As I think I've said before, while I've always liked Spider-Man, he's never been my favorite Comic Book character. He's definitely cool - great costume, interesting and unusual power set - but Spidey's down-to-earth-everyman nature, the very thing that makes him so popular, just didn't excite me. I was always more attracted to the larger-than-life cosmic adventure type characters, with my favorite comic books being Green Lantern and The Legion of Superheroes.
This all changed with the creation of Miles Morales and the Spider-Verse. In both cases, I'm talking about the Marvel Comic Books here, with Miles' first appearance in 2011 and writer Dan Slott's Spider-verse storyline that ran in The Amazing Spider-Man and throughout several tie-ins in 2014 through 2015.
Something about the character of Miles grabbed him in a way Peter Parker never did and honestly, I can't really say exactly what it was. Maybe it was getting in on the 'ground floor'; I saw his character emerge just as the rest of comicdom did. We was Spider-Man, a Spider-Man, instantly familiar yet very different and definitely his own character.
With the Spider-Verse, well my love of that concept is likely unsurprising to any whose been on this blog for any length of time. I am fascinated by the idea of a Multiverse and the concept of Alternate Realities. Making Spider-Man the key to a saga about Parallel Universes was really engaging.
In between these new additions to the Marvel Comics milieu, Margaret Weis Productions published the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. In a demo of the game run at my friendly local game store I actually got to play Spider-Man and it gave me a new appreciation for the character. He was a fun character to play, to be for a time. Maybe I thought, he's more fun to read about and explore than I'd thought.
Fast forward to 2018 and the groundbreaking Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and my mind was blown. The movie was incredible, both narratively and visually. Absolutely incredible. With the recent release of the film's sequel, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, I was completely brought back to that moment of WOW I had seeing the first Spider-Verse movie.
Over the decades, I have run and played a lot of Superhero RPGs and in a few of them we've had some variation of the character of Spider-Man. Now I'm not talking about someone simply playing Spidey in a game of, say, Marvel Super Heroes or Marvel Heroic. I'm talking about a PC designed to be an alternate version of the Spider-Man character. Between Alternate Earth one-shots and campaigns, a Champions campaign visiting a Parallel Marvel world, and a homage to the Spider-Verse films themselves, it turns out I've encountered quite a few Spider-Men. Spider-Mans? Spider-People?
Follow me on an RPG tour of the characters I've seen that dwell...Among The Spider-Verse.
Armored-Man (Peter Parker of Earth-GC82092)
Secret Origin: Armored-Man was a pre-generated PC created by Villains & Vigilantes Gamemaster Mark Olsen for a two session run at the Gen Con Gaming Convention in 1992. The players chose their characters by blind pick and a young man got this one and ran with it. The Player created the character's backstory and I came up with the name when my own character, in-game, referred to him as 'The Amazing Armored-Man'.
Peter Parker, a science prodigy and inventor, missed the infamous science exhibit where he would have been bitten by a Radioactive Spider when he was almost hit by a car! That car belonged to billionaire industrialist Tony Stark of Stark Industries. One thing led to another and Stark took on Parker as a intern, then an employee, and eventually a close confidant and friend. Parker helped perfect the 'Iron Man' Class Battlesuit that Stark was planning on selling to SHIELD. Unfortunately Stark never got the chance, as an attack of industrial sabotage left Tony Stark dead and destroyed the Iron Man Prototype. Only...it didn't.
While Stark was indeed murdered, Parker managed to escape the burning facility using the Battlesuit and proceeded to track down and defeat the saboteurs. He turned the criminals over to SHIELD but kept the survival of the Iron Man Armor out of the report. It would turn out that Tony's will left a large portion of the company to Peter and the younger man continued to work on the suit in a hidden workshop below Stark Industries Headquarters. Sometime later, Uatu the Watcher would assemble a team of secret superbeings on this Earth to thwart the threat of a malfunctioning artifact known as The Cosmic Sphere. Parker was among the chosen and used his most updated suit for the adventure. Never intending to become a 'superhero' Parker simply introduced himself to his fellow adventurers by his real name. He received the name 'Armored-Man' from fellow hero Superguard.
