Bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker became the super powered hero Spider-Man who has taken the moral view “with great power comes great responsibility” and sworn a vow to protect the people of New York.
Beneath the bustling streets of New York two maintenance workers are performing a routine inspection of the subway tunnel signal boxes when a gigantic Lizard with glowing red eyes and a tattered lab coat rears up behind them. They manage to escape the tunnel but one man is grabbed by the lag by a scaly hand from a steam vent which drags him underground as his co-worker drives off at full speed. As he tears down the road he cannot shake the memory of the gleaming red eyes, causing him to careen wildly into passing traffic. Spider-Man notices the mayhem from his perch above and swings in to stop the rampage with a glib throw-away remark about the standards of the New York taxi drivers. Spider-Man is unable to stop the van in time and they go careening off the edge of the harbour. Fortunately Spider-Man web-lines the driver out of the window as the van crashes into the waters below, mocking the man’s gibberish about what he saw in the subway, dropping him off on a bridge asking the man not to tell the inbound police that he was the one responsible for the accident before swinging away.
Robbie Robertson stops Peter at the Daily Bugle with a new assignment: getting a snapshot of The Lizard. Peter is confounded but J. J. Jameson is on hand to outline the story of a man-sized reptile stalking the sewers and berate Parkers’ tardiness. Peter shrugs off the story as a hoax which is fortunate as his rival Eddie Brock swaggers in to say he’s already on the case, with Peter retorting that Brock is the only one that he’d trust on a wild goose-chase like this. Jameson is not swayed, pulling out a photo of the repair worker taken earlier and Brock has drawn up a list of reptile experts working in the city who could help identify the beast from the description given by the co-worker – Dr Curt Connors is top of the list. Peter mentions that Connors is his university lecturers for mutagenics so Jameson makes him the Bugles’ contact with the doctor, much to Brocks’ displeasure. To give further incentive the two photographers Jameson offers a thousand dollar bonus to the first man to photo the Lizard.
A violent storm plays over the city that evening. Journeying home Peter considers buying a motorcycle or getting a down-placement on a house, but as Peter is dwelling on his future fortune Aunt May is looking over her overdue notices and bills. Assuming Peter hasn’t noticed she is hiding something she tucks the bills under the other mail and wanders off, leaving Peter to rummage through the pile and take out the hidden letter. Guilty for thinking only of his creature comforts he decides to payback May for her years of care.
Spider-Man descends the subway tunnels, lamenting the way he never gets the sunny outdoor assignments. Switching on his belt light he spies a reptilian footprint in the dirt and photographs it for analysis. Back in his civilian clothes he runs into Debra Whitman as he approaches the ESU Science Hall to show Dr. Connors his photo. The intrigued Debra snatches the Polaroid away and does a quick analysis, fascinated by the size of the creature to leave such a deep imprint and suggesting it walks on two legs. Brock is stalking the ESU corridors and overhears their conversation but stays hidden in the shadows. Peter’s spider-sense goes off and the power fails. Dr. Connors’ lab door is ajar, the room in complete disarray. Something stirs in the darkness and Debra rushes over despite Dr. Connors warnings and sees that it is the Lizard removing a large bound object from the work bench. Lizard breaks for the window, disturbing the bookcase which causes a box to fall on Debra. Peter makes sure she’s okay, missing his chance to stop the fleeing figure and the bundle the pair assume must be Dr. Connors. Peter is about to give chase but is stopped by Debra.
During a flashback sequence Dr. Connors removes liquid from a lizard and injects it into a mouse with a missing limb, bombarding the rodent with radiation which causes the limb to re-grow before Parker and Connors’ eyes. Amazed by the success Connors tells Peter that this is the first step in human limb repair, nursing his right arm stump as he does so. As Spider-Man back in the present he questions why anyone would want to kidnap Connors and decides to investigate the family home; however the Lizard has had the same idea and is staring in at Margret and Billy Connors. Spider-Man drops in on the pair and asks about Dr. Connors but Mrs Connors refuses to talk or allow Spidey to harm her husband. Confused by what she means, Spidey has no time to question her further because Brock is outside with the Lizard bearing down on him. Scrambling into the bushes Brock makes a temporary retreat while Spider-Man leaps to take his thousand dollar photo which the Lizard ruins by tail-flicking the camera into a puddle. The Lizard clearly has the advantage as the pair fights, eventually flinging Spidey into a tree house and closing in for the kill until Connors’ son emerges in the doorway and pleads with his father to stop, causing the Lizard to rasp Billy’s name and flee the scene. Once again out of the loop Spidey quizzes the mother on what just happened. It transpires that Curt was working on his latest experiment, the neogenic recombinator; an upgraded model of his previous equipment and performed a trial run on himself to re-grow his lost arm. The process was initially a success, but the newly formed hand quickly develops scales that spread all over his body and transform Connors into the Lizard in front of his family. From his hiding place in the bushes Brock notes down the story. Spidey can emote to the tale and agrees to not report the origins of the Lizard to prevent Curt’s public image from being tarnished and his branding as a menace to society - Brock however has no such desire to forfeit his winning story and breaks for it. His flight is prevented by Spider-Man who webs him to a lamppost and gags him. Margret’s scream stops things there and Spidey returns too late for him to stop Lizards escape into the sewers with his wife. Billy is dropped off at the neighbours and is promised his parents safe return.
