How Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Truly Embraces Its Comic Book Roots

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman and the directors made sure to truly embrace the comic book genre, while also managing to stand out is the oversaturated genre. From its fourth-wall-breaking jokes to its animated imitation of the comic book aesthetic, the film is made to feel like a classic Spider-man comic book that combines light humor with a story about responsibility and coming of age. The film was both critically and commercial acclaimed grossing over $370 million worldwide and being very well-reviewed on websites like IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic. The film fourth wall breaking jokes also allowed it to stand out in its genre by making fun of genre clichés like with the telling of the origin stories or the reference to objects essential to the plot as a ‘goober’. One of the most significant aspects of comic books they adapted was the existence of a multiverse. Comics have always had multiple versions of the same character and this was explained through the existence of different Earths, which is showcased in the after-credits scene where they travel to “Earth-67”. In comics, the heroes from different “Earths” would occasionally cross over, and Spider-Verse was the first major film to put this into a film. Spider-Verse introduced us to a group of new spidermen who were different from the teenage Peter Parker audiences had become accustomed to, as well as giving us a new, at least to film, main protagonist.

According to Patrick O’Keefe, one of the film’s art directors, Spider-Verse’s unique look was based around a few basic principals: the appreciation of the printed comic book form itself, the graphic simplification of animation, and the admiration of live-action cinematography. They wanted to emphasize the comic book features to the point of absurdity, and even included the classic “Thwip” onomatopoeia from the Spider-man comics. They also make sure to include stylistic elements of comic books like the thought balloons, the tingling lines that indicate Miles’s “Spidey-sense”, and the printed words which could be used as previously mentioned, for the onomatopoeia, or for things like warning that go with Miles’s “Spidey-sense”, for example, the words “Watch out” were printed when Miles was close to getting hit by a moving object. Furthermore, the entire movie makes use of thick black outlines and small dots to look more like a comic book, as well as having several scene transitions that involve going from one frame of a comic boom to the next. 

One of the essential steps in making this animation comic book like was to strip down aspects of how Imageworks already did their animation. An animated superhero film would be expected to use a lot of motion blur (like in the Incredibles whenever Dash runs), which is an animation technique used to imitate the smeared image of fast objects on film. However, one of the Spider-Verse directors, Rodney Rothman, wanted the staccato effect off no motion blur so it would give the movie more of the frame to frame comic book feel, as opposed to looking like another animated superhero movie. The directors also didn’t want to ruin the new visuals the film aimed to create by using motion blur. However, the new animation did lead to some issues. The images looked ‘too staccato’, they decided to borrow techniques from hand-drawn animation such as shifting the image every second frame. This is known as animating “on two’s” This lets the animators have more control over the speed and power of the movements of objects. Certain of the scenes would shift the image at every frame (this is called animating “on one’s”, this was done in the scene of Miles running through the snowy forest, the run is animated on one’s to emphasize speed with fast frame movements. In that same scene, he gets up on two’s because, naturally, they didn’t feel a need to emphasize the speed and power of that movement as much. 

You can even notice how the movements are less fluid in the few steps he makes up the tree until he started to swing. During the run, we see a frantic and panicked run, and having that be done on one’s will show the franticness of his arm movements and thus emphasizes the panic he feels when he can’t swing to escape from the people chasing him. The next scene shows him calmer and composed as he’s able to swing, and his movements don’t need to be as emphasized, so it goes back to being animated on two’s.

With the introduction of new “Spider-people”, we also see an introduction to some different animation styles. Except for Gwen and Peter, all the heroes from different dimensions have a unique animation style. Spider-Man Noir is animated in a noir style, Peni Parker has a more Japanese anime style, and Peter Porker is mostly animated in the same style as the rest of the movie but does have certain aspects which resemble Looney Tones, like the way he pulls out objects like a mallet out of nowhere. The unique animation style does make these characters memorable despite not having the most important roles because they stand out especially in action scenes.