The armor had many impressive abilities such as Repulsor/Tractor Ray Emitters, Super Strength, Computer Enhanced Senses, and made the wearer nearly-invincible to physical harm. One of its most clever features were the repulsor jets in the boots that enabled the user to fly but could also be reversed so as to pull things to him or him to things. As a result, Armored-Man could 'attach' himself to surfaces by tractor beams and walk on walls!
The Black Spider (King T'Challa of Wakanda of Earth-71966-M)
Secret Origin: The Black Spider, along with The Golden Age Spider Man (see below), was a PC created for a Superhero One-Shot I ran soon after seeing Into The Spider-verse titled 'Spiderpocalypse!'. This particular character was the creation of my good friend Arthur, a member of 'Dan's Group' with whom I run Star Trek Adventures and play our Hogwarts homebrew. Arthur's idea was to pose and answer the question, 'What if Wakanda's founding was tied not to the Cat God/Goddess Bast but instead the Spider God Anansi?'
King T'Challa is the ruler of the highly advanced African nation of Wakanda, a hidden utopia gifted with the blessings of Anansi, the Akan Trickster God of knowledge, stories, and wisdom. These gifts manifest in the form of massive deposits of Vibranium and a Heart-Shaped Herb that grants T'Challa the powers of 'The Black Spider'. The mantle of The Black Spider is a hereditary position passed down from the first kings of Wakanda onward to T'Challa in the modern day. The Black Spider, through a potion made from the Heart-Shaped Herb and Spider Venom, possess powers such as Super Strength, Super Agility, Super Leaping, a Danger Sense, and a number of Trickster abilities such as Merging into Shadows, Moving Silently, and an amazing ability to Disguise his voice and appearance out of costume.
Speaking of his costume, The Black Spider's suit is a wonder of Wakandan technology. Lightweight and as flexible as cloth, the costume has Vibranium mesh and is highly resistant to attacks by kinetic/concussive force. The suit allows The Black Spider to Cling to Surfaces, generate Webs, and gives him retractable Claws in the fingertips of his gloves.
Captain Spider (Steven 'Steve' Parker of Earth-BL2001-M)
Secret Origin: Sometime around 2005, maybe earlier, I lived in NYC's Chinatown and everyday I would pass a particular store on my way to work. It sold bootleg and knock-off products - bags, shoes, toys, etc.. One day I saw this Action Figure...it had Spider-Man's head, painted blue, atop the body of a Captain America figure in inverted colors. A white spider sticker was placed on his chest as well as the center of a miscolored shield. Every day I would look at it and wonder, 'Who is this supposed to be?"
In my minds-eye this wasn't a bootleg figure but a toy representing the most popular hero of some Parallel Earth. He was, um, Captain Spider! I told my then wife about it and said, "It's only $5. If it's still there Friday, I'm buying it."
Selina, in her typical psychic fashion replied, "It might be gone." Gone? Who would buy something like that other then me? Fast forward to Friday and as you probably guessed, it was no longer there. Never saw it again. I like to think it wasn't purchased but rather it shifted back to its own dimension.
My idea is that on Earth-BL2001-M, during the Second World War, a young army man named Steve Parker volunteered for an experiment to create the USA's first Super Soldier. A secret serum and some vita-rays later and...nothing. Nothing happened. The project was a failure...or so they thought! Some days later Parker is bitten by a spider and its venom reacted strangly with the serum in his blood. He becomes Captain Spider, the American Arachnid! The Star-Spangled Spider-Man! Give those Ratzis hell Spidey!
I got the chance to play a version of Captain Spider in our ol' Kapow! campaign with a new secret identity and slightly different backstory.
