Well, first you had the 1967 Ralph Bakshi animated Spider-Man series
— the one with the ever-enduring theme song that most everybody remembers,
whether they watched the show or not. In 1978 there was the live-action Spider-Man
TV movie that served as a pilot episode for a series. This was followed in 1981
by another animated series, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. When
that show went off the air in 1986, all trace of Spider-Man left the airwaves
for years, and probably with good reason. . . .
They were all crap.
Not to say we don't have a certain fondness for some of them in our hearts,
but by today's standards they're virtually unwatchable. Comic book super heroes
just about disappeared from televison for several years until 1992, when they
made a dramatic comeback with Batman: The Animated Series. Not be outdone,
a couple of years later Marvel Comics launched a new and much improved Spider-Man
animated series to compete for Saturday morning's ratings.
The new Spider-Man cartoons were never great, but plenty of them could
be said to be good. Once you got past the 3D backgrounds that never meshed well
with the rest of the 2D animation, and the incessant rambling — a voice-over
of each and every one of Peter Parker's thoughts — it was an enjoyable
show. It was good at adapting most of its storylines from Spider-Man's decades
of history in comic books and even managed to retain the same soap operatic
Spider-Man — The Venom Saga focuses on the collection of episodes
that introduced one of Spidey's arch-villains, Venom.
Spider-Man comes in contact with a tar-like substance from another planet,
which attaches itself to him and won't let go. Before he can get a chance to
panic, the substance proves itself to be a valuable asset. It can read his thoughts
and morph into whatever he needs: a new costume, street clothes, a place to
stash his camera. It even shoots its own organic webbing so he doesn't have
to worry about running out of web-shooter cartridges. AND it makes him stronger
than before! What more could you ask for?
Just as things seem too good to be true, Spider-Man has some revelations about
his new "suit" that make it more of a monkey's paw than a magic lamp:
• It wraps itself around him and forces him to fight crime even
when he's asleep.
• It's slowly taking over his mind and making him more aggressive.
• Um . . . what was that last one? Oh yeah, IT'S ALIVE!!!
That's right. The suit isn't just an alien substance, it's an alien being.
A symbiote using Spider-Man as a host. And to make things worse, the harder
Spider-Man (who's pretty panicked at this point) tries to get it off, the harder
it clings to him. He eventually discovers that the creature's weakness is ultrasound
(or just loud sound, really), and uses the giant ringing bell in a tower to
force the separation.
This rejection leaves the creature pissed beyond all reason at Spider-Man.
It slinks away until it finds Eddie Brock, an unemployed photographer equally
pissed at Peter Parker, believing Parker ruined his life. These two engines
of hate bond to form Venom, perhaps Spider-Man's deadliest foe ever.
Venom is maybe the only character created since the Stan Lee/ Steve Ditko
days of the '60s worthy of being one of Spider-Man's A-List villains and a member
of the Sinister Six. He's a bigger, stronger, darker version of Spider-Man who
knows all of Peter Parker's secrets and doesn't set off his Spider-sense. I
remember reading the venom stories in the comics and feeling a tinge of genuine
fear. When Spider-Man was able to defeat Venom it was almost a pyrrhic victory.
These cartoons do a pretty good job of adapting those stories and carrying
that same feeling. There are a few changes — they cut out the part with
the symbiote being the product of the interstellar Secret Wars and make it something
John Jameson picked up on a space shuttle mission; also, it's now Dr. Connors
and not Reed Richards that discovers that the symbiote is a living creature
— but they are mostly for the better.
The last two episodes on the disc deal with the return of Venom and the birth
of Carnage. Carnage is one of those characters I never cared much for, and I
can't tell how accurate the story is to the comic book version. It obviously
takes place much later in the timeline of the show, and has guest appearances
by Dormamu, Baron Mordo, Iron Man and War Machine. That might sound good, but
it just doesn't have the coherency of the Venom stories. Still, I've seen much
And speaking of "much worse," we have only to go to the Bonus Features
of the DVD for perhaps the worst extras I've ever come across:
1. Stan Lee's Soapbox: This is nothing more than Stan Lee
(possibly on mushrooms) rambling randomly about Spider-Man and Venom for 20
minutes or more (I lost track of time). There's no revelation of anything you
don't see in the episodes. Not to disparage Stan Lee. They probably set a camera
in front of him and kept urging him to "Just keep talking."
2. The Venomous Web: Here Dave Micheleine, the creator of
Venom, spends 20 minutes patting himself on the back for what a great job he
did. It's very similar to Stan's soapbox. The big difference is here it's all
broken into snippets and sound bites you have to push a button to navigate yourself
through. Trust me, it doesn't gain anything being taken out of context.
3. Episode Introductions by Stan Lee: More of Stan's ramblings
describing everything you're about to see in each episode right before you see
Seriously, this isn't a bad DVD to own, especially if a neophyte Spider-Man
fan asks, "Who is this 'Venom' guy, anyway?" (You laugh, but my wife
did just a month ago.) Otherwise, it's more an annoyance than anything.
It should also be noted that for now one of the Disney channels airs episodes
of this Spider-Man series every night.
The Movie Itself: 5 out of 10
The DVD Features: 1 out of 10