What Story Writers Can Learn from ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’



A poster for ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse’

Just over a month ago, the newest addition to Marvel’s lineup of colorful superhero movies was released: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Already, the movie has grossed $160 million domestically and $326 million worldwide, putting it well underway to becoming one of the most successful animated movies in history.

What’s so interesting about this movie, though, isn’t the vivid colors and stellar animation (though these are both key parts of the movie that shouldn’t go without praise).

Rather, it’s the direction several of the movie’s characters went in relation to their comic book counterparts, and how the screenwriters, Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, managed to take two beloved Spider-Man characters and make them even better than their original incarnations.

From here on, be forewarned that there will be a spoiler for one of the most interesting characters in Into the Spider-Verse. If you haven’t already seen the movie, I implore you to go out to see it as soon as possible because you will not regret it.

You have been warned!

The main protagonist of the story is Miles Morales, the second most popular rendition of Spider-Man. Miles brings several things to the character: he continued the legacy of anyone being able to put on the mask and be Spider-Man, represented minorities who had gone years without a superhero who looked like them, and brought a fresh new take on the origin story and mindset of Spider-Man.

However, just because he’s popular doesn’t necessarily mean that his stories have stood the test of time.

In retrospect, actually, much of Miles’ original runs in the comics depict him as a lackey to Spider-Man, never quite able to escape the shadow of the previous hero despite his popularity. Alongside this, Miles’ character was heavily flawed, never growing or having a meaningful character arc like the original Spider-Man.

I feel this can be largely attributed to a lack of character motivation, alongside awkward directing in terms of how the character was meant to develop, as it feels as though neither of these was taken into consideration when reading some of Miles’ stories.

Many know about the infamous death of Uncle Ben, the big moment of weakness within Peter Parker that inspires the him to become the legendary hero that we all know. Miles Morales has no moment like this in his original run in the comics; sure, he has family members or loved ones who die, but nothing that directly causes a dynamic shift in his character to that of a hero.

A moment like this is absolutely crucial for any character and doesn’t necessarily have to come from the death of a loved one. An amazing character can be destroyed by poor directing and motivation, and it seemed as though that was what Miles’ character was doomed to suffer in any comic accurate incarnation.

So the writers decided to experiment and created a new take on Miles’ character.

In the film, it’s shown that Miles feels uncomfortable with the life he’s living: he dislikes his new boarding school, feels as though his father doesn’t approve of the more artistic lifestyle he desires, and generally feels like an outcast.

None of this applies when Miles is around his uncle, Aaron Davis, though. In fact, Miles spends a majority of the film looking up to his uncle and escaping to his apartment when he’s feeling particularly down. It’s his uncle who takes him down into Brooklyn’s subway system to tag a wall with art and openly approves of and supports every decision Miles makes.

This makes it all the more surprising that the Prowler, a character whose soundtrack exudes terror and dread, is Aaron Davis in disguise.

The reveal scene is expertly done, with Miles bearing witness to his uncle’s hidden lifestyle as a mercenary for Kingpin, the same villain who caused the death of his universe’s Spider-Man. Immediately, Miles is confronted with a past he can’t go back to and a future he can’t accept and creates a fascinating dynamic for Miles’ continued involvement in attempting to stop Kingpin’s plans.

Even more well done, in my opinion, is when Aaron discovers that Miles is one of the numerous Spider-Men. He recoils in shock, much like Miles did upon learning the opposite, but is forced to keep his composure, under threat of being shot by Kingpin himself.

There’s a moment of nearly unbearable tension that will stick with me for years to come, as Aaron holds Miles by the throat off the roof of a house, and neither Miles nor the audience knows what to expect. After all, until this point, Aaron had no problem chasing and attacking Miles. Why stop now?

Aaron steps back, letting Miles stand, and lets him go. He turns to a communications device in his ear, beginning a sentence that sounds like he’s turning over a new leaf, and…

Bang! The gun goes off, and Aaron Davis crumbles over, blood soaking his costume.

Miles grabs his uncle and flees into the city, laying him down in an alleyway and hearing out his final words. Miles has a true “Uncle Ben” moment here. He is given real motivation, yet again, to save the world. Miles, in the course of one film, receives more motivation to become a hero than he did in the entirety of his run in the comics.

The Prowler, too, receives a much-needed overhaul, as his comic counterpart was a strangely grim and hostile. In the comics, Aaron Davis is actually abusive to his nephew, often exploiting Miles’ moral ambiguity for some sort of profit and threatening him with physical harm otherwise.

Changing his character to be right on the edge of darkness, but pulled back by Miles, creates a much more entertaining dynamic, and a more wholesome interpretation of the relationship between social outcast Miles and the similarly outcast, but still confident Aaron.

So to every aspiring writer out there, I say that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has one very important lesson to teach all of you: never be afraid to experiment with a new angle on your characters. Oftentimes, as with Miles and The Prowler, you might find an even better way to tell their stories.