The sewers are flooding from the raging downpour above as Spider-Man crawls along the tunnels moaning over being the only superhero to ever have to go into the sewers, covering badly for his fear. He hears Margret in the network beyond and hastily jumps through a grating and into a shaft from which he is just able to save himself plummeting to his death. Taking a moment to recompose he guilt-trips over having helped Curt become a monster be assisting his early experiments when the missing maintenance worker from earlier appears at the great next to him. Spidey rescues him and the man says the Lizard was working on a machine but needed help – cue the electricians’ role. Margret screams again and as Spider-Man prepares to leave after reminding the dubious man that the hero always comes back.
The Lizard is hauling the neogenic recombinator and Margret through the lower tunnels. While he sets up base camp Margret asks him why he brought her here. He replies in much better English that this way they can be together, as he plans to transform he into a lizard to, followed by everyone else to form a society free from disease and deforming wounds once the machine is connected to the city spanning electrical conduits running throughout the sewers. While Margret rationalises with Lizard Spidey plats a camera. Margret tries to subdue his delusions of grandeur, proclaiming that if this is the start of a perfect society then why does he need an extra pair of human ands to operate the machine but Lizard is unconvinced, saying she is twisting the facts, yet clearly he is caught in two minds over his son becoming a monster too. At this moment of weakness Spider-Man strikes, his first hit landing hard and knocking Lizard away. Lizard recovers fast and whips Spider-Man to the ground, lunging at his as he leaps to safety. The fight has fully awakened the reptile side of his brain which is now in complete control and sending him into a berserker rage. Margret grabs the recombinator but freezes in terror when Lizard turns his attention back to her. Spider-Man tries to stop the Lizard by webbing his heels, the plan backfiring as the Lizard whirls around and strikes Margret with a heavy tail blow that knocks her away and sends the recombinator hurtling into the far wall drainage pipe. Horrified by his action the human side of his brain to partially take dominance as Lizard kneels by his unconscious wife and apologises. Realising this is his moment; Spider-Man swings to the recombinator as the Lizard charges him into the murky waters below. Margret comes to in time to see the machine activate – a bright flash pulses through the water as Lizard and Spider-Man fight beneath the surface. Spider-Man pulls the humanised Curt from the water and grabs his camera, complimenting himself on a job well done; He’s earned a thousand dollars and Brocks’ attempts to run the Connors story will now just be so much crackpot theory.
The following day Brock takes Jameson and a police car to the Connors house to prove his story to the editor, who remains unconvinced even by Brocks’ statement to eat today’s paper if he’s wrong. Curt and his family answer the door and Jameson asks Brock if he wants his meal cooked or dry. Meanwhile Aunt May is flabbergasted by Peters’ generous offer to pay her bills but disapproves of his actions following Spider-Man putting him in danger in order to get the prize winning photographs on the front page. Peter says this can’t be helped as, for better or worse, he and Spider-Man are bound together.
This is a good start to the sensational 90s’ animated run at the Spider-Man story. The animation is fluid, more so than the X-Men, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Fantastic Four cartoons produced just prior to the series commission, and is only barely dated by today’s computer rendered contenders. The colours are vivid and bright where needed, like Spidey’s costume, and suitably dank and dingy for the storm and sewer scenes.
The story does not instantly show the origins of the web-swinger for reasons outlined in the footnotes section, but despite this even newcomers to the universe won’t feel too out of their depth as all the characters and sanarios are introduced and built upon throughout the episode, with a sense of a greater continuity being at work through the early introduction of characters like Eddie Brock from the get-go. Spider-Man himself is suitably voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes (who voice has now been allocated to all Parker/Spidey comic dialogue for me for the last 14 years), who catches Spidey’s jovial nature effortlessly but is equally able to provide his more serious and remorseful moments so his vocal talents never feel miscast – like some of the more recent teen Spider-Men.
The relocation of Lizard’s first appearance from the Florida everglades to New York’s sewers is far more fitting, and his presence is far more threatening thanks to his redesign that’s more crocodilian than lizard-like. The Lizard is particularly well rendered during the fight sequences, his bestial lunges and poses impressive in their execution. I especially liked the way the Lizard flipped between feral bestial nature and his fully cognitive forms, making him a bipolar threat of brains and brawn. Considering the 30+ years of Spider-Man at this juncture, it is perhaps an odd choice to introduce the season with one of his lesser recurring (though highly memorable) members of his rogues gallery, but it works very well here as it presents a morality tale that allows us access to the workings of Spider-Man’s head while facing him against an opponent who is as feral and dangerous as he is intelligent, rather than just the brute force of the Rhino or the chess master games of Green Goblin or Kingpin.
This opening episode introduces fans and newbies alike to the Spider-Man universe with charm, beautiful animation, empathetic and likeable characters, tales of morality that don’t feel forced, and effortless style. It’s only a shame that not more people are as keen to talk about this series as they are other Spider media as it was a highlight of the 90s.
An enjoyable episode which sets the benchmark high early; combining witty banter, likeable characters and notions of a much larger universe than what we are shown in these brief 20 mins: a true gem of the 1990s.
The series was commissioned as a sequel to follow on directly after James Cameron proposed his idea for a Spider-Man film in the early 90s, in which he wanted Sandman and Electro to star against the web-spinner. Unfortunately the movie went under until Sam Rami rejuvenated the franchise in the new millennium, but the series was already under production by this point and too late to cancel. This is why the series begins with no origins of Spider-Man and also why Electro did not appear until series 5. Sandman never appears during the entire run.