The fourth-wall-breaking jokes are an important part of this film’s humor. The Spider-Man origins story is told by seven different Spider-Men, and it embraces all of the clichés of the superhero origin story. The repetitiveness is successful because the audience laughs at the irony of each superhero telling their ‘unique’ origin story, and ending it with saying they were “the one and only Spider-Man”. Spider-Verse itself is an origin story for Miles Morales becoming a new Spider-Man, so to avoid falling into the trap of being another origin story they decided to use the other heroes to tell their own origin story. Furthermore, having the characters who have already been superheroes tell their origin stories creates a coming of age effect when Miles finally tells his origin story in the same style at the end. 

For the first time in a Spider-Man film, we had a new main protagonist. Miles Morales is not only the first Latino African American Spider-Man but the first Latino African American superhero to star in a major motion picture. They make sure Miles’s background comes through with his taste in music and the use of Spanish phrases. For most of the 21st century, the superhero genre has been dominated by white male protagonists, and most of those movies would have the same “anyone can be a hero” cliché despite always having the same profile of person be the hero. In this film, we see the “anyone can be a hero” idea expanded to multiple races, multiple genders, and even multiple species. Even though the film has an underlying message about anyone being able to be a hero regardless of race or gender the film does show how Miles’s background makes him a unique Spider-Man. The scene where Miles is stuck to Doctor Octopus’s office ceiling tells us a lot about Miles. Firstly, we are re-exposed to what we already know about Miles’s taste in music, he loves hip-hop, and see him sing along just like he did in the first scene where we are introduced to him. 

This is also one of the many scenes where Miles is humanized. Constantly throughout the movie Miles messes up, mostly due to inexperience. After his world’s Spider-Man died Miles felt he had to take on the responsibility of taking on Kingpin and saving New York. He wants to help but struggles with his new powers, his confidence, and the loss of his uncle. The turning point in the movie is when his father speaks to him. After just losing his uncle and being told by the other Spider-Men that he wasn’t ready to help them Miles was at an all-time low. His father came to his door and gave him the speech about a “spark within him” and being able to “do anything he wanted with it”. This speech leads into him using his venom shock and breaking out of the webs he was stuck in, and eventually saving the day as the audience expected. This movie has a theme of failure and learning from it, which is what Miles constantly has to do as Spider-Man. The final battle scene shows us a completely different Miles, who even when he gets beaten down by the Kingpin he still gets up and continues to fight. As previously stated, this is a coming of age story for Miles, who despite his powers does come off as very vulnerable throughout this film.

Spider-Verse had the problem of bringing a new Spider-Man to compete with the already beloved Peter Parker. The reason for its success was its embracing of the old to bring in the new. Spider-Verse makes it clear that Miles Morales is the main protagonist and that this is Miles’s origin story. However, the still decide to include multiple versions of Peter Parker, including an older version of the one we know, to mentor Miles. The mentor role is something new to the older Peter Parker, and in helping Miles to get rid of his fears he was able to get rid of his fears when he goes back to fix things with his Mary Jane. The same happens with Gwen who can open up after her loss thanks to her newfound friendship with Miles. The Miles, Gwen, and Peter all have their character arc, so when they made Miles’s protagonist they still made sure that beloved characters like Peter and Gwen stayed very relevant by not only being Miles’s mentors but also going through their struggles.

Spider-Verse was a success because of how it embraced the source material while also being original. The animation doing everything it can to imitate the comics through the removal of motion blur to give a more frame to frame effect, or the aesthetic choices to the background to look like a moving comic book frame. The group of spider people would each stand out, even the three that had listed screen time, due to their unique takes on the origin stories, animation styles, or in some cases their character arc. The protagonists go through a compelling struggle which is both inner, with Miles trying to understand his powers and dealing with his problems, and outer, which is when Kingpin is trying to open his portal. Spider-Verse is a masterfully animated superhero film with compelling and relatable protagonists and a very self-aware sense of humor throughout the film.

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