From Page to Screen: Spider-Verse Reshaping the Comic Movie Landscape

When it comes to the new film Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the cinematic landscape has changed since its predecessor. Back in 2018, the idea of a multiverse, where different versions of Spider-Man exist, was fresh. But now, this concept has become common in comic book films, especially within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, instead of capitalizing on the visual uniqueness of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which drew inspiration from superhero comic books, the focus has shifted to expanding the franchise possibilities of the multiverse. This misses the true appeal of the first film, which was its innovative use of visuals. In Spider-Verse, the multiverse meant breaking rules rather than following a formula.

The first Spider-Verse film stood out because of its fresh artistic style, blending traditional animation and comic book art with new technology. It evoked a sense of nostalgia by incorporating elements from classic comic books. As a result, Miles Morales, a relatively new character in the Marvel comics, felt timeless and just as iconic as Peter Parker.

Unlike other superhero movies that merely borrow certain elements from comic books, the Spider-Verse films bring the dynamism of comic books to life. They successfully combine the language of animation and film with that of comic books. For example, they incorporate onscreen written sound effects, like the iconic “thwip!” of Spider-Man. They also use “burst cards,” 2D drawings that appear during action sequences for emphasis. These moments feel like frozen panels come to life on the big screen.

What sets the Spider-Verse films apart is their execution of the textures and tactile qualities of print, something rarely seen in comic book movies. They utilize halftone, Ben-Day dots, and “Kirby Krackle” (clusters of dots used to represent cosmic energy) to enhance the visual experience. The production designer of Into the Spider-Verse, Justin K Thompson, stressed the importance of embracing the imperfections of print during the animation process. This includes implementing chromatic aberration, which recreates the accidental color separations and mismatched colors that occur in the four-color printing process.

Through a team of over 1000 artists and animators, Across the Spider-Verse takes the sensory overload of the first film to new heights. It experimentally explores what a Spider-Man story can be in terms of visuals. The film amplifies every formal element of its predecessor, such as animating certain characters at 12 frames per second (on twos) rather than the standard 24 frames per second (on ones) for 3D animation. This slight delay between frames creates a flipping page effect, enhancing the experience for the audience.

With the introduction of the character Spider-Punk/Hobie Brown, voiced by Daniel Kaluuya, the animators do something even more impressive. They animate different parts of the character at different speeds, reflecting his anarchic nature and creating a dynamic visual effect. Instead of simply moving on ones or twos, his body moves “on threes,” and his guitar moves “on fours.” This breathes life into his character and takes advantage of animation’s potential for creative expression.

In Across the Spider-Verse, the visual palette expands even further to reflect the vastness of comic book artistry. The film explores different universes in the multiverse, paying homage to various artists’ styles. For instance, Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman’s universe showcases the expressive brushwork reminiscent of Robbi Rodriguez’s cover art for the Spider-Gwen comic. The directors made a conscious effort to incorporate the identities of more artists into the film. They studied the inking techniques of Rick Leonard, co-creator of Spider-Man 2099, while developing the visual style for the character. The film’s take on Ben Reilly, known as Scarlet Spider, derives inspiration from Tom Lyle’s original character designs, while also playfully poking fun at the brooding nature of 1990s comics. By exploring different art styles throughout the decades, Across the Spider-Verse embraces evolution and challenges the conformities of superhero canon and tropes.

The main villain of Across the Spider-Verse, The Spot, illustrates the film’s embrace of imperfections. Along with Spider-Man 2099, these characters maintain their underlying geometric sketch lines, resembling unfinished drawings. The Spot adds another layer with his appearance, covered in dark splotches against a white background, resembling a page with spilled ink. This visual irregularity reflects the character’s sense of being an accidental byproduct of someone else’s adventure, emphasizing his misshapenness. As Miles and The Spot travel between different universes in the sequel film, the visual non-conformity becomes not just aesthetic but thematic. It represents Miles’s resistance against being boxed into a predefined narrative by teachers and fellow Spider-People.

Often, contemporary superhero movies borrow storylines from comic books while failing to capture their essence. The Spider-Verse films, on the other hand, honor the true spirit of comic books. They go beyond mere adaptations and dive into the expressive potential of animation. In these films, the visuals are not just complementary; they are an integral part of the storytelling. Through their unique approach, the Spider-Verse films have inspired a new wave of varied and stylized animation in recent releases. They have reminded Hollywood of the importance of the entire creative team behind comic books, from colorists to pencillers, inkers, letterers, and cover artists. As opposed to treating comics as nothing more than intellectual properties, the Spider-Verse films break free from the formula and explore the true potential of comic book movies.