Grantray-Lawrence Animation

In 1967, the Marvel Super Heroes weren’t yet household names.  They had only been around for seven years, versus the DC heroes who had over two decades to their names.  Even so, in 1966, the Marvel characters were introduced to a wider audience, via the limited-animation syndicated series ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’ from Grantray-Lawrence Animation, distributed by Krantz Films.  1966 was also the first year that all three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, aired blocks of original cartoons on Saturday morning, and among the offerings were Filmation’s ‘The New Adventures of Superman’ and Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Space Ghost and Dino-Boy’ and ‘Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles’.  These superhero shows were so popular that in the second year of Saturday morning cartoons, all three networks let loose a torrent of super shows.

In the fall of 1967, two Marvel books were transformed into Saturday morning cartoons– the ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘Spider-Man’.  Hanna-Barbera produced the ‘FF’, while Grantray-Lawrence and Krantz took another swing with ‘Spider-Man’.  Despite these shows originating from different animators, they aired back-to-back on ABC.

‘Spider-Man’ is best remembered for the swingin’ theme song, “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can…”  While Grantray-Lawrence had to xerox actual comic book art to make ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’, ‘Spider-Man’ marked a shift to full animation, although as was the case of most Saturday a.m. shows of the time, the animation still wasn’t top-notch.

Steps were taken to simplify the art.  Most noticeably, Spidey didn’t have webs all over his costume, just on his face, neck, gloves, and boots.

Grantray-Lawrence Animation

Paul Soles, who had voiced Bruce Banner, Attuma, and Rick Jones on ‘The Marvel Super Heroes’ provided Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s voice.  The three most frequent supporting characters were J. Jonah Jameson (Paul Kligman), Betty Brant, and Aunt May (both voiced by Peg Dixon).  Bernard Cowan served as narrator and provided additional voices.  Mary Jane Watson actually made her animation debut on this series of ‘Spider-Man’ on the third-season episode “The Big Brainwasher.”  Captain Ned Stacy also makes an appearance.

Although Betty is presented as something of a love interest, Peter is shown dating or interested in a variety of women on this series.  Interestingly, Betty, who is a brunette in the comics, has red hair on this series.

Grantray-Lawrence Animation
Mary Jane Watson – Grantray-Lawrence Animation

Among the comic book villains featured were Dr. Octopus, The Lizard, Electro, Mysterio, The Vulture, Henry Smythe, The Scorpion, The Sandman, The Green Goblin, The Rhino, The Fly (Human Fly), the Ox and Cowboy, and The Kingpin.  Web-Head also took on a variety of other gimmicky crooks, evil scientists, and other antagonists, especially after the first season, as the comic book villains were slowly phased out.

Grantray-Lawrence was a small animation studio and it wound up folding after the first season of ‘Spider-Man’.  Distributor Krantz Films took over and turned production over to Ralph Bakshi who cut a lot more corners.  Episodes that featured villains from Season 1 recycled footage from those earlier episodes and even from a separate TV series ‘Rocket Robin Hood’, which had also been produced by Grantray-Lawrence/Krantz.  The reason the comic book villains were phased out over time is that they were more expensive to animate than simply reusing footage of green aliens (or whatnot) from ‘Rocket Robin Hood’.

One S3 episode, “Revolt in the Fifth Dimension,” was not aired due to one character’s death and “psychedelia.”  In other words, it was just too creepy and weird.  This is one of those episodes that lifted a large chunk of its content from ‘Rocket Robin Hood’.

In total, there were 52 episodes of ‘Spider-Man’ produced.  It was aired off and on throughout the years on various channels in the U.S. and abroad.

Grantray-Lawrence Animation

Some episodes were released on VHS and the entire series was released on DVD by Buena Vista Home Entertainment in 2004.  Because it was the entire series, on six discs, it was pretty expensive, about $75 so I never bought it.  NOW, that same boxed set sells for hundreds of dollars, so I’ve been kicking myself for years over that.  Buena Vista is (was?) owned by Disney, however, so there is still a possibility that this series could wind up on Disney+ at some point.  (Episodes are available to stream on some services, but have to be bought individually for $1.99.)

There have been subsequent ‘Spider-Man’ cartoons, but perhaps due to the low-budget artwork of the original, still images from it have become meme fodder so ubiquitous that one such meme, of two Spider-Men pointing at each other, taken from the episode “Double Identity” was referenced in ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’.

Grantray-Lawrence Animation

And if this post-credits stinger is any indication, Spider-Man ’67 might return in the sequel to ‘Into the Spider-Verse’.

Do you have any memories of the first ‘Spider-Man’ cartoon?  Feel free to comment, as well as share on social media!