Before The MCU: SPIDER-MAN - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Just your average Spider-Man...

Fifteen years ago, before the MCU, ask any non-comic book fan to name a Marvel superhero and you would likely get one of two answers - Spider-Man or the Hulk (that's if they got the label right and didn't say Batman or Superman). Thanks to The Incredible Hulk TV series and, at that time, recently released Eric Bana movie, the Hulk had a high profile for the best part of thirty years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe existed. That high profile paled in comparison to Spider-Man. Again, alongside DC's Batman and Superman, Spider-Man is arguably the most recognised Super-Hero among non-superhero fans the world over.

And that isn't something new. Spider-Man first appeared in comic-book form in 1962, and within a decade was a household name. That's how good of a concept Stan Lee and Steve Ditko came up with. The reason for his quick surge into public consciousness I believe was because Peter Parker was just your average high school student from Queens, dealing with loneliness, rejection and inadequacies. Very likely similar to the vast majority of teenagers reading the comic book themselves. Kids or younger people had always been relegated to the role of sidekick to the protagonist; Robin to Batman, Bucky to Captain America, Aqualad to Aquaman etc. But while Spider-Man had all the makings of a sidekick, he had no superhero mentor like Captain America or similar. Peter Parker had to learn for himself. Your average comic book reader could relate to him.

Before Tom Holland's debut as the web slinger in Captain America: Civil War, there had been several live-action takes Spider-Man. Everyone is aware of the three Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi Spider-Man films (two great, one not so great). Everyone reading this will also know the pair of Andrew Garfield/Mark Webb takes on The Amazing Spider-Man (one shitty, one shittier). So we're not going before the Marvel Cinematic Universe with these well-known big screen outings, we all know about them, instead we're looking at a few earlier live-action versions and the long period of development hell before Spider-Man eventually made it to the big screen.

We begin back in 1976 when Steve Krantz, one of the producers of the 1960s Spider-Man cartoons, was seeking studio backing to produce, what he described as "an epic adventure for the web-slinger". Krantz had previously spent several years trying to get a musical version of Spider-Man off the ground (ask U2 if that's a good idea or not) before eventually dropping the songs and pitching a more traditional superhero style feature which worked in elements from the classic 1973 comic-book story The Night Gwen Stacy Died...

...It also featured Nazis...

...Or "very fine people" as a certain President might say.

Although no production company coughed up the financing needed, it got studios thinking about Spidey's live-action future, and so just a year later in TV land, on September 19th 1977, CBS received their highest rated broadcast of the entire year...

The Amazing Spider-Man TV series began as a backdoor pilot: a 90 minute movie which was theatrically released internationally. Starring Nicholas Hammond (who made his movie debut at the age of 10, playing Robert in Lord of the Flies) it depicted Peter Parker as an intrepid university student. He gained super powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, and used those powers to get a job at the Daily Bugle, and to stop a con man who is covertly using mind control for personal gain.

Under the Marvel Television/Universal/CBS development deal, Stan Lee worked on the development of the pilot with producer Daniel R. Goodman. Lee and Goodman fiercely clashed over the direction during the initial production, with Lee later claiming he felt the tone had been "too juvenile". But, as mentioned, with a 17.8 rating and a 30 share, it was CBS' highest rating for the entire year, so naturally they'd want a full season right? Wrong!

Citing concern over the pilot's relatively weak ratings in the lucrative adult-demographic (ages 18–49 - "too juvenile"), CBS picked up the series for only a limited, five-episode order. Those 5 episodes were aired in April and May 1978, at the tail-end of the 1977–78 TV season.

Although Hammond played Peter Parker, in all of the scenes in which Spider-Man is seen performing stunts or without dialogue a stunt double was filmed by a second camera unit. This was mainly done to save time because an entire episode had to be shot within seven days, so when Hammond was performing the Peter Parker scenes with the first unit the second unit was out with Freddy Waugh shooting the Spider-Man stunt scenes.

The Amazing Spider-Man gave us the first live-action depictions of Peter Parker's "spider-tracer" tracking/homing devices (a small electronic tracking device that is installed in a casing that resembles a spider) which are prominently featured in several episodes throughout the series. Spider-Man's web shooters and belt are on the outside of his costume in this series, unlike in the comics where they are concealed within his costume. This was later adapted to the comics when a character named Ben Riley (who was a clone of Peter Parker) used improved web shooters and initially kept his belt on the outside of his costume as the Scarlet-Spider.

Although Lee once again stated that producing this run of episodes was "a total nightmare" they debuted very well, with the first obtaining a 22.8 rating with 16.6 million viewers, making it the best-rated program for the week on CBS, and the eighth-best-rated program for the week, overall. And even with only 5 episodes, the series still ended up being the 19th-highest-rated show of the entire season. Naturally, a full season order would be in the bag, right? Wrong again!

