In 2002, Sam Raimi brought Spider-Man to the big screen and broke box office records. In 2004, he'll do it again when the sequel swings into a theater near you. But 35 years before modern audiences oohed and awed over the amazing adventures of a teenager bitten by a radioactive spider, kids were sitting in front of their television, singing "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does what a spider can, spins a web, any size, catches thieves, just like flies," all while staring intently at their hero in red tights.
Thanks to the new Spider-Man: The '67 Collection DVD set, which captures the entire 52 episodes of the animated series on six discs, I discovered the exciting superhero escapades kids thrilled over and emulated in the late 1960s. After watching nearly 20 hours of classic Spider-Man, I realized the cartoon is corny, cheesy, unbelievable, and at times, downright laughable. But you know what? I loved every minute of it.
Talk about nostalgia. Watching these DVDs was like walking through a time warp and stepping into a simpler time. And I can't wait to go back. For a brief time, I was a kid again. I was delighted with Peter Parker's exploits and I was thrilled at how Spider-Man always outwitted the bad guys. Sure, the adult side of my brain tried to interfere by pointing out that Spidey was swinging over rooftops on a web that wasn't attached to anything, or that a web could never stop a bullet, or a laser, or whatever cockamamie weapon the crazed super villain happened to be using. But who cares? It doesn't matter. Once the silly theme song came to a close, I had forgotten the real world and embraced my inner child.
The old Spider-Man cartoon is definitely not Shakespeare. Instead, it's shear fun. Even for the adults, as long as you're willing to let your childishness shine through. Maybe it's the corny nature of the simple plots—which almost always saw a villain trying to rob crabby old J. Jonah Jameson only to be out-smarted by your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man—that makes the show so much fun. Or maybe it's the always outrageous villains, which included the typical rogues gallery of Scorpion, Electro, Kingpin, and Rhino, but also included interesting characters like ice men from Pluto, spirits in an old theatre, dangerous man-eating plants, and my personal favorite, Dr. Noah Boddy, an invisible man who thinks he's smarter than the authorities. Even the simplistic art and dated animation style just adds to the shows charm.
If you're looking for a more modern, darker take on the superhero, you better look elsewhere. These cartoons are all about the action and the usual Peter Parker wit. The first 20 episodes, which aired in the show's first season, are broken into two 10-minute adventures, so there's no time for in-depth plots. The show's writers put Spidey in as many crazy situations as possible, as fast as possible, and found even more ludicrous ways to get him out.
The next 32 episodes, which aired in the second and third seasons, were mostly 21-minute adventures that included a bit more story, a bit more suspense, and sometimes a bit more mystery, yet never lost sight of the show's heart. Many of these episodes featured more "real life" villains, such as mobsters or bank robbers, but there were plenty of super villains and zany creatures ready to take over New York. Which means even these longer episodes were light on the character development and heavy on the outlandish action scenes.
Although I had a blast watching this series, I don't recommend anyone attempting to watch all 52 episodes in three or four days as I did for this review. Doing so makes it more apparent that the same shots of Spider-Man swinging through the city are used over and over again. Plus, watching too many episodes back to back hampers the element of nastalgia and sometimes makes the show feel dated (which it is, but it only becomes an issue after many hours spent in front of the television). So for me, I'll definitely be popping in these DVDs whenever I have a few minutes to relax and become a kid again. And with nearly 20 hours of cartoon perfection, I'll be able to do so for many years to come. I just won't try watching them marathon style.
