Spider-Man is one of the most recognizable superheroes in the world, often acting as the unofficial mascot for Marvel Comics. A complex character with a rich history, the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker have been featured not only in comic books, but video games, TV shows and movies.
With retcons, alternate timelines and multiple universes, writers have been able to reinvent and reinterpret the Spider-Man story in a variety of captivating ways, and after a string of somewhat lackluster big screen adaptations, hopes are high that the web slinger will get the big screen treatment he deserves when Spider-Man finally joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War. Until then, we take a look at some of the best alternate incarnations of the character.
12 The Spider (Earth-311)
What if all of your favorite Marvel superheroes had lived centuries in the past as opposed to present day? How different would they be? The limited series Marvel 1602 sought to answer those questions in a reality designated Earth-311. The limited series was published in 2003, and re-imagined many of Marvel's most beloved characters existing in the Elizabethan era.
As mysterious weather leads many to believe the apocalypse is at hand, Queen Elizabeth tasks her head of intelligence, Sir Nicholas Fury, to investigate what is really going on. Fury's assistant is none other than Peter Parquagh.
Parquagh's transformation into Spider-Man was merely teased throughout the original eight issue run, with a number of comedic run ins with various exotic spiders. Patient fans were placated when he was finally bitten towards the end of the series, leading him to don a mask and take up the mantle of “The Spider” in the 2005 sequel.
1602 provided a unique spin on the superhero genre as we had come to know it, and was one of the most successful comics of 2003. If you needed another reason to check this series out (aside from the insane costume glimpsed above, of course), it was written by the legendary Neil Gaiman.
11 Spider-Man: India (Earth-50101)
The idea that with great power comes great responsibility is universal, and Peter Parker's transformation from a bookish loser to a wisecracking hero is incredibly relatable, so it's no surprise that in some universes, Spider-Man originated not in New York City, but in completely different parts of the world.
Case in point, Pavitr Prabhakar, his world's Spider-Man. Prabhakar is an Indian boy who hails from a remote village, but upon earning a scholarship to a university in Mumbai, he moves there with his Aunt Maya and Uncle Bhim. Prabhakar is ostracized at school, his only friend being a popular girl by the name of Meera Jain. One day Prabhakar meets a yogi who grants him the power of a spider in order to fight an evil crime lord named Nalin Oberoi who has been possessed by a demon.
Spider-Man India has some really clever deviations from his American counterparts, but still retains everything that makes Spider-Man great. In addition to being the Spider-Man of his world, Prabhakar took part in the Spider-Verse storyline, where he teamed up with a number of other entries on this list.
10 Spider-Ham (Earth-8311)
In this universe, Earth is populated by anthropomorphic animals and Peter, a normal, everyday spider, lives comfortably in the basement of May Porker, a slightly eccentric inventor. One day, May Porker invents an atomic hair dryer, with the hopes to revolutionize the hair care industry with the power of nuclear fission.
Eager to test it, May Porker accidentally irradiates herself with her hair dryer and proceeds to bite Peter, who transforms into a pig like May Porker. Confused, Peter flees the house, but soon realises that he has still retained all of the abilities of a spider, despite now being a pig. He then decided to fight injustice as Spider-Ham, facing foes like Ducktor Doom and Raven the Hunter.
Originally intended as a parody, Spider-Ham is an odd, yet lovable character. Porker has proven to be a popular incarnation of Spidey, so much so that Spider-Ham has taken part in the Spider-Verse story arc that saw a number of Spider-Men from alternate dimensions fighting the Inheritors, ancient beings who hunted and killed the Spider-Men. There were numerous casualties, however Spider-Ham survived and returned to his universe to resume the mantle of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Ham!
9 Scarlet Spider (Earth-616)
Way back in 1975, Spider-Man readers were introduced to a clone of Peter Parker, cooked up by The Jackal. Leading this clone to believe that he was actually the real Peter Parker, The Jackal forced the clone and the real Spider-Man to fight. Ultimately, the clone's sense of morality outweighed his jealousy and anger, leading the two Spider-Men to fight The Jackal together. The resulting battle cost the clone his life, or so readers thought.
Fast forward to the mid-90s, a stressful time when comic sales were plummeting and many characters saw extraneous pouches suddenly appear on their costumes (we're looking at you, Rob Liefeld). Spider-Man writers decided to bring the clone back by having him survive the battle with The Jackal, but going into a self-imposed exile due to the knowledge that he was a clone. He names himself Ben Reilly and sets out on his own, leaving New York.
