On February 21, our favorite wall-crawler swings back into our living rooms for the fourth season of Ultimate Spider-Man. This time, he’ll be teaming with his “Web-Warriors” to take down the Sinister Six. Since 2012, Ultimate Spider-Man has told the story of a high-school-age Peter Parker as he and other young heroes are trained by Nick Fury to become the next generation of Avengers. Of course, this show is not the first time Spidey has been animated. Since 1967, there have been eight incarnations of a cartoon Spider-Man. What are they you ask? How would you rank them you ask? You ask good questions. Lucky for you, I have the answers. Here’s a ranking of the different Spider-Man cartoons.
8. Spider-Man Unlimited (1999)
In this series, scientists discover a planet on the other side of the sun, which looks inhabitable. J. Jonah Jameson’s son John, an astronaut, is sent on an exploration mission but his ship is damaged from an attack by Carnage and Venom at liftoff, and no one has heard from him since. To rescue John, Spidey steals a nano-tech costume from Reed Richards and commandeers a government spaceship. He lands on Counter-Earth and discovers the planet had been created by the villain High Evolutionary for the purpose of conducting genetic experiments. In the only season that aired, Spider-Man crashes on Counter-Earth, locates John Jameson, and joins a band of freedom fighters to stop the tyranny of the High Evolutionary.
While I liked the new costume and the animation, that was about it. Batman Beyond premiered around this time, and with its rich backstory from Batman: The Animated Series, combined with new original characters, it was the superior show. Spider-Man Unlimited tried to cash in on that futuristic, techno trend, but the execution was hokey and forced. That’s why when the series ended on a cliffhanger, I just assumed everyone was saved by Iron Man and continued on with life.
Best Episode: “Worlds Apart, Part 1.” Only because it was the only time we got to see the REAL Spider-Man in his real environment.
7. Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)
MTV took advantage of the “Spider-BOOM” of the early 2000s with this take on Spidey. Only airing for one 13-episode season, it was set in the same universe as the 2002 Sam Raimi film. Neil Patrick Harris, Lisa Loeb, and Ian Ziering voiced Peter, Mary Jane, and Harry respectfully. I know this series is ranked low, but it did have its good points. Some of the stories were pretty good and the voice acting was top notch. We still had a year before Spider-Man 2 (arguably the best superhero movie of all time. YES, that includes Deadpool), so getting to revisit this world in ANY fashion was a treat. However, the CGI animation felt unfinished. It looked as if a Spider-Man robot was swinging through New York rather than the wall-crawler himself. The series came up with some original villains to completement Spidey’s diverse and interesting gallery of rogues. While most of them were of course evil, a lot of them were just victims of circumstance. We didn’t even get to see one until the fifth episode. Finally, a truly irritating part of this show was how often Harry mentioned his hatred for Spider-Man (unless you wanted to play a very dangerous drinking game).
Best Episode: “Law of the Jungle.” Spider-Man fights the Lizard. Curt Connors’ story is always tragic because he became the Lizard as a side-effect of wanting to help OTHERS, not himself. I liked this take on his story. They made Connors a little less likable than other versions, but you were still sympathetic to his plight.
6. Spider-Man (1967)
If you are reading this article, then I am 100% sure you sing or hum the theme song to this cartoon at LEAST once a month. This was the Spider-Man’s first foray into the animated scene. You got see him jump off the pages and fight his usual band of baddies. You got to see him swing through the streets of New York. In 1967, this was a brand new way to take in the wall-crawler. Well, until you realized that there was only about 5 minutes of story and about 25 minutes of the same stock footage of him swinging on his webs over…and over…and over…and over again. The budget for the show was so low that they could only afford to draw the webbing on his mask, gloves, and boots!
For nostalgia’s sake, this is fun to watch. The reason it’s not ranked lower is the impact this cartoon had on pop-culture. Not only is the theme song featured in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, but it is also on the soundtrack album, 25 years after its debut. Not to mention the multitude of memes that use this Spider-Man as their image. However, if you are looking for great animation and story-telling I would definitely keep scrolling.
Best Episode: “The Origin of Spider-Man.” This was an almost shot for shot retelling of Amazing Fantasy 15, dialogue and all. If you were to only watch one episode of this cartoon and then stop, this is it. It’s actually pretty fun. There’s also this really cool shot at the end of him walking through the shadows to capture Uncle Ben’s killer. It’s still a favorite of mine to this day.
5. Spider-Man (1981)
Premiering in 1981 and running in syndication throughout the rest of the decade, this 26 episode season of Spider-Man gave fans exactly what they wanted to see out of a Spidey cartoon: web swinging, fighting bad guys, and being funny while trying to not screw things up as Peter Parker. There was never an “origin” episode with this series, which was cool. This was a show that trusted its audience to already know who the wall-crawler was. I mean, how many times, do we need to see his origin (looking at you, Sony)? It was also one of the first cartoons of its time to have an overarching story, as Spider-Man helped a band of Latverian freedom fighters stop the tyranny of Doctor Doom.
For the time, this was a great series. While the animation wasn’t Pixar by any stretch of the imagination, it was still well done. Its number five ranking is more on how dated the technology within the cartoon is rather than a lack of good stories. When the Daily Bugle is still using typewriters and people actually talked on phones with cords (I KNOW!), it’s obvious this was a product of its time.
Best Episode: “The Capture of Captain America.” Captain America is kidnapped by the Red Skull, and it’s up to Spider-Man to save him. A classic Marvel Team-Up type story.
4. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981)
The first episode of this series was the first cartoon I ever remember watching (I know there were others, but this is the one I am CONSCIOUS of remembering). Spider-Man, Iceman, and Firestar are who got me into comics and geekdom in the first place. What made this series great for a fan like me was that they had guest stars aplenty: Captain America, the X-Men, and Iron Man just to name a few. For me and kids my age, this cartoon opened the door into the Marvel Universe. Originally supposed to be Spider-Man, Iceman, and the Human Torch, they added Firestar to appeal to female fans (So in 1981, they knew that female fans liked characters they could relate with. Why are toy companies having such a hard time in 2016?).
The reason this is number four and not number one is the same reason the syndicated Spider-Man show is so low, and that’s how dated the show looks from a technological standpoint. Amazing Friends premiered on NBC the same time the syndicated Spider-Man premiered. This is ranked higher because of its more generous use of Marvel characters (the emotional connection it has as my first cartoon doesn’t hurt, either).
Best Episode: “The X-Men Adventure.” The Spider-Friends team up with the X-Men to stop Cyberiad. This acts as first cartoon appearances of Kitty Pryde, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. Storm and Cyclops appear in their second appearance in the series. It was one of the first “geek-out” moments I ever had.
3. Spider-Man (1994)
It was over 10 years after the end of Amazing Friends that Spider-Man got another shot at the animated world. Airing on Fox for five seasons, this is what I consider the first “serialized” Spider-Man cartoon. Each 13 episode season had one or two main storylines that lasted multiple episodes. If you missed a week you were pretty much lost. This series retold some classic Spider-Man stories with a 90s take. One storyline had Spider-Man growing six arms. Another had him as part of the hero team during the first Secret Wars. The last arc of the series had him teaming up with versions of himself from other dimensions. This was LITERALLY the first “Spider-Verse” storyline.
This was always part of my weekend agenda throughout all of high school. It’s not ranked higher because of the overuse of a Spider-Man trait, the inner monologue. Long-time fans of the comic know that Spider-Man LOVES to talk to himself while he’s swinging, but there were times where he would spend the first five minutes of the episode swinging through New York yapping – GET TO THE STORY ALREADY! Oh, and for some reason, they called the Sinister Six the “Insidious Six.” I have no idea why they thought “Insidious” was better, but it was stupid. Other than that, a great Spidey cartoon.
Best Episode: “The Man Without Fear.” The main villain throughout the entire run of this series was the Kingpin, and he had always managed to elude capture. This episode teamed Spidey with the one man who hates Wilson Fisk more than anyone, Daredevil. This 2-part episode was so good, the only thing that could have made it better was if it was a 3-part episode.
2. Ultimate Spider-Man (2012)
This is the most current incarnation of the animated web-slinger and the first version under the Disney banner. It combines elements of the regular Marvel Universe, the Ultimate Universe, and the MCU to create its own world. This cartoon is great because they make it clear that Spider-Man is an important part of an ENTIRE universe. When Hawkeye guest stars to help take down a villain in Times Square, it’s because Avengers Tower is right down the street. Disney XD has done a great job of making the viewer feel like he or she gets to watch the entire Marvel Universe. Ultimate Spider-Man lets them see it through his eyes. It was a hard choice between this and number one. This got the runner up spot because, while the show is pretty darn funny, some of the jokes seem to try a little hard to be Teen Titans GO! Don’t get me wrong, Teen Titans GO! is a great cartoon, but Spider-Man was funny WAY before the Titans were. He needs to be funny in his own way.
Best Episode: “Spider-Verse (Part 3). Spider-Man is jumping between dimensions to stop the Green Goblin from stealing the DNA from alternate versions of him to become an even more powerful monster. This episode has him meet Miles Morales for the first time. This episode had Peter help Miles get over feeling responsible for the death of his world’s Peter, but also had Donald Glover voicing Miles. If you remember the campaign for Glover to play Spider-Man in the Andrew Garfield movies, this is an awesome way to bring things full circle.
1. Spectacular Spider-Man (2008)
The number one Spider-Man cartoon aired on Kids WB for two seasons. What we got was two well written seasons that took the best parts of the character we have loved for over 50 years and modernized it. Peter Parker was always getting into trouble with friends and at school because of his identity as Spider-Man. What I love the most about Spider-Man was how the hero and Peter were portrayed as two separate entities. Peter is the shy, yet intelligent nerd. Spider-Man is the never-shuts-up hero that’s not afraid of anything. This show had that balance. It also had great continuity. In one episode Peter was grounded, and it was mentioned for three episodes straight until Ant May lifted the punishment. It also has the best adaptation of the symbiote story to date. Rather than link to an Eddie Brock that hates Spider-Man for ruining his career, he links to an Eddie Brock that was Peter’s best friend. I have always loved Spider-Man cartoons, but not since Mask of the Phantasm has a cartoon storyline (Pixar DOESN’T COUNT) gotten me that emotionally invested.
Best Episode: “Nature vs. Nurture.” The culmination of the entire season ends with a final fight between Spider-Man and Venom. This reminded me of some broadcast shows, watching an entire season and receiving a payoff at the end.
49 years, 8 cartoons. That’s a lot of animated web swinging to get through. What are your thoughts? Are you in agreement with this list? How would YOU rank the animated Spider-Men? Let me know on Twitter or sound off in the comments below.
Ultimate Spider-Man vs. The Sinister 6 premieres February 21 on Disney XD.
VIDEO: Marvel/Saban/Disney/Sony/ARP Films