Making the Grade: Villains from the 1960s Spider-Man Cartoon Show


Charles Cameo
Anyone who’s ever seen the first-ever animated show to feature our friendly web-slinging vigilante knows the score: villain shows up, Jameson blames Spider-Man, Parker suits up, villain gets caught, “courtesy of your friendly neighborhood” yadda yadda yadda, light Betty Brant banter optional. Along with introducing generations of TV addicts to Spidey and his supporting cast, the show also marked the animated debut of several of Spidey’s classic arch-villains… annnnnd a few who weren’t. Take Charles Cameo, who was apparently brought in after the Chameleon forgot to renew his SAG membership. In his two outings as a villainous master of disguise, viewers learned absolutely nothing about him other than (1) he was a famous actor (2) at some point he decided impersonating prime ministers and newspaper publishers was more profitable than landing a syndication deal and (3) he’s a bit of a ham, with the “You might say I’m here to raise some Cain — get it? ‘Cane?’ I’m holding a cane?” dialogue. One wouldn’t expect an evil stage actor to give Spider-Man’s manicurist much of a fight, but then again people also tended to underestimate Shannen Doherty… and, well, ’nuff said. C


Dr. Magneto
I dealt with this magnetized melonhead in a previous list about lame characters with names ending in “O,” but that doesn’t mean we can’t kick him around some more. Exemplifying the “book smart but not street smart” attitude of most wild-haired scientists, Dr. Magneto reacts to another rejection from the Science Hall of Fame (those stuck-up bitches) by using his special magnet gun to put ship and trains in jeopardy, instead of — and I’m just spitballing here — going to the Hall of Fame’s board of governors and showing them what his fancy magnet gun can do. Or, if he’s really hurt by their rejection and can’t face them, he could — and again, just spitballing — market his gun as the ultimate way to move cargo and construction materials quickly and cheaply, make millions of dollars, and buy his own damn Science Hall of Fame. Just another example of how Marvel super-villains seriously need to talk to a good marketing consultant before running amok. C-


Dr. Noah Boddy
Geddit? Because he’s invisible! Nyuk yuk yuk! And like Dr. Magneto, he was a brilliant scientist who decided that getting revenge on someone who mocked his theories — in his case, jolly J. Jonah Jameson himself — was a more productive use of his time that marketing the hell out of that puppy. Another thing he had in common with Magneto? He took time out from his busy schedule of robbery and vengeance to write handwritten notes to his intended victims. Frankly, that’s the kind of thoughtful gesture you just don’t see in today’s generation of scientific sociopaths. Pity. C-


Miss Trubble
You just know the only reason the writers came up with her is so they could use “Here Comes Trubble” for the title card. An evil bookshop owner (is there any other kind?) who somehow came into possession of the actual Pandora’s Box, Miss Trubble lives up to her name by summoning mythological gods and monsters from the box to do her bidding. And why does she command centaurs and cyclopses to loot and rampage through the city? Why, to force the Daily Bugle to print her column on mythology, of course. I hear Ann Landers broke into the business by doing something similar. Not so great on the thinking-things-through front — who would’ve thought summoning the god of fire and lousy aim in the middle of a bookstore would have gone so horribly awry? — but at least she was passionate about her books. That’s something. C


Harley Clivendon
Oh, come on! Bad enough they decided not to bring Kraven the Hunter over from the comic books (maybe they thought his lion’s-head vest and zebra pants were too traumatizing for the kids?), but they went and gave us this throwback from the outback as a poor man’s substitute. First, he doesn’t even bother with a costume; hell, even Dr. Magneto made the effort to throw a cape over his business suit. Second, he spent his two appearances using hypnosis to defraud Jameson and ransacking a scientist’s lab to find the legendary Fountain of Youth, two heists that don’t exactly scream “big game hunter motif.” Third, he leaves all the heavy lifting and Spidey-fighting to his horribly stereotyped African henchman. Fourth… an ascot, Harley? For real? The only dudes who can pull that off are Thurston Howell III and Fred from the Scooby Doo cartoons, and even they wouldn’t give Aunt May a decent fight. D


