Everyone knows the story of Spider-Man: bitten by a radioactive spider, lost his Uncle Ben, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, fights space aliens with a giant robot . . . Wait, WHAT?!?!?!
That’s right! This isn’t your “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”; but rather the live action 1970s “An Emissary From Hell, Spider-Man” that few know and even fewer have seen. Though that is about to change thanks to the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man #12, which featured this mysterious Spider-Man in its massive Spidey-Verse crossover event. So who is he? What is this show? And WHY does it look like a cheaper version of the Power Rangers? All that and more in this closer look at the 1978 live-action Toei’s Spider-Man (スパイダーマン).
So watch the trailer below and we’ll get started (Warning: the song will get stuck in your head).
Takuya Yamashiro – With Great Power, Comes Great… Revenge?:
As I was saying, this isn’t the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” you’re used to. No Peter Parker, Green Goblin or any of the usual characters besides Spider-Man. It’s a completely unique story that revolves around the new hero of this tale Takuya Yamashiro. Takuya is a motocross racer whose father is murdered by the Iron Cross Army, and is even he himself killed before being reborn as Spider-Man.
Though despite all the crazy shots and fight scenes – I’ll get to that in a bit – this is actually a pretty heavy show. Takuya – and his predecessor Garia – aren’t doing this for the sole purpose of ‘it’s the right thing to do’; but rather out of revenge. Sure he’ll be the spider-themed hero that everyone loves – and even has a song written about him called Spider-Man Boogie – but the main driving force here is to avenge not only his father’s death; but also Garia and Garia’s entire race.
So let’s see, a motorcycle riding, giant robot wielding superhero out to avenge a parental death. In retrospect, this show is basically Spider-Man, Batman, Power Rangers, and YuGiOh 5Ds all rolled into one – yes, I realize this show predates two of those shows. Though speaking of which…
He Had A Megazord Before It Was Cool – Leopardon:
There are a lot of pretty random and oddly inserted aspects of this show. For example, Garia (The Zordon of this series) is from Planet Spider – I know – and is then trapped by the villain in a cave filled with poisonous spiders – yeah – and later after he dies, he turns into a spider – sensing a theme? Though the most random aspect of this Spider-Man show is of course his space ship Marveller – yes, MARVEL-ler – that turns into a giant robot known as Leopardon (pronounced Leo-Pardon). Though if Spider-Man piloting a giant robot wasn’t strange enough for you, then ask yourself, “why does that robot looks like a rocket ship with the head of a lion or leopard on it”. Oh wait, Leopardon . . . Leopard-On. I see what you did there – or at least I think I do
Anyway, it might be hard to see what reasoning caused these choices; but it’s easy to see where they lead. Toei’s long running Super Sentai series has been the inspiration for many of the Power Ranger shows. Though whereas the Super Sentai series does predate the Toei Spider-Man show, none of the earlier Super-Sentai shows had giant robot fights. Spider-Man was the first and it was because of this series that they learned how to shoot and capture the giant monster/robot battles, which played such a large role in the later Super Sentai series as well as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. So in the end, this isn’t Spiderman piloting a primitive Megazord. This is the Power Rangers piloting an upgraded Leopardon! *mind blown*
The Mighty Morphin Spiderman?
Though to be fair, it’s not just the giant robot battles that reveal this show to be a Power Rangers predecessor. The filmography, fighting styles and even the villains themselves all have that Power Rangers/Super Sentai feel. Let’s take for example how Spider-Man poses. Whether controlling his Leopardon, morphing or striking a pose after delivering a powerful monologue on justice and fighting evil, these are all poses that we’d see the Power Rangers strike over 20 years later.
Also, let’s take a look at the villains. Sure the monsters start out as small clay-like figurines and then grow to giant sizes just like they do in Power Rangers; but take a look at the basic henchmen – the Ninders – for a moment. If you ignore their noticeable orange beak-like masks, they look and move almost exactly like Putties. These are the simple, bumbling ‘grunt’ level enemies that we’ve come to love – and kind of wish were real so we could fight them and be awesome.
Final Verdict – Strange, Groundbreaking & Well Done:
Let’s face it. This show is pretty weird and dated. In fact, you could probably turn it into a pretty awesome drinking game – much like what we do with Batman & Robin (1997). Though despite all of the mock-able aspects of this show, there are actually a lot of things to admire about it, especially considering this was made in 1978. For starters, there is no real CGI in this. Every climbing shot is a mix of actual climbing and wirework – which is pretty remarkable for the 70’s. In fact, the way he climbs and even moves in general is very spider-like – something other media incarnations have never done.
Another thing to note is the transformation sequences when he becomes Spider-Man. Yes, seeing the costume flying out in front of Takuya and then ‘zip-up’ is pretty bad; but as you start watching the series you notice that EACH morph moment is different. Unlike current shows where the same morph sequence is basically copy/pasted into every situation, here the sequence is reshot each time in Takuya’s current location. From a production stand point, that deserves respect. Though don’t just take my word for it. Ask Stan Lee!
I’m sure some Spider-Man fans might see this show as blasphemy; but Stan Lee himself has even praised the show for how creative it was. This isn’t just another retelling or slight variation on the Spider-Man story. The Spider-Man costume is the only thing that follows the comics – and even then the eyes are different, which allows a much more expressive web-slinger. Though despite this show’s uniqueness, it still brilliantly makes use of the source material.
For example, Garia’s backstory is very similar to that of Peter Parker’s. Despite him not using a Spider-suit and resmbling more of a Gladatorial Batman in flashbacks, he follows in the Peter Parker footsteps of someone who learned about the responsibility of his powers far too late. Though instead of losing just an uncle, Garia’s whole planet was annihilated.
After this show’s run, there was actually some talk between Toei and Stan Lee about making another series. This one would have been written by Stan Lee himself; but would have followed the Toei’s style. Sadly, both parties became busy with other projects after this so this idea never went much further.
We might never know what ‘could have been’; but we do know ‘what was’. Call it an excellent program or a guilty pleasure; but you can’t deny this show’s status as groundbreaking and inspirational. Without Toei’s Spider-Man, Power Rangers might not have been what it is today – nor would it have been such a huge part of our childhoods. So if you get some time, check out the two episodes online on Marvel.com. It’s sure to become a guilty pleasure; and in no time at all, you’ll be saying “Yeah yeah yeah, WOW!!!!!!”