Let EW comic experts point you to the comic book origins for Spider-Gwen, Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir, and more

By Christian Holub and Nick Romano
December 17, 2018 at 07:54 PM EST
Marvel Comics (3)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might feel more comic-like than any other comic book movie ever made. Producers Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and their animation team have the characters move through panels like on a page, complete with captions, narration, and onomatopoeic sound effects.

Each of the Spider-heroes featured in Into the Spider-Verse — Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), and, of course, Peter Parker himselves (Chris Pine and Jake Johnson) — originated in the pages of Marvel comics, and many of them first met in 2014’s Spider-Verse comic event (which very loosely inspired the plot of the new movie). Though they have their own personalities in the film, any viewer wanting to spend more time with these characters would do well to check out the comics they first appeared in. Into the Spider-Verse should already have fans in the mindset for panels and pages anyway.

Below, check out EW’s comic reading guide to the various Spider-people. Many of the comics discussed are available via digital subscriptions to Comixology Unlimited and/or Marvel Unlimited.

Marvel Comics

Miles Morales

Barack Obama’s rise to political prominence prior to the 2008 election made Axel Alsono, the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics at the time, think for a second: “We acknowledged that maybe it was time to take a good look at one of our icons,” he said. Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino Spider-Man, debuted in Ultimate Fallout #4, a storyline set in an alternate universe from the main Marvel saga. Peter Parker was subsequently killed in the Ultimate universe with 2011’s Death of Spider-Man, and Miles took the reins.

Co-creator Brian Michael Bendis said Miles’ appearance was influenced by that image of Donald Glover wearing Spidey PJs on Community, hence the fan push to get the Atlanta Emmy winner in a Spidey movie.

Writer Saladin Ahmed and artist Brian Stelfreeze released the first issue of a brand-new Miles Morales comic series earlier this month, but Ultimate Comics Spider-Man from 2011 was the earlier solo outing for the Brooklyn hero, getting into his origins, his unique abilities, and one reality-bending story. — Nick Romano

Marvel Comics

Spider-Gwen

Spider-Man has always been a testament to the power of a cool costume design, but Gwen Stacy might have beaten him at his own game. Steve Ditko’s red-and-blue webbed outfit helped make Spider-Man one of the most iconic characters of the last century, but Robbi Rodriguez’s white-and-pink hoodie costume is already making Spider-Gwen one of the most unique heroes of the modern zeitgeist.

The proof is in the fact that Gwen’s superhero name changes with basically every appearance. Into the Spider-Verse calls her Spider-Woman, while her ongoing Marvel comic is titled Spider-Gwen, and the Marvel Rising animation franchise tags her as Ghost Spider. Clearly none of that matters; so long as she’s got that white hoodie and pink webbing, everyone knows she’s ready to fight crime in style.

In the traditional Spider-Man mythology, Gwen Stacy is a tragic figure, a former girlfriend of Peter Parker’s who was killed by the Green Goblin in one of the most heartbreaking moments in Marvel history. In Earth-65, however, Gwen was the one who got bit by a radioactive spider, embittering her best friend Peter until he turned himself into the monstrous Lizard in order to “be as special as you.” Spider-Gwen then killed the Lizard to save her school from his attack, not realizing it was really Peter. Peter thus became her “Uncle Ben” figure, a loved one she couldn’t save whose loss motivates her to try harder and use her powers to protect everyone she can — while hopefully redeeming herself in the process.

Since she first appeared in an issue of the 2014 Edge of Spider-Verse miniseries, Spider-Gwen’s adventures have been written by Jason Latour and illustrated by Rodriguez. Their ongoing Spider-Gwen comic is a delightful and engaging read that should be read from the beginning — though it’s worth noting that “the beginning” can be hard to note since Spider-Gwen first launched in the midst of Marvel’s 2015 Secret Wars event. That comic reshook the Marvel line and restarted every series with a new number-one issue, so Spider-Gwen volume 0: Most Wanted? and Spider-Gwen volume 1: Greater Power both contain issues labeled Spider-Gwen #1-5. That great running gag from Into the Spider-Verse is extremely true: Every comic publisher is always trying to “start at the beginning,” one more time. — Christian Holub

Marvel Comics

Spider-Man Noir

Back in 2004, Marvel published a line of “Marvel Noir” comics that reimagined the publisher’s iconic superheroes as gumshoe detectives and femmes fatales. The Spider-Man addition has endured thanks to his inclusion in all things Spider-Verse, but the original comics by David Hine, Fabrice Sapolsky, and Carmine Di Giandomenico also hold up well on their own.

