Frame By Frame Review: Spider-Man TAS Day of the Chameleon

01 Spider Logo

These reviews look at a single episode of a show, usually an incredibly silly one, and go through it bit by bit looking at each stupid moment in turn. This time we’re looking at another 1994 Spider-Man cartoon episode, Day of the Chameleon.

Some more background: For such a well remembered fan favourite series there was a lot of conflict and trouble going on behind the scenes. The original showrunner was fired six months into production and was replaced by John Semper, who inherited a lot of problems from that. Add to that there was a lot of conflict between Semper, Avi Arad, and some of the Fox Kids executives. Arad wanted to make toys so he forced things like the Spider Slayers and the many other robots and characters into the show with no thought to the story. The Broadcast Standards and Practices people pretty much murdered any dramatic potential with their censorship. Because of them Spidey couldn’t throw a punch and hit someone, except for rare occasions, all guns were laser guns, which were less than useless, and among other stupid rules he wasn’t allowed to land on rooftops with pigeons in case he squashed one of them. Semper himself had a massive ego and if you read any interviews where he talks about the show he takes credit for everything good about the series and then blames everyone else for all the problems.


The episode I’m looking at today is his favourite because, in his words, “I mostly got to do what I wanted, the rest of [the show] is riddled with so many creative compromises and near-misses, mistakes, bad animation, choppy editing.” Source. So let’s see if it stands up as we go into:

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We open in a New York airport and as one man is about to get his bags checked by customs, for coming into the country for some reason, he’s then accosted by a group of people pointing their laser guns at him. They’re lead by a very 90s woman as well. How 90s? Well she’s wearing a skin-tight jumpsuit with double layered straps on her forearms, wrists, thighs, and ankles. That’s how 90s she is. The other guys in her group don’t have such ‘uniforms’ just regular casual clothes so I guess hers absorbed all of their ‘uniforms’ because of how 90s it is. Though she does get points deducted for only one of those straps having any sort of pouch on them.

So the seemingly random man they’ve just pointed lasers at does the only sensible thing in this situation. He presses a button on his briefcase which activates a tiny gas grenade launcher.

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Ah the 90s, where they apparently didn’t check your carry on luggage

We’re not even fifteen seconds into this episode and I’m already dumbfounded by idiocy. How did this get through customs? Did no one open it up to check the contents? No one batted an eye at the grenades and not-so-concealed launcher? Yeah we’re meant to think he’s some sort of superspy, but even James Bond concealed his gadgets as every day objects whose function is not to be opened all the time.

Anyway he gas grenades them and runs away. After a quick cut we get our first glimpse of the episodes villain, the Chameleon. In the comics he’s a master of disguise with a white, featureless, mask that he could slip rubber masks over and make himself look like anyone else, it was the 60s and Stan Lee. Here he’s bald, got entirely chalk white skin, and wears a purple turtleneck jumpsuit with a random shoulder strap that serves absolutely no purpose. If it isn’t clear I’m not a fan of most of the 90s era toy designs of this show.

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Colonel! I can’t find a cardboard box to hide in!

After some Solid Snake sneaking he grabs a chopper pilot and changes into him with a plot point not disclosed to the audience yet. He gasses the pilot, I’m sensing a theme here already, and heads up to the roof to steal his helicopter. Now you might wonder if he can look exactly like someone else then shouldn’t he try to draw as little attention to himself as possible as he sneaks away since no one would know what he looked like. Well you’re clearly not a clever uncatchable master of disguise like the Chameleon as he does everything short of holding up a big sign saying “look I’m here!” He flies the helicopter like a madman in a Hollywood chase scene, and strangely enough the people from before spot him in their own choppers. They give case and, to the shock of no one, the Chameleon’s ‘expert’ flying skills end up with him crashing the helicopter into a building.

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Our villain for the episode! He’s so cunning and level headed

Thankfully, for him not for me, Spidey just happened to be in the neighbourhood and pulls him out of the burning wreckage. He also says this wonderful bit of dialogue, “good thing no one’s moved into this building yet.” So out of all the buildings in the middle of New York somehow the Chameleon manages to find the one that isn’t occupied in the slightest? Man, he fails so hard he can’t even accidentally kill anyone. I suppose I shouldn’t judge this too harshly, it’s just so hilariously silly the heights of the “no collateral damage” rule in children’s TV. Just like in Power Rangers where buildings get blown up every single episode by giant monsters and robots, but apparently they’re magically all abandoned. Consequence free entertainment, everybody.

