For as much of a memorable success, off the beaten path Spider-Man: The Animated Series was during its 1994-1998 run on Fox Kids, the production side of things couldn’t have been more chaotic. Joining the show to replace outgoing showrunner Martin Pasko, John Semper found himself trying to right a fast-moving ship in an effort to accurately replicate the feel of the classic. Spider Man comics. Even then, airing on broadcast network television left the series to the whims of interests beyond just the Fox Network and Marvel Comics. There was also a need to keep toy manufacturing partner (and recently absorbed Marvel subsidiary) Toy Biz happy by providing a steady supply of characters from the series that could be included in the accompanying line of toys.
This resulted in the series’ infamous decision to feature the Hobgoblin before the Green Goblin. After an action figure and deluxe accessory were in production for the 1994 holiday season based on Semper’s predecessor’s choice to change the order of their introductions, Semper reluctantly agreed to it after meeting Toy Biz CEO Avi Arad. However, their fragile working relationship eventually came to a head with the inclusion of a character. Crafting a storyline that brought the aged and immobile clairvoyant Madame Web into the series, Semper’s plan was rejected by Arad, the latter being strongly opposed to the action figure hostile character appearing in the series. Nonetheless, their confrontation had a surprising outcome, one of the most evident in the toy aisles.
Cassandra Webb aka Madame Web was introduced in the 1980s amazing spider man #210 by Dennis O’Neil, John Romita Jr., Joe Sinnott, Bob Sharen and Jim Novak. Appearing once again by her creators in #216 (O’Neil, Romita Jr., Jim Mooney, Sharen, and Novak), she returned during the classic two-part story “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!” in amazing spider man #229 and 230 by Roger Stern, Romita Jr., Mooney, Glynis Wein and Joe Rosen. Left badly injured and seemingly lacking her clairvoyance and knowledge of Spider-Man’s secret identity, Madame Web made one last brief appearance in amazing spider man #239 by Stern, Romita Jr., Frank Giacoia, Wein and Diana Albers. Although the character returned in 1998 Peter ParkerSpiderman #96 (by Howard Mackie, Norman Felchle, Scott Hanna, Gregory Wright, Richard Starkings and Liz Agraphiotis) and would make regular appearances in several Spider Man titles thereafter, the five original appearances were all from which Semper was to draw from for the animated series.
Not that he intended to bring an entirely page-accurate representation of the character’s screen to Spider-Man: The Animated Series. His cameo appearance at the end of the third season premiere, “Doctor Strange”, where the Sorcerer Supreme himself referenced “Being watched by someone whose powers eclipse mine” was a solid indication that the character would be quite different from his named super-powered comic book counterpart. Voiced by Joan B. Lee, wife of Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee, Madame Web would recur throughout the season, offering the ominous warning that she was training Spider-Man for a new “Horror Beyond”. of any creed!” His refusal to help the Wall-Crawler locate a missing and presumed dead Mary Jane Watson in the season finale saw him sever ties with her.
With a 65-episode order already locked in for the series, Semper had the luxury of charting out multiple seasons of storylines well in advance for a long game. To that end, Madame Web’s introduction was a play towards the final season and a shortened adaptation of Marvel’s Secret Wars crossover (which itself was originally created in service of a toyline). The Beyonder’s arrival would be the seeming payoff of the previous warning, though it didn’t completely align with the reveal that the character was working to save the universe. The three-part “Secret Wars” episodes led to a series finale that brought together several alternate Spider-Men to battle a rogue Peter Parker tied to the Carnage symbiote and seeking multiversal meltdown. It was this eventual reward that convinced Arad of the value of bringing the character in, though he always remained insistent, as Semper later recounted, he couldn’t “Make a toy out of an old chick.”
With the series finale of January 31, 1998 ending with Spider-Man and Madame Web venturing out to retrieve a cosmically displaced Mary Jane Watson, it wouldn’t be very long before Toy Biz returned to Arad’s heated protests. and only introduced Madame Web in 1998’s “Sneak Attack: Flip ‘N Trap”, one of the final animated series tie-in releases. Semper recounted the fight to get Madame Web on the show in a 10th anniversary interview with Marvel Animation Age, noting that the character has become “one of my most prized possessions”. He then re-shared the anecdote on social media after Joan B. Lee passed away in 2017, giving credit for the character’s success to his performance.
Despite the bullet in the arm won by his performances on Spider-Man: The Animated SeriesMadame Web’s return to comics in 1998 saw the character rapidly age, a status quo almost ignored in later appearances towards the Civil war crossing. Madame Web was one of many Spider Man the family characters were swept away in the 2010 “Grim Hunt” storyline, which ended with her giving former Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter her powers before she died. Later anime series Ultimate Spider-Man featured a composite of the two incarnations of Madame Web portrayed by Cree Summer. Although Dakota Johnson’s production featuring Madame Web film being developed for Sony’s Marvel Cinematic Universe add-on appears to be jumping on Julia Carpenter’s Madame Web, there remains a strong possibility that Cassandra Webb herself will make the leap to the big screen in some form. After all, strange things have happened.