Since I’m on a binge of all the Spider-Man movies, I thought it was only fair I take a look back at some of the cartoons as well! Spider-Man had a ton of shows over the years, though most of them went ignored by the fan-base. Spectacular Spider-Man and the 90s Spiderman show are the only ones that people seem to agree are awesome. While the animated show on MTV has been growing a fan-base over the years, I often see less love for “Spider-Man Unlimited”.
Spider-Man Unlimited was a strange animal, due in large part to its odd premise. The general setup for the show is that Spider-Man is doing his typical superhero shtick and trying to stop his classic villains, Venom and Carnage, from attacking a shuttle with John Jameson on board. Spidey fails and both villains hijack the rocket, taking it to a strange planet called “Counter-Earth”.
Spider-Man is caught falling from the rocket and is framed for the sabotage as a result of this. J. Jonah Jameson (John’s father and Peter Parker’s boss) blames Spidey/Peter for the sabotage. Spider-Man is now unable to do his job, due to constantly being attacked by the people he swore to protect.
As a result of this, Spidey travels to Counter-Earth in order to save John. However, the rescue mission is complicated by the planets denizen: The Beastials. The Beastials are highly-evolved animals with human attributes that have subjugated the humans on Counter-Earth. You see, Counter-Earth functions less like a different planet and more like an alternate universe.
In this “other world”, animals have become the dominate species and are lead by “The High Evolutionary”, the human mad-scientist who created this new race. If all of this sounds too “out there” for a Spider-Man show, then you’re not alone in thinking that. Spider-Man Unlimited’s radical concepts alienated a majority of its viewing audience at the time.
The concepts were too weird and dark for most people, and it lost viewership as a result of this. The series was canned only a few episodes after it started, with the rest of the series being shoved onto TV nearly TWO WHOLE YEARS after cancellation. I remember watching the show as a kid and only have a passing interest in it, but I found myself loving it after watching it as an adult!
I think a big part of this comes down to how different this is from most other Spider-Man shows, or most other superhero cartoons in general. It was interesting seeing a series where Spidey is stuck on an alternate world, having to live his life as a subjugated “second-class”.
The way the humans are treated on this show does definitely bring to mind elements of segregation. While the show tends to shy away from going into too much detail, we do see several flashbacks and scenes of humans being treated like filth. Considering this aired on Fox Kids in the 90s, it was rather surprising that a show would touch on dark subjects such as this. Despite the darker elements, it never stopped feeling like a Marvel Comics story to me.
I think that was the main part of this show’s appeal for me: Depicting a world that was similar to our own, but twisted in a way that fits with its comic book roots. Sure, you have the darker elements at play, but you also have the superhero shenanigans the series is known for.
The series never gets too dark, but does touch upon those elements from time to time. A good example is the fourth episode, “Deadly Choices”. The episode revolves a character named “Git Hoskins”, who has a tragic backstory befitting that of a Spider-Man story. Hoskins is a strange “mummy-man”, but the backstory they give him is actually rather tear-jerking. I won’t say more than that, since I feel it’s a good episode worth watching on one’s own time.
What Spider-Man Unlimited does best is its alternate versions of pre-established characters. Counter-Earth appears to have alternate versions of seemingly every Spider-Man villain, which leads to some interesting new interpretations of old characters. For example, both Green Goblin and Vulture are heroes in this version.
Vulture is more of an anti-hero in this series, with a personality not unlike that of Wolverine from the X-Men. Green Goblin is an overprotective goofball with a thick French accent and powers that put him on the same level as Spider-Man. Seeing Spidey and Goblin team up in several episodes always made me want more team-ups involving them in other forms of media. It’s just a shame that the only time Spider-Man teamed up with a Goblin in the movies was in the third film, which only lasted for about 5 minutes.
Another big reason as to why I love this show was its art-style. Spider-Man Unlimited was definitely going for a “comic book” art-style with its look, which included thick black outlines and stylish character designs. There’s also the inclusion of elements from the comics that don’t show up much in shows or movies. For example, you have the “High Evolutionary” as the main villain. This guy almost never appears outside the comics, so it’s cool to see him as the primary antagonist in this show.
There’s also the fact that we get to see John Jameson’s “Man-Wolf” persona, who makes his first appearance in a cartoon ever in this very show. Of course, this show is far from perfect. For one thing, there’s the fact that Counter-Earth doesn’t play to the strengths of being an alien world very well. While this isn’t a big problem for me, it was annoying to see Spidey go on adventures that felt identical to the ones he had on earth.
Then there was the fact that the show had no real ending, but that was more a fault of the network than the writers. However, my biggest problem with the show is that it was just too ambitious for its own good. It had all these good ideas and concepts, but it didn’t know how to communicate it well to its fan-base. Because of all the changes it made to established lore, it alienated many fans as a result.
This lead to the untimely death of the show, which is a shame. Spider-Man Unlimited was a fun cartoon, which had a surprisingly solid comic book tie-in that helped fill in some of the gaps and introduce new characters. Unlimited was an idea that was just too much for the kids of the 90s and it’s a shame it never took off like the cartoon before it did. At least I can still look back at Unlimited as an impressive, albeit short-lived spin-off of my favorite multimedia franchise.