It’s starting to feel like 2018 is the year of Spider-Man. Actually, scratch that, it’s become the year of the Spider-Verse. We’ve got a Spidey movie on the way that not only looks rad as hell but is diving straight into the idea of a multiverse of Spider-heroes. Sony is apparently bringing Silk to the big screen. And Marvel is actually building up to a spiritual sequel to the comic event that started this all off in the first place: Spider-Verse.
That means that now an absolutely excellent time to check out the 2014 comic event if you’ve never experienced it before—or to go back and soak up all the Spidery goodness again, as we wait for the likes of Into the Spider-Verse, Spider-Man PS4, and Spidergeddon. The brainchild of Dan Slott, Olivier Coipel, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Justin Ponsor (as well as dozens more writers and artists who contributed tie-in books to the event), Spider-Verse officially ran between November 2014 and February 2015 as a nostalgic mishmash of versions of Spider-Man that stretched far beyond gathering characters associated with Peter Parker directly, like the Spider-Woman Jessica Drew, his Ultimate counterpart Miles Morales, or clones (ah, Spider-Man clones) like Kaine, for a team-up adventure.
Instead it imagined an interconnected web of Spider-heroes across Marvel’s vast smorgasbord of parallel universes—we’re talking Spider-Men from the myriad of comics timelines and continuities, Spider-Men from live action films and TV shows, Spider-Men from video games, even brand new Spider-based heroes created just for Spider-Verse. It tasked them with coming together to save every Spider-hero in the multiverse from a threat that could destroy them all: multiverse-hopping vampires called the Inheritors, who fed off of the energies inherent to “Spider-Totems,” the spider-powered heroes of each individual universes.
As you might suspect from an idea as zany is this, one of the core joys of Spider-Verse is the sheer fannish-ness of it all. Peter Parker has long been one of Marvel’s greatest team-up heroes, but when he gets the chance to team up with heroes that are basically versions of himself from everywhere, he has the biggest quip-target he’s ever had: his own wild and weird pop culture history. The zeal with which Spider-Verse embraces its premise is nothing short of delightful. Loved those charmingly goofy Hostess Pie ads starring Spidey in classic Marvel books? He gets a story. What about the Spidey of the Marvel vs. Capcom games? Because he totally shows up for a spot, too. Hell, the 1970s Japanese TV show Spider-Man rolls up in his absurd giant robot. There’s been a lot of versions of Spider-Man over the decades, and Spider-Verse gives them their dues like all good crossover comics should.
But as well as championing the rich past of Spider-Man as a character, Spider-Verse created a wonderful set of new characters. Some of these characters would only exist within the confines of Spider-Verse as an event, like Peni Parker, the young girl who pilots a Spider-robot suit called the SP//dr, or Hobie Brown, a Spider-anarchist fighting back against a dystopian President Norman Osborn with the power of punk rock. But a few of Spider-Verse’s biggest stars evolved into staples of Marvel’s current roster of Spidey comics: namely Cindy Moon, a.k.a. Silk, and the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65, better known as Spider-Gwen.
At first, Cindy wasn’t entirely well-received; the contrivance to give her spider-powers from the same spider that bit Peter—literally seconds after it had bitten him—only for her to spend her life locked away to avoid anyone ever knowing about her didn’t go down all that well. Plus, there was this weird spider-pheromone thing going on that meant that for large periods of time Pete and Cindy couldn’t keep their hands off of each other, and it was kinda uncomfortable. But when Cindy got her own ongoing series after the end of Spider-Verse with Robbie Thompson, Stacey Lee, and Tana Ford, the character was taken on a compelling, emotional journey that engaged with the traumas of Cindy’s past and made her a compelling hero in her own right, far beyond her connection to Peter Parker’s legacy.
Gwen, however, was far more quickly accepted into the hearts of Spider-fans. Thanks to the killer combo of an intriguing premise—a parallel world where the spider bit her rather than Peter, and where the latter’s death formed the moral core for Gwen, as opposed to an Uncle Ben figure—and an instantly beloved design, Gwen became a smash hit from the minute she debuted in the pages of the prequel series Edge of Spider-Verse. Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi’s solo series instantly became one of Marvel’s biggest hits in 2015, and that success saw her spin off into other comic series, animated appearances, and now, thanks to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the big screen later this year.
But while Spider-Verse did so much to celebrate the idea of Spider-Man as a character—a fannish look to the past that looked to the future of where Spidey as a symbol was headed—in the end what makes it such a joy is that, underneath the explosive crossovers and the big blasts of comic book ridiculousness, it has rather simple core conceit. Spider-Man is so much more than just a single man named Peter Parker, or even multiple men named Peter Parker. Spidey is one of the most popular superheroes on the planet, and tons of different incarnations in different mediums over decades of existence have touched the lives of millions of people all over the world. And all those different interpretations all mean something different to that veritable sea of spider-fans.
Deep down, Spider-Verse is about the fact that Spider-Man is for everyone, and can be anyone—because in a world where every little bit of the multiverse can have its own Spider, Spider-Man becomes an ideal, a symbol that anyone can uphold. Male, female, white, a person of color, gay, straight. He can even be a talking pig! All the versions matter to the fabric of the character. And by bringing all these disparate incarnations together into one glorious calvacade of fun, Spider-Verse becomes the best champion of the spirit of what has made Spider-Man so amazing and spectacular for all these years.