Review: Spider-Verse

Writers: Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Peter David, Skottie Young, Robbie Thompson, Katie Cook, Kathryn Immomen, Jed McKay, Enrique Puig, Roger Stern, Gerry Conway, Tom DeFalco, Dennis Hopeless, Mike Costa

Pencilers: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Adam Kubert, M.A. Sepulveda, Rick Leonardi, Oliver Coipel, Humbero Ramos, Jake Parker, Denis Medri, Ty Templeton, Katie Cook, Tom Grummett, Kris Anka, David LaFuente, Sheldon Vella, Francisco Herrera, Dave Williams, Bob McLeod, Steven Sanders, Ron Frenz, Gred Land, Paco Diaz, Will Sliney

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Genre: Superhero

During his tenure on Amazing Spider-Man, Dan Slott (Superior Spider-Man, Mighty Avengers, Arkham Asylum: Living Hell) became known as a “go big or go home” kind of writer. By the time Spider-Verse was published, he’d already turned most of Manhattan’s populace into giant spiders, nearly nuked the world, and made Dr. Octopus take control of Spider-Man’s body.

For fans concerned about Slott running out of steam, Spider-Verse proved their worries were unfounded. Bringing in a host of talented writers and artists as multifaceted as the characters involved, Slott led the change in creating a story promised to be huge. Spider-Verse boasted it featured “every Spider-Man ever.” That’s quite a tall order. We’ll have to see if the story still stands on its own eight legs.

Content Guide

Violence: Several Spider-Men are maimed and murdered–most die by having their life energy drained by their vampiric foes. We see their lifeless bodies left on the ground. Others are stabbed, shot, evaporated, and blown up. A few characters suffer broken necks or spines. Other non-Spidey characters are injured and killed in a similar fashion, dealing with broken bones and various other wounds. One villainous character is eaten alive. Another is beaten to death. The level of bloodshed typically depends on the artists involved–some tastefully obscure blood and gore, while certain illustrators depict wounds and deaths in detailed fashion.

Sexual Content: A few characters wear revealing outfits. A man licks a woman possessively and makes a crude joke. Two characters kiss. A man kisses a woman against her will. A character possesses the ability to woo men by attracting them with pheromones. Someone compares two characters physically attracted to each other to “dogs in heat.”

Drug/Alcohol Use: Characters consume wine at a feast. Someone asks another character if they’ve been drinking.

Spiritual Content: Spiders are considered “totems” or avatars connected to a Great Web of Life and Destiny. Ancient prophecies determine various events. One Spider-Man claims to be a god. Another possesses what some refer to as the power of a god. One “Spider totem” is Anansi, a godlike character from African folklore, who communes with a few deities.

Language/Crude Humor: Several uses of G*d, d**n, and h**l. A** and b*****d also pop up, as well as several unfinished or bleeped-out curses. Someone utters the British profanity “bloody.” Another character says “eff.” A character from the future uses the fictional terms “shock” and “son of a glitch” as substitutes for actual curse words.

Other Negative Content: Allies occasionally turn on each other and fight for dominance. A handful of Spider-Men have no qualms about murdering their foes and fight for revenge. Before accepting redemption, a character believes the only way he can restore his honor is through murder. We see one scene of police brutality and are shown a lab filled with human experiments.

Positive Content: Various Spider-Men and Women give their lives in service to their fellow heroes. Most of these heroes assemble to fight not only for their own existence, but also for the fate of the multiverse, rallying together under the same banner. A man hires a former criminal in a bid to redeem him. Another villain is offered a second chance.

Review

Audiences who fell in love with Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse versions of Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy, and Peter Porker might be enthused to discover those same characters among the collected heroes in this story. Readers should take warning, however: the comic version of Spider-Verse may star similar characters, but the story is quite a different tale from its animated counterpart. Slott and his army of creators weave a narrative that crosses over at least six different series, plus a prequel series. Featuring a Who’s-Who of Spider-People, Spider-Verse pits its band of costumed heroes against the Inheritors, a race of interdimensional vampires seeking to “feed” on the Spiders. The stakes are massive, and the cast is impressively huge.

Also unlike the film, the Spider-Verse comic features Peter Parker of Earth-616 (the prime Marvel Universe) instead of Miles Morales as its leading man. Even amidst the various versions of Spidey he encounters, Peter remains on top. Slott always makes sure he’s at the forefront in the pages of the main series, Amazing Spider-Man, taking on the role of reluctant leader, a trait the character has always excelled at and one Slott frequently utilizes. Readers who associate Peter with his carefree attitude will find quips aplenty, yet backed by a more serious edge.

This tone, plus the genocidal nature of the storyline, means this arc isn’t  intended for the same demographic as the film. At its heart, a band of like-minded individuals forge bonds of unity as they struggle to overcome insurmountable odds; though the audience may be specific, the messages are universal. A somewhat darker take on the Spidey mythos, Spider-Verse is also a celebration of the Spider-Man character in his entirety. Slott and fellow writers and artists pepper the arc with pretty much every incarnation of the hero to ever exist on the page or screen, meaning anyone who’s read a Spidey comic or seen a film or cartoon will recognize at least one character bouncing around the pages. I guarantee it’s the only place where you’ll have 60’s cartoon Spider-Man in the same story as Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield Spider-Man, and Japanese Spider-Man and his Leopardon robot. It’s fun – really fun.

As I read the tale, I consistently asked myself whether this was a storyline potential Marvel fans, or potential Spider-Man fans specifically, should use as a gateway into the world of comics. Inevitably, the answer became…“Maybe?” The “every Spider-Man ever” premise, entertaining as it is, also makes the story difficult for newer readers to dip their toes into.

