Why Marvel Rebooted the X-Men Before Spider-Man

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Summary

  • X-Men ’97
    ‘s success on Disney+ shows the power of nostalgia for popular ’90s shows like
    X-Men: The Animated Series
    .
  • Despite the desire for a revival,
    Spider-Man: The Animated Series
    faces rights issues that complicate its return compared to X-Men.
  • Marvel/Disney’s ownership of X-Men IP makes reviving the series easier, while Spider-Man rights issues hinder similar revival plans.



X-Men ’97 has proven to be a viable revival of the popular ’90s kids staple, X-Men: The Animated Series. For many kids, the series was their first exposure to the X-Men in popular culture, and given the success of the new show, those kids who are now adults are playing a significant role in its recent success on Disney+.

As X-Men ’97 proves that nostalgia is king once again, it’s hard not to desire the revival of another Marvel kids show: Spider-Man: The Animated Series. In addition to X-Men, Spider-Man did its part in bringing the character into the mainstream for many. While it would seem like a no-brainer to revive the animated Spidey next, there is a reason why X-Men was chosen first and why giving the web crawler the same revival treatment is not exactly straightforward.



Spider-Man: The Animated Series Shares a Universe With X-Men

Spider-Man: The Animated Series premiered about two years after X-Men: The Animated Series on the very same Fox Kids Network. Airing from 1994 to 1998 with 65 episodes, the series followed Peter Parker (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes), a college student at Empire State University who struggles to balance the day-to-day of his personal life and his responsibilities as the costumed hero Spider-Man.

The five-season series depicted Peter working a day job at the Daily Bugle and balancing the romantic affections of Mary Jane Watson (voiced by Saratoga Ballantine) and Felicia Hardy (voiced by Jennifer Hale), all while facing a rogues’ gallery of villains that includes the Kingpin (voiced by Roscoe Lee Browne), the Hobgoblin (voiced by Mark Hamill) and the Green Goblin (voiced by Neil Ross), among others, the animated series cleverly adapted more mature Spider-Man stories from the comic books for children without any of them losing their emotional weight.


We also learn throughout the series that it exists in the same universe as X-Men: The Animated Series, providing a solid connection to that hit show. Unfortunately, by the time it ended its run, it had concluded with an unfinished storyline that had Mary Jane Watson being lost in the multiverse. Given the dangling cliffhanger and the show being popular in its own right, it makes sense for fans to want a Spider-Man ’98, but it turns out that is easier said than done.

Reviving Spider-Man: The Animated Series Is Difficult Due to a Rights Issue

Disney+ already has a Spider-Man animated series in development called Spider-Man: Freshman Year. The show is set within the MCU and serves as a prequel to the films Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and it will dig into Peter Parker’s beginnings as Spider-Man.


The reason that Spider-Man: The Animated Series wasn’t merely adapted by Disney+ comes down to a pesky rights issue. Sony has control over the film rights and television rights for Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, which premiered in 2003 and ran for 13 episodes, and The Spectacular Spider-Man, which debuted in 2008 and ran for 26 episodes, but not the original ’90s series. A leaked copy of the Marvel-Sony Spider-Man contract explains this a bit further:

“[Sony] has the exclusive rights to utilize the “Spider-Man” character… to (a) develop and produce live action or animated theatrical motion pictures (each, a “Picture”) and live-action television series (and also animated television series with episodes longer than 44 minutes).”


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So why can Spider-Man: The Animated Series be streamed on Disney+, but creating a revival show is more problematic? Well, that comes down to distribution rights. Marvel and Disney appear to have control over the distribution rights to Spider-Man, which is why Disney+ has also been able to include past shows on their platform, such as Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends, 1981’s Spider-Man series, and 1999’s Spider-Man: Unlimited. In terms of the rights to develop new series and IP involving the character, that all lies with Sony, and they essentially control how he can be used, with sometimes sweetheart deals being made to share the character between Sony and Disney/Marvel.


For instance, when Spectacular Spider-Man premiered in 2008, the showrunner of that series, Greg Weisman, explained that Sony returned the animated rights to Marvel to win some leverage for the live-action films, meaning Marvel regained the Spider-Man rights, while Sony kept the specific design elements and distribution for The Spectacular Spider-Man. At the time when that series was underway, Sony and Marvel were still in active negotiations when Disney purchased Marvel, and Mickey and friends made it clear they wanted to make their own Spider-Man animations, which ultimately killed Spectacular Spider-Man, despite its popularity.

