Subtlety. With every move one can see the personality of Peter Parker, both in his costumed identity and his civilian persona. The way he lazily swings off the top of the building right at the beginning, the subdued but powerful grace he displays when swinging from the streetlamp he webbed Brock to, to the cries of Billy Connors; it all screams “Kirby” in essence, which really is appropriate when displaying the body language of a man who can press 15-20 tons on any given day, and yet should appear as an “everyman”.
Other voices do well with what their given, proving later in the series their own personal merit. First appearances of Joeseph “Robbie” Robertson and Debra Whitman into the modern mainstream are done with respect to their comic book counterparts, moreso with Debra considering her character had taken a much more drastic turn for the worse in her respective storyline.
Other things to note is that while the show was notorious for it’s neutered restrcitions from violence, it’s not heavily felt in this episode as it is in future episodes. Which is probably why ABC Family had the shots of Spidey and “Margeret” (Why was Martha’s name changed?) getting thwacked by Lizard’s tail cut out in recent showings. Spidey sinking into Lizard’s back is still shown, as well as it’s place in the credits still remain intact funny enough. To Disney’s credit, this first episode does have a very dark tone to it overall. Peter’s inner monologue takes place mainly in the sewer where he admits to himself he’s making a joke out of the situation to hide his fear from himself, which is a very mature thing to have on a kid’s program. And that was the trend of the 1990s in general, especially towards children’s television. Things were implemented that appealed to all ages and pandered to no one. The Spider-Man of the comics is alive and well in this episode, and his appeal can extend to adults as well as children. And when kids can confuse their selves with specific targeted audience, the overall enjoyment factor always rises. That’s how I can watch this show today in the year 2010 (the future!) and say with all seriousness that this show did something really great back in the day. Of course, whether I’ll be saying that for the majority of the episodes down to line is unknown.
Overall, whether sweet sweet nostalgia blinded me or this was truly something great, the results the same. This is one of the best Spider-Man episodes of anything, period. This could’ve been a 30 minute short like Pryde of the X-Men and I still would’ve loved it. By that token, it does work very well as a one-off, and maybe that’s what I liked about it considering how continuity laden the show gets by next season. Even then, that was something new to superhero cartoons…
…I’ve talked too much. 5/5 “MARY JAAANE!!!”s Best Quote Contender- Spider-Man: “Why is it always a sewer? Why can’t I be one of those galaxy-hopping superheroes like the Avengers? Never have I seen the Avengers have to go in a sewer, or the Defenders. Well…maybe the Hulk…” all images taken from marvel.toonzone.net.