I was a kid raised on the 1994 Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Alongside X-Men and Batman, it was a defining show of the era for me. Spider-Man became my favorite character of all time. But whenever I would see any Spidey on video, it would never be that show, possibly because my mom was looking in K-Mart. My Spidey home video library always consisted of either the 1981 Spider-Man series, or Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. A tape of “The X-Men Adventure” was one of my prized possessions as a kid because Spider-Man and the X-Men were my two great loves. Iceman was already one of my favorite X-Men and Firestar quickly became a character I wished I saw more of in the larger Marvel Universe.
As a kid who read a lot of Spider-Man Team-Up, in which Spidey would partner with any number of Marvel heroes, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was terrific because that idea was baked into the very concept. No matter what other heroes appeared, Spidey would always at the very least have Iceman and Firestar at his side.
Of course, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends did not have the ongoing narrative clarity of the ‘90s shows, but I didn’t care as a kid because all Spider-Man was good Spider-Man. Some of the main characters get wildly different origins told over the course of a single series. There is no consistency, not even an attempt at it, because this series truly couldn’t have cared less and that’s perhaps the thing I’ve come to admire most about it. It’s bonkers. Not quite as bonkers as the Spider-Woman cartoon, but that’s an impossible level to meet.
Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends is still a fun and ridiculous series that usually keeps the basic core of the characters intact, tossing superheroes into Scooby Doo antics in a way that’s always fun to watch and is often surprisingly heartfelt.
“The Fantastic Mr. Frump”
For some people, this is their absolute least favorite episode. But I cannot cosign that as nothing with that title could be the worst anything. For me, “The Fantastic Mr. Frump” represents the absolute lunacy of this series when it would really go for it. It’s about a, well, frumpy ne’er do well who gains a magical amulet that Dr. Doom accidentally lost. He uses it to do things like make endless hotdogs appear, naturally, which is probably closer to what the average person would actually do with unlimited power.
It’s undeniably silly, even stupid, and that’s good. While it’s unbearable for some, I think “The Fantastic Mr. Frump” is the ultimate litmus test to see whether or not you can sanction this show’s buffoonery.
“The Triumph of the Green Goblin”
In the pilot episode, Spider-Man—alongside the Spider-Friends, of course—is drawn into battle against his nemesis, the Green Goblin. It’s also perhaps the strangest encounter they’ve ever had. This time, Norman Osborn actually transforms into the Goblin rather than wearing an elaborate costume, which actually makes a bit more sense when you think about it. What doesn’t make more sense, though, is the Goblin’s plan to turn every single person in New York into a weird goblin monster like himself.
This is exactly the kind of absurdity that defined this era of Marvel cartoons in general. If anything Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends played it a little straighter after this, but certainly not by much.
Firestar-centric episodes are always a good thing and this one is a bonus because it’s one of the only animated appearances of the X-Men’s Sunfire, at least in a prominent role. The Japanese mutant was one of the original members of the classic Giant-Size X-Men lineup alongside Thunderbird, Colossus, Banshee, Nightcrawler, Storm, Wolverine and Cyclops. While Thunderbird met a tragic end a few issues later, Sunfire was the first one off the team, turning his back on everyone and declaring that the X-Men was not for him. Hell, he seemed offended to have been part of it in the first place.
The notion of a romance between Firestar and Sunfire is certainly on the nose, but that’s not exactly unexpected for this series. Because of that, it kind of works and is a sweet little episode in general, especially when other episodes just focus on angry ex-boyfriends of Angelica’s who insist she ruined their lives.
“Seven Little Superheroes”
This episode is great just for the fact that it’s a full-blown smorgasbord of Marvel heroes, which you can probably guess from the title. That’s the whole gimmick and however much mileage you get out of it really comes down to how exciting a prospect that is for you. What makes the episode even better, though, is how genuinely weird the lineup of heroes is. First, we’ve got our standard weekly heroes Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar. After that, Captain America, which makes sense, he’s the champ. Doctor Strange makes sense too, he and Spidey team up all the time.