Parafino

I just don’t get Parafino. He’s an evil sculptor, okay, that’s easy to understand. And he perfected a way to create wax statues by putting live people in a wax-encrusted state of suspended animation. But instead of marketing his process to folks with a legitimate need to keep others in a temporarily immobile state (penal officials, fetishists, refugee smugglers, parents who take the “neither seen nor heard” thing really seriously), he decides the real money is in running a wax museum filled with “statues” of recently escaped criminals and masked vigilantes. And when that doesn’t pan out, he sends his walking wax statues of pirates and cowboys out to raise some scratch. As for super-powers, he’s got zilch unless you count his ability to handle globs of molten wax and not scream like a prepubescent banshee. Then there was the fact he let a wax duplicate do all of his dirty work while he inexplicably took a wax siesta himself. I just don’t get Parafino. D


Dr. Von Schlick

He’s an evil scientist who steals the city’s oil supply to further his own nefarious ends. Insert your own “Dick Cheney’s summer internship” joke here. He does this because he’s perfected a process of converting oil into “thenium 007,” a glowing substance that will somehow help him rule the world. (Of course, holding the world’s oil supply hostage would accomplish pretty much the same thing without going through the hassle and expense of turning the oil into a fictional substance, so…) He also wore scuba flippers. Nobody looks cool in scuba flippers. D


The Phantom

The thing about the Spider-Man cartoon is that it didn’t dwell a whole lot on how
the villains became villains. That’s understandable; when you’ve only got 10 
minutes to tell a story, you really can’t get deep into Doc Ock’s Oedipal issues, or talk about how bullies led Electro down a road of crime. Having said that, I really would appreciate a little backstory on the Phantom, if only to help erase the one I’m forming in my head based on the fact he builds robots that double as shapely female mannequins, has enough time on his hands to create shrink rays and “shadow-scopes,” and decides a purple-on-purple jumpsuit-and-cowl ensemble makes him look like a badass. Trust me, it’s not pretty. D


The Fiddler

“How does an embittered classical musician get his hands on a sonic-blasting violin?” “What happened to the rock band that disappeared in a sonic boom? Were they killed? Did they come back after the end of the show?” “How does the Fiddler figure $100,000 is enough to build a decent conservatory?” “How is it the Fiddler seemed to know everything about Flintridge’s business dealings except the fact Flintridge was one of his own orchestra’s major patrons?” “How does an old guy with a fancy-ass fiddle make Spider-Man break a sweat for longer than five seconds?” For crying out loud, people, it’s a cartoon! Why must you ask so many questions? You start questioning the logic of the Fiddler’s existence, and next thing you know you’re trying to figure out how Spider-Man can build a boat and functioning outboard motor from his webs and that is one rabbit hole you just do not want to go down. C-


The Plotter

“They call me the Plotter/I be funkier than Mr. Kotter/When it comes to crime, there’s just no one hotter…” Sorry, I’ve just finished watching this one and I’m still feeling the beatnik groove, man. Like, those really are some crazy pajamas that Spider-Square is sporting. Right, right, the Plotter — it’s hard to take a guy seriously when his main powers seem to be watching television monitors and berating henchmen, but at least he had the “vertically challenged mastermind” category all to himself — until Peter Dinklage came along, anyway. That probably impressed some of the ladies. C+


Human Fly Twins

Also known as Stan and Lee (ha!) Patterson, these twin brothers were former circus performers who put their high-wire and acrobatic skills to use impersonating Spider-Man and robbing people. Which, don’t get me wrong, is totally not cool, but I have to say it’s refreshing to see Spidey mix it up with some fun-loving bad guys whose ability to befuddle him doesn’t rely on magic fiddles, shadow-specs or mute bushmen. And it has to be said: for all his heroic qualities, Spider-Man could be a real smartass when he wanted to be, and it’s kind of nice seeing him on the receiving end of the wisecracking abuse once in a while. A shame they never crossed over into the comic books; they would have been way more fun to see in action than the comic-book Human Fly, who managed to rip off both the Scorpion and Jeff Goldblum with his backstory before dying, coming back and getting turned into an acid-vomiting, prostitute-eating cannibal. And that’s why my kid reads Pokemon manuals and Diary of a Wimpy KidB+

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