Disney could eventually develop something like Spider-Man: Freshman Year because the version of the character that was introduced in the MCU was sparked by a deal between Sony and Disney/Marvel to share the character, which is why he was able to be used in the MCU films and his own standalone films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Disney has also been producing Spider-Man animated series over the last few years, but per the contract, they have been less than half an hour long, thus obeying the terms of their agreement.


X-Men Is Owned in House by Disney/Marvel

X-Men '97

X-Men ’97

4.5/5

Release Date
March 20, 2024

Cast
Jennifer Hale , Chris Potter , Ray Chase , George Buza , Catherine Disher , JP Karliak

Seasons
1

Studio
Marvel Studios

The X-Men IP is in a much more secure position to be revived because Marvel/Disney owns the rights to the IP. X-Men was once housed at 20th Century Fox, as was the case with the original X-Men: Animated Series and the live-action movie adaptations that began in 2000. This changed following the big Disney/Fox merger, which saw the House of Mouse gain rights to all the Fox properties, including the X-Men. This made it much easier to develop a revival of the original series because the rights are all in-house, and there would be no issues regarding contracts, episode length, or the ability to use certain characters and not others.


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X-Men ‘97 Original Voice Actors Had to Audition for Their Roles: ‘They Were the Lines From the Original Show’

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Essentially, a deal would have to be reached for Disney to develop a revival/continuation of the Spider-Man: Animated Series, similar to what has been done when utilizing him for the Tom Holland-led Spider-Man films. Series showrunner John Semper has spoken publicly about being more than happy to continue the show in an X-Men ’97 style series if he had the same creative control, but he’s also realistic about the business dynamics between Disney and Sony making that pretty difficult:


“I think, right now, they’re doing an updated Spider-Man. They’ve done a number of shows since mine and they’re doing another right now, I don’t think that the politics of the situation will allow for the ’90s Spider-Man series to be revived. If they did revive it, I don’t know if I’d get to be involved. I was in a very good position because I was really able to have a lot of creative control over that show after episode 13 or 14. I don’t know if I’d ever have that situation again, so it would really make it a different kind of thing.”

He continued, saying he would be there in a heartbeat if things ended up working out.

I don’t know if I’d get that on a Spider-Man revival, given it’s now a property that’s owned by two studios and there’s a lot of politics involved, but hey, if someone wants to call me and say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do more episodes, and we’re going to leave you alone,’ I’d be there in a heartbeat.


That doesn’t mean that fans can’t dream and long for a chance to bring that version of Spider-Man back and hopefully resolve some tangled webs and cliffhanger storylines that weren’t properly wrapped up before the series ended. A big part of the ’90s animated series was Peter’s romance with Mary Jane Watson, and the show was able to cleverly adapt one of Spider-Man’s more tragic comic book stories and make it work for a young audience.

In a storyline borrowed from “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” Spider-Man goes up against Norman Osborne/Green Goblin, who learns that he’s really Peter Parker. Much like the comic book plot, the villain infiltrates Peter’s personal life. It all culminates with Mary Jane being kidnapped by the Green Goblin. Instead of a gruesome death as depicted in the comic books involving Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane is trapped in an alternate dimension, still resulting in Peter losing the love of his life.


Adding insult to painful injury, Mary Jane does return, even marrying Peter Parker, but it’s ultimately learned that she was a duplicate with connections to Hydro-Man, which means that the real Mary Jane is still floating around lost in an alternate dimension. In the show’s last few episodes, Spider-Man teams up with Madame Web (voiced by Joan Lee) to go into the other universes in search of Mary Jane, but he can never find and save her. Should a revival ever come to fruition, this would be a plot point worth resolving.

Alas, the business politics behind this will likely make a revival ala X-Men ’97 impossible. That being said, given the critical success of the new series, boasting a nearly perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s clear that these versions of particular characters are still creatively viable, and there is a place for them. Maybe one day, Mom and Dad will talk and allow ’90s Spider-Man to come out and play because he’s long overdue for his place in the sun. X-Men ’97 and Spider-Man: The Animated Series are streaming now on Disney+.


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