Back to the episode the chopper explodes and some window washers are caught in the blast. So Spidey leaps into action to save them, giving the Chameleon a chance to slip away. As he brings the window washers safely down the crowd that formed to watch Spidey’s daring heroics starts cheering and one guy even goes up to him to thank him for doing an awesome job. Wait did we cross realities again? This is not a Marvel universe crowd of people. No matter what happens Marvel Universe civilians always shout and yell at the heroes for saving people’s lives. That’s just the way of things. Now it’s nice to see Spidey get some recognition for helping people, but as we’ll see by the end of the episode this is some prime writer idiocy.

Anyway the chopper explodes, again, but this time it falls out of the building onto the idiots who decided to stand directly underneath a flaming helicopter that was hanging out of a building. These civilians may be more accepting but there’s still just as dumb as regular Marvel civvies. So Chameleon gets clean away as Spidey has to rescue the standard ‘too stupid to run out of the way’ girl who was left standing still as the chopper fell. Not sure why they needed to have the chopper explode twice and repeat the exact same situation for Chameleon to get away. We also get a proper look at him now:

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He’s so evil he stole an 80s woman’s shoulder pads!

I’m still not sure what the thing on his shoulder is meant to be. Other than a 90s design element put there to break up the bland chest area, of course.

And we then cut to the Daily Bugle as Peter races through it to get to Jameson’s office. It’s packed with people because he’s, “organising the party of the century” and doesn’t that plot point sound familiar. Not even finished the season before they recycled the ‘Jameson throws a swanky party’ as a plot point.

Jameson leaves to go for a tuxedo fitting and Peter follows, trying to talk to him. In the lift elevator we learn that this is for the delegates for a peace treaty signing and Peter wants permission to take photos of the signing. Jameson naturally tells him to stow it as he wants an actually photographer there, not a freelancer only interested in Spider-Man. Nice call JJ, however he fails the dunk since he gives Peter the opportunity between the limo ride and his tailor to convince him otherwise. As they leave the Chameleon shows up and changes into Jameson as he head into the Bugle.

In the limo Peter exposits that a photo of “two world leaders signing a peace treaty after centuries of hostile aggression” could win him a Pulitzer. It’s not a bad motivation for Peter, trying to further his photography career rather than using it as a ploy to get close to the delegates to keep them safe as Spidey. Things like international politics, or even national ones, are a bit above his pay grade. Well for the moment at least, the show takes a left turn in the final season into an area where international politics is much too small scale for Spidey. But that’s a review for another time.

Peter manages to convince Jonah to let him take photos at his party that night since news agencies are only allowed one photographer at the signing. Before things can get too exciting the limo pulls into an ally and the drivers pushes a switch that turns the arm rests into manacles that attach to both Peter and JJ. Hmmmm, this also seems familiar from my last review. Strangely enough his Spider Sense didn’t go off, so that’s either a subtle sign that this isn’t a malicious act or the writer forgot. Since this show isn’t known for its subtlety I’m going to option B.

The limo then turns into a hover jet and flies off. No really:

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I’m fairly sure this was one of the few things that they didn’t make a toy out of

Yeah I don’t know what to say to that thing. The fact that it was just a fairly ordinary looking limo has me scratching my head over the spatial geometry involved here. Though years of watching Transformers has taught me never to question such things.

Anyway there’s a quick cut to the thing landing in some base with a lot of cloud cover, I wonder where this could be. They dump Peter in a cell through an automatic laundry shoot, not quite sure how they plan on letting him out since there’s no visible door. However there’s a large ventilation grate above him so I’m sure they just let the prisoners break themselves out.

As Peter makes his way through the giant air vent he wonders who these people are and why they want Jameson since Peter was clearly taken by accident. He then sees some familiar goons on the rifle range.

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I’ve seen these guys somewhere before. On TV?

These guys look just like the Kingpin’s goons. So has the Kingpin kidnapped Jameson to get info on the peace treaty? Maybe he wants to make sure the Chameleon could take JJ’s place. Or, and this is an outside chance, it could just be that they couldn’t be bothered to make new designs for different goons. We’ll find out soon as Pete opens a hatch thinking it could be a way out. Instead he gets sucked out and finds himself handing on for dear life outside this:

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It’s as if someone combined every satellite dish and radio tower in the world

That’s the SHIELD Helicarrier, or it’s supposed to be at least. That thing’s ugly as sin and misses the key point of it, being that it’s meant to be a flying aircraft carrier. I can’t see any planes managing to land on that thing. So we now know who kidnapped Peter and Jameson, does that mean SHIELD subcontracts goons from the Kingpin? He is supposed to have ties to every criminal activity on the planet, and a secret government organisation doesn’t really fall into the legal side of things. But that’s too much actual thought for this show.

