Spider-Man: The Animated Series Could Have Included Secret Wars & Ghost Rider

"Spider-Man: The Animated Series" remains a beloved iteration of the iconic character almost 30 years after it first debuted. Much of that is due to the fact it borrowed some of the best storylines from the comics and adapted them for kids, who willingly lapped it all up via Fox Kids from 1994 to '98. From classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko arcs to more modern comic book events, showrunner John Semper and the team behind "Spider-Man: The Animated Series" showcased their fine taste in choosing the best tales and standout characters from Spidey's long history.

One of the big storylines to make the cut was "Secret Wars." This massive 1984 crossover event was the result of Marvel and Mattel wanting to sell toys to kids, but is remembered fondly as a seminal storyline in comic book history. The 12-issue series saw heroes and villains from across Marvel series brought together on Battleworld by the cosmic entity The Beyonder. There, they would be forced to battle, conveniently using a host of new weapons and vehicles that just happened to be as toyetic as possible.

"Secret Wars" will become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe once phase six wraps up in 2025. But back in the '90s, "Spider-Man: TAS" was already ahead of the game. The animated series had its own version of "Secret Wars," which unfolded during the fifth and final season. Unlike the comics, the show's version saw Madame Web face off against The Beyonder, with Spider-Man being tested in the process by pitting him and a team of multiversal spider-heroes against Spider-Carnage. And while it was a momentous event, it could have been an even bigger one had Semper pushed ahead with his original ambitious plans.

Semper had access to the whole Marvel universe

Much like the original "Secret Wars" run, toy sales dictated much of "Spiderman: TAS" season 1. That meant that for first run of 13 episodes, John Semper and his team had to write 13 self-contained storylines, each introducing a new villain. But by the time season 2 started, Semper was in full control and began writing multi-episode arcs, adapting many of the best storylines from the comics. By season 5, the time had come to adapt "Secret Wars," which has since become one of the more memorable storylines from the show.

But it could have been an even more momentous moment had Semper managed to pull off his plans to bring in the mutants from the equally beloved 90s cartoon "X-Men: The Animated Series." Speaking to the Marvel Animation Age (via The World's Finest), the former showrunner and head writer explained:

"I vaguely recall that I had wanted to do one episode of 'Secret Wars' that would have brought all of the X-Men back to the series. But that series of stories was running too long and I decided to cut that episode out. Also, I'm sure budgetary restrictions had something to do with why I eliminated it."

Those budgetary restrictions actually seemed to play a bigger part than Semper let on. In an earlier interview, he claimed that Fox didn't want to pay to fly X-Men voice actors from Canada to Los Angeles to record for "Spider-Man: TAS":

"We lost one completely written chapter of 'Secret Wars.' It involved the X-Men, but they didn't want to pay again for the whole cast, so I dropped the episode and used only Storm."

Ghost Rider was a rare exception

In his Marvel Animation Age interview, John Semper also spoke about plans for an unrealized Ghost Rider guest spot. According to the producer, the "proposed Ghost Rider episode outline sits in a box in [his] garage somewhere," which is a rare example of a time when he couldn't use the characters he wanted.

Years after "Spiderman: TAS" ended, Semper started a "Making Spider-Man: The Animated Series" Facebook page, specifically to talk about the show's production. He's since revealed a trove of behind-the-scenes trivia, including a post in which he claims (strangely aggressively) that he had "a phenomenal amount of CONTROL" and talks about having access to every Marvel character:

"The only exceptions were Sandman and Electro (because [James] Cameron was going to use them in his proposed live-action feature – which never happened), the Hulk and Ghost Rider (because they were being developed for series by Avi [Arad] for the UPN Network)."

It seems the Ghost Rider episode was shelved out of necessity. Otherwise, the show represents a special moment in Marvel history, before characters were licensed elsewhere and the big heroes could all be brought together with relative ease. That meant that, aside from the odd exception, Semper could use any character he wanted for his show, which, as he explained to Marvel Animation Age, "probably can never happen again in any Marvel cartoon series" because "getting them together on screen again would prove to be a licensing nightmare." We've since seen such licensing nightmares play out, with Marvel Studios having to work out special arrangements with Sony just to bring Spidey into the MCU. But for a brief moment in the '90s, kids were able to see their favorite Marvel heroes fight side by side — except when Fox ruined the whole thing.