Cartoon Corner: Spider-Woman (1979)

I have written in the past about superheroes and archaeology, largely inspired by the papers given at the Monstrous Antiquities conference back in November. Today, I just want to point out that there is a surprising amount of archaeology in the 1979 Spider-Woman cartoon … or, well … sort of. 

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Spider-Woman cartoon, but it seems to have been largely an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Wonder Woman, right down to the spinning transformation, here called a “spider-spin.” And yeah, you know you’re back in the olden days when Marvel is trying to cash in on a DC property. 

Anyway, the cartoon basically resembles what you’d get if you got one of the less grounded Bronze Age creators (poor old Bill Mantlo, perhaps, or maybe Bob Kanigher (I may mean Bob Haney)) and just fed them an absolute shitload of cough syrup and told them to have at it, oh, and to try to work in something educational to satisfy the FCC. Maybe the easiest way for you to see what I mean about this show’s bizarre mix of earnestness and foolery is just to watch an episode. 

Our very first episode is “Pyramids of Terror,” and it kicks off with Spider-Man being in Egypt (for some reason) where he is captured by a villainous mummy. Spider-Woman, her bumbling sidekick and her plucky sidekick go off to Egypt following a series of mummy attacks, and then … erm … 



It turns out, right, that these mummies came from space in their pyramid ships and were buried under the sands of Egypt lo these many years ago, and I guess they inspired ancient Egyptian culture, because why not? The classic motif of the Sphinx shooting beams out of its eyes is gone one better here — not only does it have eyebeams, but if the beams hit you, they turn you into a mummy!


Eventually, Spider-Woman realises that the motive force behind the alien spaceships is, no fooling, Pyramid Power and uses her webbing to turn the lead ship into a cube. 


It’s like a checklist of pop culture Egypt: 

  • ambulatory mummy
  • did ancient astronauts …?
  • Pyramid Powah!

So this is all well and good, but what’s weird is that it keeps happening. Spider-Woman is a very globe-trotting sort of heroine, and she winds up in contact with a lot of past-type stuff. 

She goes back to the 10th century to fight some Vikings: 


Fights some Amazons in a vaguely Mexico-ish sort of Amazon temple thing:

Seriously, I think the statue:eyebeams ratio is about 1:1.
Seriously, I think the statue:eyebeams ratio is about 1:1.

And there’s a few more temples and castles as well. Apparently it all gets a bit more UFO-y in the later seasons, but I’m not there yet. I really just wanted to share that mummy episode with people because, you know, pink pyramid spaceship with sphinx-shaped mummy-ray turret. 

Cartoon Corner: Spider-Woman (1979)

Movie Monday: Cartoon Corner!

Today, something a little different: history in animated form. In other words, I woke up this morning with a lot to do and not very much energy, so I’m doing something short and sweet. Today I’m going to talk a little about some historical cartoons.

Now, of course in the larger scheme of things we’ve got longer works like Disney’s Pocahontas, where the early history of America is … um … approximately represented. That might be unfair. I haven’t actually seen it! Maybe there were more talking raccoons around in those days than I know about.

So contemporary cartoons are an interesting way of looking at modern history. Take this wartime effort, in which Donald Duck has an evil personality who is a Nazi pimp.

Is this, in fact, the origin of Scrooge McDuck as a character?

But that’s not the prize of today’s post. No, that honour goes to nineteen fifty-whatever’s Hysterical History, which I’m told was actually made by Paramount’s animation studio, then rebranded under the Harvey logo:



Look at that off-brand rabbit. Jesus.

Anyway, here it is:

Now, this being a 1950s (or whenever) account of American history, it’s deeply fucked up, and like all such representations, nowhere is it more fucked up than its depiction of the Native Americans Injuns.

meetthepress ohjesus


When asked to do something, that fat guy at the bottom (who is meant to be Powhatan) says “ugh-kay.” My hand to God. And Pocahontas talks in caveman baby talk.

And lest you think the makers of the cartoon just hate Native Americans, don’t worry — there’s also women.



That’s — I’m not really sure what that is. Something seems to have happened to her nose. When Pocahontas appears, the joke, by the way, is that she’s so fat that John Smith would rather be burned alive than marry her. Comedy platinum.

In all honesty, my objection to this thing isn’t as a historian or even as an outraged possessor of a shred of common decency, but as a (sort of) humorist. There was this thing in the 50s where repeating stale old vaudeville gags was like … was like the Groucho glasses of comedy. You know how you put on some Groucho glasses and that’s our signifier for “I am wearing a disguise” even though they don’t conceal your appearance at all? It’s the same principle: you throw in some pratfalls, a fat joke, a dig at the IRS (are kids really that familiar with the IRS?) and so on, and what you get is a structure that looks like comedy without being at all funny. I’m not sure why it is that way — maybe adults don’t expect to laugh at things intended for kids, so they can’t tell the difference between things that aren’t funny to adults and things that aren’t funny to kids?

This prompts some thought about history education, which I may address tomorrow.

Movie Monday: Cartoon Corner!

Sphinxes and Superheroes again

OK, so I know I said that I’d do the giveaway today, but I may be running out of time — it may come later or even tomorrow. Never mind, eh? Here are a few pictures from the sadly no-longer-with-us Marvel kids’ cartoon The Superhero Squad, showing that the fascination with the Sphinx continues.

Here, Hulk is battling Hyperion (yeah, Hyperion from the Squadron Supreme. Basically, we live in a permanent state of being inside the rabbit hole now).

The battle inside the Sphinx creates clouds of dust.
The battle inside the Sphinx creates clouds of dust.
Hulk goes flying out. I can't believe I saw this.
Hulk goes flying out. I can’t believe I saw this.
He comes up with some jaunty new headgear.
He comes up with some jaunty new headgear.
Technically, this is Hyperion's eyebeams coming out of the Sphinx, not the Sphinx having eyebeams.
Technically, this is Hyperion’s eyebeams coming out of the Sphinx, not the Sphinx having eyebeams.

Anyway, when I saw the Sphinx I was just reminded of the Monstrous Antiquities conference and thought I’d throw these pictures up here. More tonight if I get a minute.


Sphinxes and Superheroes again