Where did all these spiders come from?
In most cases, that’s a question you don’t want to hear. But it has a great answer when it comes to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, now showing in cinemas. (Read our review here).
In the film, Spider-Man meets a whole bunch of other interesting Spider-people from parallel earths. But when I say ‘Spider-Man’, I don’t mean Peter Parker, the one most people know.
In this movie, the lead Spider is Miles Morales, a young black-Latinx kid from Earth-1610, a parallel earth in the comics.
Earth-1610 is also known as the ‘Ultimate Universe’, because Marvel started an imprint in 2000, Ultimate Comics, set on that world. These books were created specifically to launch alternate, updated versions of the classic Marvel characters, often with different powers, costumes, personalities and/or histories. Because, why not make things as confusing as possible?
Even on Earth-1610, though, Peter Parker was still the web-spinner, starring in Ultimate Spider-Man comics. But only for 11 years. He was killed by the Green Goblin and the Sinister – oops, Ultimate – Six in 2011.
“It’s OK. I … I did it,” Peter told Aunt May, as he lay dying. “I couldn’t save him. Uncle Ben. I couldn’t save him … no matter what I did. But I could save you. I did it. I did …”
‘Sniff,’ this column just got way too sad. Sorry.
So let’s get to the happy part, where Morales continued Parker’s web-spinning and wisecracking as the new Spider-Man of Earth-1610. Morales proved popular, and even teamed up with “our” wall-crawler for a little mentoring in a miniseries titled Spider-Men (2012).
However, Marvel wasn’t done making life miserable for its Ultimate characters, and destroyed the entire Ultimate Universe in a 2015 story titled Time Runs Out. Only some choice elements survived, transplanted to the 616 universe.
One of which was Miles Morales, who has his own, non-Peter-Parker-related title (Miles Morales: Spider-Man) on Earth-616. And that is the Spidey who stars in Into The Spider-Verse, set between the Parker-1610’s death and Time Runs Out, when Morales was still in the Ultimate Universe.
There is a Peter Parker in the movie – but again, it’s not the one most people know. This one is a slacker, middle-aged Peter Parker from some other universe. More accurately, it’s a blend of Spider-Men.
Frankly, he just looks like an older Tobey Maguire Peter Parker to me, one whose personal life disintegrated after Spider-Man 3, probably as a result of that being such a disappointing movie.
He attempts to mentor Morales in Into the Spider-Verse, which mirrors the above-mentioned Spider-Men series.
That alone is a movie worth seeing. But the name of the movie includes ‘Spider-Verse’, which means it’s a bit broader than two Spider-bros hanging out. There are lots more Spiders in the movie, all of whom pre-existed in the comics – and appeared in a series named (of course) Spider-Verse.
Published in 2014, Spider-Verse assembled an army of Spiders from parallel universes to battle a group of immortal bad guys named “The Inheritors.” It was a desperation play, because the Inheritors had spent centuries travelling the multiverse, hunting Spider-folks and sucking out their life force. So, you know, they were not very nice people, and really quite good at being not-nice people.
No single Spider was a match for these guys, and even with dozens of Spiders all teamed up, it was touch and go.
And while that was interesting, the real attraction was all those variant Spider-people. And how many Marvel casually killed off.
They dispatched the 17th century Peter Parquagh from Marvel 1602, a series created and written by Neil Gaiman. They butchered Ai Aipec, the Spider-God of Earth 1771. They buried the Spider-Man of the 1981 NBC cartoon, as well as his ‘Amazing Friends’.
Spider-Cat, Spider-Monkey, Captain Spider, Cyborg Spider-Man, Man-Spider of Earth-666, Old Man Spider, The Great Spider-Wolf of the Lycansphere, The Six-Armed Spider-Man … all gone.
Even the harmless Spider-Man of the Hostess ads of the ‘70s, whose main offensive tactic was throwing Twinkies, was mercilessly slaughtered. What a waste of potentially great characters! (Well, except the Hostess guy.)
Once again, though, there is good news amid the mayhem. Two characters introduced in that series have continued, and appear in Into The Spider-Verse.
One is Spider-Woman, also known as Spider-Gwen and Ghost Spider. Or, as described by the omniscient narrator at her introduction, “your new favourite.”
They were right about that. The character has been embraced by fandom, with several series set on her native Earth-65 under the title Spider-Gwen, and a new one titled Spider-Gwen: Ghost Spider.
On her world, she didn’t die at the hands of the Green Goblin. Instead, she was the one bitten by the radioactive spider to become the web-spinning, wall-crawling hero. And, to even the cosmic scales, Peter Parker died instead.
She’s sort-of the mirror image of our Spider-Man, the Gwen who feels guilty for failing to save Peter, instead of the Peter who feels guilty for failing to save Gwen.
A second Spider-character introduced in Spider-Verse is Peni Parker, a Japanese-American middle school student who pilots a mech suit named SP//dr, created by her adopted parents, Uncle Ben and Aunt May, which is partially controlled by a radioactive spider, with whom Peni shares a psychic rapport. I’d say more, but the craziness of that sentence is probably enough.
That brings us to Spider-Man Noir, who will be voiced in the movie by Nicolas Cage. This character was introduced in 2009, when Marvel published a slew of “what if” books re-imagining their main characters in a 1930s film noir setting. So this Spidey talks more like Sam Spade than Peter Parker, packs .45s like The Shadow, and favours a black Depression-era, soldier-of-fortune outfit with matching trenchcoat.
Does whatever a spider-pig does
Now to bring home the bacon. Our last major Into The Spider-Verse character isn’t a person, he’s a pig. And a cartoon pig at that.
You’re probably already thinking of Plopper from The Simpsons Movie in 2007 (“Spider-pig, Spider-pig. Does whatever a Spider-pig can. Can he swing on a web? No he can’t, he’s a pig. Look out! He is a spider-pig!”), but Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham, first appeared in an eponymous one-shot in 1983 for reasons that aren’t clear.
He comes from an Earth where everyone is a cartoon animal, like Toontown in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.
His background has always been somewhat in flux. “I didn’t know if I was now a spider with the powers of a pig or a pig with the powers of a spider,” he said in his 25th anniversary special. Sometimes his girlfriend is Mary Crain Watsow, sometimes Mary Jane Waterbuffalo. Obviously, the details don’t really matter, as Marvel doesn’t even try to keep them straight. What does is having a porcine cartoon around, commenting on the antics of us hairless apes.
And yes, no matter what Homer Simpson thinks, a Spider-pig can do whatever a Spider-Man can, despite being a pig.
Many of these Spider-critters continued from Spider-Verse into a short-lived series called Web Warriors.
Even more are currently appearing in a crossover titled Spider-Geddon (and many are, once again, dying).
So if you have a taste for radioactive spiders – and they certainly have a taste for you – feel free to gorge on Spider-Verse, Web Warriors, Spider-Men and Spider-Geddon.
From comics to movies, it’s surprising how much fun a bunch of spiders can be. – Tribune News Service