NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Spider-Man #14
Casual comic book fans may be of the mind that superheroes are getting darker and grittier by the year, but just as many are embracing new eras of weirdness and oddball antics. Take Spider-Man for example: as Peter Parker teams up with Deadpool in their shared series, and does his best (and fails) to resist killing the Merc With a Mouth, Miles Morales is on an insane adventure of his own. And no, it isn't directly related to Rocket Raccoon smashing his head into a street sign (although that has to have left a mark, whether Miles admits it or not).
It isn't even a villain that Miles is looking for in his latest adventure in Marvel's main Spider-Man series,but his own father. Long story short, tracking him down after dropping off the grid, presumed kidnapped, isn't going to be a matter of locating him geographically... but interdimensionally, instead. That's right: Miles Morales is taking a trip through the parallel dimensions of the Marvel Universe, encountering famous faces from past and present.
And even a layover in the world of a certain famous 'Big Blue Boy Scout' of DC Comics.
Spider-Man and Woman, Tripping The 'Verse
Miles isn't taking on the mission alone, thank goodness, but with the help of Spider-Woman Gwen Stacy. Ever the hero, Gwen makes sure to offer whatever help she can to Miles in pursuit of his father. The problems started when Jeffersion joined up with S.H.I.E.L.D. in secret to guarantee safety for his web-slinging son. But now that Jefferson's dropped of the dimensional map, Miles is equipped with a S.H.I.E.L.D. tech, portable, wrist-mounted interdimensional transporter. In other words, a teleporter watch capable of opening rifts from one dimension to the next. Gwen has one too, but the technology or literal tech support aiding them in their travels experiences a few hiccups in Issue #14. The result is leap after leap from one unknown universe to the next - bringing Gwen and Miles into familiar territory (to the readers, at least).
It's a merry-go-round of inside jokes for longtime Marvel fans, beginning with Gwen and Miles being deposited on a grey-and-black skyline dotted with zeppelins and gaslights. Spider-Man Noir - an alternate universe version of Peter Parker set in the 1930s - soon greets them, but it's only the first of the cameos writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor have in store. Next is a landing on a futuristic skyline (strongly suggesting the world of Spiderman 2099), followed soon after by an unplanned arrival in a universe overrun with zombies. Zombie Goblin, Zombie Doc Ock, Zombie Typhoid Mary... you get the idea.
But one other unidentified, otherwise unremarkable dimension will stick out to readers for an entirely non-Marvel reason...
Next Stop, Metropolis
In the midst of their reckless reality-hopping, Gwen and Miles enjoy a brief reprieve among the sunny and sleek skyscrapers of an unknown city and universe. In fact, Miles only acknowledges a strange smell coming on before Gwen gets to tapping the dimensional portal-opening wristwatch and they're on their way. But take a look at the skyline, and readers won't be able to miss the playful nod Bendis throws to the world of DC Comics. The city blessed with a spinning 'Daily Planet' globe and a telltale red streak flying through the sky.
There's no better time to throw a nod to Superman and DC, since the fun, faithful fan rivalry between the two 'big' comic publishers has taken on a more serious, vitriolic, and impassioned tone in the rise of Marvel and DC films and television. And sure, some may take it as a next-level slam, suggesting that the DC Universe is just one variation of the Marvel Multiverse... but that doesn't seem the intent at all. It's not the first reference made even in recent months, with the Spider-Man/Deadpool series taking a jab at director Zack Snyder and his love of muscled heroes.
Instead, the comics aim straight for the nostalgia centers of the detail-oriented readers. It's simply a moment for Spider-Man fans to catch the nod, give the idea of Superman and Spidey existing just a mile apart a smile, and go on their merry way. Now if only the movies can replicate the feeling.
Spider-Man #14 is available now.