Spidiversity is an ongoing feature that explores a diverse range of issues in Spider-Man media, including gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability. It is published on the second Wednesday of every month by Jaleh Najafali and the fourth Monday of the month by Alex Nader.
The article contains spoilers for the “Spider-Verse” storyline.
Well, “Spider-Verse” has fully encompassed the realm of Spider-Books. The crossover, detailing the efforts of a multiversal team of Spider-Men fighting against the murderous Inheritors, is currently in its second issue but has comprised a much larger scope, including the much lauded Edge of Spider-Verse miniseries and tie-ins with Spider-Man 2099 and the inaugural issue of Spider-Woman, with more miniseries on the way. “Spider-Verse” has permeated other Spider-Media as well, with other Spider-Men showing up in the “Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors” TV series and “Spider-Man Unlimited”. Spider-Verse represents an opportunity for Marvel to introduce new ideas and fresh takes on Spider-Man mythos, along with the resurrection of versions of the franchise that have fallen out of favor. This approach has proven incredibly successful for the former, but fairly divisive for the latter.
Dan Slott has offed a lot of Spider-Men so far; this is to be expected in a comic built upon multiversal murderers, of course. Presumably these character deaths have been in the development of ‘stakes’—showing the deaths of characters like House of M Spider-Man and Civil War Spider-Man indicate the competency of the Inheritors along with the danger of the crossover—these characters are not off-limits. Unfortunately they are utilized in a way that does not highlight their differences and popularity. They have instead become stand-ins; bodies to throw at the Inheritors rather than characters in their own rights.
In the aforementioned deaths, these were characters based on character or costume changes that “our” Peter Parker (of Earth-616) had gone through in the past but had since reverted to his classic red-and-blue costume and attitude. Their reappearances as dead bodies in Spider-Verse supposes alternate universes where these changes stuck, which makes sense for an endless array of universes. These killings do not warrant much scrutiny or conversation; many subsequent deaths have however focused on existing or concluded universes. So, obviously fans’ reaction to the deaths of childhood icons like “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends” were quite divided.
I remember “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends” fondly from my youth. My dad often put it on—he had a tape or something—when Saturday morning cartoons had finished. Looking back at the show, it was very cheesy and had terrible animation, but it was a part of my youth and a sort of closed book in the Spider-Man mythos. Seeing them murdered by Morlun’s family brought a grimace to my face. Why had Dan Slott done this? The innocence of Spidey, Firestar and Iceman was crushed. And yeah, the stakes were again raised. “Who else could die?”, I asked myself. As it turns out, many more beloved (or at least well-remembered) characters. Spider-Girl’s family, Spider-Man of 1602, Bullet Points Bruce Banner/Spider-Man, and even Hostess Fruit Pies Spider-Man—all eliminated to up the stakes. The death of Fruit Pies Spider-Man strikes me as especially vindictive towards fans.
I guess it worked. I read each issue with immense trepidation that Scarlet Spider is going to die. I don’t think that this is a good or sustainable tactic. The concept of “Spider-Verse” taunts readers with concluded versions of Spider-Man that live in stasis in our minds. After Spider-Girl ended, I assumed that May and her family had lived long lives and continued to have adventures. Or more precisely, I didn’t really think about it. These concepts inevitably end and the audience is left to find other avenues to follow these characters.
I think this is particularly disheartening for Spider-Girl. As Marvel is developing efforts to highlight strong female characters like She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel, Spider-Girl has had her family “fridged” in order to give her character more motivation in the upcoming crossover. Sure, the death of family members can up the stakes (and do, very often) but Spider-Girl was a comic with a very interesting family dynamic that’s rare in superhero comics. To see it crushed for (seemingly) shock value and cheap motivation is unfortunate, repetitive and formulaic, for a comic that could transcend these tropes and really give the audience something unique.
Despite all of these negatives involved with turning characters into bodies, there has been a lot of progressive developments in “Spider-Verse.” Other than Spider-Girl, most of my above examples were just “Spider-Man in a different costume/setting.” “Spider-Verse” has used the multiverse to introduce new characters that fit into the universe in exciting ways. Edge of Spider-Verse highlighted five wildly different concepts, including Spider-Gwen (soon to have her own solo series) and Peni Parker, the Evangelion-inspired mech hero. Peni is a personal favorite of mine, but doesn’t seem to have the burgeoning popularity of Spider-Gwen, or the marketing push of Silk; I’m, thus, worried for her safety in the crossover. The introduction of these new ideas is fantastic and important in maintaining the popularity of the Spider-Man franchise and garnering new fans as well. I suppose that’s why the deaths of differently-costumed Spider-Men isn’t as unsettling as the death of May Parker’s family.
I hadn’t thought of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends for years, but seeing Ms. Lion standing over the corpses of those three heroes got me thinking of Pet Sematary—they came back wrong. I know the stakes are high in “Spider-Verse.” I mean, I’ll keep reading just to see more costumes because as a comic reader I love costumes and the idea of a bunch of Spider-Men riffing on each other is interesting enough. The ‘concluded’ versions of Spider-Man that exist in our minds do still remain viable characters for anyone in Marvel to play with and modify. And with any multiverse chronology, we must remember that:
A.) these stories often end with reboots
B.) there are infinite universes (except in DC right now, I think) where these stories could happen
So a Spider-Girl’s family was killed, and maybe there is another infinite amount out there cheerily rolling along. Perhaps, in the future, we may see their return as a family, again highlighting a setting that is rarely touched upon in comics anymore (though Nova is doing a fairly good job). As I write this I think it’s kind of silly to impose a continuity outside any official comic printing within my mind but it’s better to me than seeing these characters come out of their ‘stasis’ only to be murdered immediately. I’m all for the fruition of new ideas, but preferably not at the needless expense of others.
Well, at least Comic Strip Spidey made it…right?