This game was my first exposure to Spider-Man.
Okay, that’s not 100% accurate. Growing up, I had a “read along” children’s book featuring Spider-Man at the circus. I think he fought a clown? I’m moderately certain elephants were involved. Additionally, I might have seen an episode or two of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, which apparently ended its original run shortly after I was born, but there may have been a rerun or two bumping around when I was a kid. But! That’s it! I never received current comics as a kid (see the bullet points section for more details on that), the Spider-Man animated series was still four years away, and, when The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin was released on Sega Genesis, Tobey Maguire was 16 (Tom Holland was, of course, negative six).
So, while I had a general mental image of Spider-Man (red/blue pajamas, spins a web, any size), I didn’t have a clue about all the things that make the man a spider. Peter Parker? First I heard of him. Daily Bugle? Oh, so he’s a newspaper guy like Superman, I guess. And the entire rogues gallery? First I’m hearing of them.
In other words, everything I ever needed to know about Spider-Man, I learned from a Sega Genesis game. See, Stan Lee, it’s not only any issue that might be a reader’s first, it could be a videogame, too!
With that in mind, we’re going to look at the main players of Spider-Man’s big Genesis adventure, and compare their impressions within the game to their current place in Marvel comics continuity. Let’s find a new way to learn about Spider-Man!
Initial Impression: Wilson Fisk, The Kingpin, is responsible for everything in this game, so it’s only natural to assume he’s Spider-Man’s prime villain. In short order, Kingpin…
- Hijacks a television station
- Plants a mega-bomb somewhere in New York
- Frames Spider-Man for said mega-bomb
- Offers a huge reward for the head of Spider-Man
- Commands every other villain to mess with Spider-Man
- Orders Venom to kidnap Mary Jane
- Camps out in his scary base five feet from the mega-bomb
Aside from that last blunder (when you plant a mega-bomb in a city, you leave the city), it’s clear that Kingpin is a genius and the head honcho of crime in Spider-Man’s New York. Could you even conceive of a villain more frightening than a monster that accidentally kidnaps your wife as part of a master plan?
Real Continuity: Kingpin is a big, scary villain… but he’s not really Spider-Man’s villain. Kingpin has drifted away from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, and has been primarily a Daredevil villain for… I want to say as long as I’ve been alive. This makes sense, as Kingpin is generally responsible for the death of Daredevil’s Daredaddy, and the greatest rivalry between Spidey and Kingpin is merely an ongoing discussion regarding Slimfast. Though Kingpin now has a more mundane adversary (Daredevil’s super power is “can see, but only kinda”), he has gotten up to the more ridiculous supervillainy on occasion, as there was a not insignificant run there where he commanded a legion of immortal ninja. Basically, Kingpin is every bit the badass he is in this game, he’s just not Spider-Man’s badass.
Initial Impression: Doc Ock is a pushover in this game. Literally! He’s balancing on his long, noodley octo-arms, and, a few jump kicks to the face later, he’ll be toppled over like a turtle. And then Spider-Man webs him up, and gets him to rat out every one of his cohorts. He’s a first level boss! With a bowl cut! He never had a chance.
Real Continuity: Doctor Octopus is, depending on the week, either Spider-Man’s greatest or second greatest villain. On one tentacle, he’s never been responsible for anything so traumatic as the death of any given Spider-Girlfriend; on the other pseudopod, he did straight up kill Spider-Man once, take over his body/life, and…. Earn Peter Parker a doctorate. It… probably sounded more villainous at the time. Even before all of that, Doctor Octopus was a constant thorn in Spider-Man’s side, capable of matching the wit and knowledge of Spidey in a way that Hammerhead, the man with a flat head, couldn’t even touch. Oh, and he tried to marry Aunt May one time. That had to be a huge hassle.
Point is that videogame Doctor Octopus got robbed.
Initial Impression: A mutant reptile that lives in the sewers? Gee, where have I heard that one before?
Real Continuity: It’s hard to sneak nuance into a Genesis game, but would it have killed anybody to have Dr. Curt Connors revert back to human form and apologize? The Lizard is yet another Jekyll/Hyde character for the Marvel pantheon (see also: Hulk, The), and his greatest tales always revolve around a man trying to make himself whole again (and then accidentally turning into a lizard). Granted, this does make Connors the dumbest scientist in the Marvel universe (“Maybe this time I won’t turn into… Nope, looks like I’m eating rats again.”), but his heart is in the right place. He might just be a stooge in this game, but The Lizard is worth one or two good stories in the real continuity.
Initial Impression: Here’s some loser with electric powers.
Real Continuity: Here’s some loser with electric powers. Seriously. For having starred in a movie and possessing nigh unlimited power usage potential (electricity is pretty important, y’all), Electro seems relegated to Rhino Tier with the other nobodies that occasionally pop up for an annual every other year or so. In fact, he accidentally got his girlfriend fried, she came back to life with his powers, and somehow she wound up being a more interesting character than OG Electro. That makes Electro even worse than The Scorpion, and you don’t want to be lower on the totem pole than a dude whose only power is “has a tail”.
Initial Impression: Technopop apparently wanted to include one puzzle boss in this adventure, so Sandman winds up being nearly invincible. After Spidey has to fight an escaped gorilla in Central Park (hey, Circus Caper!), Sandman attacks, and he is completely invulnerable to Spider-Man’s webs and spider strength. The solution is to lure Sandman across the entire stage to a random fire hydrant, punch said hydrant, and then soak the man made of sand into inanimate mud. Even when you win, however, victory is fleeting, as you are informed Sandman is the first villain to escape Spider-Man’s web. Sandman must be some kind of super-super villain!
