As we move into the final part of the Edge of Spider-Verse mini-series, I find myself wishing it could continue. It would be great if Marvel would allow new and interesting takes on established characters that could be explored by new writers and artists, like the old What If title. This series, while arguably not essential reading for Spider-fans, has made for some pretty pleasing and imaginative reinterpretations of the webslinger’s mythos. And while some of these stories have clearly been stronger entries than others, there’s little denying the ambition and passion these creators have put into these efforts. I think it’s these kinds of explorations, through which others can put their own spin on these characters, that make possible the creation of memorable alternate characters such as Miles Morales and Miguel O’Hara–and if those characters have taught me anything, it’s that it’s less about who’s wearing the Spider-Man costume than it is about the overall experience.
As for the overall experience of Peni Parker and the SP//dr mech suit, which another reviewer hilariously referred to as Samus Araña, I found it to be a good and memorable, if somewhat unbalanced story, solidly in the middle of the series in terms of overall quality. I’m not familiar with Gerard Way, either through his music or his comics, but he brings a delightfully punk sensibility to the story he tells about a young girl whose father perished while wearing the SP//dr armor, and whose legacy she must now continue due to her genetic heritage. With a connection to the armor presumably possible due to a bond she shares with a sentient spider, Peni battles a techno-gadgety Mysterio and teams up with this reality’s Daredevil before being drawn into the larger approaching Spider-Verse drama by two versions of Spider-Man heretofore unseen in Edge of Spider-Verse.
One of the strengths I think Way projects into this story is his imagination in crafting this character’s design. Apparently, being the Spider-Totem in this reality involves three distinct components: a human host, a suit of mechanized robot armor, and a sentient spider that seems to connect the two, all into one awesome and formidable unit. It’s an undeniably interesting setup and makes for a good fit into the manga-style sci-fi setting he establishes. The action is well-paced, and there is just enough character development of Peni for you to be curious about what kind of Spider-Person she is. The appearance of Spider-Ham and Last Stand Spider-Man (whose name I acquired from the handheld game “Spider-Man Unlimited,” where he’s a playable character) at the end of the story pack a good bit of humor into the narrative while pulling Peni into the Spider-Verse drama without too much awkwardness. I was particularly impressed with how decisive Peni ended up being when she learned about the scope of the situation. We’re left with an intriguing first look into Peni’s world, with an appropriately timed setup for Spider-Verse in November.
On the less satisfying side of the spectrum, I would say that characterization leaves quite a bit to be desired in this story. I’m not kidding when I say you just get enough exposition about who Peni is to be curious about knowing more–that’s literally it. She’s a school-age, then tween- or teen-age girl whose bonding with the SP//dr suit coincides with her meeting her Aunt May and Uncle Ben–who happen to be scientists running SP//dr. While it makes for an intriguing setup, it also leaves a lot out about who she is. Who was raising her previous to them, if her father wasn’t? How does she feel towards her aunt and uncle? Does she have any friends? Peni is bounced from one action setup to another with such rapidity that, aside from getting that she’s a fearless and decisive wearer of the SP//dr, we just don’t seem to get much else about her. Part of this is the scant length of a single issue comic that Way gets to establish her, but it was something that left me feeling less invested in this character than I otherwise could have been.
I have to say that Jake Wyatt’s artwork in this issue is a great complement to Way’s writing. He crafts a serviceable, vaguely cyber-punk environment that really supports and gives a strong visualization to the world created in this issue. Ian Herring’s color palette helps keep things dynamic and cartoony, reinforcing the manga style of this story. The action scenes are kinetic, and Peni’s facial expressions during stressful or confusing moments are clearly rendered and evocative. Their take on Mysterio in particular is memorable, with his use of floating, gas-emitting orbs and heavy reliance on technology to make himself a threat. The illustrations of how the spider connects Peni with the armor are also noteworthy, as they establish that particular link without it being made explicit by the dialog. While I don’t doubt other visual teams could have done a decent job bringing this script to life, I think Wyatt and Herring combine in a way that serves Way’s story in a way that is particularly appropriate.
It all comes together to make for a Spider-Man story that, while still feeling a bit empty in some key areas, is nevertheless deftly told and paced, with plenty of action and striking visuals. Peni Parker’s world, like many of the others I’ve encountered in this mini-series, is one I’d like to see explored, as I think more thought was put into it than was allowed to be expressed in a mere 21 pages. It makes me both glad that Edge of Spider-Verse exists, however briefly, as well as sad that there’s no consistent arena for these kinds of alternate reality stories. We are, in any case, given an ending that appropriately sets up the forthcoming drama of Spider-Verse while leaving readers with the possibility of seeing Peni as a significant player, come November. It makes for a solid ending to the mini-series, and given what we’ve seen collectively from Edge of Spider-Verse, I’m left with a high level of anticipation and excitement for what’s to come.