So, there was a big Bat Family Crossover recently in Marvel, the eponymous Spider-verse. Can you guess what it was about, reader?
I admit, I was intrigued by the possibilities. I’m a moderate fan of Spidey and have a slight preference for DC so a DC-style multi-verse tale involving web-head? Sign me up!
Then… I started hearing things about it and reading reviews.
Spider-man, across worlds. HOW DO YOU SCREW THIS UP? Heck the 90s cartoon series concluded with that very story in a 2 parter that was ultimately well done and it was hardly a bastion of writing excellence (but still not a bad show).
Before I go over all the ways this story failed, let’s back up a moment and establish some ground rules.
I’ll be referencing “narrative law” or “narrative rules” as basically a fill in for… well tropes. Now these are not laws like in the tradition of laws of physics, but more like a society’s laws: break them and things go bad. Or a better example: the instructions on a recipe. No you don’t HAVE to do what it says, there’s nothing preventing you from using hot sauce instead of sweater for example. But usually by not following the rules, your result will end up an inedible mess that nobody will want to eat. Likewise, break certain narrative rules, and your story will end up a mess that nobody wants to read. Yes there are a host of caveats and exceptions, but one must always master the basics first and it’s pretty clear that in spider-verse, they aren’t even AWARE of the basics.
First let us establish a principle factor for this series. Marvel has had a long standing rule that their core books and Ultimate line of comic books were to never mix. However for the 50th anniversary of Spidey, they allowed the two versions to meet each other in “Spider-Men” (which I do have and I will admit is pretty good – besides after 50 years, spidey had earned that right to bend the rule). With that having been just 2 years before the start of ‘verse, we must be aware that it will be hard for fans not to see Spider-verse as another celebration of the big 5-0 and it must at least meet some minimum character moments established by the previous crossover.
With all this in mind, how should have spidey-verse been done? There are two major possibilities (almost like… possible universes).
So, with all these factors together, it seems obvious that the first choice of villain for sVerse is an Osborne, THE arch enemy and big bad of Spider-man. Norman is the obvious first choice, but a version of Harry would have the fitting pathos for a spidey title.
Have one of them in a universe invent a dimensional transporter of some kind (why? it’s an Osborne, you’ve got revenge, madness, all sorts of possible motivations). So the story starts with Green Goblin going out and gathering other versions of goblin to form an army to finally defeat his Spider-man (you can even have a sly joke in there about all the mixup that was involved with the Hobgoblin’s identity). He is successful, but before he’s killed, that Spidey gets away using the dimensional thingamijig at the last moment. Enraged, the Goblin army begins wrecking the multi-verse in the hunt for final vengeance (maybe takes out a different Spidey or two, though they should be Spideys invented for this crossover so fans won’t have to worry about seeing a favorite die). Turns out the first Spidey involved escaped to earth 616 where he recruits our Peter Parker. Together they realize what they have to do: gather an army of their own. (Answer to why Spidey doesn’t go and get other heroes? Because he feels its his responsibility and maybe leaves them on 616 as a backup/failsafe in case this war goes badly.)
Adventures across the multiverse as Parker gathers other spiders and runs into some of Osborne’s forces. Little border skirmishes and proxy wars break out as they come to realize what each side is doing and races to get the numerical advantage. Parker ends up as the de-facto leader because he knows what to say to get these other versions on board knowing what the super-hero life entails and having been involved in multiverse shenanigans before. There’s plenty of narrative space here too for spin offs as we examine the consequences of this war spilling out to other earths.
Last issue has the main battle as the armies collide! It’s back and forth for awhile but, as always, the spiders ultimately win. The armies slowly scatter, each Goblin racing back to their home with their spiders chasing after them until we’re left with a few core characters. The Goblin who started it all is captured and unmasked to reveal… Peter Parker. The Spider-man of that world unmasks to reveal… Harry Osborne (maybe Norman but I think the implication of a son that was rejected by his father and an orphan adopted by that father turning out to be the source of the story packs a more powerful narrative punch and invokes rules about parallels).
Wrap up with a few parting words (“I always knew you had a hero in you, buddy.”) and a closing celebration that no matter what, Spider-man always fights on, and he always wins.
(man now I really want to script that, any artists want to help a fan fic?)
Now let’s try writing Spider-verse with as much of the current writer’s set up as possible. I’m not always a big fan of magic in Spidey’s stories (hence why v1 is more science based) but let’s run with it.
First we have Morlun and his people. So we should ask ourselves: Who are they? What is their purpose? In his analysis of the Cabin in the Woods, Cecil of GoodBadFlicks points out how the “great old ones” which threaten the world are really a stand in for the audience adding extra layers of meta examination to the movie (surpassing even Scream in its examination). Likewise it seems to me that the Morluns (I can spell that easier than inheritors) with their ravenous consumption of Spider-men are a rich opportunity to also be an audience stand-in (given how we love to purchase Spider-man stuff) and to give Spider-verse a layer of meta commentary on comic books both past and present. The only problem is that Marvel comic books seem to have been doing all they can to burn bridges with fans so what normally would have been a good chuckle from audiences at the “we are villains” commentary, might turn out badly. It would have to be handled with heavy deftness and skill. Though the obvious touch will be for the lead Morlun or whoever to turn out to be another universe version of Peter Parker with a variety of reasons for the authors to choose from (i.e. He never got powers and, after seeing all the universes where did, decided he wanted to have powers too.)
