With great power comes great responsibility. So when you’re handed a 3 year licensing agreement to use whichever Marvel property you goddam feel like, the obvious choice is the wiry contortionist that is Spider-Man.
From amongst the Toei Company’s properties, Marvel borrowed a couple of robots for their Shogun Warriors comic, whilst Toei Company picked Spidey for his own television series. But faced with the prospect that the Webbed Wonder might be confused as the star of some kind of gimp-themed hentai show for adults (or not), Toei made a few changes; predominantly popping in a giant robot to snare the target audience and cinch any future toy sales.
Before they launched Spider-Man, Toei tweaked Lee and Ditko’s origin story, seemingly borrowing from DC’s sci-fi based Silver Age reboot of Green Lantern; Takuya Yamashiro, a motorcycle racer, is on the receiving end of a telepathic call from a stranded alien in a cave looking for a worthy successor. Initially ignoring this bizarre summoning, Yamashiro eventually succumbs upon discovering that his Space Archaeologist father has gone in search of a recently spotted UFO in the very vicinity from which these psychic signals are emanating.
Takuya arrives at the scene to discover his father was attacked by space monsters. With his dying breath, his father opts to skip the soppy stuff and tells Takuya that there’s been an increase in funny business on the old alien front, and tasks him with getting to the bottom of it before taking his first step towards becoming a fossil and dying. Takuya puts his grieving aside, hunts down the extraterrestrial evildoers and gets a sound thrashing before taking refuge in a cave and meeting Garia, the alien that had been infiltrating his mind.
It transpires that Garia’s homeworld – Planet Spider – was destroyed by Professor Monster, his girlfriend Amazoness, and her Iron Cross army, while he was off fannying about in his giant robot that ironically was the only means of destroying the professor. Garia chased the professor to Earth and confronted him 400 years prior to current events, but he was robbed of vengeance when an earthquake struck and he became trapped in the cave. He injects Takuya with his own blood, imbueing him with his Spider extract – the source of his powers – and a potential deluge of STDs. Takuya is also given the Spider-Bracelet which he uses to transform into the Spider-Protector aka the Spider-Man suit.
He soon gets the opportunity to take his new outfit out for an airing and introduce himself around town, whilst saving a kidnapped scientist from Amazoness and her henchmen.
Setting the format for all future Super Sentai series that followed, the battle escalates to the reveal of a giant monster and Spider-Man finally gets to use his ship, aptly named Marveller.
But this is no ordinary space ship; the Marveller morphs into Leopardon – Spidey’s big ass robot that doesn’t take any shit.
Spider-Man also has a shiny new car in the form of the Spider Machine GP-7; a Batmobile-esque flying vehicle that docks with the Marveller, equipped with such superhero necessities as missiles and machine guns.
As well as holding a driving license, Japanese Spider-Man continues this game of one-upmanship with Peter Parker by embracing firepower and is happy to break out the big guns when needs be.
The show ran for 41 episodes with appearances of Leopardon getting more infrequent due to technical difficulties with the suit, which later went walkabout, forcing the show to rely on stock footage for the remainder of the robot’s appearances. Spider-Man even got his own TV movie, set inbetween episodes 10 and 11. The theatrical episode was created for the Toei Manga Matsuri film festival and shown in July 1979.
Toei didn’t even bother to pull a Simpsons, as the movie was just over 20 minutes – the same length as any other Spider-Man episode. The only difference was that it was filmed in widescreen.
In the series finale, Spider-Man confronts Dr Doom lookalike, Professor Monster, ready to avenge his father and Garia. After one last appearance from Leopardon, Spiderman kills Professor Monster and his journey is finally at an end.
The success of the series and popularity of Leopardon set the standard for subsequent Super Sentai shows, including the second collaboration with Marvel – originally planned to be a Japanese version of Captain America – Battle Fever J.
The series on DVD is as elusive as a Marvel movie without a Stan Lee cameo, as Toei only got the rights from Marvel to release the series on DVD in Japan in 2005. Most of the episodes are available to watch on the Marvel website including the TV movie, labelled episode 0, but the archive is 8 episodes shy of being complete.
You can check out the official Marvel trailer below