Spencer: I started reading comics regularly right at the beginning of DC’s Infinite Crisis crossover event back in 2005 or 2006; the story scattered just about every DC character across the universe, and I must’ve spent hours obsessively charting out which heroes were where. This gave me a big soft spot for massive crossover epics, the kind of stories that can really only be done in superhero comics, which have decades of stories across hundreds of titles to mine. When done right these epics are extraordinarily fun, a testament to the grand histories the DC and Marvel universes have built, but when done wrong they can just feel excessive, too caught up in their own impenetrable histories to tell a coherent story. What strikes me the most about The Amazing Spider-Man 9 — the first “official” chapter of Spider-Verse — is how aware of this danger writer Dan Slott seems to be. Spider-Verse is a story built around history and cameos, but Slott seems to be going out of his way to make the story — and the stakes — as clear as possible. So far, so good.
The issue starts out by focusing on Peter and Cindy Moon — a.k.a. Silk — for a few pages, and even at this early juncture Slott seems aware of how complicated and perhaps even silly comic book continuity can be.
Via Cindy, Slott seems to be saying, “Yeah, I know this can be complicated, but just roll with it.” Things indeed get complicated just a few pages later as the rest of the Spider-Men (and women, and pigs) from across the Multiverse start swarming in, but Slott does an excellent job pointing out which Spider-Man is which and giving us any pertinent information we may need to understand the character and their role in the story (he especially devotes time to establishing Miles Morales, Mayday Parker, and Scarlet Spider, a sure sign that all will be quite central in this tale). The Spiders have gathered because they are being chased by a family of interdimensional beings known as the Inheritors, who kill and devour Spider-Men for sustenance. They’ve come for “our” Peter Parker specifically because he’s the Greatest Spider-Man of them all, pointing at a grander mythology behind this story that we’re only barely seeing the edges of. Talk of Scarlet Spider being “The Other” further points at this, and Slott and editor Nick Lowe again reassuringly point out that not only are we not expected to understand this yet, but that it will be explained for us soon enough.
I can see this coming across as a little patronizing, but in a story as grand as Spider-Verse, it can’t hurt to make things as simple as possible. Really, Slott isn’t subtle with any of this story, making many upcoming twists (such as the fact that the unknown identity of Old Man Spider will be important) quite obvious, but again, this isn’t a story about subtlety, it’s about seeing as many Spider-Men as possible come together to fight for their very survival, and Slott absolutely delivers on this front. Besides just about every known Spider-Man I can think of, we’ve also got creative new iterations, such as Spider Moon-Man! I’m surprised by how fun and inclusive these cameos are — there’s enough unique and bizarre new Spider-Men to satisfy any casual reader, but also plenty of deeper cuts to keep the attention of long-time fans (just check out the names of the Inheritors’ slaves and servants for some examples).
Slott also makes the stakes perfectly clear by devoting space to establishing the Inheritors. Drew and I have been griping a bit in our Round-Ups about how relentlessly grim the recent back-up stories focusing on these villains have been, but I can’t deny that I now have this kind of eerie dread every time I see Morlun or his siblings walk into a panel. They’re deadly, terrifying, and absolutely relentless, and they won’t stop until they wipe out every Spider-Man in existence — those are clear stakes that should hit to the core of anybody who cares about Spider-Man.
It’s also a motivation that could make the Inheritors feel blandly evil, so I appreciate Slott taking the time to characterize each member individually in this issue. They’re still shallow characters — Morlun is the favorite, Bora and Brix the bratty children, Daemos the glutton, Jennix the scholar, and Solus the distant father — but what’s interesting is the way those personalities bounce off each other. The Inheritors actually remind me of the Carlyle family over in Greg Rucka’s excellent Lazarus: they’re an extremely powerful, privileged, entitled, and dangerous family full of spoiled brats whose own petty differences and conflicts threaten to tear them apart.
So while the seemingly interminable lead-up to this event had been sapping my enthusiasm for Spider-Verse a bit, I’m happy to say that I am once again psyched to see where this story takes me. The joy I found early in my comics-reading career of charting out hundreds of characters at a time is coming right back, and overall I’m just impressed by how approachable I’ve found this story so far, especially when so much of it is based in old history and obscure characters. Patrick, how do you feel? Has Spider-Verse been easy for you to follow, or did you get caught up in the web of continuity? Are you having fun with this all these Spider-Men, or is this story just too grim for you? Are you as ready for a Peter Porker/Rocket Raccoon team-up as I am?
