The Side Characters Steal the Show in Marvel’s Spider-Man
Marvel’s Spider-Man is swinging into town, and you’re all hyped to play as the webhead himself. Peter Parker holds the spotlight, of course. He’s smart, funny, down-to-earth, and endearing in all the right ways. He’s a novice scientist trying to make the world a better place with every fiber of his being. That’s pretty consistent with who he’s been since 1962.
Think about that for a second: Spider-Man has been sort of the same guy for like 56 years. Why does he still have such sway over pop culture? Why are his stories still interesting? The argument can be made that Peter has an evergreen relatability, and that’s true. He’s easy to like, connect to, and project onto. But what’s more interesting is seeing him in a variety of situations, surrounded by a wide array of intriguing faces, plopped into a myriad of settings.
Such a mindset has been showcased in a lot of Spider-Man media in the past few decades, including the most recent comic arcs, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all of the Sony films, and now Marvel’s Spider-Man. Yes, I’m happy to report that Peter is still a lovable doof, and that his supporting cast of characters help propel the story into something greater.
Take Mary Jane Watson, for example. In Marvel’s Spider-Man, she’s a feisty, independent reporter who tends to play by her own rules and do as she pleases. Time after time, this leads her into precarious positions and to unpredictable decisions. As the protagonist, we see Peter’s reaction and emotion to these scenarios, and relate to them all. Sure, these are interesting and give Pete some depth. Yet Mary Jane is undeniably the catalyst, and deserves her own spotlight for her actions.
The same can be said for the comic versions of Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, or even Ben Reilly. Heck, the same can be said for every super villain in Spidey’s version of New York. They’re infinitely interesting and astoundingly multifaceted. Peter is not his own man, and Marvel’s Spider-Man is not about Spidey’s solo missions. It’s comprised of the actions of the people in his world, and are told through the actions, reactions, and precautions he takes accordingly.
This is something Dan Slott excels at capturing. Slott was the lead writer for The Amazing Spider-Man’s comic run from 2007 to 2018, and helped write the plot for Marvel’s Spider-Man. His comic tenure saw the likes of storylines such as “Brand New Day,” which unwound Peter and MJ’s marriage after the events of Civil War. It also birthed The Superior Spider-Man, a series where Otto Octavius switched bodies with Peter mere moments before death. Though Doc Ock lived as Spider-Man for quite a time and even founded a tech company, Peter eventually regained his body. Slott used that setup—a new company and the aftermath of his arch-nemesis’ reign—to propel Peter into an arc where he achieved Tony Stark levels of fame. With Slott now gone, The Amazing Spider-Man continues to deal with the fallout of many of these events.
For all the controversial turns Slott made with his comics, one thing is undeniable: his stories are interesting. Even if you detest Octavius as Spider-Man or Peter as a bachelor, you stay invested in the details because it’s new and unique. That’s because Slott understands Peter’s obsession with his surroundings. He contorts the world and characters around Spider-Man to splinter his relatable “everyman” personality into multiple fascinating dimensions.
The Spider-Man movies toy with these aspects too. The Marvel Cinematic Universe establishes Peter Parker as the science-obsessed teen we all know. Yet it instantly tosses him into a pool of superheroes and begs one important question: “Will he drown in their reputations, or can he swim alongside them?” These tales are enthralling because of Spider-Man’s newfound relationships with Iron Man, Captain America, the Vulture, and more. They’re not interesting just because he’s Spider-Man.
The Sam Raimi films also do this. They rewrote Peter’s history to include earlier meetings with Mary Jane and the Green Goblin (rather than Gwen Stacy and the Chameleon), later taking creative liberties with Doc Ock and Venom. The Marc Webb films later followed suit, placing Peter in a modernized world alongside Gwen Stacy, Oscorp conspiracies, and new villain origin stories. Both sets of films have their own fans and strengths, among which are Spider-Man’s newly tweaked relationships with other characters.
Expect that going into Marvel’s Spider-Man. I don’t want to spoil major plot points, especially as my argument is made early on in the game. But Insomniac Games definitely let Slott and crew unleash their typical experimentation. At the very least, they took heavy notes from Slott, and it paid off. No, I don’t mean the inclusion of Mr. Negative, a villain Slott himself designed. I mean that Spider-Man’s side characters feel refreshing, its relationships surprise and intrigue, and its origin stories are rewritten. These exact subversions will keep long-time fans on their toes, whether they’re coming from a lineage of comics or movies. All the while, Peter observes and reacts to those around him, crafting some of the finest Spider-Man stories I’ve ever experienced.