Real Continuity: He’s a jobber in a stupid sweater. Sandman did lead a long and varied life at some point in the comics (he was an Avenger! It happened!), but he’s been stuck in a generic supervillain loop of depression, loneliness, and bankrobbing for the entirety of the 21st century. I think he recently got a new suit? Yeah, that’s useful when you’re a pile of sand. For having nearly godlike (or at least Green Lantern-like) powers and virtual immortality, Sandman has been slotted into the little leagues with Paste Pot Pete and that guy from Wings.
Initial Impression: Spider-Man, unable to find his next villain to trounce, determines that since Kingpin put a price on his head, he could just walk around in broad daylight, see who shows up, and then it’s clobberin’ time. This miraculously works, as Hobgoblin shows up about twenty feet outside the Daily Bugle. And then Spider-Man whacks the goblin right off his dumb glider. The end.
Real Continuity: There was a magical time in Marvel Comics when a villain could stay dead for longer than a week, so Hobgoblin is clearly subbing for the then-deceased Green Goblin. This is Hobgoblin’s lot in life, as anyone in that costume is meant to be a stand-in for Spider-Man’s greatest/greenest foe, and… can you name the secret identity of even one Hobgoblin? Kingsley? Does that sound right? Doesn’t matter. He’s a knockoff, and it doesn’t matter if he gets his own sewer gang, he’s never going to be an inadvertent Trump analogue like Osborn.
Initial Impression: Who is this guy? He looks scary enough, but he seems to be everybody’s sidekick. Play the game on hard mode, and Venom shows up as a secondary threat during any given boss fight. And… he just kinda jumps around like a monkey. That whole “unsettling black alien” thing is menacing, but that gorilla from the park was more threatening.
Real Continuity: Venom has become one of Spider-Man’s most aggressive and iconic foes, but he had only been around comics for a solid two years before his Master System debut. It’s no wonder no one really had any idea where he would “officially” fit into the Spider-Mythos at that point. He doesn’t even showcase his super rad tongue! But that tongue has been featured ad nauseam in the intervening thirty years, and now Venom has been everything from an intergalactic military vet to a tyrannosaurus. There was even a recent special wherein Venoms from different universes all banded together to fight Kinda-Venoms from other, more different universes. That’s right! Venom rips off everything about Spider-Man, all the time. But back in 1990, he barely even got web shooters.
Mary Jane Watson
Initial Impression: She’s stated to be Spider-Man’s wife (“your friend Peter Parker’s wife”), and she’s kidnapped by a Kingpin/Venom combo (not the cool kind of Kingpin/Venom combo, they’re just working together) in time for the final stage. During the ultimate, vaguely impossible boss fight, she is slowly lowered into a vat of acid while Spider-Man and Fat-Man duel. If you win, Spider-Man is happy to be reunited with the redhead; if you lose, Kingpin escapes, and Spider-Man gets really depressed. So she’s Spider-Man’s Princess Peach. Got it.
Real Continuity: Mary Jane Watson is the Lois Lane of DC Comics. Thanks to a million writers over a billion years, MJ is simultaneously a strong, interesting character in her own right, and a damsel that must be rescued at all times. It depends on the week. As of this writing, she’s recently been an assistant to a mostly comatose Tony Stark… which sounds like a pretty cushy job. On the other hand, she had her entire marriage mystically annulled because her husband wanted to rewrite all of reality on a whim, so that probably detracts from her agency just a tweak. Also, like practically all women in comics not continually wearing spandex, when she isn’t dating a hero, her appearances are rare (see One More Day for a fine example). So, despite the fact that she could totally carry another Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane series, she’s hasn’t seen as much exposure since she cut the (spider-)man out of her life. So, yep, she is Spider-Man’s princess.
Way to go, The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin, you’re a pretty good introduction to Universe 616 after all.
FGC #359 The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin
- System: Sega Genesis was the big one, but the Master System version was released a year earlier. There’s also a Game Gear version that was based on the Master System version, and a Sega CD version based on the Sega Genesis version. Got all that? I could make a chart.
- Number of players: Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can. Alone.
- Port-o-Call: Dr. Strange appears for no reason in the Master System/Game Gear version. The Sega CD version adds two new levels/bosses, and cutscenes that are… very strangely animated. Peter Parker and Mary Jane kiss during the intro and… it’s the least romantic cartoon ever.
- Goggle Bob Fact: So my parents had a friend that worked at an antique shop. Any time he would wind up with “dollar comics”, they would be donated to the Wee Goggle Bob Needs Something to Do fund. Thus, I had a number of disjointed, completely random comics as a kid. While this did nothing for me learning the wonders of Marvel continuity, I did wind up being exposed to Silver Surfer Mœbius comics from a young age, and that may have had an influence on my imagination
- Continue? The plot dictates that any time Spider-Man gets a game over, he is captured by the local constabulary.
This leads to the most NWA continue screen of the 16-bit era.
- Threat or Menace: The other cool thing about this title is that it encourages you to take pictures as Spider-Man, and use the cash to earn web fluid refills. On one hand, this is amazing, and kind of a big deal innovation in light of every damn hero having a camera nowadays. On the other hand, web fluid refills are generously scattered about any given stage, so it’s kind of unnecessary. Oh well, at least J.J. will be happy.
- Did you know? In the main continuity of Marvel 616, the Venom symbiote has possessed Peter Parker, Eddie Brock, Flash Thompson, Carol Danvers, Groot, and Mr. Fantastic. And some dinosaurs. And at least one dog. That thing gets around.
- Would I play again: Did I not mention that I love this game? It’s a pain in the ass by modern standards, but I played it for pretty much a solid year when I was a kid, so it is good stuff. Forget all those later games that were all about flying through the city on webs, I’ll take Spider-Man awkwardly stumbling through the sewers any day.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Monster Rancher for the Playstation! Gonna raise up some eyeballs to fight dragons! Please look forward to it!