CBS were still reluctant to commit to giving the show a regular/fixed time slot for the 1978-79 season, as the series was expensive to produce and they felt it still wasn't attracting the older demographic they wanted, so the second season of just seven episodes aired infrequently throughout the 1978–79 TV season, strategically placed on the broadcast schedule to deliberately hurt the ratings of specific competing shows at key times in the TV season (e.g. "sweeps").
Former Six Million Dollar Man producer Lionel Siegel took over production duties for season two, noticeably changing the show in an attempt to grow its adult audience. These changes included dropping the Captain Barbera character; adding the character of Julie Masters as a love interest for Peter; creating more down-to-earth plotlines; and slightly toning-down Spider-Man's superpowers, to make him more accessible to adult viewers

The series continued to do well in the ratings during its second season, so season three was a shoe-in, right? Oh how wrong you can be!!! CBS officially cancelled the series soon after the season ended. The chief reason was that they feared being perceived as merely a one-dimensional, superficial, "superhero network" as they were already airing other live-action superhero series or specials at the time, including The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman (which they resurrected after its original network, ABC, canceled it), Captain America, Doctor Strange, and had just ended (in 1977) multi-year runs of live-action Saturday morning series for DC Comics' Shazam and Isis superheroes.

Another problem was that in spite of the show's popularity, its most vocal fans were also highly critical of it. This was largely down to the many changes made to Spider-Man's mythology and the lack of any real super villains. For instance, in an episode titled The Dragon's Challenge, Spider-Man goes to Hong Kong to save a Chinese politician accused of corruption, which is not very true to how Spidey would be in the comics. Plus, aside from Peter Parker/Spider-Man, J Jonah Jameson is the only character from the comic book series to appear regularly on the show (and he was toned down and played by two different actors). Aunt May and Joe Robbie Robertson did both appear in the pilot (Aunt May also showed up in one regular episode, but played by a different actress), but there was no sign of Mary Jane Watson, Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy.

Some years later Nicholas Hammond revealed that he nearly reprised the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in a 1984 TV movie that would have paired Spider-Man (now in his black costume) with The Incredible Hulk. Hammond had co-written the script alongside Ron Satlof and Stan Lee. Bill Bixby was on board to reprise his role of Dr. David Bruce Banner, as well as serving as the film's director. Universal ended up cancelling the project which Hammond believed was because Lou Ferrigno was unavailable to reprise his role as the Hulk, because he was in Italy filming Hercules. However, in his 2003 autobiography My Incredible Life as the Hulk, Ferrigno stated that he was never contacted about the project, adding that he had recently finished filming Hercules II and that his availability was not an issue, so the cancellation was likely down to the fact that the rights for Spider-Man where now owned by Orion Pictures who were planning a production of their own.

Although it never came to fruition, Orion Pictures had tasked legendary film maker Roger Corman with bringing the web-slinger to the screen. Corman was a fan of Spider-Man and turned to Stan Lee to write the screenplay. It was pretty faithful to the comics - radioactive spider bite/Uncle Ben/Mary Jane/Doctor Octopus fight. It did also included a scene where Spidey managed to avert nuclear war between Russia and the USA, but hey ho, it was the 80s after all!

All was looking good, until disagreements over the budget between Corman and Lee came to a head. Lee envisioned a big budget spectacle, whereas, unsurprisingly, Roger Corman had planned to shoot the whole thing in his back garden with his local amateur dramatic society playing all key roles (well not literally, but you get the point). All the conflict kept pushing production of the movie back, until eventually, much to Corman's dismay, Orion let the rights to Spider-Man expire.

It was Cannon Films who in 1985 snapped those rights up for $225,000 licensing the web-slinger - money well spent you may think? Only trouble was that the cousins who ran the Cannon Group, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, weren't actually sure who Spider-Man was, they thought he was like The Wolfman! So they had in mind a superhero free movie, something more akin to the classic Universal monsters movies.

The director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, was bought on board and a treatment was put together by The Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens. In it Peter Parker mutated into an eight-armed tarantula monster, and then set about fighting a variety of mutants who'd escaped a secret government laboratory.

Stan Lee stepped in and convinced Cannon to take a more traditional direction, and so a new script was written by Ted Newsom and John Brancato which saw Spidey take on Doc Ock. Cannon Films were so excited about the project that they took out a 50 page pull-out ad in trade papers to promote their upcoming feature...

But trouble was brewing behind the scenes. First Hooper left, to be replaced by Missing in Action director Joseph Zito, he quickly realised that Cannon were way out of their league. The cousins wooed him with talk of Tom Cruise playing Peter Parker, but quickly changed their mind and thought that stuntman Scott Leva would be the better choice (pictured above). Before he departed the project Zito had plans to cast Bob Hoskins in the role of Dr Octopus, his replacement, B-Movie director Albert Pyun, and Menahem Golan & Yoram Globus thought otherwise. A new script was written which now saw Spider-Man face off against a "bat-like scientist-turned-vampire".

