Credit for giving a woman the lead in a show, but that’s about all you can say in praise of this poorly written, poorly drawn cartoon.
Like most cartoons of its time and later, Spiderwoman 1979 relies heavily on limited animation to keep costs low. But it is so obvious in this production it’s distracting. Characters travel through crudely painted matte backgrounds where nothing moves but them.
While most cartoons / animated series keep their story regulars in a kind of costume (think Scooby Doo gang in their 1970s getups), the choices made in costume on Spiderwoman 1979 are atrocious–and consequently annoying. Jessica Drew/Spiderwoman wears a purple dress with a sloppy tie that somehow transforms into her Spiderwoman suit with a simple twirl of her body. In one episode, she does this while clutched in the puny arms of a T-Rex. Her co-worker/potential love interest Jeff wears a forgettable costume that almost works, but her nephew Billy goes around in a jersey with a giant zero on it.
I’m guessing the writers assumed you were only ever going to watch ONE Spiderwoman episode (they may have been right), so why go out of their way to give you anything like variety or–more importantly–a story arc?
While a new threat to Spiderwoman is introduced in every episode (she fights Kingpin, an evil scientist, a giant spider, Amazonians, etc.), each story is a carbon copy of the previous one. Nothing changes character-wise, because these shows are designed to be watched singly or out of order. Story arcs would create confusion.
Typical episode of Spiderwoman: Opens with a flashback of Jessica Drew stupidly opening a cage containing a poisonous spider. She is bitten and her scientist father (who apparently left her unsupervised in a lab with poisonous spiders) gives her an untested spider antivenom which gives her spider senses along with the ability to shoot webs, “blast” baddies with spider venom, and change her shabby garments into a tit- and ass-hugging costume that makes her into Spiderwoman.
Once we’ve established her character in this flashback, we are immediately thrown into a shitty situation of some kind that she must face. For example, a giant spider is trying to maul a village and, good thing, her spider senses have drawn her there in the nick of time.
She saves the day–sort of–then returns to her normal life, where she purportedly works as a magazine editor. She and her two sidekicks, potential boyfriend and young nephew are roving reporters with a helicopter. They fly around the world looking for news, conveniently bringing Jessica Drew into contact will all sorts of strange baddies.
Her two sidekicks have no clue she is Spiderwoman, which she conceals by conveniently absenting herself from any scene in which Spiderwoman is needed. Her excuses are always lame, but her sidekicks never notice.
Example: in one episode in which they are being attacked by a giant metallic spider (nevermind why), she pretends to be afraid, so Jeff tells her to hide behind the seat. She drops through a trapdoor in the back of the helicopter without drawing attention to herself, returning later without anyone noticing she’s left the helicopter. This despite the fact that at one point the helicopter is captured in the claws of said giant metallic spider, which surely would have prompted either of Jessica Drew’s dimwitted sidekicks to look behind the seat to see how she was holding up.
Keeping Jeff and Billy in the dark is a burning passion with her for some reason. We must assume it’s to protect them, but allowing them to remain ignorant actually puts them in more danger. Fortunately, Jeff and Billy never go out of their ways to rescue Jessica whenever she inexplicably disappears, which happens every episode.
Billy is basically a bundle of enthusiasm in a small package. He doesn’t have much of a personality, so we won’t waste much time on him. Jeff is bit more complex. He is a typical chauvinist, who tells Jessica that certain things are too dangerous for her (because she’s a woman). He is also something a know-it-all, who inevitably is proven wrong (usually within five seconds of making a pronouncement). Though Jeff pretends to be the big hero, he does absolutely nothing in any episode that in any way helps Spiderwoman. Usually, he just makes things worse for her. Yet, he never sees Jessica as anything but a helpless woman. Jessica periodically reinforces her helpless alter ego by pretending to be afraid of worms, spiders, and scary things in general.
Jeff also makes periodic attempts to get Jessica alone, only to have Billy cockblock him. This includes simple dinner dates. Obviously, the writers were told to keep it kid friendly, though you can’t help wondering how that was defined in the late 1970s. It’s pretty obvious from the tone that Jeff would be up to something bad if Billy wasn’t constantly pissing on his picnic.
And the bad puns. Don’t even get me started. Jumping spiders.
While this show might have appeared a step forward in gender equality for superheroes, it was in reality a consistent representation of why changes needed made. Jessica was constantly belittled by her clueless love interest, who she didn’t trust to share her most intimate secret.
In a perfect cartoon world, Jessica Drew would have taken both her would-be lover and her nephew into her confidence. She would have done this because she could trust them and they–let’s hope–would have been better able to help her do her job–fight crime. Instead, we have endless episodes which can best be summed up this way–they blunder into trouble, Spiderwoman gets them out of it, they marvel at how amazing she is, then have the bad taste to throw her in poor Jessica’s teeth, when she at last appears again (with a lame excuse for her long absence, which they take without a murmur).by