Sometimes it seems like Spider-Man is the loneliest and unluckiest hero in the entire Marvel Universe. But as it turns out, he’s far from the only wall-crawling hero out there. The Marvel multiverse is full of like-minded do-gooders who use their spider-powers to defend innocent lives. And when those heroes come together, the Spider-Verse is born.
The Spider-Verse concept has become an increasingly important part of Spider-Man’s mythology. And thanks to animated series like Ultimate Spider-Man and the upcoming animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it’s also gone mainstream in a big way. But if you don’t know your Spider-Ham from your Spider-Gwen, here’s a quick refresher on the background and significance of the Spider-Verse.
There are millions of alternate universes that all make up the Marvel multiverse. And as it turns out, many of them have their own versions of Spider-Man. In many cases, these alternate Spider-Men aren’t so terribly different from the original. On some worlds, Peter Parker stayed married and had a child. In others he might be a gun-toting vigilante or still a teenager learning the ropes of the superhero game. And on still others, it wasn’t Peter Parker who was bit by the radioactive spider at all, but someone else.
The idea behind Spider-Verse is that these many Spider-people can breach their interdimensional barriers, join forces and tackle threats too great for any one hero to face alone. Who needs the Avengers when you can have an entire team of heroes with the brains of Peter Parker and the proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider?
There are far too many members of the Spider-Verse to list in one place, but there are a handful of heroes who tend to show up whenever the Spider-Verse comes into play in the comics.
Miles Morales – Miles is a resident of the Ultimate Universe, a place where Peter Parker died fighting the Green Goblin and Miles took up the mantle in his place. These days, however, Miles has migrated to the traditional Marvel Universe and receives guidance from that world’s Peter Parker.
Spider-Gwen – On Earth-65, it was Gwen Stacy who was bitten by the radioactive spider and a jealous Peter Parker who accidentally transformed himself into the Lizard. Gwen often struggles to balance the pressures of being a hero with her civilian life as a high school student and the daughter of a police captain.
The Superior Spider-Man – For a brief period, Otto Octavius managed to place his mind into the body of Peter Parker. Otto was determined to prove he could be a better Spider-Man than his nemesis, though he ultimately realized the folly of his plan and willingly turned control back over to Peter. However, thanks to the magic of time travel, an earlier version of this hybrid hero/villain still exists.
Spider-Man 2099 – Miguel O’Hara hails from one possible version of the Marvel Universe’s future, a place where the massive Alchemax Corporation reigns supreme and where the world once again needs a Spider-Man.
Spider-Girl (Mayday Parker) – Time moves a little differently in the MC2 Universe. Here, Peter Parker is a middle-aged family man, leaving his daughter May “Mayday” Parker to take up the mantle in his place.
Spider-Man Noir – The Marvel Noir universe is a dark, Great Depression-era world riddled with crime. Accordingly, this version of Peter Parker sticks to the shadows and augments his spider-powers with a twin set of pistols.
Spider-Ham – Peter Porker hails from a Marvel Universe where everyone is an anthropomorphized animal version of their usual self.
Spider-UK – In addition to having spider-powers, this British Spidey is also a member of the interdimensional police force known as the Captain Britain Corps.
Spider-Man India – What if Spider-Man lived in India rather than New York? That’s the gist behind Pavitr Prabhakar, the Spider-Man of Earth-50101.
Spider-Girl (Anya Corazon) – The young heroine Anya Corazon has gone through a number of changes in costumed identity and abilities over the years, but these days she serves as the designated Spider-Girl of the mainstream Marvel universe.
Madame Web – The leader of sorts of this loose-knit team, Madame Web is the only person capable of interpreting the Web of Life and Destiny and sensing new threats to the multiverse. For many years this role was filled by the frail, elderly Cassandra Webb, but now that mantle has been passed down to former Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter.
Marvel has been introducing new versions of Spider-Man for decades, whether in the form of spinoff characters like Spider-Woman and Spider-Girl or alternate universe characters like Spider-Man 2099. However, in more recent years Marvel has worked to build a greater sense of interconnectivity among these various characters and establish how they’re linked by a mystical, totemic force. Spider-Verse is basically the culmination of the process.
The original 2014 Spider-Verse crossover took place in the pages of the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man comic and various other offshoots and tie-ins. It brought together hundreds of versions of Spider-Man in order to protect the mystical Web of Life and Destiny (basically the Force to Spider-Man’s Jedi Knight) from a terrible enemy. That enemy was the Inheritors, a family of vampiric creatures who feast on heroes connected to the Web. One of the Inheritors, Morlun, is infamous for having mortally wounded Spider-Man in the 2005 crossover “The Other” (though he got better, obviously).
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the original Spider-Verse crossover is that it didn’t focus simply on bringing together Marvel’s various comic book universes, but nearly every incarnation of Spider-Man that’s existed in any medium. That includes the Spider-Men seen in the daily newspaper comic strip, the classic Hostess Fruit Pie ads, and animated series like Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. The series even briefly references live-action Spider-Men from the Sony movies, the stage musical Turn Off the Dark and the PBS series The Electric Company.
Spider-Verse wrapped with the Inheritors being defeated and imprisoned on a post-apocalyptic world with little sustenance. However, dozens of Spider-Men were consumed in the process, leaving the multiverse even more in need of watchful heroes. Marvel later introduced a new team called the Web Warriors (consisting of Anya Corazon, Spider-Ham, Spider-UK, Spider-Man Noir and Spider-Man India) who have banded together to help protect the Web of Life and Destiny. Additionally, Spider-Verse has inspired a similar Venom-themed crossover called Venomverse.
The Spider-Verse concept has quickly worked its way into other Spider-Man media. It became a major focus in later seasons of the animated series Ultimate Spider-Man, with Peter Parker teaming up with his alternate universe counterparts to form the Web Warriors and bring down an upgraded Green Goblin. Additionally, the first season of the reboot series Marvel’s Spider-Man has already introduced characters like Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen, though they all exist in the same universe as Peter Parker.
The Spider-Verse concept has also played a big role in Marvel’s Spider-Man video games, even before the “Spider-Verse” name was actually coined. 2010’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions allows players to take control of four different incarnations of Spidey (classic, Spider-Man 2099, Spider-Man Noir and Ultimate Spider-Man) in order to help Madame Web reconstruct an artifact called the Tablet of Order and Chaos. Its 2013 sequel, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, reunited Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 in a bid to prevent Alchemax from destroying New York.
Spider-Verse is also at the core of a mobile game called Spider-Man Unlimited. This endless runner allows players to battle different incarnations of the Sinister Six and build up a roster of dozens of different versions of Spider-Man. The game even featured its own adaptation of the Spider-Verse storyline shortly after the debut of the comic.
Now Spider-Verse is headed to the big screen thanks to the CG-animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This film is set to hit theaters in December 2018 and will focus on Miles Morales. The title suggests that Sony could be planning an entire series of Spider-Verse films focused on different heroes, though whether we’ll ever see them join forces remains to be seen.