Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981)
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends is a Saturday morning cartoon that originally ran on NBC from 1981-1983. To this day, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends remains my favorite Spidey cartoon. The shows are simplistic and silly. There are no cliff-hangers or two-parters. I think it perfectly captures the colorful fun times of comic books circa early 1980s. Most people will probably point to Fox’s Spider-Man show from 1994 as the best Spidey cartoon but I never really was able to get into that show. I think Batman: The Animated Series spoiled me for future superhero toons and Spider-Man doesn’t even rate as well as Fox’s X-Men in my book.
In Season 1 (consisting of 13 episodes), the show aired on its own but with Season 2 (featuring only 3 new origin episodes), the show was paired with the 1982 Incredible Hulk show for an hour-long block called The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. For Season 3 (8 new episodes, bringing the series up to 24 episodes), the hour-long block was re-titled The Amazing Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk. I don’t remember this Hulk show at all. Hopefully, Netflix will start streaming it someday (as they are doing for this series) or it’ll find its way onto video.
If I ever watched this show during it’s original NBC Saturday morning run, I was entirely too young to remember doing so but I do remember watching the show at some point in the ’80s. NBC continued to air repeats of the show on Saturday mornings up until 1986 but I most probably spent most of my time watching it once it was syndicated as a part of the Marvel Action Universe in the late ’80s. MAU was a 90 minute block consisting of other cartoons such as Dino-Riders, Spider-Woman, The New Fantastic Four, RoboCop: The Animated Series, Dungeons & Dragons, Spider-Man (1981) and The Incredible Hulk.
As I stated before, I just love the fun feel of the show. The ’90s Spidey cartoon was too cheesy to me and seemed like it talked down to its audience. Amazing Friends knows it is a silly show and usually has a few light-hearted moments throughout (which is natural since both Spidey & Iceman like to make wise cracks). As a team, Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar are known as the “Spider-Friends”. I always found this be odd and quite egotistical on Spider-Man’s part. I could understand it if all three heroes has some spider-based powers or spider theme going but they don’t. It just makes Spidey look like he has a big head by saying “oh, hey, let’s call ourselves the Spider-Friends!” In one episode, he even states that Firestar & Iceman are his sidekicks. I’m pretty sure they do most of the work in this series and are always saving Parker’s spider-butt with their own set of incredible powers.
And speaking of the cast of characters, Firestar was originally not slated to be in the show at all. The original plan was to use the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, which would make for a trio of jokesters, but the rights to the character was a mess so they kept the fire theme but went with an all-new female hero created specifically for the show. Firestar proved so popular that she was introduced into the main Marvel Universe in Uncanny X-Men #193 in May 1985 (though her 1st comic book appearance was in 1981 in an adaptation of the show) and continues to feature into comics to this very day having been a member of the New Warriors and the Avengers. I’ve always loved the interplay between the characters. Spidey & Iceman supplied the jokes and hormones (sometimes competing for Firestar’s attention) while Firestar herself has a girl-next-door quality to her.
Another great thing about the show is its extensive use of other Marvel characters from the obscure to the big names. Even if the characters themselves do not appear, there are so many references in the backgrounds to other heroes. It really lends a larger scope to the entire show. Even Stan Lee makes a cameo as the owner of “Stan’s Pet Shop”! Stan also narrates the series beginning with Season 2. One episode features the Spider-Friends going to a costume party (Firestar dresses up as Spider-Woman, Iceman is Captain America and Spider-Man is… um, Spider-Man) and there are TONS of people dressed up as Marvel characters. Pretty fun to see.
Here is an incomplete list of the characters appearing in the series: Green Goblin, Kraven, Doctor Doom, Sunfire, Swarm, Captain America, Shanna the She-Devil, Namor, Doctor Strange, the Chameleon, Electro, Magneto & The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Blob, Toad, Mastermind), Mysterio, Hulk/Bruce Banner, Loki, Thor, Black Knight, Mordred, Kingpin, Doctor Faustus, Red Skull, Shocker, the X-Men (Professor X, Cyclops, Angel, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Thunderbird, Sprite), Juggernaut, the Sentinels, Sandman, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Frankenstein Monster, the Gamesman, Scorpion, Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Stan Lee, the Beetle, Tony Stark, Doctor Octopus, A.I.M. and S.H.I.E.L.D. (whew!)