After pulling himself in Peter stumbles upon a grate leading to Jameson yelling at someone in another room. The person he’s yelling at is sitting in an oversized comfy hover chair, and to the shock of no one but the characters he identifies himself as Colonel Nick Fury. Peter and Jonah identify him as a war hero that was supposed to be dead, JJ even printed his obituary. Fury takes the time to berate him for flipping the negative on his obit photo so his patch was on the wrong eye. Fury holds petty grudges for a long time, or another not so subtle plot point? Could be both I guess.

And now for those of you who have only seen Fury in the movies or recent cartoons this pre-Samuel L Jackson Fury might surprise some:

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Who’d be idiotic enough to flip a picture like that?

There was a time when Nick Fury had hair! Yes I know it’s a bit weird, but that’s how things were before the 2000s. Though he looks a little too young to be a war hero, maybe they should’ve put some grey streaks in his hair. Nah, that’d just look silly on Nick Fury.

Joking aside we learn that in this show SHIELD stands for, “Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-enforcement Division” ah good old SHIELeD. It’s just one of those agencies with a cool acronym that keeps changing it’s meaning every few years. They’re apparently so secret even the FBI and CIA haven’t heard of them, which must make things a bit hard for them at times when trying to operate inside and outside US soil. As Fury explains, “[their] job is to secretly keep the world in one piece, no matter what it takes.” He then shows Jameson a picture of the Chameleon and exposits that he’s a hitman who can turn himself into a “carbon copy of anyone” once he grabs their image with is belt camera. They could’ve just said it’s a hologram generator and it would’ve been semi-believable, but being able to make himself into a carbon copy is ridiculous. Science just says no to that, on every level.

So Fury goes over Chameleon’s rap sheet, saying how he won’t get away again, and we see that even though he can turn into a carbon copy of someone his belt always remains there. Jameson also finally pieces it together that the Chameleon is going to try to kill the delegates at his party. Fury says they can’t cancel the party and that JJ s important because no ones knows his employees better. He gives him a special SHIELD pin that if he spots the Chameleon he’s got to tap it and SHIELD agents will respond immediately. Not sure how tapping on a pin will tell them who JJ thinks is the Chameleon, but whatever. There’s also supposed to be undercover SHIELD agents crawling all over the Bugle, which kinda defeats the point of involving JJ. If there’s a whole load of new people that he doesn’t know then he’s going to be suspicious of all the SHIELD agents.

Fury sends them both back and we cut to the Bugle where the Chameleon is taking pictures on his belt camera of Bugle employee files. One of which is Peter wearing a different shirt than the only one we’ve ever seen him in this season:

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I’m sure this animation mistake won’t come back and bite them

I’ll get back to that in a bit. The Chameleon, who is still disguised as Jameson, is interrupted by JJ’s secretary, Glory Grant, and Chameleon-Jameson demands she get him the security plans for the party. She complains that she’s already given him a copy but since she thinks this is the real JJ his dogged persistence isn’t unusual. As she leaves the real Jameson and Peter walk back into the office. It’s so close that it’s ridiculous she didn’t see that JJ was right in front of her as she left. Then as the two enter his office the Chameleon has turned into Robbie for no reason whatsoever, other than for plot convenience. There no way he could’ve known Jonah was going to be coming in, especially since he was supposed to be at his tailor right now.

Miss Grant comes back in with the security information, Jonah says he already has a copy and she storms out saying he’s driving her crazy. Peter’s Spider Sense also goes off despite the fact that the Chameleon isn’t doing anything that could harm him. So the Spider Sense is just an evil detector in this show.

Chameleon-Robbie discreetly grabs the files and makes an exit, which Jonah immediately cottons onto and taps his pin signalling the SHIELD agents. Peter also runs off to do his superhero thing. As the Chameleon goes down a hallway he spots the real Robbie and hides, which of course leads the top notch SHIELD agents to grab the wrong Robbie. Peter’s now changed to Spidey and is crawling along the ceiling as he comes across them. Since his Spider Sense doesn’t go off he shoves them off Robbie telling them they’ve got the wrong man. Fury somehow sees this, they’ve apparently got cameras everywhere, and tells “Agent One” to get him, she’s the woman from the start of the episode. And here she is.