Set in 1933 at the nadir of the Great Depression, Spider-Man Noir stars a Peter Parker whose heroic values were instilled in him by the socialist philosophies and labor activism of Aunt May and Uncle Ben. That kind of idealism is even less of a match for this cynical setting than “with great power, there must also come great responsibility” is for all the other eras of Spider-Man. Nevertheless, this noir-ified Peter still tries in his own way to do some good for the common man. Dressed in an all-black outfit, Spider-Man Noir contends with an array of morally dubious characters, from Norman Osborn’s gang of circus freaks to drug-addicted journalist Ben Urich and enigmatic nightclub owner Felicia Hardy. 

The original four-issue Spider-Man Noir miniseries is available on Comixology Unlimited and Marvel Unlimited. The sequel miniseries, Spider-Man Noir: Eyes Without a Face, is a little harder to find but very much worthwhile thanks to a story that further develops its noir universe by exploring the racist attitudes of the ‘30s and the rise of fascism. — C.H. 

Marvel Comics

Peni Parker & Sp//dr

Give a rockstar a comic book and he’ll give us a unique superhero.

Gerard Way, the frontman of My Chemical Romance, was given his own issue as part of the Edge of the Spider-Verse miniseries of 2014, which introduced different takes on Spider-Man from parallel realities. On Earth-14512 in issue #5, Way and artist Jake Wyatt gave us Peni Parker, a Japanese-American orphan teen who doesn’t actually have any superpowers of her own.

Her father piloted the Sp//dr, a giant robotic suit of armor powered by a radioactive spider at its core. When he died, Peni’s adopted “Aunt May” and “Uncle Ben” informed her only she could take the helm of the Sp//dr next, given her genetic similarities to her dad. So she let the spider bite her, forging a telepathic bond between teen and arachnid, and she followed in her father’s footsteps.

While an interesting spin on the traditional Peter Parker origin, Peni didn’t have too large a presence, though she did appear again in issue #2 of the crossover comic Edge of Spider-Geddon, released this year with the return of Way and Wyatt. — N.R.

Marvel Comics

Spider-Ham

As the comic book marketplace of 1983 fell into paranoia over a rumored chain of Marvel comic book shops in their foreseeable future, two mad geniuses started laughing about the ridiculousness of such a prospect. One joke led to another and soon Marvel’s Tom DeFalco and Larry Hama were riffing about how their corporate overlords could get into the plushie business in order to compete with their retail competitors.

Thus, Spider-Ham was born. Peter Porker, a spider bitten by a radioactive pig, was the product of a riff between two writers anthropomorphizing classic comic heroes (Captain Americat was another one).

Marvel Tailes Starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham, which still lives digitally through Comixology, was the debut issues of this publishing absurdity, but its Howard the Duck-level of popularity brought a 2007 spoof One-Shot of Civil War (the clash of Iron Ham, Deviled Ham, Ant-Ham, and more) and a 25th anniversary special in 2010 (in which Spider-Ham battles the Swinester Six). — N.R.

Adam Kubert

Peter Parker/Spider-Man

There have been many incarnations of Peter Parker over the years. If you want to get familiar with the original conception of the character, you’d do well to read some of the original Amazing Spider-Man comics by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita. The more contemporary Ultimate Spider-Man series by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley is another classic run, one that brought Peter into the 21st century and in turn, paved the way for Miles.

But to really get into the headspace for Peter B. Parker, the older and schlubbier Spider-Man played by Jake Johnson in Into the Spider-Verse, your best bet is the recent Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man series by writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Adam Kubert. Zdarsky nails Peter’s sense of humor, which has been integral to the character since Lee, but specifically plays it as the comedy of a jaded hero who’s been there and done that a dozen times already. As an added bonus, the first arc heavily features Kingpin, the giant-sized villain of Into the Spider-Verse. Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 1: Into the Twilight is currently available on Comixology Unlimited. — C.H.

Marvel Comics

Spider-Man 2099

He doesn’t get much screentime in the film, but Spider-Man 2099 definitely makes an impression in Into the Spider-Verse. Maybe that’s because he’s voiced by pop culture heartthrob Oscar Isaac, or maybe it’s because of his intimidating costume, but either way, he’s definitely an interesting riff on the character.

Just as Spider-Man Noir came out of a line-wide “Marvel Noir” initiative in the early 2000s, so too was Miguel O’Hara first born in the ‘90s as part of the “Marvel 2099” line, where all the classic characters were reimagined in a far-future cyberpunk setting. One of the few Spider-people unrelated to Peter Parker, Miguel lives in the far-future Nueva York and works for the chemical company Alchemax in the original Spider-Man 2099 comic. When he discovered his colleagues were doing dangerous experiments with imprinting genetic codes onto human DNA, Miguel used the experiments on himself and earned spider-like abilities. But one of his most impressive resources is his holographic personal assistant Lyla (for LY-rate L-ifeform A-pproximation), voiced by Greta Lee in the film.

Like Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Man 2099 outlasted the other characters from the same publishing initiative. Years after cyberpunk went out of style, Marvel started a new Spider-Man 2099 series (written once more by Peter David) that brought Miguel into the present day with interesting and at times hilarious results. — C.H.

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