Being the only person in my class to have bright red hair may have been a hindrance on occasion but there were times when it was a definite advantage. Playtimes, to be exact.
My friends and I were obsessed with re-enacting episodes of the 1980’s US cartoon Spiderman and His Amazing Friends and my auburn mane automatically won me the part of Spidey’s kick-ass friend Firestar every time. (I didn’t wear the skin-tight yellow suit, obviously: she had to be content with blue school uniform in every scenario.)
Firestar nearly didn’t exist. When Marvel first touted the idea of Spiderman teaming up with some super-buddies to fight crime, the idea was that he’d have a heat/cold combo of pals to help him. The original choice for the warmer half of the duo was the Human Torch (from the Fantastic Four) but a licensing problem meant he couldn’t be used. And so new character Firestar was invented and made up the tough trio alongside their shivery pal Iceman. Before the show was finalised, Firestar had a number of alternative names: Starblaze, Firefly and Heatwave – not sure that ‘Heatwave’ symbolised the strong, positive female role model that the character portrayed as much as a weather phenomenon that simply makes British people go ‘Oh, it’s just TOO hot now…’
Spiderman and His Amazing Friends was first aired on U.S. channel NBC on Saturday mornings from 1981 until 1983. This wasn’t to be confused with the original Spider-Man animation (also of 1981) which just had ol’ Spidey working alone to defeat his enemies. I’ve found it nigh on impossible to determine exactly when the episodes were shown on UK television but I’m guessing it was around the same sort of time. I’m pretty sure I zoomed around the playground in my pretend suit of flames when I was closer to five than 15 (at least, I hope so) which would put it somewhere in the early 1980s.
When they weren’t out beating the baddies, the three friends were all students at Empire State University, an educational establishment in New York City. Firestar’s real name was Angelica ‘Angel’ Jones (her voice was given to her by actor Kathy Garver), a previous member of the X-Men. She enjoyed a friendly and occasionally romantic relationship (in between all the crime fighting) with both Spiderman (really Peter Parker, whose marvellously sarcastic comebacks were provided by Dan Gilvezan) and Iceman (Bobby Drake, voiced by Frank Welker, who was also Scooby Doo’s friend Fred Jones), with the latter being another one-time member of the X-Men.
As their names suggest, both Firestar and Iceman had superhuman abilities; Ms F could use her body to ‘store ambient electromagnetic energy which she could project and manipulate for various effects…releasing heat, light and radiation into her environment at various intensities’ (well, quite frankly, who can’t?). Iceman was her polar opposite; looking like he’d been chiselled by a sculptor he could freeze the water vapour surrounding him, meaning that he could turn himself into ice as well as anything threatening him or standing in his way. One excellent effect from this was that he could throw out a trail of frozen water and then surf down it, at speed. Very cool, in more ways than one.
Another interesting touch was seeing how the animators had obviously puzzled over retaining Iceman’s dignity when he transformed; no other clothes were drawn onto him but he was always shown as wearing a very discrete pair of close-fitting icy underpants.
The first mission the three friends combined their talents on was to gain back Iron Man’s ‘power booster’ from the villain Beetle; after a successful conclusion they decided that they would carry on defeating evil as a permanent trio: Spiderman and His Amazing Friends! (If I’d have been Spiderman I think I would have been a bit miffed that the ‘amazing’ bit didn’t sound like it applied to all three of us…) Each subsequent episode saw the gang take on another enemy, including Spidey’s own Green Goblin, Electro, Doc Ock, Swarm, the Kingpin, plus Dr Doom and Loki, to name but a few.
In between each fight, they cosily all lived together with Parker’s Aunt May and Firestar’s small dog, Ms Lion, a twee addition to the cast but one who did actually save the day with her sense of smell on one occasion when the heroes were battling Chameleon. Peter’s bedroom had a hidden stash of enormous 80’s computer equipment, apparently funded by a grateful Iron Man, with which they tracked the wrongdoings of their foes.
Spidey et al must have been exhausted with combatting the constant threats to their city, although they did have the occasional visit from other superheroes to help them out: Storm, Professor X, Sunfire, Dr Strange, Colossus and the Incredible Hulk - amongst others - all turned up and used their respective might for good at various points throughout the show’s run. Iceman’s half-sister Lightwave (guess what she could manipulate?) also appeared with them once, in the final episode. Originally part of S.H.I.E.L.D. Lightwave had been taken under the control of rogue agent, Buzz Mason and the exciting last instalment featured a potential fatal experience in space for Iceman before Spiderman managed to get Lightwave back on side so she could save her semi-sibling.
Fans of comic books often fall into two camps; there are those who love the dark, gritty, serious tone of characters such as Batman and those who like a bit more humour in their hero. I was definitely a Spiderman devotee because of his ability to fire off quick-witted quips while swinging from building to building and, thankfully, Spiderman and His Amazing Friends continued that portrayal. All three superheroes used comedy to carry the plot along, taking the mickey out of each other and often making cheesy references to their particular abilities: Iceman giving somebody the ‘cold shoulder’, for example or saying ‘Firestar, honey – I lava you…’ (‘Love you’ but using ‘lava’ ‘cos she’s hot, geddit? GEDDIT?)
(There was also a groovy, 1970’s prog-rock soundtrack that accompanied each episode which I personally think should be a requisite of any programme, quite frankly.)
Three series, a total of 24 episodes of Spiderman and His Amazing Friends, were produced. The first was narrated by American actor Dick Tufeld (who also appeared as the voice of the robot in Lost in Space) but the last two were taken over by uber- writer and Marvel Comics supremo Stan Lee.
It was released in many other countries under language-appropriate titles. My two particular favourites have to be Mexico, where it was entitled ‘El hombre araña y sus increíbles amigos’ and Greece: ‘O spider-Man kai oi fantastikoi filoi tou’.
Spiderman, Firestar, Iceman - I heartily concur. You truly were increíbles and fantastikoi!