You might say that the most exciting thing about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the opening up of alternate universes and, consequently, multiple possibilities within Spidey’s on-screen world. It allows Miles Morales to pick up the Spider-Man baton and receive training from a Peter Parker from another dimension (among various other Spider-Peeps), for goodness’ sake. But one of the most significant consequences is an influx of women characters into the historically male-dominated screen-superhero arena, as women take on the role of Spider-Man, and other characters, in the numerous other universes.
With so much interest in the women characters of Into the Spider-Verse, we asked the directors — Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman — all about the film’s most prominent Spider-Womenfolk to get the lowdown on how they figure and how they’re represented in Sony’s new animated webslinging world.
It’s no secret that Spider-Woman aka Spider-Gwen appears in the film; we’ve seen her in the trailer, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld. And while this may come as no surprise to avid comic-book readers, fans of superhero movies and casual cinemagoers alike may well be surprised to see a woman — Gwen Stacy, no less — don the wallcrawler’s suit.
“We meet a Gwen Stacy in Miles’s world that actually was the one who was bitten by a spider, and not Peter Parker,” says Peter Ramsey. “She’s a really strong, powerful Spider-Gwen in our movie, and she befriends Miles and ends up helping him figure out how to use his powers.”
Rodney Rothman adds, “She’s a teenager in our movie. She’s a few years older than Miles but she’s far more experienced than he is and she comes from a parallel universe where Peter Parker was her best friend and was jealous that she was bitten by a spider, and made some choices off of that that changed her life. So she has very complicated feelings about being Spider-Woman. She has complicated feelings about Peter Parker, and all that stuff plays out in the movie.”
With Venom smashing the box office this summer, there’s been some speculation around whether we might see Gwenom in Spider-Verse — a comic-book character created when the Spider-Woman version of Gwen Stacy bonds with the Venom symbiote in her universe.
Rothman is direct in his response: “I’m going to straight-up say no.”
And if we were still in any doubt, Peter Ramsey adds, “Let’s stop being coy, let’s just be honest. No, you do not.”
Peni Parker, however, you do. And she’s a fascinating addition to a Spider-People line-up that also includes Nic Cage’s Spider-Man Noir and Porky Pig-alike Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney. Peni, voiced by Kimiko Glenn, is an anime-style character, who comes from a universe in which she’s bitten by a spider that lives inside a robot — called SP//dr – which she pilots.
“The thing we discovered was that there’s very little on Peni in comics form,” says Peter Ramsey. “I think she’s made only a very small number of appearances, so there wasn’t a huge storehouse of stuff to draw on when it came to Peni. I think our take on Peni and SP//dr, really, we were looking for a bold statement to make with her and we kind of went back, in a way, not just to the character as she exists in the comics but to the inspiration for her in the comics — which is obviously anime. She’s a pretty classic girl and robot. So we said, ‘Well, OK, let’s hop back even from the comic and say that there’s an anime version of SP//dr and Peni that existed and inspired the guys who made the comic to make the comic.’ So animation and anime, it just seemed like a perfect kind of confluence of character and approach.”
Honouring Comic-Book Origins
Persichetti suggests that the dearth of comic-book material to draw from and their subsequent decision to make Peni a fully realised anime character gave them a lot of freedom.
“It gave us really wonderful fodder for, like, a visual language in the way of creating something — the way she moves and the way the frame changes behind her,” he says. “And she brought her universe’s attributes into Miles’s universe. We just leaned into that for each one of our different Spider-People. But I will say we did honour [that] the spider that bites her chooses her and that it was her father’s robot; he built it. So, in that sense, we completely stuck to her origin story and then we just sort of enhanced the visuals.”
So are there any women characters that didn’t make the film that they desperately wanted to include?
“I think we had some burning desires,” says Bob. “And most of what we wanted to put in the movie made it in.”