It’s a good time to be a bad guy.
There’s an old saying about how Batman is a character defined by his villains. Each bad guy in some way reflects an element of the hero’s character, with Joker chaos representing the limits Batman puts on his own behavior, Riddler’s puzzles representing his analytical mind and so on.
All of that is true, but it’s just as accurate to say Batman is defined by his allies. Nightwing has the kind of optimism and belief in people Batman has lost. Batgirl is the ultimate unifier, bringing together other heroes just as easily as Batman pushes them away. Red Hood is a constant reminder of the price of failure.
Spider-Man has a substantial rogue’s gallery, most of whom have like him adopted some kind of animalistic totem for their identities. Chameleon, Doctor Octopus, Vulture, Scorpion, Rhino, Jackal and others all fit into that category while many of the rest are either some kind of Goblin.
What he lacks, though, is a lineup of regular allies.
Throughout his comics run, Spider-Man has teamed up with just about every other Marvel Comics character at some point or another. He was even the star of a long-running titled called “Marvel Team-Up” where every month he’d work alongside everyone from Captain America to The Thing to Professor X to Daredevil to Man-Thing and Howard the Duck. Spidey was for decades the lynchpin of the Marvel Universe, the representation of the new kind of hero Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were creating in the early 1960s.
Unfortunately that role has left him associate to everyone and yet partner to none. The characters most commonly associated with the hero – Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson and others – are all unpowered. He is defined in large part by his solitude and how closed off he is from other heroes. Even after joining The Avengers in the early 2000s, he struggled to balance his commitment to the team with his responsibilities to others in his life.
Despite Spidey’s history of team-ups, none of those characters are in the portfolio managed by Sony. All the Avengers belong to Disney while the X-Men and Fantastic Four are under Fox’s oversight. That leaves almost no one – at least no one with a heroic alter-ego – for Spider-Man to work with or hand the reins of a movie spin off to.
So, with nowhere to turn to for on-screen partnerships, Sony has instead decided the lineup of villains is its best bet if it wants to keep the Spider-Man franchise operating in between sequels – including the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home – and reboots.
Sinister Six – A movie featuring some combination of Spidey’s most famous bad guys was teased pretty heavily in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and announced shortly after that, but ultimately fell apart. It’s possible there could be another attempt, but nothing official has been announced.
Venom – The character is finally hitting the big-screen later this year with Tom Hardy in the title role after at least two previous attempts, one tied to each of the first two Spider-Man film series. Reports have gone back and forth as to whether or not this is connected to the current Tom Holland-starring movies, but all that seems to be confirmed is that it’s part of what’s being dubbed “Sony’s Marvel Universe.”
Black Cat & Silver Sable – Felicity Jones appeared as Felicia Hardy, Black Cat’s alter ego, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and might have gone on to don the mask if that series had continued. As it stands, the movie pairing up two of the women in Spider-Man’s life, each a criminal or mercenary of some sort, is on hold but may pick back up in 2019.
Morbious, the Living Vampire – The recent announcement the studio was developing a movie starring Jared Leto indicates just how far it’s willing to reach into the bag to find an ancillary character worthy of the big-screen treatment. Morbious began as a villain but went on to be more of a tragic anti-hero, but still counts for the purposes of this list.
There are, notably, only two available exceptions to this rule:
First is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, coming out later this year. The animated feature has Jake Johnson voicing Peter Parker while Shameik Moore plays Miles Morales, introduced in the comics in the alternate “Ultimates” line. The movie does take it one step further, though, by introducing Spider-Gwen, an alternate reality version of Peter’s late girlfriend Gwen Stacy. But what stands out here is that in order to give Spider-Man any other character to play off of, they had to turn mostly to other, alternate-reality versions of Spider-Man himself.
Second is the recently-reported cinematic take on Silk, a Korean-American girl who’s gifted with spider-esque powers in a way very similar to what happened to Peter Parker. The character was introduced by writer Dan Slott in 2014 and caught on to the extent she’s had a couple short-lived ongoing series in the last few years. Based on Sony’s track record, though, I won’t believe this is actually happening until a trailer is released.
As they say, when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. In this case, a reliance on Spider-Man’s villains is the hammer to Sony’s problem of needing to keep putting movies based on the IP it owns in theaters.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.