Thousands of years before the dawn of civilisation, evil magicians fought for supremacy... and Ko-Tep was the most aggressive.
Ko-Tep: "The world was mine this morning, the battle was won. All that stands im my way is Razman."
Razman: "OOOH Ko-Tep! you have defeated my hosts. But in order to win this world, you must defeat my magic, or your own demons will destroy you!".
And so begins the climatic magical dual of Ko-Tep and Razman....
|Ko-Tep and his Demon Army|
|Ko-Teps Demonic Evil Humanoid|
Behold! Ko-Teps demon army, a wretched band of scum and villains. A spike-helmed hobgoblin, a Nazgûl re-imagined by Jack Kirby from the neck up, an armoured vampire Bugbear, a lesser-spotted cycloptic orc, a Barbed Devil (more on him in a moment) a Chaos Broo and some odd fellow in latex fetish gear. A line-up of strange humanoids that could have been generated by an Encounter Table out of back of Gary Gygax 1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.
|The Hosts of Razman|
But hold on a second, what is this thing we're talking about Zhu? Obviously some kind of cartoon. Thundarr the Barbarian, or the Herculoids? Maybe Space Ghost or Space Sentinels?
No, dear reader, it is Spider-Man.
|Spider-Man 1967 Title Card.|
|Spider-Man 1967 Intro. Don't count the legs.|
The original Spider-Man cartoon was first broadcast between 1967 and 1970. The first series, produced by Grantray-Lawrence Animation, consisted of reasonably lightweight advetnures of Spider-Man battling his well recognised comic book foes, Scorpion, Green Goblin, Sandman, Mysterio, Rhino, whilst eye-rolling at desk-thumping, cigar chomping newspaper boss J Jonah Jameson and flirting with Betty Brant.
With Series 2 production was moved to Krantz Films, and it gets off to a solid start with the Spider-Man origin story in Episode 21 - the first time in the animations run that the story is told and the series settles into a comfortable mirror of the 1960s comic book, teen romance, looking after Aunt May, battling villains, struggling with studies - all pretty much what one would expect. But then it all starts to unravel, and go a bit weird. Strange otherworldy Swords & Sorcery motifs and freaky psychedelic vibes unexpectedly emerge as the spiders web spins off into unfamiliar territory.
So we return to our story a thousand years or so after Ko-Teps defeat by the spells of Razman, he is accidentally reanimated from his petrified form to harass museum-going hipsters and beatniks in swinging sixties Manhattan and summons, once again, his mighty fire-breathing Barbed Devil minion. It's not long before Ko-teps evil plans are stopped by Peter Parkers arachnoid alter-ego, but not before he ruins the troubled teenagers date with archeology student and Mary-Jane Watson look-a-like competitor, Susan.
|Barbed Devil | Spider-Man Episode 29: The Evil Sorcerer|
|Trampier | Barbed Devil | AD&D Monster Manual|
The similarities between the demon from Spider-Man and Trampier's Barbed Devil are clear, the cone-head, horns protruding from the middle of the forehead, elongated ears, and although not shown in the screen-cap above, a long tail. Tusks, which are viewable in the group shot, but not in the solo one, are entirely optional. While we're talking about Trampier and Spider-Man, in Episode 30: Vine, we see our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man doing his Mad Caeru impression...
|Spider-Man Episode 30: Vine|
|Trampiers Players Handbook 1978|
So how did we get here? How did our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man go from the troubled teen costumed crime-fighter with super-science spider-powers to gonzo science-fantasy dimension hopping adventurer?
