When you start to look into him, the High Evolutionary, the clumsily named villain of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, is kind of like a fungus: all sorts of places you’d never expect. A creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, High Evolutionary is about as old as the Marvel Universe, and a surprising number of creators have told stories with the notoriously convoluted hero. This includes animation, as one of High Evolutionary’s most prominent pre-Guardians appearances was in a nearly forgotten, entirely bonkers Spider-Man cartoon.
This was a show that turned the supervillain Electro into a walking eel, reinvented the Green Goblin as a hero with an accent I would describe as “Mexican Dracula” (read: I can’t make up my mind as to whether it’s ridiculous or offensive or both), and ends with a cliffhanger so abrupt you’ll think the power went out. This was Spider-Man Unlimited.
Spider-Man Unlimited was meant to be the follow-up to the beloved 1994-1998 animated series, a pillar of the animated superhero boom heralded by Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men. A big part of these shows’ success was in their ability to tell complex all-ages stories that stayed true to the spirit of their source material in spite of aggressive censorship and a difficult production environment. Spider-Man Unlimited was… different.
A loose sequel to its predecessor, the series started with Spider-Man leaving Earth in pursuit of Venom and Carnage, only to be stranded with them on Counter-Earth, a bizarro-world where the High Evolutionary’s genetic experiments led to a race of human-animal hybrids called Bestials who serve him. Human beings largely live in the slums or join the resistance against the High Evolutionary — including Spidey, in a high-tech suit designed for maximum toy potential. Across 13 episodes, Y2K Spider-Man balanced his roles as a resistance fighter, regular superhero, and citizen of Counter-Earth, fighting Bestial versions of his villains and entirely new characters and tracking down Venom and Carnage.