Welcome to Super Saturday, a new ongoing weekly column that will pay tribute to the animated classics of yesterday, and will be offered on Saturday mornings, a period when many of us remember being the only time animated kids’ programming was offered in the dark, primitive days before streaming, cable, and home video were ubiquitous, making a special time for such programming obsolete. Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave any feedback or personal remembrances in the comments!
It’s almost impossible to imagine, but in the late-1970s and early-80s, the DC superheroes were household names and could be found everywhere from TV to the big screen to every department store in America. On the other hand, the Marvel characters had much less exposure and were not nearly as well known by general audiences. (My how times have changed!)
But in 1981, when NBC saw how popular ‘Super Friends’ was on ABC, the network attempted to jump on the bandwagon with a trio of superhero shows– Filmation’s ‘The Kids Super Power Hour with Shazam!’, Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Space Stars’ (which not only cashed in on the popularity of superheroes, but ‘Star Wars’), and ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’. While ‘The Kids Super Power Hour’ and ‘Space Stars’ were one-season wonders, ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ became a staple of NBC’s Saturday schedule until 1986.
Hailing from Marvel Productions (later known as Sunbow), the series starred Marvel’s flagship hero, a.k.a. Empire State University student Peter Parker, who found himself teamed with former X-Men Iceman/Bobby Drake and Fire-Star/Angelica Jones. Plans originally called for the two “Amazing Friends” to be Iceman and the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, but that character was tied up in another licensing deal.
Fire-Star was an original character created for this series, and over the course of development was, at different times, known as Heatwave, Starblaze, and Firefly. In her alter ego, she strongly resembled Spider-Man’s love interest in the comics, Mary Jane Watson, who was not part of the show. A running theme on ‘Amazing Friends’ was a love triangle between the three heroes, but eventually, Spidey and Fire-Star wound up as a couple for the most part, although in the third season episode, “Spidey Meets the Girl from Tomorrow,” he falls in love with a time traveler named Ariel and even plans to leave his life behind to go live with her in the future.
Bobby and Angelica, also students at ESU, moved into the brownstone in which Peter lived with Aunt May. Angelica had a pet Lhasa Apso named Ms. Lion, whom May wound up taking care of most of the time. After being saved by the Spider-Friends, Tony Stark gifted them with high-tech crime-fighting equipment.
In a clear swipe at the ‘Super Friends’, the trio referred to themselves as “The Spider-Friends,” and used the battle cry “Spider-Friends… Go for it!”
While ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ aired on NBC Saturday mornings until 1986, there were really only three seasons… and even there, just barely. The first was comprised of 13 episodes. Season two only saw the addition of three new episodes, which depicted the origins of the show’s stars. Eight new episodes were created for the third season, which kicked off in 1983. After that, NBC continued to air the show in reruns.
Spider-Man/Peter Parker was voiced by Dan Gilvezan, with Kathy Garver as Fire-Star/Angelica Jones, and June Foray as Aunt May. But the most recognizable voice in the cast belonged to animation legend Frank Welker (Fred on ‘Scooby-Doo’, Megatron and Soundwave on ‘Transformers’) who voiced both Iceman/Bobby Drake, and bully Flash Thompson, in addition to providing the barks for Ms. Lion.
Dick Tufeld narrated the first season, with Stan Lee taking over for Seasons 2 and 3. Lee also recorded new narration for Season 1, which replaced Tufeld’s in subsequent airings. However, the copies of Seasons 1 and 2 that currently exist don’t have narration by either, so it’s not clear what became of those recordings.
‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ is fondly remembered for introducing kids to a wide variety of Marvel supervillains. Some were traditional Spider-foes including the Green Goblin, Kraven the Hunter, Swarm, The Chameleon, Electro, Mysterio, The Kingpin, The Sandman, The Beetle, and The Scorpion. Others were drawn from the larger Marvel Universe, like Doctor Doom, the Red Skull, Magneto, Loki, Mordred, and Dracula.
The episode “The Quest of the Red Skull” has essentially been erased from existence, as it features Adolf Hitler, Nazis performing their famous “Heil Hitler” salute, and images of the swastika. It has not been rerun or released for streaming or on home video and probably never will.
In addition to the Rogues Gallery, the series also brought in heroic guests, including Sunfire, Thor, and The Black Knight. The episode “Seven Little Superheroes” with The Chameleon as the villain, guest-starred Doctor Strange, Captain America, Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Shanna the She-Devil. Captain America also guest-starred in a separate episode, “Pawns of the Kingpin.” Tony Stark and Matt Murdock appeared in guest roles, but their heroic alter egos– Iron Man and Daredevil– only made short silent cameos. After appearing in Season 1’s “Spidey Goes Hollywood,” the Hulk was given his own NBC cartoon the following season.
