Warning: spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #5!
Marvel recently revived it’s beloved What If…? comic line with the five-part miniseries Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow, and that story’s shocking conclusion just set up a bold new direction for the classic title. Spider’s Shadow already shook up What If…?‘s typically single-issue narrative structure by expanding its storyline through multiple issues, but now it seems even more new ground will be broken with an eventual return to this storyline’s diverging timeline.
The What If…? comics have historically acted more as fun, hypothetical remixes of famous storylines rather than as lush alternate universes meant to be explored any further. As a result, writers have been free to be as creative and offbeat as possible when finding new ways to reinvent Marvel’s classic characters and stories. But what if these intriguing alternate realities weren’t contained to just one issue or miniseries? What if the diverging choices made in one What If…? storyline snowballed into a brand new universe of comics, unchained from the 616’s stringent continuity? It seems reasonable to assume that Chip Zdarsky and Pasqual Ferry’s Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #5 is setting the stage for exactly this kind of future.
The audacious miniseries that asked “what if Spider-Man had kept his black suit long enough to be corrupted by it?” quickly turned into one of the darkest Spider-Man stories ever put to print when the traditionally friendly neighborhood hero began killing off his rogues gallery one by one. By issue five, Peter Parker is redeemed to an extent, but the irreversible damage is done. Reed Richards is dead, J. Jonah Jameson and Eddie Brock are on a new path of redemption, the Kingpin is about to become a symbiote host and Peter’s secret identity is revealed to the world before the final pages see him putting away his Spider-Man persona for good and taking up Reed’s position on the Fantastic Four.
Though no official announcement has been made regarding a return to the Spider’s Shadow universe, it’s clear that these cliffhangers are set up as plot threads to be revisited down the line, either in a sequel or spin-off series. What If…? stories tend to end with a definitive new status quo, effectively answering the question posed by the title while offering the reader as many fascinating changes to the world as possible. Spider-Man joining the Fantastic Four fits this mold, but the dangling threads of Kingpin’s revenge and Jonah and Brock’s unfinished journeys don’t. These developments work against the traditional idea of offering a satisfying What If…? answer in favor of setting up new angles for future stories. For example, any classic What If…? story would show readers the new Kingpin/Venom hybrid implied here, given there’d be no point saving it for a non-existent sequel.
The creative potential this alludes to is boundless. Marvel’s 616 continuity has been as much a beautifully constructed engine as it has been a hindrance to the potential for characters to evolve and change over long periods of time. By allowing for a variety of What If…? comics to shoot off into their own unique timelines, Marvel’s essentially giving fans a chance to have their cake and eat it too. Earth-616 can continue on without severing its finely crafted narrative chain, while a storyline like Spider’s Shadow can shoot off into a variety of books that feature heroes and villains evolving far past their original logline.
Spider-Man having his identity revealed to the world or joining the Fantastic Four aren’t exactly new concepts, but exploring these ideas without having to quickly walk them back with retcons such as One More Day can bring about some game-changing originality. In the Spider’s Shadow universe, Spider-Man’s legacy has been permanently tarnished after crossing his no-kill rule in the worst possible way. Now, he can never return to being the average everyday kid with a secret identity. The possibilities are endless, not only for Spider-Man but for all characters in this What If…? world where a monumental change or an unexpected and permanent death are anything but off limits.