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

Background

This 1981 solo Spider-Man cartoon series is a repeat of the basic formula of the early series, featuring Peter Parker living with his Aunt May, and juggling his obligations as Spider-Man, as a student of Empire State University, and as a photographer at the Daily Bugle (with girlfriend Betty Brant).

Officially this show (and the subsequent Spider-Man & Friends) resides in its own universe (Earth-8107), and not the universe of the earlier 1967 series (Earth-6799), and is a fresh start.

Story 'Bubble, Bubble, Oil And Trouble'

  Spider-Man TV (1981) Solo - Season 1, Episode 1
Summary: Sep 12, 1981: Doctor Octopus plans to steal the world's oil with his new jewel-encrusted arms.
Executive Producer: David H. DePatie, Lee Gunther
Producer: Art Vitello
Distributor: Marvel Productions, Ltd.
Editor: Robert T. Gillis
Writer: Christy Mark, Creighton Barnes, Donald F. Glut, Doug Booth, Francis K. Peighan, Jack Hanrahan, Jeffrey Scott, Larry Parr
Music: John Douglas

Spider-Man swings across the nighttime skyline of an eerily deserted Manhattan, accompanied to an never-ending 1970's orchestral soundtrack that could have come from the A-Team, I Dream of Jeannie, or Charlie's Angels. All seems quiet in New York, unless... is that the crashing sound of somebody breaking into the New York Cultural Museum?

Could it be Doctor Octopus with his 100-yard long tentacles, on top of the roof, stealing a million-dollar ruby by reaching down through a drainpipe, through the building's piping, and out through a hole in the wall hidden behind a clock, into the exhibit room, through the gaps in the laser security system?

Why yes it is! They battle, all the while exchanging such memorable lines as:

"That does it, I'm quitting your fan club!" and...

"Now that the web-spinner is out of the way, I can continue with my master plan, to take over the world!"

No subtle shades of motivation here. This ain't Alfred Molina's sympathetic Otto Octavius! It's the world or nothing. And indeed the plan seems to be going fine so far, Doctor Octopus gets away with the ruby gem (a very specific target, he didn't bother taking anything else). Poor Peter goes home to do his history homework, typing out his assignment on a typewriter. But he's so tired that he falls asleep until Aunt May wakes him by knocking on the door.

Damn, but that's a big mansion house the Parkers live in, just look at the size of that upstairs landing, not to mention Peter's giant bedroom with polished floor, giant desk, side-tables for lamps.

The next morning, Peter throws a robe over his costume as he greets Aunt May ("Oh, look at that, why I just love those adorable red socks!") and then heads off to Empire State University to hit the library and finish his history assignment on the topic of "Famous Landmarks of New York".

Wait. Why the heck is Peter studying history? He's at university now, majoring in bio-chemistry, and I'm quite confident that the science faculty does not offer papers in American History! Is it possible that the people who wrote this episode never actually went to university? That would make sense, to be honest, there are clearly some wide gaps in their education.

But who else is at ESU? Doctor Octopus, stealing a chunk of quartz from the Geology Lab! Spider-Man tries to stop Ock, but Ock has a trick up his tentacles. He runs off and leaves his tentacles behind. Sneaky! So, Spider-Man takes the tentacles to the police and... nah, just kidding. Spider-Man leaves the tentacles where they are, ensuring that Ock can continue his plans unimpeded. What a maroon!

But why did Ock ignore the "priceless moon rock" that was also in the Geology Lab's safe? And why is Ock now robbing diamonds from "the jewelry district". And where did all the cars go on the streets of Manhattan in those long-distance shots? And how many times do they think they can re-re-use those three clips of Spider-Man web-swinging down town before it starts to look, frankly, like lazy padding?

Enough questions. Time for some answers! Now we find out why Ock wanted the gems. He needed them to "make his arms ten times more powerful". He has added a ruby-powered laser, a quartz-powered sonic disruptor, and a diamond-tipped gem-cutter to the ends of his already fearsome limbs. So when Spider-Man finally tracks Ock down in his secret lair, the villain is easily victorious with his new gadgets.

Having overcome the web-slinger, Ock leaves Spider-Man tied up with metal bars, then floods and abandons his own lair in a purple and yellow submarine. The Beatles would have loved that! But how can Spider-Man escape? Unable to bend the bars and with the rising waters, Spider-Man manages to snag a convenient jar labelled "ACID" as it floats by. Then he pours the acid under water onto his bars, which conveniently dissolve within seconds.

Jesus H. Christmas! What the hell kind of acid melts through iron within seconds while under water! And how on earth does it not dissolve Spidey's costume, skin, bones, and skeleton at the same time. If you ask me, the most effective acid in this episode is the one that the writers were clearly hitting-up in their brainstorming sessions. To be fair, the Beatles would have loved that too.