‘Amazing Friends’ was also stuffed with other Marvel characters in Easter Egg-like mock cameos. In the first episode, “Triumph of the Green Goblin,” the gang attends a “Comic Book Costume Party” with other attendees dressed as a wide variety of Marvel heroes. In a later episode, the Friends visit a costume shop, where mannequins are shown dressed as Firebird and Dazzler, among others. Those are just a couple of examples of unofficial cameos found in this series.
The X-Men appeared a few times, in the flesh and in flashbacks. Of the original team, Beast and Marvel Girl only made silent cameos, while Professor X, Cyclops, and Angel played larger roles. It appears that Beast and Marvel Girl had left by the time Fire-Star was recruited. In one animation blooper, the team appeared to have two Cyclopses.
With Professor X, Cyclops, and Angel, Storm and a bizarrely Australian Wolverine guest-starred in “A Fire-Star Is Born,” which featured The Juggernaut as the villain.
In “The X-Men Adventure,” which was a backdoor pilot for a proposed ‘X-Men’ spin-off, Angel and Wolverine are gone, and the team consists of Professor X, Cyclops, Storm, and newcomers Colossus, Sprite (Kitty Pryde), Nightcrawler, and Thunderbird. The latter is a bizarre choice, as he had been dead in the comics for years. He also displays the power to turn into a large bear, something he never did in the comics.
In Season 3’s “The Education of a Superhero” (which further set up the planned ‘X-Men’ series), Thunderbird was gone and Wolverine was back. Kitty Pryde had also graduated from her identity as Sprite to Ariel. The X-Men agreed to help original creation Video-Man learn to control his powers– something that would have been the focus of the intended spin-off.
Of course, this spin-off never happened, and the ‘X-Men’ wouldn’t get their own series until the early ’90s, long after ‘Amazing Friends’ had ended. As such, there was no connection.
At the same time that Marvel Productions created ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’, it also produced a solo ‘Spider-Man’ cartoon that aired in syndication. While the same art style and character designs were used, the voice cast was different. That series is much more obscure and hasn’t aired as often or as conveniently as ‘Amazing Friends’. One major difference between the two is that on ‘Amazing Friends’, Norman Osborn actually morphs into the monstrous Green Goblin, whereas on ‘Spider-Man’, Osborn puts on a costume and mask. For some strange reason, there are two episodes– ‘Spider-Man’s “The Web of Nephilia” and ‘Amazing Friends” “Attack of the Arachnoid”– that have essentially the same plot– a scientist becomes a powerful spider-monster.
Some fans have tried to reconcile how these two shows coexist, with many feeling that ‘Spider-Man’ is a prequel to ‘Amazing Friends’, especially considering that ‘Amazing Friends’ actually used footage from ‘Spider-Man’ in flashbacks. But Doctor Doom and the Red Skull were both killed in the solo ‘Spider-Man’ series, so that puts a kink in that theory, unless you chalk it up to this being based on comic books, and no one, especially a supervillain, stays dead.
‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ was such a major part of NBC’s Saturday morning lineup, that the cast appeared in live-action in this clip from the network’s fall preview special:
As was the case with DC and ‘Super Friends’, Marvel did very little to cash in on the popularity of ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’. Only one comic book was produced, which adapted “Triumph of the Green Goblin.” This same comic was later reprinted as ‘Marvel Action Universe’ #1. (There were a couple of additional comics made as promotional items, but they’re hard to come by.)
One of the only licensing deals made was for a Hardee’s kids meal, which also featured The Hulk, Captain America, and Spider-Woman. The commercial for that can be found below:
Did that kid call him “Uncle Butter?” That’s what I heard.
‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ has surfaced sporadically in reruns, most notably on ‘Marvel Action Universe’ in 1989, and more recently on Disney XD, but the episodes have been savagely butchered over the years. Many episodes no longer even make sense because so much has been cut out of them. And as stated, it appears a large chunk of the narration has been lost for good.
The entire series has never been released on home video in the US. A few scattered episodes were released on VHS. A few more have been released on DVD in Canada. The entire ‘Amazing Friends’ series, and the solo ‘Spider-Man’ series have been released in the UK, but are now out of print. I have not seen these for myself, but my understanding is that these are the edited episodes. (Comment below if you can confirm or refute that.)
It can be streamed on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Youtube, but you have to pay for it. ($1.99 per episode) However, both ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ will be available on Disney+ when it launches on November 12, but it remains to be seen if the episodes will be the cut or uncut versions.
Do you have any fond memories of ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’?