[Article originally written for Marvel Animation Age]
Peter Parker and all he holds dear is threatened by equally fashion inept Sandman! The rock-eroded fiend has the joyous pleasure of discovering the polo necked hero’s secret identity! This is it true believers! Peter Parker’s worst nightmare!
Funnily enough, as a child, these types of episodes were kid audience’s worst nightmare too. Cartoons thrive on formulaic safety and I remember when I was a little junior James finding this story fairly disquieting, After all, kids like their heroes to be in danger, but the fear Peter has in Spider-Man: Unmasked! creates very human dilemma in this fantasy world. Ironically, the risk of identity exposure feels far more dangerous than any of the villains Spidey and his friends have encountered throughout the series.
For these reasons, this story was one of my least favourite episodes. As an adult, I find Spider Man: Unmasked! to be one of the more faithful and enjoyable episodes of Amazing Friends series as it remains fairly true to the Spider-Man mythos.
The risk of identity exposure is one of the core themes in Spider-Man, being his civilian identity is so firmly tied into his Spidey persona. Peter Parker isn’t like Bruce Wayne or Captain America. He has no money or powerful super pals to help him out. On the whole, his secret remains closed to his allies as it does to his enemies. Peter thereby has no way of protecting those he cares for - in fact he can barely look after himself, let alone his vulnerable aunt May. On top of that, his work at the Bugle plays a key antagonist in the hunt for Spider-Man. Therefore the nature of the secret identity is vital to Parker and his ability to keep his two lives separate. This concept is part of the very foundations of the character.
“Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends” is one of the further removed concepts of Spider-Man lore opting to take the lonely hero and place him into a supportive team. Nevertheless, Spider-Man: Unmasked! touches the venerability of Spider-Man that is so often missing from this TV show. As with “Along Came Spidey” in season two, this episode plays some of the closest themes to the comic. The fairly faithful render of the Sandman character also helps tie this episode closely to its comic counterpart.
So while Peter’s personal crisis may be a little uncomfortable for the young, it’s provides a little more stimulation for the older Spidey fan.
Downsides? Well, its resolution is fairly silly, which of course isn’t anything unusual for Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends. You can’t expect much from a show whose title barely distinguishes it from a circus act. I’m not sure I buy the comical set up of the Sandman being duped by Flash Thompson wearing a Spidey suit. Sandman’s inability to connect Angelica and Bobby to Firestar and Iceman is a little stretched as well. So there is some absurd exclusion from the plot, but then we are watching a TV show that proudly boasts the most annoying and hilariously unfunny comedy dog in the entire universe. Excelsior indeed.
Another slight disappointment is the animation. For the final season, the animation production was moved back to the US from Japan. Not a big niggle, but something to bother the animation enthusiast.
Nevertheless, it’s a fun outing that plays closer to Spider Lore than the majority of the series. Good stuff, though the episode never manages to live up to it’s potential. Watch, enjoy but leave any expectations buried deep in your sand box, preferably along with Ms Lion.
(No fictional animals were harmed in the making of this review)