In ’90s Marvel Animation, Spider-Man made unauthorized cameos

X-Men: The Animated Series began its third season in September 1994 with a five-part adaptation of “The Phoenix Saga.” In the final episode, the heroes were depicted assisting a panicked global populace In the moments before War Machine was spotted airlifting a civilian to safety, a familiar shadow leapt into place and a distinctive red glove appeared, firing off webbing. Spider-Man: The Animated Series is scheduled to debut that fall, so this seems like a clever cross-promotion by its sister series. Fox Kids executives and Marvel Films executives would not have allowed it to air if they had their way.

It was more than a decade since Spider-Man’s last television series, but no expense was spared to give him his due, even in an era defined by the X-Men. Besides working around plot points and characters meant for James Cameron’s ill-fated feature film, and dealing with issues that led to Spider-Man’s original showrunner being replaced during pre-production, there were high expectations for the show. Increasingly protective of Spider-Man, Spider-Man’s creative team rejected a character model for a cameo appearance on X-Men without explanation. Director Larry Houston had already devised a solution for this setback.

With X-Men, Houston attempted to bring the cross-title experiences of Marvel Comics to the small screen. When presented with a second chance at an appearance as Spider-Man, he knew exactly what to do and how to do it. A black and white rendition of Spider-Man’s gloves titled “Mutant Hands” skirted past executives after the earlier full model with the character’s name was rejected.

After being offered the opportunity to work on Fantastic Four by incoming supervising producer Tom Tataranowicz in 1994, Houston left X-Men prior to its final season to work on Marvel’s first family. He attempted to flesh out the Marvel Action Universe as it became known in some TV markets during its second year in a nod to the short-lived 1988-1991 programming block — incorporating cameos, similar to what was done in X-Men — in order to draw more closely upon Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original comics. As part of the Fantastic Four episode “Nightmare In Green”, Houston reverted to his prior work by including a fleeting appearance by the X-Men, as well as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance by Spider-Man sort of.

You may also read: The Harley Quinn made Swamp Thing more toxic than the Joker

Houston and company were challenged when attempting to feature the Web-Slinger once again, so they decided to include his clone, the Scarlet Spider. Although the distinction between Spider-Man and the character was not obvious to viewers, the character was deliberately kept in shadow, with only faint details of his costume visible to suggest that it might not be him.

Fantastic Four struggled to find an audience despite an increase in quality during its second year and was cancelled in 1996 despite an increase in quality. The following year, X-Men concluded its run with three holdover episodes; Spider-Man concluded its run in January 1998. It is likely that Houston will work on later Marvel animated projects, including Avengers: United They Stand and the underrated X-Men: Evolution, but the end of Spider-Man may have closed a unique chapter in Marvel animation. By using his ingenuity, viewers were able to see Spider-Man appear in Marvel’s animated universe, even if he was not explicitly mentioned.

Leave a Comment