Spider-Man: The Animated Series has always struck a certain chord with me that the live-action Spider-Man films could never hit. Maybe it was because the cartoon was my primary go-to on my Saturday mornings as a child. Or maybe it was because the cartoon explored all parts of the Marvel universe that the movies were restricted from due to studio rights. Regardless, the 90s Spider-Man cartoon was a hallmark in animated television and the superhero genre in general. However, there is one episode that has always stuck out in my mind because of its major contribution to the lore as a whole.
“Make A Wish” is the second episode of the third season. By now, people who have been following the cartoon are well aware of who Spider-Man is and what is going on with his love interests, his job, his arch-enemies, and his career as a superhero. What makes this episode such a notable story is that it provides some exposition and shows a more realistic side of the series.
At the beginning of the episode, we have Doc Ock interrupting a demonstration of a new laser technology that could potentially change medical history and help eliminate tumors or other malignant maladies. Not even two minutes into the episode and we’re hit with realism. They’re addressing REAL problems and REAL issues. Remember, this is supposed to be a cartoon for kids, but they’re discussing serious problems in the world. Kids are watching their web-slinging hero while getting an update on current events. If you look at other cartoons in that era, they were too busy just focusing on the characters getting into shenanigans and wacky antics.
A little later in the episode, Peter Parker comes upon a tough decision: Is it worth being Spider-Man? After his fight with Doc Ock leaves a medical lab in ruins, he feels like people would rather blame him as a menace than thank him for saving the city. Peter struggles with his heroic identity and considers dropping out of the position.
Again, this is a pretty mature theme. Yeah, not everyone has come across a point in their lives when they have to decide whether they wanted to be a superhero or not, but it still shows a more human and relatable side of our beloved hero. Why should he keep fighting crime if he only seems to make things worse?
This is one of the first times we encounter Madame Web, a mystical guru who becomes a sort of mentor to Spider-Man and reminds him that he has to keep up his role.
Leaving Madame Web behind (only to revisit her many times later on in the series), Peter remembers a letter he received at work. A little girl’s parents requested that Spider-Man visits their daughter, Taina, who happens to be the web-head’s biggest fan. This is where the heavy story-telling comes in, and it is done very well with a mix of narration and flashbacks as Peter relays his origins to the little girl.
Almost everyone who has heard of Spider-Man knows his origin story: nerdy teenager develops spider-like powers after being bitten by a radioactive arachnid. This episode goes further into the lore and further helps people become familiar with who/what Spider-Man is.
An interesting moment is when Spider-Man explains his web fluid. In the Tobey Maguire movies, the web came out naturally from Spider-Man’s wrists (a little weird because you think it would come out of another… more inappropriate… part of his body). In the Andrew Garfield movies, Spider-Man actually builds his own web-shooters and purchases webbing from Oscorp, which is more in line with the comic (although, I’m wondering how a high school teenager can afford super-strong cable that is so tough it can drag airplanes).
My favorite origin of the webbing has to be from the animated series. Spider-Man still uses the web-shooters, but he tells Taina how, when the spider bit him, it gave him a spider-like instinct that taught him how to mix the right combination of enzymes to form webbing. Spider-Man also explains how his webs are biodegradable and eventually dissolve after an hour, explaining why New York City is never filled with random batches of webbing.
The origin story concludes with Spider-Man explaining how he initially used his powers for fame and glory. After showboating during a publicity stunt/wrestling match, Spider-Man arrogantly lets a robber get away, claiming he’s “not a cop”. I’m sure you all know what happens next. Yep. That robber that got away is the same person who ends up shooting and killing Peter’s Uncle Ben.
Now we circle back to what happened within the medical building earlier in the episode. Spider-Man’s arrogance caused his uncle’s death, and he believes that this same attitude caused the medical building to be destroyed. This shows a more human side to the character. Prior to this episode, we only knew a little of what Spider-Man was about, but with “Make a Wish”, we now know the real deal and come to sympathize with the hero.
There is a small B story that is pretty shallow, so I’ll only touch on it briefly. Throughout the episode, we see Kingpin and Doc Ock working on Octobots to track down Spider-Man. While Spidey is taking Taina on a swinging tour of the city, the Octobots and Doc Ock trap Spider-Man and leave the episode on a major cliff-hanger, which the series was notorious for, but made for some excellent, overlapping story arcs.
This episode may have been part of the third season, but with its great storytelling and wonderful look into Peter Parker’s backstory, I feel like it could have been a pilot. If anyone is looking for a great place to start Spider-Man: The Animated Series and they don’t want to go all the way to the pilot, I recommend beginning with “Make-a-Wish”.
Final Grade: A-
+ Great storytelling that flushes out Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s backstory.
+ Sticks VERY close to the source material and demonstrates outstanding attention to the comics.
+ Brings realism to the cartoon and introduces mature concepts and themes.
– A bit slow with Madame Web’s lecturing scene, although her role becomes a major point later on in the series.
– Not very action-packed except for the first couple of minutes with Doc Ock.
– It feels like this episode was purely done as a method of explaining Spider-Man’s origins for kids who had not read the comics. I’m okay with it, but other viewers may not be a fan of the heavy exposition.
For any other fans of this classic show, what was your favorite episode? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!