As a whole, comics tend to shy away from politics. Some feature characters with specific political viewpoints and agendas, but these are minor compared to the wealth of non-political comics, even around major events. Authors are often able to reflect their views in their works, but the consistency of most characters remains rather vague. This is understandable; alienating either major US political party or many readers would be an inadvisable sales tactic. However, comics do often utilize allegorical conflicts in order to makes statements about characters. The highly popular Civil War event managed to divide the Marvel Universe, for instance, based upon the divisive Superhero Registration Act. Spider-Man was, of course, caught in the middle. Peter Parker, like his many comics counterparts, tends to avoid politics. His moral code is instead emphasized, and radical approaches to any political content is reserved to alternate universes or even counterparts based in different publishing companies.
We have seen the potential of alternate Spider-Men and -Women several times throughout this (nearly-over) “Spider-Verse” event, and the recent Spider-Verse #2 continues this trend. This issue contains five stories, the brunt of which featuring Spider-Men of different cultures and time periods. Kathryn Immonen and David LaFuente’s story is about Anansi, an African spider-spirit based on the mythical character; Enrique Puig and Francisco Herrara’s segment compiles a retelling of the Spider-Man origin story set in contemporary Mexico; and most interestingly, Jed Mackay and Sheldon Vella’s portion of Spider-Verse #2 delves into the backstory of the “Anarchic” Spider-Man, who we’ve seen on many occasions throughout “Spider-Verse.”
This Spider-Man is a punk archetype. He rebels against the government, which has (in his world) become corrupted by Norman Osborn and his army of symbiote-suited goons. Spider-Man and a punk resistance (including a Captain “Anarchy”) stand against the corrupted government and use punk rock to defeat the symbiotes and take back the country. It’s a short story, but the art evokes punk visual styles and the characters are reflective of their main universe counterparts.
This Spider-Man is Hobie Brown (generally The Prowler in other continuities) and he reflects the morality and attitude of the Spider-Man we have known for decades. He works against Osborn and his corrupt business practices, saving the lives of his friends. The Anarchic Spider-Man takes this to a higher level, politicizing the conflict by placing Osborn in control of the country. This reflects ongoing political consternation about the influence of business on the government, albeit at a much-exaggerated rate. Mackay and Vella used imagery from the punk rock era and the anti-establishment attitude to create a Spider-Man that relates to that subculture while maintaining key aspects of the Spider-Man character. This version is apparently willing to kill, but in the defense of his values.
Exaggerated versions of Spider-Man allow Marvel and its authors to try new things while maintaining the lovable and amicable “main” versions of the character. I wrote about Spider-Man 2099 espousing many of the roles that this Anarchic Spider-Man takes, but set in the dystopian future. Politics are not easy to include in characters as popular and far-reaching as Spider-Man, but it is important to see these characters reflecting the political views of their readers. Marvel’s heroes will never be as diverse as the world they reflect in its main universe; there will always be something more that they can do to reflect the taste of readers. Characters like Anarchic Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099, Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales suggest that this push for greater diversity in racial and gender composition is popular, but it will still be a long time before these characters see as much multimedia involvement as Peter Parker.
Even short stories like the aforementioned set in Spider-Verse #2 can become popular and meaningful to readers, as they show a commitment to diversity. I’ve said before that I hope Marvel continues “Spider-Verse” in a similar book after the event, as it would be able to continue this important growth of Marvel’s line of characters into one that includes representatives for a much wider audience. Marvel should expand “Spider-Verse,” even if it’s in a digital format like DC’s Injustice or Legends of the Dark Knight. It would expand their field of characters, build goodwill with fans, and most importantly grow much-needed diversity within comics.