In his 54 years in comics, Spider-Man has inspired many big storylines. But perhaps none were quite as big as 2015's Spider-Verse! Dan Slott promised to bring EVERY SPIDER-MAN EVER to the comics - and so he did. Now, you might argue that Spider-Man has had a number of stories that are much bigger in terms of emotional impact or character progression (The Night Gwen Stacy Died for example), but in sheer scale Spider-Verse takes the crown. Never before had this number of Spider-People been pulled together into one storyline, but there had been something similar...
In a number of my previous posts, I have discussed my love for Spider-Man: The Animated Series that was broadcast during the '90s. It was my introduction to Spider-Man and his world. As far as I was concerned, this was MY Spider-Man and, to a certain extent, that remains true to this day. There were many highlights of the series for me, The Venom Saga in particular, but one that really peaked my young mind's interest was the Spider-Wars storyline.
What was the Spider-Wars story all about?
Throughout the final season of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Spider-Man was being tested by The Beyonder and Madame Web to see if he was worthy of something. They put him through a series of rigorous tests that culminated in an adaptation of the Secret Wars storyline from the comics. Spidey passed this test with flying colours and was then taken to the site of his final battle - an alternate Earth on the verge of destruction. It then became clear that the villain was an alternate Spider-Man who had joined with the Carnage symbiote to create Spider-Carnage!
It was here that Madame Web gathered a team of Spider-Men to try and save the multiverse. She gathered six Spider-Men from different universes and forced them to work together. The six men were our own Spider-Man, a Spider-Man undergoing a mutation, a successful Spider-Man with his own armour, a Spider-Man who had stolen Doc Ock's tentacles, an actor playing Spider-Man on television and the first television depiction of Ben Reilly - the Scarlet Spider.
Madame Web allowed the Scarlet Spider to inform the other Spider-Men of the task that lay before them. The world they stood in was his, and in this world a geneticist named Miles Warren (yep, The Jackal) had successfully cloned Spider-Man. As with the Clone Saga in the comics, things got a bit messy and it was not known who was the real Peter Parker. After speaking to Curt Conners, it turned out that based on the genetic structure, Ben Reilly could have been the real one. This drove the apparent clone Peter over the edge and he hated Ben with a passion. So much so that he decided to fight with Ben while trying to stop the Kingpin. The Carnage symbiote appeared through a dimensional portal and bonded with Peter, which only increased his hatred.
Ultimately, the six Spider-Men had to join forces to defeat Spider-Carnage and save all of reality. Led by our Spider-Man the team fought Spider-Carnage and won. Realising that essentially they are fighting Peter Parker, the Spiders visit the universe of the successful Peter Parker. This universe's Peter Parker had everything go right for him, including one decisive point. In this universe, Uncle Ben was still alive! So, after some dimension hopping, the team appealed to Spider-Carnage's humanity by allowing him to speak to Uncle Ben once more!
I know what you're thinking, six of the same character on screen at the same time? Surely that must have been confusing - well, that is where you are wrong! Thanks to the excellent voice work of Christopher Daniel Barnes, we always knew which Spidey was talking at any given time. The subtle changes in his voice were enough to differentiate between the Spider-Men and not get confused. The head writer and executive producer of the series, John Semper Jr., has often praised Christopher Daniel Barnes for his voice work on the series and I can only echo that. It is his voice that I hear in my head when reading Spider-Man comics.
How was Spider-Verse any different?
Much like the Spider-Wars storyline, this particular arc included a variety of Spider-Men and -Women. Unlike the '90s, there were many more Spider-characters for Dan Slott to play with - even some who were created during the event! In the '90s, there was only really the Scarlet Spider to use, whereas in 2015, we had Miles Morales, Miguel O'Hara and Spider-Ham to name three. Dan Slott even gained a bit of notoriety from fans of the '80s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, as one panel in the comics shows this particular Spidey (and his amazing friends) as the victims in the Inheritors' attacks.
The villains are also very different. Rather than an alternative Spider-Man who has been driven mad, the villains in Spider-Verse are a family of life-force-absorbing vampires (sorta). We had already been introduced to Morlun during J. Michael Straczynski's 2001 run on the Spider-Man comic, but now we met his family. The Inheritors survive by absorbing the life-force of animal "totems" - essentially, any person with animal themed superpowers. They have a particular liking for Spider-Totems and hunt throughout the multiverse to find them.
The Inheritors battled a being called the Master Weaver, who was the keeper of the Web of Life and Destiny, and won. This allowed them to utilise the Weaver's powers to travel to different worlds and dimensions to feed. Once again, our Spider-Man has to assemble a team of Spider-people to defeat them. As ever, with any superhero team-up, things do not go smoothly at first. Initially, there are two teams of Spider-Men, one led by The Amazing Spider-Man and another led by a time-displaced Superior Spider-Man (Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker's body). Superior Spider-Man was a bit of a wildcard in this arc, but he proved to be a valuable part of the team in the end.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
So there you have it, John Semper Jr.'s '90s animated series laid the groundwork for Spider-Verse. They both have their differences of course, but they also both have their own merits. The Spider-Wars lasted just two episodes of Spider-Man: The Animated Series and Spider-Verse went on for seven issues and a number of companion stories. Perhaps if the '90s animated series was being made today there would be much more content (not that it needs it). It's not the first time I have pointed out Marvel planting seeds for the future in the '90s, and whether or not it was intentional, we have two excellent stories to enjoy! I have fond memories of both stories, and Spider-Verse features one of my all time favourite comic moments...