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Marvel Comics last week released the latest relaunch of Spider-Man’s comic book, Amazing Spider-Man #1. This issue was a whopping $6 and featured the annoying trend of combining a normal sized-issue with a bunch of short previews for other comics, with an enlarged price slapped on the whole thing for good measure. In this case, all of the preview books feature other Spider characters, begging the question of whether Marvel is diluting the Spider-Man brand and if these spider characters can succeed.
It’s not that all of these characters are brand new. Jessica Drew, the original Spider-Woman, debuted in 1977, primarily as a way for Marvel to keep the copyright before someone else took it (the same principle that spawned She-Hulk). Spider-Man 2099 is not new. Venom and Carnage have been around since the 1980s. Miles Morales has been in the ultimate universe since 2011. However, there have been several new related characters in the past few years: Spider-Gwen, Silk, and a number of the alternate world Spider-Men and Women that make up the Web Warriors. An all-ages comic called Spidey will be around (though that is related to Peter Parker). There is also a chance we may see more of the Renew Your Vows version of Peter Parker and Mary Jane with their daughter Annie.
One of the factors then that makes it feel like there are more spider characters now (besides the fact that there are, you know, more spider characters) is that they all share one reality. The Web Warriors are time travelers, so their situation is slightly different. They are different from characters since they have their own separate reality, which makes them feel new and even like a niche comic. However, most of these characters that formerly existed in other universes – Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man 2099 – are now in the same reality as Peter Parker. So there are more crossing paths and crossing over.
Another reason it feels like there are so many spider characters is that the entire line of Marvel Comics are relaunching (though the universe is not rebooting) following Secret Wars. So there is a lot of attention going to all of these spider characters in these new books, meaning it’s not just there are a bunch of spider characters, but that there are a bunch of spider characters all at the same time in the same universe with new #1 issues.
That finally brings us back to the question of whether these characters can all work and sell comics. Expansion of a popular character is nothing new. The X-Men grew from one book to many others and Batman has seen a number of characters added to his stable. The success of the expanded characters is variable, though. Many of the X-Men books did well for a while. On the Batman front, it’s a more mixed bag. Batgirl and Nightwing have had successful solo comics while the New 52 character Batwing had less success and his title was eventually canceled. However, you’ve probably noticed that people still love Batman – the relative failure of Batwing really did nothing to harm the brand of Batman.
That’s probably where we are with the Spider-verse. I’m not overly confident that all of these new Spider comics will succeed. Miles Morales and Spider-Gwen have caught a fan impulse and seem destined to do well. However, the success of Spider-Man 2099, Web Warriors, Silk, and Carnage looks less assured (it also remains to be seen if Jessica Drew can again support her own title). Even if some or all of those books tank, though, it won’t really hurt Spider-Man. Ironically, I think Spider-Man seems more special with less similar characters, so if some of these new Spider books get canceled, it might be to Spider-Man’s benefit.
The reality, though, is that this is Spider-Man were talking about. He has been Marvel’s most popular character since his creation and his profile is still very high, even with the rise of the Avengers in pop culture. There really isn’t anything that can hurt him. Likewise, the addition of some of these characters is a positive because it actually shows what is unique about Spider-Man. For instance, I think having Miles Morales in the same universe highlights what is quintessentially Peter Parker. They may, however, reach a saturation point for some of the other Spider-verse characters. I wouldn’t count on seeing all these titles this time next year, but I’d bet Peter and Miles (and likely Gwen) will still be around.