Of all the iconic ‘90s superhero cartoons, the show focusing on Marvel Comics’ premier web-slinger is among the most beloved. And the story behind the making of Spider-Man: The Animated Series is almost as interesting as what happened on the screen. Fans wondering why Spider-Man: The Animated Series was canceled will find the answer less than satisfactory, but the reasons behind the show’s success up until that point are significantly more engaging and inspiring.
Airing on Fox between 1994 and 1998, Spider-Man lasted for 65 episodes - a noteworthy run for any cartoon. During that period, the series defined the wall-crawler for an entire generation with its fresh take on Spidey and his rogues’ gallery, all of whom were voiced by terrific voice actors delivering some of the best comic book-esque dialogue in the business.
From the memorable costume designs of Spider-Man and the other characters to the multi-episode story arcs, this series did a fantastic job of bringing the pages of Marvel Comics to life.
Stan Lee cameos in Marvel Comics adaptations are by now a time-honored tradition, but that wasn’t always the case. Lee had background roles in a handful of The Incredible Hulk adventures on television and did a fair amount of work as a narrator, but the first time he truly stepped into the world he created was for Spider-Man: The Animated Series’ final episode.
During the tale, Spider-Man - having just completed a multiversal mission with several different versions of himself - arrives in the “real world,” where he quite literally meets his maker. Spidey and Stan Lee swing around the city as Peter Parker comes to terms with being a fictional character and Lee muses on his deity-like status as a creator of superheroes. In the end, Spider-Man expresses gratitude for the life Lee has given him, stating that:
For so long, I thought I never got any breaks. But now, after all I've been through, for once I like my life. I like myself. And for the first time ever, I wouldn't want to change anything about me.
Stan Lee wasn’t the only member of the Lee family to appear on Spider-Man: The Animated Series - nor was he the first or most prominent. That honor goes to his wife, Joan Lee, who provided the voice of the mysterious Madame Web in 11 episodes. In a bit of meta-humor, when the in-universe Stan Lee encounters Madame Web, he remarks, “Who is that exotic woman?”
Joan, who had previously done voice acting on the short-lived Fantastic Four cartoon in 1994, was specifically sought-out for the role by producer John Semper Jr. As he explained in a Facebook post:
There was only one person I wanted to provide the voice for Madame Web - JOAN LEE, the wife of Stan Lee. I had known Joan and Stan for many years prior to this, and as I wrote the "Madame Web" character, it was Joan's voice in my head that I was hearing. I knew she could capture perfectly the husky, haughty, almost arrogant attitude I wanted for "Madame Web." And, of course, she had that wonderful British accent! Joan graciously consented to perform the role, and she was, as I had expected, perfect.
The theme song of Spider-Man: The Animated Series is a heavily modified and updated version of the classic intro to the Spider-Man cartoon of the ‘60s - and a veritable rock legend did the updating.
Aerosmith founder and lead guitarist Joe Perry wrote and recorded the new theme song using a guitar and vocoder to capture the kind of sound that just screamed “the ‘90s.” The series honored Perry’s contributions by having Peter Parker briefly dress like him in an episode.
As the voice actor for Peter Parker, Christopher Daniel Barnes became the voice of Spider-Man for an entire generation - and he’s continued to portray versions of the wall-crawler in a variety of video games and animated series.
If fans recognize his voice from elsewhere, it's not entirely surprising. Barnes is best known for his role as Greg Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie and its sequel. But before he played Spider-Man, he voiced a prominent Disney character: Prince Eric in 1989’s The Little Mermaid.