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Top agent of the most secretive organisation in the world

She really stands out like a sore thumb. I’m not quite sure how they’ve remained a secret organisation if their top agent is wearing a jumpsuit with their logo on her chest. So she blasts Spidey out of the way and was about to shoot Robbie till she looks at his crotch and sees he doesn’t have the Chameleon’s belt camera. And that right there is why I hate this series version of the Chameleon, he makes everyone a moron. His belt is visible 90% of the time whenever he transforms and they’ve acknowledged they know this fact. So why do they keep failing to notice him? It’s a brown belt with a huge belt buckle; it stands out quite a bit. Yet all the time no one can tell it’s the Chameleon despite it being blindingly obvious. There’s a later episode where he turning into Daredevil and fights the real Daredevil, and Spidey can’t tell the difference. Strangely enough a brown belt stands out a lot if it’s on a bright red costume.

Back to the episode Chameleon also shows he’s a massive idiot by shifting into Miss Grant right in front of a SHIELD agent. World’s greatest assassin my ass. He runs away down a stairwell where Spidey grabs him. But he pulls out a cigarette lighter sized device and gasses Spidey, so that is a running theme. When the Chameleon gets to the next floor he changes into Peter.

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Ah good old animation mistakes

Hey that’s not the same shirt he took a photo of earlier. Then again I’m not sure how he could make a carbon copy from just a head shot. How’d he manage to duplicate Peter’s jeans and shoes? This is what happens when you use bad terminology. At least make an effort with the made up science.

So as Chameleon-Peter gets to the ground floor he bumps into Mary Jane. She’s understudying the lead at a Shakespeare festival that night and she wants him to come, short notice much? Since she lives right next door to him I’d think she could’ve told him, or his aunt, about it a little bit sooner. In any case Chameleon spots some agents coming out of the lift elevator and kisses MJ as a way to avoid their attention. And this is one of those full on Hollywood romantic type kisses, which would attract more attention in the lobby of a major metropolitan newspaper. Especially since they don’t know he’s in the form of Peter. But they just walk on by and she takes the kiss as a yes to her last minute arrangement. He runs off saying, “Peter Parker was the luckiest man on Earth.” Oh the irony.

We cut to that night as the delegates are arriving at the party. So you’d think the master of disguise would try to sneak in using someone else’s face, maybe a maintenance guy. He could quite easily grab an employee in the middle of the day and tie them up so he could pose as them at the party without worrying he’d bump into them. There’s many ways he could get in undetected considering how useless SHIELD has been so far. But he chooses to grapple to the side of the building and laser through a window.

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The master of disguise, folks.

That has got to be the most unsubtle plan he could’ve come up with. Naturally this catches the attention of both Spidey and Agent One; she doesn’t get a proper name, not even one that’s a nod to any of the SHIELD agents from the comics. The Chameleon also grabs her image on his belt camera. As he breaks in Spidey follows and Chameleon gasses him again. Running off he bumps into some SHIELD agents and turns into Spidey while throwing a gas grenade on the floor. With the smoke he then turns into Agent One. Now see if you can spot why I’m going to be calling them idiots.

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There’s something…

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That stands out here.

Yeah somehow the top spy agents don’t see the brown belt they should have been trained to look out for and listen to Chameleon-Agent One as he tells them the real Spidey is the Chameleon. So as they try and jump the Spidey who obviously isn’t wearing a brown belt and he webs them up saying, “This is stupid.” Couldn’t agree with you more.

After that Spidey thinks it’s time for him to change identities too, and then he hops away down the hallway. Not run or walk but he just keeps jumping like a video game character when the player’s gotten bored. We then cut to Nick Fury saying the situation’s so dire he’s coming down there. Now I would say that’s a sign that he thinks his agents are idiots, but since he’s compromising his fake death I’d say he’s just as big an idiot as the rest of them. After all what can he do other than add another body for the Chameleon to shift into?

Now comes the only smart thing the Chameleon does all episode. He breaks into the boiler room, gassing a guard on the way in, and shuts off the gas main to the kitchen. Which forces a maintenance guy to go down there and check, and once he gets there Chameleon knocks him out and steals his ID badge. Actually a clever plan since a maintenance man would have nearly unrestricted access, pity he didn’t think to do it in order to get into the building.

Then we cut to MJ’s play. And let’s move on from MJ’s play. It’s 30 seconds of filler and all it does is have her be mad that Peter didn’t show up. The only thing that confuses me is why they had her mention she’s an understudy, basically a back-up in case the lead couldn’t do it. We don’t know why she’s performing since she shouldn’t be and nothing is mentioned of it again. Why not just say she’s got the lead in the first place? If they’re not going to do anything with her being an understudy then what’s the point of it. ‘Words mean things!’ is one of my mantra’s for a reason.

