Spider-Man TV (1981) Solo - Season 1, Episode 2

Background

After a decade of absence following the end of the 1970's cartoon, Spider-Man returned in 1981 for a rebooted solo season of 26 episodes. Each one is 22 minutes long, and accompanied by a relentless orchestral soundtrack.

I'm watching them, so you don't have to.

Story 'Dr. Doom, Master of the World'

  Spider-Man TV (1981) Solo - Season 1, Episode 2
Summary: Sep 19, 1981: Dr. Doom brainwashes the entire U.N. assembly, and is proclaimed ruler of the world.
Executive Producer: David H. DePatie, Lee Gunther
Producer: Art Vitello
Distributor: Marvel Productions, Ltd.
Editor: Robert T. Gillis
Music: John Douglas

In a four-engine private jet plane, an elderly white male is preparing his speech for the United Nations. Who is he? Honestly, I'm not quite sure. He has a mid-Atlantic accent. He could be the President of the United States. Let's treat that as our working hypothesis.

But who is aboard that second aircraft stealthily following? The plane with the giant "D" emblazoned in red on the side, crewed by multi-armed robots? Ah, yes. Doctor Doom. Wow that's a big plane. It's, like, thirty times longer than Air Force One. (Yep, President confirmed). Doom's mega-craft slurps up the Prez's plane with a glowing red force-field, and pulls it on board.

Meanwhile, Peter Parker is waiting at the airport for the President to land. He's hoping to grab some shots for Jonah Jameson. But the plane is half an hour late. Shock, horror, there can be no reasonable explanation for a late flight! This must be the work of evil-doers! Peter has no choice but to find a quiet spot and drop his pants.

By snooping around the control tower [I assume Spider-Man can lip-read, because if ever a window was double-glazed, it's the windows in the flight control tower of a New York airport] Spidey learns that the President's plane disappeared somewhere over Jersey City. So, what's the next step? Well, common sense suggests that Spider-Man should go hunting around the back-corners of the Airport grounds at night trying to find some retired World War I flying ace dressed in a leather jacket and flying goggles, who runs an airplane museum with flight-ready aircraft, and who could be persuaded to lease a plane and a pilot for $20 bucks an hour to fly the web-slinger to Jersey City.

Aha... there he is. Wilbur Moses. And the plane is a Fokker Tri-Plane with German insignia. Naturally.

Spidey slips the old-timer a buck-ninety-eight for the first ten minutes and they're off. No time for formalities such as tower clearance. Wilbur and the Web-Head are up, up, and away!

Meanwhile, Doctor Doom's "blimp" is still circling Jersey City, undetectable by radar, thanks to his radar-defeating "anti-radar-shield". Have the writers given up trying already? I feel like they have given up trying. But Doom hasn't given up trying. He instructs robot K-12 to activate the surgical computer. Once he activates the remote mind control implant, the President's thoughts will be under his control. Evil Laugh!

But Spider-Man is here to save the day. Ignoring all fundamentals of flight, the Little Fokker has tracked down Doom's blimp and flies closer enough for Spidey to swing a web and hop a lift. Finding a conveniently unlocked door, the web-head climbs in and starts poking around. The first cupboard reveals a pink robot who seems to know Kung Fu.

Spider-Man foolishly wastes all his best lines on a robot. Classics like: "That'll teach me to open doors without knocking!", "You sure have a funny way of saying hello!", "You know something. If I didn't know better, I'd begin to be thinking you don't want to be friends." And of course the show-stopping "OK, no more Mister Nice-Guy."

Defeating two robots, Spider-Man finally tracks down the plane in, and encounters Doom – who promptly drops the plane and the wall-crawler out of the bottom of the hold. The two pilots immediately regain consciousness, realize that they're free-falling in a VC-25 with cold engines, and... jump-start it?

Clinging to the outside of the plane, Peter takes the opportunity to grab some photos through the window, then clings to the tail until it lands. Returning to the alley, he finds his clothes have been stolen, and has to sneak home in the hobo's rags that have been left in their place.

Meanwhile, Doom (presumably repeating variations of the kidnapping trick multiple times) has also implanted a mind-control gizmo into the neck of the representative from South Africa. The illustrators of the show were clearly a little confused at this point – in 1984 the leader of South Africa was a clean-shaven, slender white man. But the "leader of South Africa" is depicted as a brown-skinned man who looks more like a Colombian drug-dealer.

But no matter. That was the last world leader grabbed and probed. Doom has succeeded, he now has control of all of the world leaders, except for the Secretary General of the United Nations. Tomorrow, a special session of the United Nations will vote for Doctor Doom to become "Master of the World". His plan is foolproof!

But just in case – a "Nuclear Powered Flying Robot" will make sure of Spider-Man's destruction!

But not just a flying robot. This is a flying, nuclear-powered, raygun-toting, force-field-protected, steel-band-shooting robot!

"Good thing I took my vitamins this morning!" quips Spider-Man.

Blasted off the side of the building, Spider-Man falls. (Oh no!) Jammed web-shooter. (Oh no no!) Web-shooter fixed while falling. (Oh yes!) Then (having fallen for a full 20 seconds and talking the whole way down) Spider-Man spins himself not just a web-parachute but a fully-structured hang-glider with which to fly right back up to the top of the Twin Towers. Once landed, he bends a flagpole right over, and whip-snaps it back to knock the robot out of the sky and down into the river.

Peter heads to the Daily Bugle to hand in his photos. There doesn't seem to be any romantic chemistry between Peter and J.J.J.'s secretary Betty Brant, which is surprising. Maybe she's just being super-professional at work. But not too professional, given that she's sitting at the desk casually reading a book when Peter turns up, and doesn't put it away even when her boss comes into the room!