But wait! There’s more! The show’s producers weren’t content to just pull characters from the Marvel Universe. The created characters such Videoman (TWO versions – one an evil mindless creation of Electro and the other a mutant superhero), Lightwave (an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Iceman’s half-sister), Hiawatha Smith (an Indiana Jones clone, Native American style), Cyberiad (old friend of Firestar turned into an evil cyborg) and the mad Doctor Zoltan Amadeus.
Some of my favorites episodes would be:
– “The Fantastic Mr. Frump”: featuring Doctor Doom; a senior citizen who gets superpowers and becomes malevolent
– “Swarm”: featuring Swarm trying to takeover NYC
– “7 Little Superheroes”: Chameleon traps the Spider-Friends, Captain American, Namor, Shanna and Dr. Strange on an island and plans to kill them
– “Videoman”: Electro creates a new villain to control from an arcade machine
– “Knights and Demons”: Spider-Friends team with the Black Knight to battle Mordred and his demons… nice semi-dark tone
– “A Firestar Is Born”: the origin of Firestar; appearances by the X-Men, Magneto and Juggernaut
– “The Bride of Dracula!”: Dracula kidnaps Firestar
– “The Origin of the Spider-Friends”: self-explanatory
– “The X-Men Adventure”: the Spider-Friends team with the X-Men to battle Cyberiad
As I mentioned earlier, a one-shot comic was produced to help promote the series. Even in modern times the series (though not set in the continuity of the “real” Marvel Universe) is referenced through special one-shots, stories or interactions between Spidey, Iceman and Firestar. Here is a incomplete cover gallery of Amazing Friends comics…
The original debut of the Spider-Friends in comic form, which was a one-shot issue to promote the TV series:
Next is the UK weekly series of the same name which was originally called Spider-Man Weekly and had been published since the early ’70s. It was re-titled once the cartoon premiered. This particular issue looks like a reprint of the above comic book:
The next two comics are promo comics that were included in The Denver Post and Dallas Times Herald, respectively. No date known other than 1983. The “May D&F” on the cover of this comic is in reference to the May Department store chain (whom Jack Benny’s wife Mary worked for as a young woman… yes, I got a Jack Benny reference out of a Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends article), not the month itself. These types of newspaper promo comics were common for Spidey in the early ’80s though these are the only two to feature the Spider-Friends (others either had him going solo or teaming with the Hulk):
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends #1 was reprinted again for this comic that was promoting the newly launched Marvel Action Hour syndicated block of cartoons (I’ve owned this comic TWICE):
This edition of Spider-Man Family anthology series was released to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show. Set in the “real” Marvel Universe, the main (and all-new) story called “Opposites Attack!” takes place early in Firestar’s career and revolves around a chance run-in with Spider-Man & Iceman, a very brief love/hate relationship between Iceman & Firestar and a failed attempt by Spider-Man for them all to combine forces as crime-fighting trio. There is also a Mini Marvels story that offers its own take on the Spider-Friends:
Set in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe (a “re-imagined” and modern interpretation of the classic Marvel Universe), this comic kicked off a three-issue story-arc called “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends”:
I present to you a cover to one of the VHS releases from 1992. A couple of different volumes were released but this is the copy I owned (I got it for Easter!):
Finally, here is the DVD cover art for the Season 1 DVD UK release:
To date, the series has not seen a Region 1 DVD release. Which is ridiculous. Fortunately, a few years ago, Disney’s Jetix channel (which has since been rebranded as Disney XD) was showing the series and Netflix is streaming the series. Now that Marvel has the muscle & power of Disney behind it, I’m hoping an official U.S. DVD is not too far off. Maybe in time for the new Spider-Man movie..?
All told, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, while dated (especially the Videoman episode), still stands as one of the greatest superhero cartoons of all time because it’s what comic books were about to me as a child: self-contained, light-hearted stories featuring colorfully-attired heroes where good always triumphs over evil.
Oh and, hey, wait a second… Didn’t I mention another 1981 Spidey cartoon simply known as Spider-Man near the beginning of this post? Yes, yes I did. But that’s for another time…