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:
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 BONUS FEATURES
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.