The Endless Possibilities of the 'Spider-Verse'

By letting Peter Parker pass the torch, the new Spider-Man movie shows how the character can thrive for years to come.
Courtesy of CTMG

The Spider-Verse is about to forever change our perception of what Spider-Man can be on film with an ambitious multifilm franchise that looks to be the next great leap for comic book movies. With seven Spider-Man films and an eighth set for release next summer, there's certainly no shortage of swing time for our favorite arachnid hero. But ever since the first Spider-Man feature in 1977 (You didn't think we'd forget Nicholas Hammond, did you?), Spider-Man has solely focused on Peter Parker. That all changes with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The film from Sony Pictures Animation is ready to blow the comic book multiverse wide open, something that has never been done in a theatrical superhero movie before. Led by Miles Morales, the film features him under the mentorship of a Peter Parker from another reality, as the two are joined by Spider-Men and Spider-Women from various alternate dimensions, many of whom have become fan-favorites in the comics over the years. Into the Spider-Verse, which has received rave reviews ahead of release and garnered several accolades during this early portion of awards season, already has a sequel and spinoff lined up. While the sequel is said to continue the story of Afro-Latino Spider-Man Miles Morales, the first planned spinoff, Spider-Women, will see Spider-Gwen team up with three generations of Spider-Women and Spider-Girls from various realities. It's clear that even with their access to Peter Parker in animation, Sony is interested in exploring a lot more than the exploits of the original Spider-Man. But Into the Spider-Verse 2 and Spider-Women are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how this franchise could be built out to encompass everything we love about superheroes. The possibilities are truly endless.

Into the Spider-Verse introduces us to a multitude of alternate Spider-people who are making their screen debuts, including Spider-Man Noir, SP//dr (Peni Parker), Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham (Peter Porker). Each of these characters have had their own respective miniseries and series over the years, building up sizable mythologies that would make any one of them perfect for a solo spinoff movie.

One of the cooler aspects of the film, directed by the trio of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, is that it maintains the individual artistic styles for each of the Spider characters pertaining to their reality. Peni Parker's design is clearly influenced by anime, Spider-Ham is a nod to the cartoons of Chuck Jones, Spider-Man Noir has the jagged edges and dark design pertaining to his film-noir-influenced universe and Spider-Gwen reflects the stylish neon hipness of her world. The different styles in which the characters are depicted not only allows for some unique visual experimentation, but also suggests that different genres could emerge from this Spider-Verse. A full film noir mystery starring Nicolas Cage's Spider-Man Noir seems too good to pass up, as does a Spider-Ham feature that introduces the animal counterparts of familiar Spider-Man characters. These are obvious potential directions of the future Spider-Verse, but the multiverse is so much bigger than the worlds central to this first film.

As many characters as the film introduces, there are even more who aren't featured players who could easily be added down the line. While it seems likely that the film, produced by The Lego Movie's Phil Lord and Chris Miller, will use that franchise's method of universe mashups by placing at least three characters from alternate realities together, there's always room for a Lego Batman Movie-inspired solo film with a breakout character. Spider-Man 2099 would be a strong choice for a solo film, as the character, created for Marvel's now defunct 2099 line, has become a cult favorite over the years. The Irish-Mexican Miguel O'Hara provides yet another opportunity to step away from the story of Peter Parker and play with a style distinct from any we've seen in previous iterations of Spider-Man. The expansion of the Spider-Verse won't only change the kinds of stories that can be told with Spider-Man, but will also allow animators with different backgrounds and styles to come onboard the franchise and share their own visions for the web-slinger.

Just as Sony's live-action Spider-Verse is proving there's life outside of Spider-Man with characters like Venom, Morbius, Silver Sable and Black Cat, the animated Spider-Verse can stray just as far from Peter Parker while populating the franchise with some of the wilder Spider-Man variants, including Spider-U.K., Spider-Monkey and Spider-Punk. While those in charge of cinematic universes have talked for years about superhero movies breaking into other genres, animation and the difference in expectations attached to that format could really allow superhero movies to branch off like never before. A Spider-Man musical with Spider-Punk, a period piece with Spider-Man 1602 and a cyberpunk Spider-Man 2099 film inspired by the works of William Gibson are all very real possibilities for animation that we would never see come to fruition in live action.

Speaking of live action, there's no reason why we have to consider Sony's live-action branch of films separate from their animated universe. The connectivity between the two was suggested by the second post-credit scene in Venom in which a clip from Into the Spider-Verse was introduced as being "another corner of the Spider-Verse." With this in mind, we could see a movie that uses both live action and animation. Think Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) with Eddie Brock and Spider-Ham solving a cross-dimensional caper. There's no reason for the Spider-Verse to stick to the format we've come to expect from superhero movies and cinematic universes. Even if it proved to be divisive among critics, Venom already showed its willingness to get weird, so why not go weirder and capitalize not only on all the styles that have given comic books their lasting appeal but their tones as well?

Of course, there's also the possibility that the Spider-Verse could build toward a larger overarching story. The Spider-Verse, as introduced by comic book writer Dan Slott and artists Olivier Coipel and Giuseppe Camuncoli in the story arc of the same name, brought together hundreds of Spider-people against Morlun and his family of Inheritors. Morlun is a relatively recent Spider-Man addition, but he's proven to be one of his most powerful foes. A vampire who feeds off totemistic energy — the powers of those who provide the link between man and beast, Morlun traveled across dimensions alongside his family to kill Spider-people in order to survive. When introduced by J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr. in 2001, the character was controversial, readjusting Peter's origin story and tying it to a larger cosmic prophecy that seemed outside of Spider-Man's realm. But in the 17 years since, Morlun has grown in popularity, as has the concept of Peter Parker's totem connection, something only strengthened by Marvel's heightened attention to their multiverse. While all these Spider-Verse sequels and spinoffs can, and presumably will, branch off to offer their own unique thing, it wouldn't be surprising if somewhere down the line there is a culmination of all this world-building. A big bad who operates outside the realm of what any variation of Doc Ock or the Green Goblin could offer may be just the thing to keep the Spider-Verse tied together.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is more than just another Spider-Man film. It's an opportunity for audiences to fall in love with the concept and characters of the multiverse that comic readers have long wanted to see brought to life in film. From the chance to see heroes of color and superheroines expand exponentially to the styles and genres waiting to be tackled, the Spider-Verse has the potential to offer something for everyone. While the idea of a non-Marvel Studios handled Spider-Man franchise was met with trepidation when first announced, Into the Spider-Verse should prove just how much Sony has to work with within the universe of a single character. Where once we scoffed at the idea of a young Aunt May as a superspy, the idea doesn't seem so out of bounds within the context of the Spider-Verse. This is an opportunity to see experimentation within the superhero format, to test boundaries, push limits and see what sticks to the wall like only a Spider-Man can.