Everything I Need to Know About SPIDER-MAN I learned in ’67

As a kid, the first chords of that iconic theme song kicking in and the montage of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man swinging across the streets of New York City, clinging to walls, and thwipping his web to thwart the bad guys was a call to adventure, and a signal that the Saturday Morning Cartoons had officially begun1

I don’t know if the fact that the Spider-Man cartoon of the 1960s was still running on television in the 1980s is a testament to the enduring popularity of the character and unique charm of the show2, or the continuing frugality of children’s content producers3, but either way I owe someone a debt of gratitude.  This show, with it’s snazzy jazzy soundtrack and psychedelic backgrounds, was a staple of my childhood, and not only introduced me to Spider-Man, but has become the barometer by which all other Spider-Men are measured.

And speaking of measures, as good as Danny Elfman’s theme, or Michael Giacchino’s Spider-Man: Homecoming Suite may be, neither can possibly touch Bob Harris and Paul Francis Webster’s theme song that started and ended every episode of the cartoon.  I would hazard a guess that you could go almost anywhere in the world and find people of all ages who know at least the basic tune and opening line of the song, and would sing it with almost no prompting.  It perfectly introduces you to the character, his world, and the challenges he faces. And it’s damn catchy to boot.

In fact, Ray Ellis’ entire score of the show was a fun romp through jazzland 4, that manages to elevate it above a cheap Canadian co-production, and genuinely adds a flair of drama and excitement to the often stilted and/or just plain odd animation.

Still, as recycled and weirdly off-model as the animation could get, there was no shortage of iconic superhero poses.

Perhaps most enduring after the iconic theme song was the voice work of Paul Soles and Paul Kligman as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson, respectively.  Kligman is easily the definitive Jameson for me, easily jumping between irate and annoyed whine with ease.  Sure there wasn’t much depth to the character, but the broad strokes were played well, and never fails to entertain even today.  Soles had only a little more heavy lifting to do, getting to play the squeakier Parker as well as the deeper voiced hero5 who got to spout off a “walloping websnappers” once or twice an episode. 6

The villains also put on a good show, managing to be both campy (Electro) and unsettling (Parafino7).  They were also unapologetically bad, with no hints of a redeemable soul within them, instead warped only by greed and a hatred of Spider-man that was able to occasionally unite them before they were torn apart by their own worse natures.  And when they did, Spider-Man was there to web them up with a helpful note.

Spider-Man isn’t only one to toss a ball of white goo around on the show.

Spider-Man was not only a wall crawler, but also a web slinger, and as much as I understand the impulse behind Raimi’s decision to give Peter organic webshooters8, nothing can replace the image of Peter cooking up webbing in his bedroom lab like a teenaged Walter White.  Add a drop of this and a dash of that, and now his webbing is extra strong, can withstand electrical current, form a bulletproof shield, or stick to the sky.  All without ever alerting Aunt May that there is anything strange going on upstairs.

Can a spider make meth?

Trying to describe the sound Spider-Man’s webbing makes as he swings across the city or clogs a criminal’s gun is perhaps a futile endeavour, but who can resist attempting to at least emulate the unmistakable Thwip! or Zzip! that characterized the most mundane to the most bizarre web? And the fact that his webbing on the show9 could be used as an ad hoc 3D printer to create a number of tools and weapons was ahead of it’s time, and has yet to be replicated in the films, even the goofy as hell Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Who else expected to see Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man pulling off this maneuver?

With it’s quaint animation and thinly plotted storylines the show may feel impossibly cheap by today’s standards, but it’s also perhaps the purest distillation of the character and the world, making for an easy entrance into the spectacular mythology of Spider-Man for kids of all ages.

  1. After the warm-up of HERCULES, and ROCKET ROBIN HOOD.
  2. it was
  3. it was this too, I would suspect
  4. Everything I know about Jazz I learned from The Talented Mr. Ripley and La La Land.
  5. More than a little Superman in that portrayal, no?
  6. It’s worth noting that these fine Canadians also did lasting voice work in Rankin and Bass’ classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as Hermey (Soles), and Clarice’s father (Kligman), a fact that kinda blew my mind when I found out.
  7. Parafino weirded me out as a kid, and was either a symptom of or the cause of my long fear of wax museums
  8. It never bothered me, but when you think about it, it’s kinda gross
  9. And maybe in the comics? I confess to being fairly unfamiliar with Spider-Man comics in general, but especially of that era