Jameson grabs the photos taken from the outside of the flying plane, then sends Peter and his smarmy nephew "Mortimer" off to cover the special session of the United Nations. It opens with the Secretary General (the only one who hasn't been mind-controlled) attempting to warn the delegates of a terrible mind-control plot. But it's too late! Doom's robots flood the U.N. chamber with a sleeping gas, and abduct the SecGen so that he too can join the ranks of the obedient.

So it's back to Spider-Man to save the day – except that he just got captured by Doom. And now our hero is trapped and zapped, electrically frozen inside Doom's blimp as it heads straight for the Statue of Liberty! Oh, the Humanity! He has only one hope – shoot a hardened pellet of webbing through the canvas side of the blimp, thus creating an lateral exhaust vent whose redirecting impetus will deviate the path of the Doom-blimp so that it misses Lady Liberty!

Honestly, if the blimp can be popped by a ball of webbing, I'm gonna put my money on Miss Liberty coming out just fine in that confrontation. But hey, these things are symbolic, I guess.

Right, so the web-pellet thing worked. But now what, the Lady is saved but Spidey is still trapped? Oh, whew! Fortunately Doom's electrical-zapper overloads and has a meltdown, freeing Spider-Man. Excellent. That worked out very conveniently.

But when a freed Spider-Man returns to the U.N. he is too late! As he faces down the metal-masked-menace, Spider-Man learns that Doctor Doom has officially been voted "The New Master of the World" by the United Nations! The web-head is powerless against the authority of an official vote! Doctor Doom moves his HQ into the former UNHQ, and sets up his computers and robots.

It is at this point that Spider-Man suddenly figures that Doom was up to no good! Putting two-and-two together – the little gizmos in the necks of all the leaders, and a certain surprising shift in voting tendency. Spider-Man suddenly starts to suspect that maybe, just maybe, the whole thing isn't quite legitimate? Just maybe Doom didn't win the vote honestly, and that changes everything, right?

It all wraps up quickly after that. Spider-Man goes over to Doom's computer, punches six buttons, and takes control of Doom's robots. Doctor Doom has to fly away in defeat, and then Spider-Man instructs the robots remove all the mind-control devices.

Then Peter heads back to the Bugle with his photos, much to the delight of Jonah and the annoyance of Mortimer, who had assumed that Peter simply ran away when the action started. And with a few bucks in his pocket, Peter invites Betty out to the movies to see a film about "a strange super-guy from another planet, who's allergic to green rocks."

"Sounds great, Petey!" replies Betty. Then Aunt May rings the Daily Bugle to remind Peter to come home early since it's a school night.

General Comments

I didn't hate this episode, and I'm still trying to figure out why not.

It could be Stockholm Syndrome, although we're only two episodes into the 26-part season, and it does seem a bit early for that sort of deep-rooted psychological shift. An alternative explanation is that it's just a case of the initial shock having worn off. The awfulness of the first episode hit me pretty hard, and I guess I just wasn't sufficiently prepared.

This time around, I'm all warmed up. I'm ready for the stilted dialogue, the threadbare characterizations, and the complete and utter senselessness of every scenario. In fact, the dumber this show gets, the easier it is to tolerate. It's as if we have crossed the "uncanny valley" of stupidity.

It's clear now that the writers of this show have decided to "lean into dumbness".

Overall Rating

I'm starting to understand what I can expect from this show.

Before I started watching, I was naive enough to imagine that it might be "good" in some way, shape, or form. I still nurtured a childish dream that the writers would strive for something higher. There are great writers everywhere, each desperate for a medium, a platform, a voice. Perhaps one of them might seize this as their opportunity to shine brilliant.

Instead of course, it's quite the opposite. This show plumbs unfathomed shallows. Constrained by the networks, limited by their own fears, it seeks an outlet in the only viable avenue that remains – sheer free-flying absurdity.

I can see they had no choice. Flying Doom-Blimps, a first world-war fighter ace and his collection of Little Fokkers camped out by the rubbish bins behind JFK airport. It all makes sense now. Nothing else was possible.

Three-and-a-half webs.

Footnote

So what is the Dumbest Moment of this episode?

Well, there's the logistical challenges of a blimp managing to keep pace with a Boeing, although we could assume Doom has an atomic-powered blimp, so maybe that's not so bad.

The bigger problem is the Fokker keeping up speed with a blimp that keeps up speed with a Boeing VC-25. The Fokker's maximum speed is 184kph with a ceiling of 14,000 ft. The Boeing VC-25 has a cruise altitude of 33,000 ft and stalls below 200kph!

Another fundamental physics violation is Spidey's 20-second fall off a New York skyscraper. Even factoring terminal velocity, that's 2,923 feet of falling.

But these are just a basic misunderstandings of Newtonian physics. For real brain-busting dumbness, we have to go with the United Nations voting Doctor Doom as (and I quote) "The New Master of the World".

There was a kind of cute period in the 1980's when people really did believe that the United Nations was relevant, and that some kind of international law would prevail. Of course, that was in the days before America declined to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and then pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

But even in those optimistic days, the idea of the U.N. having the power to vote for a "Master of the World" is utterly ludicrous! And please note the word "New" in that title. I want to know who was the old Master of the World? What did he (or she, although presumably if female she would have been the old Mistress of the World) have to say about being replaced? Isn't there supposed to be some formal sort of "handing over of the crown" ceremony, like in the beauty pageants? A tiara, at least?

Honestly, how can you blame my generation for not understanding how global statehood really works, when forty years ago my parents sat me down on a Saturday morning with a bowl of "Frooty Loops" and this kind of stuff playing on the TV? It's not my fault I'm ignorant regarding the basics of democracy! I blame Spider-Man, that Menace to Democracy!