Before I even began any kind of formal education in physics, I was aware of the theory of the multiverse. In short, this theory suggests that there are an infinite number of parallel universes or realities, including the one we inhabit. The 1994 animated series of Spider-Man introduced me to this concept. In all honesty, it’s probably wrong for me to think of this as surprising – comics have consistently explored many avenues of popular science-fiction and many unpopular ones too.
I admit that the finale of this animated series was perhaps overly dramatic. It inevitably has to be when the villain is not only trying to destroy the world, but every other reality in existence. But I suppose that’s something that attracts us to superheroes, particularly as children. We want the threat to be terrible, the cost of defeat to be fatal, because then the triumph feels so much more important. Looking back now, it feels a little embarrassing to say that I loved the finale. But I did.
I loved everything about it. I loved that there were six different Spider-Men, all from different universes, working together to defeat Spider-Carnage. I loved that each one of these was a little different, and how the story showed us that they were different because of their circumstances. Not only did it introduce me to a new theory of physics but, more importantly, it taught me that we are the products of our environment. It’s easy to hate the arrogant and rash Spider-Man, but seeing the reality in which he is a multi-millionaire, in which Uncle Ben survived, in which everything went right for him, it’s easy to see how he can be so self-confident. It challenged my perception of the world, and encouraged me to empathise with someone’s circumstances before judging.
There were some darker elements to this finale too. Spider-Carnage was also another alternate Spider-Man, stricken with grief and anger at the death of his universe’s Aunt May. This left him vulnerable to being corrupted by the Carnage symbiote. After his destructive rampage, classic Spider-Man manages to convince him to fight the symbiote, but unfortunately the only way he is able to do this is by killing himself. That’s pretty heavy stuff for a kids’ show, and while they didn’t really focus on his, albeit heroic, suicide, it was still something that hung in the air for a while in my head. I wouldn’t say I mourned this Spider-Man, but I didn’t feel like the villain was defeated, I didn’t feel like this was the resolution I wanted.
And of course, I can’t mention these alternate realities without talking about the powerless ‘Peter Parker’. The Spider-Man summoned to help who was of very little help – although in the end, he played enough of a role for him to be a hero. He was the actor who plays Spider-Man in our universe, the universe containing Stan Lee, the universe where Spider-Man is a fictional character in comic books. I may have been too young to appreciate this Dark Tower-esque plot device, but I certainly smiled when I watched Spider-Man web-swinging around the city with Stan Lee on his back.
I thought it was a remarkable way to end the show, and I still do. It was a nice nod to the fans and even if it was a little cheesy, it didn’t feel out of place at all.