Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Marvel Media Mania: Spidey Super Stories (From the Electric Company)

Spidey Super Stories was a part of The Electric Company television show from 1974 to 1977 on PBS.
A example of the show's format and Spider-Man's dialogue

This show represents my first memory of Spider-Man (the episode "Spidey Up Against the Wall). I recall thinking it was ridiculous even back then.

Of all the Spider-Man shows and movies, this one stands apart as completely unique.

First of all is the format. Each segment started with an actual comic book. A hand would reach forward and open the comic, revealing the panels on the first page while a narrator introduces the story. Then the panel would come to life as a live-action Spider-Man would play out the scene. The entire segment would be framed with a comic book gutter and you could see snippets of other panels around the exterior of the screen. Transitions were done with more still-art done as a comic book panel. Spider-Man is the only character to never speak. Instead, a speech bubble appears, just like it would in a comic book. Other characters would then look at the speech bubble, take a moment to read it, and reiterate what Spidey was saying. Characters often reacted to what the narrator was saying.

Secondly is the budget. Certainly this is the lowest budgeted Spider-Man of all time. Spidey's costume actually looks pretty good (on grainy 1970's television footage) but the villain costumes are ridiculously bad. None of the villains used are actual Spider-Man villains. Instead, they are ridiculously innocuous threats such as a Yeti that sits on cold things, a man who is a brick wall, and a man dressed up in as a giant flour sack. Spider-Man's webbing was done as an effect on screen and then, after a cut, was turned into a black cloth net.

The name "Spidey" in the title really represents a level a familiarity in the general population with Spider-Man, perhaps due to Spidey's earlier cartoon from the 1960's.

Strangely, Peter Parker does not appear in any of the segments. Nor do any of Spider-Man's supporting cast make appearances.

It's worth noting that Morgan Freeman (before he was famous) appears in several segments.

Spider-Man was referenced and appeared in some of the educational segments apart from  his own storyline segments on the show. There is one strange educational segment that both Spider-Man and the Blue Beetle (a DC superhero) appear in.

Surprisingly, despite the campy villains, low budget, and odd format, this show somehow manages to work. One factor that probably helps this is the short length of each segment (two to five minutes). The show somehow manages to seem like it's making fun of Spider-Man while at the same time loving him.

1LR Review - 14 out of 20! It's a Hit!

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