Back at the party the Chameleon-maintenance guy has come to the main party area, for some reason. I don’t know why he’s still in his maintenance disguise since it sticks out at a formal event. Best to go into a bathroom, grab a guest, turn into them, then he’ll fit in. But no he just walks right past Peter, whose Evil Detector is going off again, and Pete doesn’t immediately think, “Hey what’s that guy doing here?”

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Blends right in, just like a Chameleon

Agent One shows up right before the ‘totally not suspicious’ maintenance guy can get close to the delegates and tells Jonah that Fury wants them out of the building. Both Peter and Chameleon hear this and head for the helipad on the roof.

On the roof Nick Fury is there to greet the delegates just as Spidey lands on a more secluded part of the roof. He is the only one to notice that Fury’s eye patch is on the wrong eye, not the people who actually work with him daily but they guy who has only seen him once through an air vent. So Spidey swings down and kicks Chameleon-Fury, which naturally causes the agents to jump on him, trying to restrain him. Despite his pleas that it’s the Chameleon because of the eye patch Agent One doesn’t realise this till after the real Fury calls her up for a report. Then instead of taking advantage of the confusion to gun down the delegates the Chameleon just jumps in the SHIELD chopper, which for some reason has the SHIELD logo on it despite it being a super secret organisation.

As the chopper flies off Agent One manages to shoot it down with her laser pistol, which is just all kinds of silly, and the chopper crashes into the river with an explosion. Agent One, finally displaying some competence, says they need to check the wreckage since no body would mean he’s still alive. Jameson wonders how the Chameleon, “made such a stupid mistake” because it’s a badly written episode is my answer. But Spidey chimes in with the plot point of the flipped picture on Fury’s fake obituary. Which is still stupid because if he was such a master of disguise he’d try to get every detail right and wouldn’t make such a mistake.

The next day at the signing Peter shows up and sits next to Jonah, who wonders how he managed to get in. He says he has his methods and pulls out his camera to get one clean shot, then Spidey jumps in to kick ‘Peter’ before his laser camera can kill the delegates. Yes somehow the Chameleon managed to get in as Peter, despite the fact that Peter wasn’t even allowed in, and Spidey managed to get in somehow as well and just hang out on the ceiling. Security on the UN signing was way laxer than the party at JJ’s, which just shouldn’t happen.

So Spidey manages to finally stop the Chameleon from gassing him again and punches him in the belt buckle. Which does this:

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Some therapist would make a mint out of this

And of course destroying the carbon copier machine shocks him into unconsciousness, which means he had a large obvious weakspot on his waist this whole time. He’s the worst video game boss ever.

After it’s all over Spider sat on a roof overlooking the UN complaining to himself that he’s saved the world again and, as always, no one ever thanks him for it. Then Nick Fury shows up in a jet and thank him for being the only semi-competent one there, Spidey’s somehow being able to hear him over the jet engines.

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Thumbs up for doing our job for us

“Did he say ‘thanks’? Someone thanking Spider-Man? Well that’s a first.” Just hang on there a minute Spidey. The very beginning of this episode had a crowd of people cheering that you rescued people. Apparently spiders have short memories, or the episode writer does at least.

The episode finally comes to an end with MJ slapping Peter for not coming to the play. Peter tries to explain, though it’ll probably end up as one of the worst excuses of all time, “Hey it was an international assassin disguised as me that you made a date with.” Yeah even knowing it’s true I wouldn’t believe that one. Hell pulling a Matt Murdock and making up a twin brother would probably work better. Roll credits, end of episode, thank you lord.

Final Thoughts

Oh dear lord, where to start. Structurally the episode isn’t bad that plus the better than average animation, for the series at least, would make this one of the better episodes for the show. However the main villain is just so stupid and he makes everyone around him even bigger idiots just so he can be a threat. The only good thing about him here is that he’s not as bad as his later episodes. The one thing I didn’t mention is that he never speaks in his own voice, he always uses someone else’s. That wasn’t badly done here since he didn’t have to interact with anyone as the Chameleon, however in later episodes it just gets ridiculous. There are points where he’s shifting constantly into different people in order to have a conversation and it’s just stupid.

So as the favourite episode of the series showrunner, where he apparently got to do everything he wanted without any compromises, it paints a pale picture of the rest of the series. If this pile of idiocy is what he wanted then how much worse is the rest of the series? A lot worse I can assure you all.

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About Reaf

I'm Reaf. I run the Reaf Debrief. I'm from England so I spell things with a U and a sarcastic sense of humour.

Posted on September 20, 2012, in Animation, Comics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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