Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a welcome gasp of fresh air in both superhero films and animation, dissecting, deconstructing, and reconstructing the familiar origin story while serving a visual feast the likes of which we rarely see in cinematic animation.
Even for newcomers who only know of Spider-Man through pop-cultural osmosis (which, to be fair, is a 300 level course given Spider-Man’s popularity), there’s plenty to enjoy here. And for us old-timers, we get to experience all the joys of the well-designed alternate universe, ranging from subtle little nods that things are just a little different in Earth-1610 to extensive and refreshing riffs on familiar faces.
Case in point: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s take on Doctor Octopus.
Spoilers for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse below. Go treat yourself, c’mon, you deserve it, buddy, 2k18’s been its own entire decade!
Initially glimpsed in a quantum physics educational video as an unnamed and seemingly innocuous Ms. Frizzle type, Dr. Olivia Octavius reveals herself to our Spider-Mans and the audience during a raid on Alchemax. “Let me guess,” Peter snarks upon being properly introduced, “your friends call you Doc Ock?”
“No,” Dr. Octavius says, grinning. “My friends call me Liv. My enemies call me Doc Ock.”
It’s a great line, followed by one of the film’s best madcap chases. (“Good news: we don’t need the monitor.”) Hahn’s Doc Ock is a delight, with a shrewd, malicious gleam in her eye and a functional yet stylized Octo-suit.
But the good doctor’s remarks should be kept in mind later in the film. When a bevy of baddies descends on Aunt May’s home to off the Spider-Crew, Doc Ock is part of the guest list. And Aunt May takes one look at her and delivers an amazingly acerbic, “Hi, Liv.”
Now, this could be a throwaway line, but this is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, in which a joke about Spidey’s Christmas album results in Chris Pine’s increasingly desperate rendition of “Spidey Bells” playing over the end credits. It’s an astonishingly efficient comedy/action/heartfelt emotion/gorgeousness machine, is what I’m getting at. If the film goes out of its way to indicate that Doc Ock’s friends call her Liv, and Aunt May calls her Liv… were they friends? Because they’re clearly not friends now. Do they know each other? Earth-1610 May clearly has some kind of STEM background, creating Miles’ web shooters herself—could they have known each other in another life?
May and Doc Ock having a bit of a past is nothing new. In Issue #130 of The Amazing Spider-Man, Spidey is amazed to discover that May and Doc Ock are getting married. As in, he only discovers this when he bursts in on the actual wedding ceremony at the end of the issue. (Observant, '70s Petey ain’t.) May and Ock have been getting cozy since Issue #114 when May started working as his housekeeper. While May seems honestly besotted (The Amazing Spider-Man Issue #699 makes it clear it was physical while making a pretty tasteless incest joke), Otto’s protestations of love are swiftly revealed to be for material gain in Issue #131, the magnificently titled “My Uncle / My Enemy!” (God bless Bronze Age titles.) May is about to come into an inheritance (from who?) that will grant her the right to a Canadian island. Not just any island, though: an island with a nuclear power plant. Doc Ock wants it, and, obviously, the only way to do that is to marry Aunt May.
Anyway, it’s a moot point, because the power plant blows up the island. Spider-Man rescues Aunt May and all is well. Comics! They are ridiculous and I love them.
Now, while I, obviously, would love to see a past romance between the two (Aunt May is voiced by the legendary Lily Tomlin, while Liv is aggressively my type—older brunettes who are smarter than me), I’m also intrigued by the idea of them being colleagues in academia or corporate R&D, especially if Aunt May was previously her mentor. (I mean, we can have both. Both is good.) A falling out, perhaps, especially over May choosing to be a homemaker to raise her nephew? Or maybe a more straightforward academic drama—maybe it’s May who designed a prototype for the Octo-suit in the first place and Liv stole her work! The possibilities are endless and probably require a healthy disregard of laboratory procedure. I love it.
Marvel’s currently turning it out in terms of representation of women in STEM onscreen, with Shuri deservedly reigning supreme. But I could always use more, especially if it involves an older woman like May. And especially if it involves two lady scientists whose conflict has nothing to do with the Spider-Man at the center of their universe. This is the kind of stuff movie tie-in prequel comics were made for.
It’s hard for a superhero’s supporting cast to get their own stories; after all, they’re there to support the hero. And in this particular Aunt May’s case, it’s quite literal, as she functions as the Q-like tech support to Earth-1610’s Peter Parker’s James Bond. While I love that idea, that also makes me want more for the character. And giving her and Liv a relationship that has nothing to do with Spider-Man and everything to do with the gleeful kit-bashing mad science of the Spider-verse that they’ve invented?
Well, that would be… Amazing.
(Get it? The Amazing Spider-Man... yeah, you got it.)