Interesting, this independently devised backstory is remarkably similar to the one for my friend Leo's Golden Age Spider Man. (See below).
Creepy Crawler (Eugene Enfield of Earth-WC871-M / Challengers Earth-Mu WC1)
Secret Origin: Creepy Crawler appeared as an NPC in my friend William Corpening's long running Champions campaign 'The Age of Champions'. My specific encounter with him was in our 'Age of Chaos' era of the campaign. During a multi-part adventure titled, 'The Dark Trinity Event' (or something like that), our Champions campaign world - Champions Earth-Wilcox Charlie-1 - encountered the heroes and villains of two Parallel Earths: The DC Comics world of Champion League Earth-Delta Ceti-WC1 and the Marvel themed Challengers Earth-Mu-WC1. During this adventure, the big bads of three different Earths tried to merge their worlds and absorb the life energy of all those killed in the process of doing so.
Will likely created Creepy Crawler as a background element, a touch of local color to remind the players the universe they were interacting with was a Marvel type of universe. After all, a Marvel-like setting absolutely needs a Spider-Man. Of course with Will Corpening, nothing is incidental. No character is just an extra. Everyone you meet has a story, personality, and a reason to be there.
At one point in the game my street level alternate character The New Yorker found himself on Challengers Earth-Mu-1 and saw a gaggle of six sinister supervillains beating up on one young hero. After falling about 20 feet onto the pavement from an aerial battle with one opponent, the black clad super-teen wasn't moving and New Yorker ran to his aid. Removing his mask, New Yorker found out he was 'just a kid', albeit one with some weird superpowers.
After a quick reassurance to the boy that everything would be alright, The New Yorker turned his attention to the six bad guys. By 'attention' I mean brass knuckles, a crow bar, hitting one with a car (driven not thrown) and a lot of face punching. I mean A LOT. Thanks to an upgrade/assist from a Champion League Earth-DC-1 hero named Fusion, the otherwise outclassed New Yorker unloaded a Yankee Stadium worth of payback on Creepy Crawler's assailants, forcing the still conscious ones to retreat. New Yorker than took the kid, who revealed his first name to be Eugene, to a nearby hospital. New Yorker waited while the doctors got to work even though Crisis on Three Earths was going on outside. The New Yorker was kind of a joke character but after this I, and the rest of the gaming group, starting treating him more seriously and with respect.
Eugene Enfield was a sickly orphan kid from Staten Island who was raised by his Aunt and Uncle after his parents' mysterious disappearance. A genius fascinated by all things that crawled, skittered, slithered, and squirmed, Eugene collected and studied the biology of bugs, lizards, snakes, worms, and especially spiders. By the age of sixteen, Eugene was taking college courses in biochemistry, genetics, and hoped to develop a way to change his own medical conditions using the amazing advantages he'd found within the critters he loved that so many others considered icky.
One night, while working in his home lab, a burglar broke into his family's house. His Aunt and Uncle confronted the crook who panicked and shot his Aunt. As she began to fade away right in his Uncle's arms, Eugene injected himself with an as yet untested serum that rapidly re-wrote his DNA, turning him into a hideous but powerful superbeing. While he managed to quickly and easily defeat the criminal, his appearance terrified his Uncle and Eugene was forced to run from the house with burglar in tow. Eventually he left the baddie webbed to a lamppost in a nearby town while he hid in a heavily wooded area where he tried to control his monstrous transformation. Eugene ended up passing out and waking the next morning seemingly back to normal. He returned home to discover his Aunt had gone to the hospital and his Uncle in dire straights. Believing Eugene had been kidnapped by either the burglar or the monster from the night before, his Uncle shed tears of joy upon seeing him. Then and there Eugene decided to use his new capabilities to protect the weak, defend the innocent, and scare the living crap out of the criminal element.
