One of the greatest and most punishing elements of comic books is continuity. Next year, Marvel will celebrate its 80th year, and while most of its most popular characters didn’t launch until the early nineteen sixties, that is still an absurd amount of storytelling readers have to reconcile. One of the biggest detractions about the medium that I hear from folks weary of joining me in this wonderful world of wall-crawlers and doctors of doom is that they don’t know where to begin. With “The Amazing Spider-Man” having recently hit issue number 800, can anyone just hop on with the 802nd chapter?
This fear has driven comic book publishers to relaunch and rejuvenate their characters over and over and over and over again. There is always an “Amazing Spider-Man” number one in your future. This practice often aggravates comic fans, but it is a policy we should be used to by now. The Marvel Universe has faced many facelifts in the form of “Secret Wars,” “Secret Wars II,” “Secret War,” and “Secret Wars 2015″…uh, there are a few other less secret wars like “Civil War” and the current “Infinity Wars” that have shaped Marvel as well, but uh…yeah, whatever.
Comics, man. They’re pretty silly. The quicker you embrace that fact, the better. Don’t let the large numbers and the endless retconning of backstory scare you. If you like Spider-Man, grab a comic and dive in. Focus on the personalities, and you’ll catch up to the stories.
One of the most brilliant aspects of Sony’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is how it embraces the ridiculous blackhole of content that Marvel Comics provides. The film introduces us to Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) of the Ultimate Universe (more on that later), and he’s struggling to find his place in a world while also contending with a new set of fantastical powers bestowed upon him by a radioactive spider-bite.
He quickly gets help in the form of a shlubby, much older version of the Peter Parker (Jake Johnson). This Spider-Man is not the one Miles is familiar with, but they barely have time to explore the mystery of his appearance before space-and-time are torn asunder, and four more Spider-Man doppelgangers spill forth: Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (John Mulaney). The miracle of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that it somehow manages to balance this barrage of weirdo characters and not forget to deliver on character and empathy.
How’d they do that? Well, it’s clear that directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman have spent many hours consuming the books, and fell hard for the Stan Lee philosophy of selling action through melodrama. They’re not intimidated by the infinite playlist of the books, and like the MCU, they pick and choose the elements that work best for them. As a reader, you should do the same.
You love Spider-Man. I love Spider-Man. We all love Spider-Man. That adulation has spawned three cinematic universes in the past twenty years, not to mention multiple cartoons and video games. We’ll keep throwing money at Tom Holland, but we’re no longer confined to the parameters he’s filled alongside The Avengers. Let’s see what other personality types and cultural backgrounds would do with that radioactive spider-bite, and I’m here to champion a few good starter comics for these new amazing, friendly arachnids.
Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1
Miles Morales is the character I’ve personally been the most excited to see on the big screen. He was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sarah Pichelli in 2011 as part of Marvel’s popular spin-off books that fell under the banner of the Ultimate Universe, and partially as a response to Donald Glover famously proclaiming his desire to portray the webslinger. On his Earth, Peter Parker took a bullet in the gut from The Punisher and fell in battle against a fire-breathing Green Goblin. Miles is bitten by an enhanced spider stolen from the same lab that produced Peter’s progenitor. Bendis works best with an ensemble and goes to great lengths to establish a group of friends worth fighting for. If you’re digging Shameik Moore’s take on the character as well as Jacob Batalon’s Ned in Spider-Man: Homecoming then I suggest picking out the first volume of the Bendis/Pichelli run.
Spider-Gwen Vol. 0: Most Wanted?
In 2014, writer Dan Slott was looking to out-bonkers his previous Spider-Man megaevents like “Spider-Island” (everyone on the island of Manhattan is granted the powers of Spider-Man), and “The Superior Spider-Man” (Doc Ock transplants his brain inside Peter Parker). He hit upon the idea of bashing every multiverse version of Spidey into one massive, action-packed storyline which is very much like Into The Spider-Verse. Besides playing around with previous incarnations like Miles Morales, Supaidāman, and Spider-Man 2099, Slott introduced the concept of a wall-crawling Gwen Stacy. She’s a punk rock badass who took on the mantle after her friend Peter Parker transformed into The Lizard and ravaged the school. While the Spider-Verse comics are a total blast, the solo Spider-Gwen book is where you want to go. Volume 0 gives you the necessary exposition but still delivers on the rad rock n roll lifestyle that is nothing like our Parker’s fumbling and sheepish shinanigans.
Marvel Noir is certainly one of the more gimmicky initiatives attempted by the publisher. Imagine characters like Luke Cage and Spider-Man, but in a Film Noir setting. Ta-da. At the time I thought it would come and go without anyone paying attention. Then I got word that a few of these titles were actually pretty good, so I gave the Spider-Man one a shot. Dang. It’s fun. Before Parker takes up the mantle, Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich slings around New York as The Spider. His beat causes him to clash with industrialist Norman Osborn, and he soon discovers that Mr. Moneybags is also the lawless enforcer known as The Goblin. Lots of gunfire, plenty of fisticuffs, and even more heaps of hardnosed dialogue. Marvel went all-in on the concept and delivered a surprise mini-hit. At the very least, you cannot deny the design of The Spider’s costume as it was made for video game skins and Nicolas Cage’s gnarly voice.
Amazing Spider-Man: Edge of the Spider-Verse
Peni Parker is another creation that spun out of Dan Slott’s Spider-Verse series. After her father died while piloting the SP//dr suit, Peni Parker’s Uncle Ben and Aunt May instructed her to carry on his scientific mission of adventure. The mech suit only operated after she allowed the radioactive spider within to partake in her flesh, and a symbiotic relationship that’s not to far off from what we saw in this year’s Venom was formed. Peni Parker does not occupy much space in the comics as of right now, but the fifth issue of “The Edge of the Spider-Verse” gives you 22 pages of a comic that must make Guillermo del Toro salivate.
Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham
Every comic book company has an anthropomorphic animal reality. With Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney dominating the pop culture landscape it’s just good business. I adore Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. He’s no Howard the Duck, but he carries all the guilt and responsibility that his human counterpart does, but only he has a snout instead of a nose. Toss in a few other Animal Avengers like Captain AmeriCat, Goose Rider, and the Hulk-Bunny, and you’ve got yourself the makings of an utterly goofy distraction. Honestly, I enjoy Peter Poker more as an exercise in design than anything else, but Dan Slott does fun things with him in his Spider-Verse event, and he is a definite highlight from the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series. John Mulaney will most definitely add his stamp to the character, and I am waiting for a new slew of tales featuring this piggie.