But Sub-Mariner? Little more out there. Shanna the She-Devil (renamed Shanna the Jungle Queen, natch)? Little more random. Makes for a truly bizarre ensemble, especially with the notion that it will take their combined might to bring down the Chameleon.
“Spidey Goes Hollywood”
Mysterio forces a film director to make a movie starring Spider-Man. That’s the gist of the plot and it is hilarious in and of itself. Nothing more explicitly embodies how secretly envious Spidey’s villains are than one of them attempting to take him down by forcing him into mainstream worldwide success. Mysterio has also used his special FX skills to build a robotic Hulk for the movie, but due to a crazy random happenstance, Bruce Banner happens to be in town and goes on an actual rampage as the Hulk.
It’s one of the most forced team-ups of the show’s short run and yet that somehow only makes it more endearing.
“The Origin of Iceman”
This episode sees Iceman start to lose his mutant powers while also recounting how he got them in the first place. There are flashbacks to his joining the X-Men, which takes drastic liberties with those events as we remember them from the comics, but so does most of the show. Even better, the episode sees the return of Videoman, an evil living arcade game, basically, who was initially created by Electro in an earlier episode.
In this episode, he’s sucking all the power from the city, but to master his task he naturally has to trap J. Jonah Jameson in an arcade game, which goes exactly as well as you’d expect.
“The Bride of Dracula”
It’s another “villain of the week falls for Firestar” episode, which is a genuinely annoying plot point, only mildly forgiven in this instance because that villain is Dracula. This episode is only second in the wacky Marvel animated monsters lexicon to the episode of Spider-Woman where Frankenstein turns random bystanders into Frankensteins by shooting lasers out of the bolts on his neck. This doesn’t quite match that one’s insanity, but it’s not for lack of trying.
For instance, Wolf Man is a pilot in this episode (though he’s called Wolf-Thing, because Wolf-Man was a Universal copyright) and Frankenstein’s Monster once again gets in on the action as well.
“Origin of the Spider-Friends”
This one’s really only on the list for personal reasons as I find it hilarious that the three friends originally came together to stop the threat of the goddamn Beetle. Tony Stark also makes a cameo, which has to be one of his first outside the static comic panel animation of the 1966 cartoons.
There’s nonetheless something genuinely sweet about the flashback that allows us to see these friendships and bonds form for the first time. Almost everything that happens is contradicted at some point, though.
“A Firestar is Born”
Each of the three heroes were given origin episodes at some point, some drastically different from their comic book origins. Firestar’s is unique, though, because she was created for the show. When they finally got around to exploring her backstory, it was something that everyone was seeing for the first time. From the first activation of her mutant powers to the first use of her high school nickname “Miss Angelica Jinx,” it’s all right here.
And of course it also explains how she came to join the X-Men, who had a large presence on the show even if they weren’t always seen, thanks to both Iceman and Firestar being former members. Plus, they all get into a fight with Juggernaut, which is always fun.
“The X-Men Adventure”
My favorite episode of the show was also a tape that I practically wore out as a child. It featured some X-Men that weren’t regularly showcased on X-Men: The Animated Series, so it had a kind of allure for me in that regard. Kitty Pryde, for instance, was one of the few prominent mutants at the time to never actually make an appearance on the ‘90s cartoon. I’ve always been a sucker for Spider-Man/X-Men crossovers and this has always been one of my favorites.
It’s also a Firestar-centric episode, which is a plus, as the villain is a cyborg named Cyberiad who is a former lover of hers. Reversing the constant trope of Firestar being kidnapped, she’s actually the only one who can save them by taking him on alone and forcing him to remember the good man he once was. There’s a strong sentimentality and even a sense of melancholy to the episode, as it ends on Firestar coming to the realization that you can, in fact, fall all the way out of love.