Creepy Crawler is and very much isn't Spider-Man. His powers are similar: Super Strength, Super Agility, Wall Crawling, and Webs (which are biologically generated like Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man) but also near invisible Camouflage, Multi-Faceted Eyes, a Paralyzing Venomous Bite, Regeneration, and more. In some ways he's more like DC's Animal Man but limited to a group of thematic creatures. Changing abilities too quickly or too often under duress or stress causes Eugene to physically mutate, exhibiting such traits as insect eyes, lizard-like skin, and suction cup growths on his hands and feet for example. His largely black costume is designed to hide his appearance as much as possible.
That said, he sometimes purposely shows his lower face and mouth, takes off a glove, or something similar to reveal his frightening appearance when it manifests. In this way he is more akin to Batman, using fear to intimidate lesser opponents so he doesn't have to fight and hurt them.
The Golden Age Spider Man (Benjamin 'Ben' Parker of Earth-82817)
Secret Origin: The Golden Age Spider Man, along with The Black Spider (see above), was a PC created for a Superhero One-Shot I ran soon after seeing Into The Spider-verse titled 'Spiderpocalypse!'. The character was created by my pal Leo, a member of both 'Dan's Group' and my Sunday Night Group. He plays First Officer and Chief Science Officer Mr. Solok in Star Trek Adventures, The Paladin in our Champions campaign, and as Arimus Bonaventure in our Hogwarts homebrew.
Daily Bugle reporter John Jonah Jameson and photographer Benjamin 'Ben' Parker were on assignment in Europe covering the activities of the Allies greatest heroes, none other than Captain America and The Invaders, during the height of the Second World War. A surprise attack on the Invaders left Jameson dead and Parker badly injured. In the instant an explosive device shattered their camp, Ben Parker flung himself to knock Captain America clear of danger, saving the First Avenger but at the cost of being fatally wounded and the loss of the life of Parker's long time friend J. Jonah Jameson. Captain America insisted on a blood transfusion to help save Parker, even though that might have unexpected consequences given the Super Soldier Serum in Cap's veins. Luckily, Parker lived and there were no unusual side effects. At least not right away...
Weeks later on a mission in a jungle environment, Parker was bitten by a venomous spider while tagging along with Capt. America and his team, continuing his role as wartime photographer. The spider bite reacted with the Super Soldier Serum giving Parker spectacular spider-like abilities! After a crash training course and the development of 'Web-Shooter' Pistols and a colorful costume, Ben joined the Invaders as Spider Man.
[The Golden Age] Spider Man has the same suite of superpowers as the typical Spidey, though he seems physically stronger but slightly less agile. His pistol-like Web-Shooters can fire 'Web Bullets' that explode into a large web upon impact or he can hold the trigger to fire a long stream (for spraying or swinging for example).
The Spider-Man (Eugene 'Flash' Thompson of Earth-AD6163-M)
Art by Midjourney AI and modified by Me in Photostudio
Secret Origin: This variant of Spidey was the creation of my friend Daniel Grant and myself as part of the backstory for his version of the Prowler [his PC in our 'What If?' Marvel Super Heroes campaign, The Sentinels.]. Dan knew he wanted to create a heroic Prowler and needed both an antagonist and a motivation for his character to become a costumed vigilante and fight crime. It only made sense, given the fact that Marvel Comics' Prowler is part of Spider-Man's rogue's gallery, to make Spider-Man the arch-enemy of Dan's character.
In the midst of bullying his classmate Peter Parker, high school jock Eugene 'Flash' Thompson was bitten by a radioactive spider on a field trip to a science exhibit. Developing amazing superpowers such a Super Strength, Super Agility, a Danger Sense, and the ability to Cling to any surface. Flash intimidates Parker, a brilliant young scientist, forcing him to make Thompson a colorful costume and Web-shooters. With his new look and abilities, Thompson enters an Open Match Challenge to wrestle the Heavyweight Wrestling Champion. Not only does Flash win as 'The Spider-Man' but a TV producer offers to make him a star. Moments later The Spider-Man thwarts a criminal trying to steal the profits from the wrestling match. Within a very short time, The Spider-Man is a media sensation!