For those interested in knowing what you'll be getting from the boxed set, here's a list of episodes:
1-1 The Power of Doctor Octopus / Sub-Zero For Spidey (first aired 09-Sep-1967)
1-2 Where Crawls the Lizard / Electro the Human Lightning Bolt
1-3 The Menace of Mysterio
1-4 The Sky is Falling / Captured By J. Jonah Jameson
1-5 Never Step On a Scorpion / Sands of Crime
1-6 Diet of Destruction / The Witching Hour
1-7 Kilowatt Kaper / The Peril of Parafino
1-8 Horn of the Rhino
1-9 The One-Eyed Idol / Fifth Avenue Phantom
1-10 The Revenge of Dr. Magneto / The Sinister Prime Minister
1-11 The Night of the Villains / Here Comes Trubble
1-12 Spiderman Meets Dr. Noah Boddy / The Fantastic Fakir
1-13 Return of the Flying Dutchman / Farewell Performance
1-14 The Golden Rhino / Blueprint For Crime
1-15 The Spider and the Fly / The Slippery Doctor Von Schlick
1-16 The Vulture's Prey / The Dark Terrors
1-17 The Terrible Triumph of Doctor Octopus / Magic Malice
1-18 Fountain of Terror / Fiddler On the Loose
1-19 To Catch a Spider / Double Identity
1-20 Sting of the Scorpion / Trick or Treachery
2-21 The Origin of Spiderman
2-22 King Pinned
2-23 Swing City
2-24 Criminals in the Clouds
2-25 Menace From the Bottom of the World
2-26 Diamond Dust
2-27 Spiderman Battles the Molemen
2-28 Phantom From the Depths of Time
2-29 The Evil Sorcerer
2-31 Pardo Presents
2-32 Cloud City of Gold
2-33 Neptune's Nose Cone
2-36 Thunder Rumble
2-37 Spiderman Meets Skyboy
2-38 Cold Storage
2-39 To Cage a Spider
3-40 The Winged Thing / Conner's Reptiles
3-41 Trouble With Snow / Spiderman Vs. Desperado
3-42 Sky Harbor / The Big Brainwasher
3-43 The Vanishing Doctor Vespasian / Scourge of the Scarf
3-44 Super Swami / The Birth of Microman
3-45 Knights Must Fall / The Devious Dr. Dumpty
3-46 Up From Nowhere
3-48 Rhino / The Madness of Mysterio
3-49 Revolt in the Fifth Dimension
3-50 Specialists and Slaves
3-51 Down to Earth
3-52 Trip to Tomorrow
Wallopin websnappers, this set looks great! Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents Spider-Man: The '67 Collection in its original full frame aspect ratio, and I can't help but think it looks better than when it first aired. Colors are bright throughout the series—Spider-Man's red costume looks particularly nice swinging over the skyline of New York—and the image looks as crisp and clear as the art would allow it to be. The most surprising detail of the transfer is the lack of dust and scratches. The images are very nice and clean. Certainly, as with any material from the era, there are specks to be found, but they rarely (if ever) become distracting.
While the majority of the series looks fantastic, there are a few episodes on the 5th and 6th discs that don't look as good. Episodes 40, 42, 43, 46, and 52 have muted colors and are generally fuzzy and dark. They appear as the shows might have looked on a VHS tape tha's been viewed a few too many times. Granted, these are from the second half of the series, which doesn't have the same vibrant colors as the earlier episodes because the artists used a darker color palette and included more shadows. But this doesn't explain away the poor quality of these few episodes.
Even with a few bad apples, this series looks great on DVD. They certainly don't have the appearance of being created with modern technology, but I can't imagine these cartoons looking any better. Considering the source element and just how nice these episodes look, I think the video for this set is very deserving of 4 stars.
The Spider-Man: The '67 Collection is presented in 2.0 Dolby sound, and while the tracks may not be as impressive as the video presentations, the audio is pleasantly crisp. The music and cheesy sound effects sound very clear even if they are a tad on the tinny side (which isn't entirely unexpected). Voices are clean throughout and I didn't notice any muffled or garbled tracks. The audio may lack the boom and envelopment of a modern track, but for these priceless old episodes, I think they fit perfectly.
THE BONUS FEATURES
All you get are trailers for the Aladdin DVD, the Spider-Man vs. Venom Saga DVD, Bionicle 2, and the Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock DVD (all of which are found on disc one). The exclusive booklet is a few pages that include a brief introduction by Spidey's creator, Stan Lee, a handy episode guide, a cast list, and a reprint of the theme song lyrics.
The nearly 20-hour run time of the DVD set makes the lack of bonus material slightly less disappointing. Still, it would've been nice to have a little something extra.
Even without amazing special features, this set warrants the "DVDtalk Collector Series" label. Many readers might doubt my sanity for such crazy talk, but I just had too much fun with this set not to tout it highly. With 52 episodes of childish joy and exceptional video quality, this set deserves to be on every comic book or cartoon fan's DVD shelf. I know I'll be popping these episodes into my DVD player for years to come, and with so many episodes to choose from, I doubt they'll ever get old. Sure, I'll admit that the show isn't for everyone. But if you like Spider-Man and you're willing to be a kid again, this DVD set comes highly recommended.