His return sets off the much maligned “Clone Saga,” an incredibly perplexing story arc that confused readers by stating that Peter Parker was actually the clone all along, and that Ben Reilly was really the original. The man everyone thought was the real Parker then abandons his life, deeply depressed, leaving Ben Reilly to assume the Spider-Man identity. Then there were other clones and clones of clones. The story drove sales, but readers felt deceived and cheated.
In the end, Ben was revealed to be the clone all along, but he managed to capture a piece of readers hearts, possibly due to the fact that he sported one of the most 90s costumes ever in the form of a sleeveless hoodie worn over the spandex, but probably because he proved to be a person of depth and substance who really was a selfless hero, despite having been grown in a test tube.
8 Spider-Girl (Earth-982)
In a version of reality where being Peter Parker isn't a total downer, Parker and his wife Mary Jane live an unassuming, but happy life raising their young daughter, May. Parker still dons the red and blue spandex, however. after a battle with the Green Goblin cost him one of his legs, Parker decides to retire from the superhero life, to focus on being a husband and father.
Even though Mary Jane and Peter shield May from father's exploits as Spider-Man, she develops her own powers while still in high school. Her newfound abilities and sense of justice cause her to pursue crime-fighting, despite objections from her parents. Donning the costume of her “Uncle” Ben Reilly, Spider-Girl quickly became a favorite amongst readers for her spunky attitude and independent spirit.
May Parker first appeared in a What If? story back in 1998, and has since gone on to acquire her own book, which became the longest running comic by Marvel to feature a female lead.
7 The Spider-Man (Earth-90214)
Someone over at Marvel definitely caught a film noir marathon on Turner Classic Movies. In this universe, often referred to as Marvel Noir, the counterparts to the superheroes we know gained their powers and infamy in the 1920s and 30s as opposed to the modern era.
During the Great Depression, Peter Parker is raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, who raise Peter to take a stand against injustice. Parker's Uncle Ben is an activist, organizing strikes on the behalf of poorly treated workers. This ruffles the wrong feathers, and Ben is killed by prominent New York City businessmen in retaliation for his meddling.
Working as a journalist, Peter investigates shady dealings in an attempt to seek out justice for his Uncle Ben. After receiving a tip about stolen antiques, Peter ventures to a warehouse where a broken spider statue unleashes a spider that bites Peter, leaving him to dream of a mystical “Spider God.” After waking, Peter discovers he has arachnid powers, and sets out to bring justice to the corrupt city of New York.
A significantly darker take on the Spider-Man mythos, The Spider-Man donned an all black outfit modified from his Uncle Ben's WWI uniform (one of our personal favorite spider-suits) and had no aversion to using pistols or even the era-favourite Chicago Typewriter. The popularity of The Spider-Man has seen the character appear in various storylines and media, such as videogames and cartoons.
6 Superior Spider-Man (Earth-616)
An incredibly controversial and divisive story arc, 2013 saw Peter Parker and Otto Octavius star in their very own body swap movie. Octavius, better known as Doctor Octopus, was dying. His body was ravaged by disease and he had to rely on his robotic machinations more and more. Divising a nefarious plan, Octavius was able to transfer his consciousness into Parker's body, because hey, comic books.
Octavius, now in Parker's body, was able to access all of Parker's memories, from moments of elation to the ones that caused him the most pain. Understanding why Parker was compelled to fight for justice, and consumed by his obsession to prove that he was better than his old nemesis, Doc Ock sets out to be a “superior” Spider-Man.
Although many fans were horrified, this made for an interesting dynamic. While Octavius had access to all of Parker's memories, allowing him to understand Parker's motivations, he was not burdened by them. This allowed Octavius, acting as Spider-Man, to dole out justice in exceedingly efficient manner, such as blinding The Vulture and programming Spider-Bots to patrol the city.
It is revealed that Parker's consciousness was still kicking around inside his noggin, and was forcing Octavius to question his brutal methods of crime fighting. Realizing that Peter Parker is truly the “superior” man, Octavius sacrifices himself so that Peter's consciousness can resume control of his body.
5 Spider-Man 2099 (Earth-6375)
Back in the early 90s, Marvel experimented with a line of comics with the 2099 suffix, reimagining pre-existing characters in a dystopian not-so-distant future. Public reaction was mixed, however there was one character that proved to be popular with fans — Spider-Man 2099.