The first thing any animation fan will tell you is that Spider-Man Series 2 was overseen by Ralph Bakshi, and much of the strangeness is attributed to his influence and Bakshi's love of the fantasy genre is evidenced throughout his career. There is the whole war-of-the-wizards plot in The Evil Sorcerer that characterises both Wizards (1977) and Bakshis adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (1978). Then there are specific design elements, like the angry green barbarian hobbit goblins that Spider-man calls "Elves" in Episode 27 Spider-Man vs. the Molemen who appear to be direct predecessors of Weehawk and the other denizens of the land of Montagar in Wizards.
|Spiderman vs the Moleman "Elves"|
|Armies of Montagar | Bakshi's Wizards|
Then there are also thematic uses of cyclopean architecture, and the sketchy watercolour psychedelic black, cyan and magenta background colours of Spider-Man that reappear in Wizards and the more adventurous impressionistic scenes in Bakshi's adaptation of Lord of the Rings both by John Vita, I think.
|Ian Miller | Scortch | Baskhi Wizards (1977)|
Writing credits on Series 2 & 3 of Spider-Man also go to Lin Carter whose Worlds End series is listed by Gary Gygax in Appendix N of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1979). Whilst obviously later than Carters contributions to Spider-Man, The Warrior of World's End (1974) bears some strong parallels...
|Warrior of World's End via|
|Map of Gondwane via|
The other characters are a menagerie of Gamma World (1978) random generation proportions - there's a teleporting psychic ghost lobster, a sentient giant golden eagle robot airplane, an illusionist who masks himself constantly in purple vapours, a buxom teenage female warrior knight clone of Red Sonja. Each page reveals some new invention or novel weirdness, yet never seems to form a coherent whole. It's brilliant, wacky fun and maybe where Carter really shines, in the gonzo-funhouse literary equivalent of a saturday morning cartoon.
Carter has more tangible connections into the gaming world as well. Being the co-author of two fantasy games published by FGU - Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo (1977) an RPG sourcebook for the Flash Gordon comics by all accounts, and the miniatures wargame Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age (1975) with Carter doing the background and force composition and FGU founder Scott Bizar doing the rules. Carter also corresponded with MAR Barker on Barkers Tékumel prior to the publication of The Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) - and for the petalheads out there, Carter briefly borrows the name "Yán Kor" - an Empire to the north of the lands of the Petal Throne for the name of an immense desert in Warrior of Worlds End . This is amusing not least because Barker and Carters world-building strategies seem so at odds, Barker containing much that is strange and unusual brings his vision into a coherent and richly detailed whole, whereas Carter seems more enamoured with the joys of invention and poaching from pop-culture for its own sake. In this way both Spider-Man and World's End are very much like Gary Gygaxs default setting in AD&D, where quasi-folkloric and fairy-tale figures rub shoulders with dinosaurs and creatures cribbed from a myriad sci-fi novels, comic books a no-holds barred, anything goes attitude.
|Cyclopean Underworld Architecture|
Both Carter and Bakshi come into a fair amount of negative criticism, some of it quite undeserved. Bakshi's heavy reliance on both rotoscoping (tracing drawings from film), most notable in Fire and Ice (1983) co-produced with fantasy art demi-god Frank Frazetta, and his heavily stylised cartooning which conservative fantasy fans tend to dislike, draw a lot of flack. Then there are persistant accusations of plagiarism, especially regards Vaughn Bodés character Cobalt 60 and Peace / Necron 99 in Wizards, for which I'm inclined to believe Bakshi's intention to pay tribute. Many Tolkien fans despair at his Lord of the Rings (1977) adaptation for it's style, forays into expressionist psychedelia, editing and lack of an ending. Even Spider-man despite it's occasionally glorious delving into Swords & Sorcery and the bizarre, due to pressing budget, recycles animation sequences, plots, and on more than one occasion is just plain shonky.
Carter is probably best known for his pastches of Howard, Lovecraft and Burroughs and alongside his role in the de Sprage / Conan controversy, these have somewhat coloured his reputation. Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria (1965) and the sequels which Carter was working on during his Spider-Man period, itself adapted by Marvel Comics in the 1970s, is more coherent than either Spider-Man or Warrior of World's End, but is ultimately pretty dull barbarian fantasy fare, although it has more air-cars and fantastical creatures than the average Conan story. Nontheless, in my potted and unthorough research on Carter, his genre contributions to Spider-Man seems to be almost totally overlooked in fannish retrospectives and biographies. I can't help think without that missing strand of 1960s New York saturday-morning cartoon surf-jazz, it may be too easy to miss the genius that lurks within Carters work and the strange web of influence it has on the wider genre.