So we have the Morluns who eat “animal totem” people, and have a preference for spiders. They are really powerful but have a weakness with radiation. *bam* We’ve got the reason for Peter Parker’s importance: he gained his totemic goodness by a radioactive spider-bite. Which means he’s a nightmare to the Morluns as he’s bait they can hardly resist, but with his radioactive-ness they’re extremely vulnerable to him. If Marvel wants to keep up the pet-status of Silk, that can also be added here. Maybe she’s laced with even greater radiation. Maybe even have the possibility that if she and Peter were to have a child, the threat to the Morluns would be indescribable.
So she gets out, and all out reality war breaks out as the Morluns really really want to keep her & Peter apart, if not kill them both.
Now through the story I saw references that there are 3 important people the Morluns are seeking for reasons: the Bride, the Scion, the Other. Let’s talk a minute about macguffins.
There are a lot of narrative laws that revolve around macguffins, but 2 of the most important are:
- If the macguffin is a thing, WHAT it does is LESS important than WHY people want it or WHO wants it. The 2 best examples are the briefcase in both Pulp Fiction and Ronan (notice we never know WHAT is in there).
- If the macguffin is a person, WHAT he/she does or WHY he/she is wanted is LESS important than than WHO is the macguffin person in the first place. The Golden Child is a good example of this (the what/why is kept simple, more is shown of the child’s character) and D-Wars: Dragon Wars is a BAD example of this (we’re told a lot about what and why the macguffin is wanted, but we don’t learn a lot about her).
Or to sum it up even further: characters should generally have priority, the narrative flow should always pull towards the actors in the story.
So, why/what do the 3 macguffins in spider-verse do? Doesn’t matter near as much as WHO they should be. In the original it’s Silk (616), Kaine (616), Benjy (MC2)… which comes off as pretty arbitrary and weird. I mean if 2 out of the 3 beings are from 616, why bother having this be a multiverse story? The 3rd should have been from 616 as well and everything kept in the main universe.
No, since this story should ideally be a celebration of 50 years of Spider-man AND (in this version) a meta commentary on fandom & comics, the 3 should revolve around Peter Parker AND USE the premise of a multi-verse adventure:
- The Bride – Spider-Gwen. The woman that was almost Mrs. Parker. Her death is (narratively) the 2nd biggest one in Peter’s life and is (meta-wise) the marker for the end of comics’ silver age. Spider-Mary Jane could be an alternative but because that alternation was more recent, and this is supposed to cover all of Peter’s life, less optimal from a narrative standpoint.
- The Scion == Yes Benjy of MC2 is the obvious pick, which is what they should imply before revealing that the real Scion is Spider-girl! Narratively speaking, the death of baby May is the 3rd most important of Peter’s life (even if Marvel doesn’t want to admit it) while in the comics she was the successor of Spider-man not just in blood, but in spirit. Meta-wise she had a devoted fan following (including this author) proving that Spider-man could be a good legacy character as long as the reasons we all became fans of Peter Parker are not forgotten, a sign of longevity in the character.
- The Other == Spider-Ben. How could it be otherwise? No other death has impacted Peter more, it is THE most important one in his life. Meta-wise, his is the death that gave birth to the Spider-man comics, without him there would be no celebration of 50 years.
Then besides the radioactive thing about Peter, with these three we see another reason why he’s so important: because he is the lynchpin that ties these three together. As the adventure goes, he should be the one that gets these 3 and bring them together because he understands them, these are people that shaped his life.
YOU CERTAINLY DON’T HAVE DOC OCK BE THE ONE WHO INSPIRED BEN TO FIGHT! It’s so ***** obvious! Ben is the original inspiration for Peter. It’s Ben’s voice and push that has driven Peter all these years. The narrative laws are so clear I’m actually shocked an army of muses didn’t descend on the Marvel publishing house to raze it to the ground. When they need Spider-Ben to join the fight, it is PETER that is the one to inspire him. A way of returning the spiritual investment (with interest) that his Uncle Ben made all those years ago. Spider-Ben should have been THE key, the pivot over which the entirety of Spider-verse turned. It should have been him to save Peter at the end, and them having a “I’m proud of you moment” at the end of the last issue (not counting epilogue). Yes, I mean BOTH Peter & Ben should have needed and given the other pride. Peter could have finally known he made his uncle proud, while Ben could have finally known that his nephew he lost so tragically really looked up to him with pride. It would have been the PERFECT capstone to 50 years of Spider-man.
And the fact that Marvel didn’t follow these very obvious narrative rules & suggestions, means that what could have been a GREAT story, one of the greatest in Spider-man’s history, is just mediocre at best, a travesty at the worst.
And after 50 years, Spider-man deserved far better.