Spidey's Bonkers '60s Cartoon All The Spider-Man Memes Came From
After a long wait, Spider-Man: No Way Home is finally swinging into theaters. To celebrate, Cracked is doing a deep dive into the pop-culture web that our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler has spun for almost six decades. Check the previous installments here:
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Batman has the best villains, and Superman has the most powers, but Spider-Man unquestionably has the best and most memes. Spider-Man memes are so popular that they can dwarf other parts of the franchise. Compare the audience reaction to Spider-Man 2099's cameo on the post-credits scene of Into the Spider-Verse (one guy saying "nice") to the same audience losing it when they recognize the "Spider-Man pointing" meme:
That dumb screenshot is a thousand times more recognizable than a character with nearly 20 years of stories (or Oscar Issac's voice, apparently). And, as you're probably aware, that's not the only widely-shared meme featuring this particular version of Spider-Man. There's the one with Spidey playing with his "organic web shooter" behind a desk ...
Or the one about Peter Parker reading a book, which has produced panel sequences worthy of multiple Eisner Awards ...
Even Spidey's villains have their own runaway meme:
And there's more! The irony is that the most famous pictures of Spider-Man on the internet all come from his most precarious adaptation -- one plagued by serious money problems, editorial indifference, and copious amounts of self-plagiarism. Here's the original 1967 Spider-Man cartoon's unlikely path to 21st-century pop culture relevancy:
It Was Spin-Off Of The Crappiest Marvel "Cartoon" Ever
The Marvel Super-Heroes (1966) was the first Marvel animated show to hit the airwaves, though it barely qualified as "animated." The show was created by straight-up photocopying comic book pages and then adding the bare minimum amount of animation possible -- mostly just eyes, mouths, and the odd appendage. The target audience was "people who like Marvel Comics but are too lazy to read."
Still, Marvel liked the result enough that they immediately partnered up with the same studio, Grantray-Lawrence Animation, to create a Spider-Man cartoon with a higher budget ... but not that much higher, hence why they had to get rid of the webs on Spidey's torso. They simply couldn't afford to animate all of those extra lines (or, it seems, pay someone to make sure the spider logo had the correct number of legs).
The first season had Stan Lee as a story consultant, which is probably why the cartoon version of the Green Goblin is closer to Lee's nutty original conception of the character as an ancient demon found in a sarcophagus (artist Steve Ditko just ignored Lee's idea and drew him as a human in a suit). In the show, the Goblin is obsessed with black magic and summons demons to give him satanic powers, but they turn him down upon seeing Spider-Man whoop his ass. Another character whose motivation differs somewhat from the comics is the Rhino, a pure soul who simply wants to steal enough gold to make a golden statue of himself, but that Spider-Fascist won't let him.
Besides other classic villains like Dr. Octopus, Mysterio, Electro, and the Lizard, cartoon Spidey also fought all-new ones like Parafino the wax museum owner, Dr. Magneto (no relation), a giant robot of unexplained origin, a 15th-century conquistador, some aliens from Pluto, and a gang of diamond thieves in gorilla suits. Still, at this point, the show was relatively faithful to the source material. Every episode showed Peter Parker trying to fight crime while dealing with typical teenager problems and hiding his secret from his elderly aunt and his pictures-of-Spider-Man-obsessed boss.
The show was a hit, as was its instantly recognizable theme song -- pretty soon, the words "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can" began displacing "Na na na na na na na na na na na na na Batman" as the most iconic superhero lyrics ever. There was just one problem: they ran out of money. And that's when things got weird.
Ralph Bakshi Only Worked On Spider-Man So He Could Make An X-Rated Cartoon
Grantray-Lawrence Animation went bankrupt after finishing 20 episodes of Spider-Man, which was a big problem for Marvel since they'd sold 52 episodes to ABC. That's when the show was handed over to Ralph Bakshi, best known for the traumatizing Lord of the Rings animated movie, that cartoon where Mighty Mouse is a little too fond of "nose candy," and, of course, Fritz the Cat, the first animated movie to be rated X (due to profanity, drug use, and anthropomorphic cat boobies). Bakshi's involvement in Spider-Man's second and third seasons might explain this scene where Spidey is hit in the face with a "vibrator":
Although Bakshi was a legit Spider-Man comics fan, he's said multiple times that he only agreed to take over the cartoon because the production company told him he could do Fritz next. He has also said that Stan Lee and Marvel as a whole "didn't give a shit" about what he put on show at this point as long as ABC had something to air and they got their money. They wouldn't care or even notice if Bakshi (who was working with a drastically reduced budget) simply slapped together scenes from existing episodes to create new ones ... so, eventually, that's what he started doing.