Never learning the great lesson of Uncle Ben, Flash Thompson thinks, 'With Great Power Comes No Responsibility'. Flash quickly becomes wealthy, popular, and even more of a jerk then he already was. His popularity is maintained through real and staged crime fighting, talk shows, and endorsing various products. One night, The Spider-Man decides he's 'too busy' to help the police stop a serial burglar in the Bronx who ends up robbing and killing the father of engineering student Hobart 'Hobie' Brown. Brown, a teenage inventor paying for Engineering School with a Window Washer job, decides to expose The Spider-Man for what he is, an attention whore and no hero. Brown creates a special suit and crime-fighting equipment and the ironic identity 'The Prowler'.
The Prowler's encounter with The Spider-Man reveals the latter's true nature on live television. Additionally the public learns he's been continually blackmailing Peter Parker to keep Parker helping him and not going to the authorities. The fight between Prowler and The Spider-Man begins an ongoing feud between the two, with The Prowler repeatedly embarrassing and thwarting Thompson again and again. The Prowler's activities earn him the attention and respect of the superhero known as The Patriot and eventually a spot on the SHIELD sponsored superteam 'The Sentinels'.
Nowadays when I think about this character I think of a crooked version of DC's Booster Gold.
Spider-Woman (Patricia 'Patty' Parker of Earth-SC9509)
Secret Origin: My criteria for this post was that each character had to be an intentional variant or version of Spider-Man. This one is therefore a special case. This Pre-Generated Player Character was created for a Marvel Super Heroes RPG one-shot at a gaming convention in the Fall of 1995 (If memory serves). It was not intended to be an Alternate Spider-Man but rather the traditional, classic, Earth-616 Peter Parker/Spider-Man you all know and love. Thanks to the jumbled memory of a very creative and entertaining young woman, we got this instead.
I was hanging out with some friends between events and I happened to overhear a Marvel Super Heroes session occurring at a nearby table. Pre-generated characters were chosen or handed out and after some discussion with a friend of hers, one of the two female players said something like, "it's fine, I'll take Spider-Man. But I want to play a woman."
This confused the GM and he asked her if she wanted to change characters. He quickly looked through his notes and materials for another character but the player said, "No, no. I am playing Spider-Man. A female Spider-Man." At first this clearly irked the GM but he changed his tune after seeing the positive reactions from the other players.
Throughout the rest of the game the female player, let's call her Kate, established the personality of this PC and it was great! She had the character using wisecracking quips volleyed against the villains to hide a lack of assurance and a heap of self doubt. At the same, Kate had a weird view of Spidey's powers. She would pantomime shooting her webs with her hand out, palm down, more like a superhero blasting a ray than the typical way Spider-Man's web-shooting is depicted. She would often suggest her Spider-Woman could fly or glide. When corrected, 'Spider-Man can't fly', she would respond, "OK. Why the 'Web-Wings'?" There were other odds bits: references to her origin, background, and other elements that made me wonder, "Does this person know who Spider-Man is? Or...".
By the end of the game, Kate had made Spider-Woman, who she named Patty Parker, the MVP of the team. She also revealed that she'd never read a comic and really only knew about Spider-Man from the 1967 Animated Cartoon. It also became clear from her description that she was mixing the Spider-Man cartoon with that of Spider-Woman and Web-Woman. Her attempts to reconcile the different stories in her head resulting in this weird gestalt superheroine.
Weird, wild, and absolutely awesome.
I hate to end on a sad note but I must acknowledge a massive loss to the Comic Book Community and particularly to Spider-Man; John Romita Sr., the legendary illustrator who took over drawing The Amazing Spider-Man in 1966 from original artist Steve Ditko, passed away at the age of 93 on June 12th according to his son, John Romita Jr. (who is also a well known and celebrated Comic Book artist).
Rest in Peace.