Patrick: Oh, my soul is ready for Peter Porker to team up with just about any one. There never was a more perfect superhero / cartoon animal mash-up pun name than Peter Porker. It’s sublime — one of those immaculate nuggets from Marvel’s goofy, goofy past and I absolutely love that Slott is taking advantage of that backlog. But I also love how much Spider-verse trades in invention, not just a bottomless well of pre-existing Spider-characters. The comic community has already had its collective freak out over Spider-Gwen, earning her the best subtitle in the issue, and we’ve been hanging out with Silk for a few issues now, but by and large, those two are new spider-characters, created specifically for this event. And hell, even some of those pre-existing Spider-Men are only present because Slott always looks insanely far ahead and plants seeds years before he plans on paying them off. Take 2099, for example: while bopping between universes makes sense within this narrative, it’s not totally clear whether timetravel within one reality would really figure into that were it not for the weird loophole of having the Superior gathering the Spider-men. Slott’s narrative acrobatics a year ago in a different series allows Miguel O’Hara (and Spider-Man Noir, for that matter) participate in all the fun today.
Spencer, I’m glad you pointed out the renewed focus on levity. I’ll also agree that the goofiness of the event — which I absolutely love — does clash with the unending grimness of the Inheritors. I’m sure there’s a metaphor to be drawn between their consumption of Spider-Men and the audience’s consumption of different versions of the character, but I’m not quite sure I’m comfortable with what that implies. Spider-Man is one of those break-out characters that non-comics-reading audience have warmly embraced, which has lead to countless animated series, five feature films, a reboot, and a threat of a “soft-reboot” for the troubled Sinister Six movie. And that “troubled” part is what gives me pause. I’ve sort of just regurgitated the agreed-upon narrative when it comes to the Spider-Man films: reboot fatigue, origin-story fatigue, etc. The greater story of what role Spider-Man plays cinematically, or culturally, is still being written. Snapshots are not legacies. So the implication that the audience — like the Inheritors — is gleefully devouring Spider-Man to the detriment of “Spider-Man,” feels a bit short-sighted.
Although, maybe there’s not a metaphor and the Inheritors are simply eating various Spider-Mans. A little dour for a series featuring Spider-Ham.
Also — forget Spider-Ham. The biggest joke in the whole issue might be how straight-faced Slott and artist Oliver Coipel are throughout. Oh, there are jokes, but every single one of them are much within Marvel’s brand (and more specifically, Spider-Man’s brand). Jokes are part of what makes Spidey Spidey. I’m a big fan of all the light meta-humor, like the observations in the subtitles introducing characters or establishing location. As if to prime us for the onslaught of such subtitles later in the issue, we get probably the best one in the very first panel.
There’s a similar joke a few pages later when we’re introduced to our native Peter Parker — the caption urges us to stop looking at his butt. That turns out to be a tougher task than one might imagine, as Coipel appears to delight in almost drawing Peter’s bare ass like three times on one page. There’s always a sheet or a speech balloon or a caption box to keep the comic family-friendly, but he’s clearly toeing the line between silly and sexy. In retrospect, that may also explain Silk’s old webs-only costume: “toeing the line between silly and sexy.” If this page is meant to help us understand the nature of the relationship between Cindy and Peter, then it’s doing a bang-up job. The whole point of their flirtation is that it’s uncomfortably intense, jumping from innocent to ravenously sexual at the drop of a hat. All of that ends up being drowned out by the appearance of EVERY SPIDER-MAN EVER, but I’m going to choose to trust that Slott is laying seeds now for a future story that can explore themes of sex and sexuality in a more meaningful way.
One last thing before we jump into the comments to declare that our new favorite Spider-Man is someone other than Gwen Stacy (as if), I’m impressed by Coipel’s skill at distinguishing the various Spiders visually on the page. In the last two issues of Superior or in the Edge of Spider-Verse and Spider-Verse Team-Up titles, artists too regularly fill a panel with nearly identical Spider-Men. But even the big gathering on Earth-13 has distinct-looking heroes in every corner.
Spiders — both named and unnamed — actually appear to be different characters, with separate implied histories. We obviously only get to pause on a few of these characters to get emotionally meaningful stories (like we do when we check in on Miles in the final pages), but at least we can invest in the fact that these are different characters and not just multiple versions of the one character we actually love. That ties back to Spencer’s question of whether the huge amounts of continuity are off-putting or appealing: when the creators are this excited about telling the story — and, telling it clearly — the reader has to other choice but to match that excitement.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?