Miguel O'Hara is a geneticist with the Alchemex Corporation, one of the many mega-conglomerates that run the world in his future timeline. He is tasked with creating a kind of super-soldier, and being idealistic, he looks at surviving records of his world's Peter Parker, known to the public only as Spider-Man. Inspired, he continues his research, however O'Hara's genetic code spliced with that of a spider after an accident, causing him to gain numerous abilities similar to those of his hero.
Finding that the public has become ignorant to the oppression perpetrated by the companies they rely on, O'Hara embraces the spirit of Spider-Man by pledging to use his power to stand up for those who cannot.
Striking out in a fully realized world, Spider-Man 2099 incorporated the intrigue of cyberpunk fiction with the superhero genre to create a character that continues to appear in Marvel comics and media today, despite the discontinuation of the 2099 line back in 1997.
4 Zombie Spider-Man (Earth-2149)
The Spider-Man of Earth-2149 was identical to the main continuity's web slinger, that is up until he is infected with a zombie virus. The virus quickly turns the world's super powered beings into lumbering, flesh-eating zombies, complete with a bad case of necrosis and an insatiable hunger that is only abated by sinking their teeth into the living.
Spider-Man, infected but still human, witnesses the pandemonium and destruction caused by the virus and rushes home in order to get his wife, Mary Jane, and his Aunt May to safety. Unfortunately for Parker, the hunger becomes too much for him and he kills and devours both Mary Jane and his Aunt May. Wracked with guilt but a slave to the virus, Parker is helpless to stop himself from killing...and eating.
A particularly twisted take on the character, Zombie Spider-Man is one of the few infected that express remorse for the atrocities he has committed, proving that even in death, Parker is still haunted by a sense of responsibility.
3 Spider-Gwen (Earth-65)
Gwen Stacy will always hold a special place in the wall crawler's heart. She was his first love and the first person he couldn't save. Spider-Man's failure leads to her death, which not only affected the Spider-Man books, but all of comic books, as it marked the first time a superhero was shown to be fallible.
Always a tragic figure, the alternate Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 was a breath of fresh air for the character. In this reality, it is Gwen, not Peter, who is bitten by the radioactive spider. Shortly after developing her superpowers, Gwen begins fighting crime as Spider-Woman. The Peter Parker of this reality is bullied constantly, and idolizes Spider-Woman. He develops a chemical that ultimately turns him into The Lizard. Spider-Woman is able to subdue him, but Parker dies, leading the public to label Spider-Woman a criminal.
With an incredibly popular costume that made the character go viral before she even had her own series, Spider-Gwen is a unique take on the Spider-mythos that provided unique stories based on fleshed out characters with clever writing.
2 Ultimate Spider-Man (Earth-1610)
For over a decade, readers were treated to an updated version of the Spider-Man saga under the Ultimate imprint. A brand new generation of readers were acquainted with Peter Parker as he fought familiar enemies and dealt with the the struggle of balancing his civilian life with that of his heroic alter-ego. Unfortunately, Peter was ultimately killed in a battle with the Green Goblin, which leads a thirteen-year-old Miles Morales to step into the tights and adopt the Spider-Man moniker.
A modern take on the classic character, Miles is half-black, half-Latino, making him one of the more prominent minority characters in comics. But he was far more than just a gimmick to appease those clamoring for political correctness.
Initially reluctant to become a superhero, Miles Morales' story arc has seen him grow into the role, and readers have been allowed to experience a fully realized Spider-Man origin story without all of the baggage that comes along with decades of story lines and retcons. Miles Morales has earned the title of Spider-Man both in comic and amongst fans, becoming incredibly popular, and rightfully so.
1 Bonus: The Bombastic/Amazing Bagman (Earth-616)
Not really an alternate version of Spider-Man but rather an alternate costume, the “Bagman” costume has gone down in infamy, appearing in almost all of Spider-Man's videogames as an unlockable costume, despite its brief appearance.
After Parker heads to the Baxter Building to get Reed Richards to analyze his symbiote costume, Parker is left to do his web slinging in an old, spare Fantastic Four costume. Needing a mask to protect his secret identity, he opts for a loose fitting paper bag with eye holes cut out of it. The icing on the cake is the “kick me” sign Johnny Storm affixes to Parker's back. Oh, he also doesn't have any shoes.
Disagree with our list? Which alternate versions of Spider-Man do you think are the best? Sound off in the comments!