Logistical problems, and another Stan Lee intervention, saw a further rewrite that now included the Lizard as Spidey's nemesis, and Lee himself as J. Jonah Jameson. Sets were built, and most of the (unknown) cast were in place.

Before they finally pulled the plug in 1988, it was reported that Cannon Films had spent well over $10 million in developing their Spider-Man movie, an unheard of sum at the time. Every new re-write and direction saw the filming budget for the proposed movie cut further and further, and so it got to the stage where there was just not enough money left to actually shoot the film itself. A last ditch effort saw Pyun suggest that he shoot the movie alongside the proposed Masters of the Universe sequel - both films sharing sets and production costs. But when that film also fell through, Pyun accepted defeat. He went on to use the sets and props that had been created for Spider-Man in his Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, Cyborg.

The Cannon Group went under, so to recoup some losses they sold the rights to Spider-Man to Carolco, the studio behind Total Recall and Terminator 2. And Carolco just happened to have James Cameron on speed dial...

In 1991, fresh of the back of their Terminator 2: Judgement Day success, James Cameron wrote a treatment for a Spider-Man movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Octopus. To say Cameron wanted to make some changes to the Spidey mythology is an understatement!

Cameron's take was quite mature in content, and laced with profanity. Peter Parker is described as "your basic sexually pent-up adolescent" and includes more than one scene featuring Peter spying on Mary Jane in her underwear, and another with the two of them having sex on top of the Manhattan Bridge! Villain wise, a trio of Doc Ock, Electro and Sandman would've been featured. Electro was to be a successful "Donald Trump-type" businessman, who after attempting to rape a woman (Trump-like again, allegedly) ends up killing her, then brings her back to life by using his powers to finish the 'job'.

Carolco weren't exactly digging what Cameron had in mind (maybe the suggestion of Charlie Sheen as the Web Slinger wasn't to their taste?), and so combined with their current financial and legal problems, in April 1992, they ceased active production on a Spider-Man movie.

It would, of course, be a decade before Tobey Maguire donned the spider-suit, and the rest is history....

But, we have one more live-action pre-MCU version of Spider-Man for you first, and I think we've certainly saved the best for last.

Back in 1978, when Nicholas Hammond's Spider-Man was being bumped around the schedule by CBS, over on the other side of the world Supaidāman, or Japanese Spider-Man, had itself a regular Wednesday 7:30pm time slot for its 41 gloriously bizarre episodes...

Clearly when you make a TV show for another country some things are going to have to change, and whilst this version of the character wore the same costume as his Marvel counterpart, the show's storyline and the origin of the Spider-Man's powers deviated from the source material. In addition to fighting by himself, this incarnation of Spider-Man piloted a giant robot known as Leopardon, which he would summon to thwart off enlarged versions of the show's monsters. It's more Power Rangers than Spider-Man (in fact the company that produced this, Toei, would go on to make Super Sentai, the source material for Power Rangers).

How's this for an origin story though, it's pretty amazing...

Young motorcycle racer Takuya Yamashiro witness what he believes to be a UFO falling to earth but is in fact a space warship named the Marveller. Takuya's father Dr. Hiroshi Yamashiro, a space archaeologist, investigates the case, but is killed upon finding the spaceship. The incident also attracts the attention of Professor Monster and his evil Iron Cross Army (which may be the most Dickensian name for an evil professor and organisation ever), an alien group that plans to rule the universe.

Takuya follows his father to the Marveller and discovers Garia, the last surviving warrior of Planet Spider, a world that was destroyed by Professor Monster and the Iron Cross Army. Garia explains that he was hunting Prof. Monster but now needs someone to carry on the fight and he injects Takuya with some of his own blood. The blood of a person from Planet Spider gives Takuya spider-like powers (and also makes them susceptible to cold, which may be the best weakness since Kryptonite!).

Garia then gives Takuya a bracelet that can activate his spider protector costume, shoot web-lines, and controls the Marveller ship (which can also transform into that aformentioned giant battle robot called Leopardon). Using his powers, Takuya fights Professor Monster's army and other threats to Earth under the name Spider-Man.

With great power come great big robot...

Japanese Spider-Man is just awesome! It was so popular in its homeland that a theatrical version of Supaidāman, which takes place between episodes 10 and 11, was shown on the Toei Manga Matsuri film festival on July 22, 1978. Forty plus years later and it seems that Japanese Spider-Man is returning to the big-screen, in a sense, as he's said to be included in the upcoming Into The Spider-verse 2, which although isn't canon within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as yet, anyway) is certainly a damn sight better than those shitty Andrew Garfield/Mark Webb pair of monstrosities.

Next time we go before the MCU for Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury.

Previous Before The MCU Articles
Black Widow
Doctor Strange

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