Neither Slott nor any of the other writers ever demand that you’ve immersed yourself in various storylines prior to reading Spider-Verse. But that knowledge is hugely beneficial. Admittedly, casual readers may be okay not knowing who Captain Spider is or why it’s so amusing seeing a group of Spider-Men ride around in a Spidey-themed dune buggy. If you don’t know you’re missing out, are you really missing out? For fans unaware of these characters, the story serves as a nice introduction to several alternate versions of Spider-Man. Who knows? You might discover you enjoy Miles Morales or Spider-Gwen over mainstream Peter Parker.

Yet, as accessible as the tale is at moments for newer readers, you really appreciate it more once you understand the references and can recognize the Easter eggs. If you’ve been reading Spidey’s adventures for a while (or the adventures of his multi-versal doppelgangers), you’re in for a real treat. Slott and Co. never deter any new readers, but they also take the time to reward fans with more exposure to the character(s). We’re treated to a Victorian Era Sinister Six (“The Six Men of Sinestry”), alternate versions of Mary Jane Watson and Johnny Storm, and Spider-Men that hearken back to Marvel’s classic What If-? series from the 1970’s. Well-established writers and artists such as Peter David, Rick Leonardi, Roger Stern, Gerry Conway, Tom DeFalco, and Ron Frenz all contribute to the myriad of series and issues that make up the entire saga, giving the story a sense of weight and history. 

To enjoy these varied talents, though, you will be obligated to read Spider-Verse in its entirety. Most of the saga’s main events are told by Slott and artists Oliver Coipel and Giuseppe Camuncoli in Amazing Spider-Man; readers could easily follow the tale from Point A to Point B if they choose to only read ASM in its respective trade paperbacks or collected issues. It’s the tiny details, side quests, and unique character moments that readers will miss out on if they ignore tie-in series such as Spider-Man 2099, Scarlet Spiders, Spider-Women, and others. With so much to juggle, Slott cannot give enough time to each character in ASM–that’s just the nature of the story. Annoying as it might be for some fans to read six or seven different series just to understand the scope of a whole story, the additional series are where the narrative becomes personal. Female characters such as Silk and Spider-Woman hold their own against their foes as they untangle (sorry, not sorry) their roles in these cross-dimensional escapades. Spidey clone Kaine has some engaging interactions with another Spidey clone, Ben Reilly. In a fast-paced epic as this one, the smaller series are where the reader gets a chance to breathe and experience the drama and character moments Slott just isn’t able to inject into the main storyline.

That being said, understanding Spider-Verse’s full scope is two-pronged. The first is recognizing which stories are important…and which aren’t. Spider-Verse coerces audiences with a fairly lengthy prologue that unites our cast, and as entertaining as it is to see Hostess Ad Spider-Man, Newspaper Strip Spider-Man, or Mangaverse Spider-Man, you soon realize not all these characters are important. Mangaverse Spider-Man may be inducted into the team in his own short story, but it’s the last we see of the character. So some of the build-up is necessary, and some of it’s just fun. Harmless fun, but fluff nevertheless. These smaller pieces add perhaps some unneeded bulk to this already jam-packed epic.

The second issue, for anyone wanting to read the story’s full scope, may not seem problematic at first: Marvel has collected the entire saga, main storyline and tie-ins, in a single paperback volume, minus one somewhat pivotal introductory series. How thoughtful! As economic as this decision may be, it comes with a non-financial price tag. For some reason, the volume is not structured chronologically. Most of it is written in order of series, so all of the Amazing Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider, Spider-Women, etc. issues are kept together. Some readers may prefer it this way, but since some of these series have overlapping events, you’re going to have to do some major flipping back and forth if you want to read the whole tale from start to finish. The volume includes a handy little chronological guide in the front of the book, but for readers such as myself who love reading volumes cover-to-cover straight through, the constant thumbing through the pages may become quickly irritating.

You don’t head into Spider-Verse looking for deep philosophical musings or answers to universal questions, even if prophecies lie at the center of this web. You head into this crossover epic seeking a fun, frantic narrative filled with colorful characters, vile villains, and action-packed adventures. Depending on your point of view, you may end up disappointed: readers thinking this is a great jumping-off point into Spidey’s world may become confused and overwhelmed by the sheer number of spidery protagonists; fans who want a comic that replicates the film may turn their nose up at a story that’s clearly more violent and somewhat cruder than Sony’s family-friendly spin on the Wall-Crawlers. Despite the darker aspects, Spider-Verse still ends up being a surprisingly hopeful tale. In between matters of life and death are genuinely good character moments. People grow. Heroes change. Individuals who are all different, yet similar in surprising ways, band together to face a challenge none of them can tackle alone. In a world so focused on division, selfishness, and hate, it’s nice to see a story centered on unity, self-sacrifice, and redemption.

Positives

+Engaging, action-packed narrative
+Tons of entertaining easter eggs
+Several strong, character-driven story arcs

Negatives

-Darker material not suitable for certain audiences
-Not completely "new reader friendly"
-Awkward issue arrangement (for full collection)

The Bottom Line

Slott and his team of collaborators deliver a thrilling, all-encompassing Spider-Man epic that fulfills the foundational premise it lays down. Newer readers may feel a bit lost, but for long-time fans of the character, there isn't another comic out there where you can find as many Friendly Neighborhood Web-Heads.

 

Story/Plot 8.8

Writing 9.5

Editing 7.5

Art 9.5

8.8

Nathan Kiehn

Nathan has loved comic books and graphic novels for as long as he can remember, ever since his father handed him a digest sized volume of "Marvel Age: Spider-Man." He's dedicated a lot of time and effort to exploring the far reaches of the Spider-Verse, but he's also been known to dive into other corners of the Marvel Universe and maybe even stuck his nose in a Batman story arc or two (just don't tell Spidey).

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