As Spider-Man effects his infeasible escape, Ock is executing the "profit" step of his plan. Using his new enhanced tentacles, the good Doctor incapacitates a super-tanker by cutting off its propeller (ruby laser), stunning its crew (quartz vibrator) and drilling a hole (diamond cutter) via which to pump out all of the oil through a 6-inch pipeline into conveniently pre-prepared secret tanks on the bottom of the harbour.

New York goes into an instant panic! Jameson of the Daily Bugle is looking for Parker, since "All of New York's oil is being drained away under our noses!". Unable to find Parker, Jameson sends out his second-best option, his sycophantic nephew "Mortimer", in the Daily Bugle helicopter.

Honestly, I'm not sure that 10 minutes worth of slurping through a 6-inch pipe would make too much of a dent in the U.S. oil reserve. Nor in fact (given that Ock is still operating in secret) it it clear to me how on earth the Daily Bugle is even aware of what's going on. But that's just one of a long list of questions I'm struggling with.

For example, I really don't know how Aunt May managed to ring Peter on a pocket radiophone since the first commercially-available mobile phone (the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X) wasn't on the market until 1983.

Furthermore, I also don't know how you rewire a mobile phone to become a direction-finder for tracking quartz sonic vibrators. But Spider-Man manages to do it. He then tracks down Ock, but is unable to break the "atomic glass" of his submarine. So instead, he tricks Doc Ock into following him back to the heart of the U.S. Navy base where the villain is picked up by a handy dockside crane.

All we have left to complete now is the wrap-up. Mortimer returns back to see his uncle J.J.J., but all his photos of the Spidey/Ock battle were ruined by a zap of the ruby laser. Fortunately Peter's shots all came out great. But then... Peter realizes that his shots could be used as a photo-essay on the landmarks of New York City.

"If only," (bemoans Aunt May) "that horrible Spider-Man hadn't been there to ruin every one of them!

General Comments

I'm no longer seven years old. And this isn't the 1980's any more. So it's a bit hard to evaluate this show in it's original context.

It's also important to remember that, back then there was no CGI, and no cheap-labor animation sweatshops in South Korea or Vietnam. So I can't be too critical of the stilted visuals and the constant re-use of key sequences, these shows were created frame-by-expensive-hand-drawn-frame. But I can be critical of the slow pacing, the complete lack of respect for basic logic, and the total absence of anything approaching humor, plot, or common sense.

This show does the absolute bare minimum to produce a series of animated events portraying Spider-Man. There is no attempt to develop character depth – everybody gets one clich├ęd character trait, or two if they're lucky. Mortimer is an oily schmuck, Doc Ock is a psychotic genius, Aunt May is well-meaning but slightly retarded. Betty Brant is a complete nothing. I don't even recall if she got a line of dialog, despite appearing twice.

But the plot could have been written by that self-same seven year old target market. Lasers! Submarines with Atomic Glass Windows! A villain bringing America to its knees by sucking oil out of a hole punctured in the side of a ship, one gallon at a time!

Overall Rating

This show is as dumb as a bag of priceless moon rocks. Nothing in the plot makes any sense. Anybody old enough to turn on the TV by themselves has probably already passed the point where they can no longer take the show seriously.

I would like to enjoy this show, but there's precious little on which to hang any sort of affection. The characters aren't charming or interesting, and they don't develop. The voice acting is awful, and the dialog is worse. The visuals are simultaneously garish yet unexciting.

Elsewhere in the 1980's, other far more creative TV studios were producing the surreal Dangermouse, the fast-paced Count Duckula, and (only a few years after) the critically acclaimed Disney's Ducktales.

But this stodgy and uninspired Spider-Man is stuck in a dusty, dreary past.

Two Webs.

Footnote

Web-Wonders: An under-water shark-bridle.

What is my pick for the dumbest event of the episode? Well, it was spectacularly infeasible how, after Ock used his laser to cut off the oil tanker's stern section, Spider-Man just managed to push it back on again so the ship was working once more, as if the 50-ton propeller assembly just clips on and off like one of those magnetic power-supply connectors on the side of a MacBook. That's just not how ship-repair works! That's not how any of this works!

But the no-prize for dumbest scene has to be awarded to when Spider-Man was stunned and then sank like a stone (you do know that people float, right?) to the bottom of the harbor in an unconscious slump. Then he wakes up, webs a shark, rodeo-rides it back to the surface, and goes water-skiing behind it.

That's got to be a record – jumping the shark in the very first episode!

Al Sjoerdsma adds: "And how come Peter's costume isn't poking out of his v-neck robe when Aunt May compliments his red socks? And how does Peter find Ock's hideout in the sewer? And how does he know that it's Mortimer in the helicopter? And wasn't that homework assignment due in two hours...the day before? And...and...and...and...and..."