The first season had already made it a habit to reuse the exact same animations of Spider-Man swinging around New York with different backgrounds. Bakshi dialed that up and started re-resuing those shots to pad out the running time. Here's a 20-minute compilation of all the swinging scenes from just the first 5 episodes of season two:
And the recycling only got more egregious after that. Out of the 13 episodes in season three, eight contained large sections lifted from previous ones -- including one from another show by Bakshi, Rocket Robin Hood, a futuristic series set in space. They literally took the original episode and replaced Robin Hood with Spider-Man in the animation cells, adding some existing shots of Spidey swinging around New York for good measure. Did Bakshi really think no one would realize that he was reusing chunks of his old work, or did he simply not give a crap? Either way, that's kinda sad.
By season three, the slapped-together episodes were the only ones where any comic book villains showed up. On the rest, Spidey mostly fought regular crooks whose skin had been colored green to make them look a little more interesting. One episode inexplicably features Mysterio as a green-skinned beatnik, even though he'd already appeared in his classic fishbowl head look. And no, this isn't what he looked like under the helmet all along because he appears without it in his first episode, and it turns out he's ... Spock?
Yet, for all the shortcuts and the general DGAF attitude, Bakshi's overall Bakshi-ness still comes through in this show. Bakshi and his friends -- because he seriously staffed the show with his animator pals and some comic book artists he liked -- replaced the minimal backgrounds from the first season with psychedelic art that simulated the experience of reading Spider-Man comics while tripping balls. Also, because of the budget cuts, they stopped recording original music for the show and started using fever dream jazz numbers from a British music library. One track (at 46:28 in the video below) is actually called "LSD."
Bakshi gave the show a distinctive personality and a weird mystique that no other Spider-Man adaptation has been able to recreate. As far as we're concerned, he earned the right to go off and make his cat porno or whatever. Spider-Man ended after the planned 52 episodes, but it stayed alive by crawling its way into every local TV station in the U.S. throughout the '70s. By the following decade, it was a mainstay in after-school cartoon segments all over the world, including Latin America, where it had a completely different, much more '80s theme song. Who can forget the classic lyrics "Spider-Man, you are my friend. Spider-Man, you know how to fight"?
The show's popularity in syndication directly led to new Spider-Man cartoons that gradually replaced it in the collective consciousness. Once the movies came around, Spider-Man lovers who couldn't or didn't want to read had plenty of other Spider-Media options to choose from, and the original cartoon was relegated to a nostalgic curiosity. Until ...
4chan Memed New Life Into The Show
In 2009, Marvel began streaming all episodes of the Spider-Man '67 cartoon on their website, probably just to put some filler content out there, which inspired several pop culture sites to write lists and articles about the show, definitely just to put some filler content out there. More significantly, this gained the attention of 4chan, spawning several threads where users would post random screenshots from the show as they watched along. It's safe to say that most of the images now going around as memes originally came from those threads.
One early meme born out of the Great Spider-Man Re-Watch of '09 was "This is now a Spider-Man thread," in which a poster drops an image of this show in the middle of an active conversation, and everyone else must follow up with some of their own or face social ostracism. It's easy to see why this Spider-Man became so useful to channers and the internet in general: Stan Lee liked saying that a big part of the character's appeal is that anyone can imagine they're the one inside that costume (whereas only people with square jaws can imagine they're Batman). This is especially true of this animated version, with its simplistic art style, endearingly basic poses, and wide range of scenarios.
Also, it helps that the Spidey in this show really was kind of a troll, like when he delights in forcing J. Jonah Jameson to say "please" before freeing him from a trap, or when he uses ventriloquism to fool villains into punching one another. Another important ingredient is that, with the show being so old and, let's say, not amazingly produced, sharing these images doesn't feel like you're helping promote a corporate product. As opposed to this random screenshot from the next Spider-Man movie that Sony clearly released as a promotional image for the specific purpose of turning it into a meme format.
Anyway, please enjoy the '60s Spider-Man memes before Sony tries to use them to promote Across the Spider-Verse and kills them all. Here are The Ramones playing the theme song!
Top image: Marvel Animation
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