Sometimes, a movie doesn’t need a villain; a jerk will do. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse has one of each.
For the former, there’s the Spot (Jason Schwartzman), one of the odder villains in the Spider-Man canon, a guy who can generate portals at will and cause all sorts of spatial chaos. As for the jerk, that’s Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac), aka Spider-Man 2099, head of a cross-reality elite task force of parallel-world Spider-Mans. Unlike the Spot, whose whole deal is thoroughly explained in Across the Spider-Verse, Miguel is largely a mystery in this movie — we get some backstory for him, but it’s mostly vague hints. Those hints suggest he’s different somehow, maybe even disturbingly so. And likely because Across the Spider-Verse is just the first of a two-part story, the movie doesn’t follow up on the clues it lays down.
[Ed. note: Mild spoilers for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse follow.]
For a film that’s so packed with exposition, Across the Spider-Verse’s dodgy characterization of this particular alternate-universe Spider-Man can be frustrating. Throughout the film, we learn that he’s kind of a vampire (which is never explained), he secretly takes a drug of some kind (also not elaborated on), and most crucially, he’s the one Spider-Man who’s never funny. (Insulting to all the other Spider-People, really.)
Like a lot of things in Across the Spider-Verse, it’s easier to appreciate Miguel if you know his whole deal from the Marvel comics he first appeared in. However, there’s a caveat here: While the Spider-Verse films lovingly pull from Spidey comics and their many adaptations, most of the movies’ characterizations are original to them. In fact, the backstory Miguel does get in this movie is new to this film — the way he mirrors Kingpin in Into the Spider-Verse, attempting to interlope in another reality where he could have a family, doesn’t come from the comics.
So before diving in here, take this information with an appropriately sized grain of salt. Because while Miguel is among the stranger versions of Spider-Man that Marvel has published a lot of comics about, he might ultimately be a lot stranger in the Spider-Verse films.
First of all: 2099 is a year
The name “Spider-Man 2099” is not, strictly speaking, Miguel O’Hara’s nom de guerre. He is simply the Spider-Man of the year 2099. Like a lot of weird comic book ideas, this one came about in the ’90s.
In 1992, Marvel launched a line of comics set in the Marvel Universe’s future, in the year 2099. In the 2099 comics, everything in the main Marvel comics line was canonically referred to as a legendary “heroic age.” Many familiar superheroes, like Spider-Man and the Punisher, were reimagined for the new era’s cyberpunk dystopia, as new characters assumed classic alter egos. A few others, like Doctor Doom and the Fantastic Four, visited that future from the existing Marvel Universe.
Spider-Man 2099 was by far the most popular and enduring character from the 2099 line. While the series was concluded in 1998, Miguel intermittently appeared in Marvel comics over the following years, until 2014 brought him into the mainstream Marvel Universe in a new Spider-Man 2099 series.
Current comics took Miguel back to his proper time, but he’s remained a fixture ever since.
Who is Miguel O’Hara?
Created by Peter David and Rick Leonardi, Spider-Man 2099 brought a cyberpunk flair to comics’ favorite webhead, reimagining him in a techno-thriller set in the futuristic “Nueva York.”
Across 44 issues, David, Leonardi, and a cadre of other artists spun a new story about Miguel O’Hara, a half Irish, half Mexican American geneticist working for the Alchemax mega-corporation. Miguel is working on a project that will give Alchemax genetically enhanced super-soldiers, but after a crisis of conscience, he wants to quit. Too bad his superiors won’t let him.
In what to this day remains one of the wildest origin stories for a popular Marvel Comics character, Miguel’s boss slips him a highly addictive designer drug called Rapture, making him dependent on Rapture’s only legal distributor: Alchemax. Miguel becomes Spider-Man in a desperate attempt to get clean, using the machine he developed for his super-soldier experiments to restore his genome to its pre-Rapture state. Unfortunately, a rival sabotages that process, setting the machine to rewrite his genetics so he’s 50% spider.
The big twist here is that Miguel’s transformation is more monstrous than Peter Parker’s, adding a bit of body horror to the character. Most of their powers are comparable, but Miguel’s work in slightly more horrifying ways. He clings to walls, but with talons that protrude from his hands and feet. Instead of a spider sense, he has enhanced vision and hearing that make his pupils disappear and daylight unbearable to him. Long before Sam Raimi gave Peter Parker organic web shooters, Miguel O’Hara found spinnerets in his forearms. And most striking are the fangs he develops and cannot retract, fangs that secrete a powerful poison and force Miguel to take on a mumble-y affect when he speaks, to keep them from being obvious.
(One of Across the Spider-Verse’s more alarming throwaway lines is when Gwen notes that Miguel is a “ninja vampire.” In the comics, he isn’t a blood-drinker, or undead, or anything like that — vampirism isn’t really an issue for him. Gwen’s line might just be a flippant reference to his creepy fangs. Unless…)
From there, Miguel adopts a costume he bought for a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico as his new uniform, and tries to cure his condition while seeking revenge on those who ruined his life. He gets some help from Lyla, the AI assistant voiced in the movies by Greta Lee. She isn’t really part of his crime-fighting package; she’s essentially just a more sophisticated Siri who runs Miguel’s apartment in the comics. Ultimately, Miguel learns to become a hero. It rules.
2099 is just a state of mind
Knowing all this, it’s very possible that the Miguel O’Hara of Across the Spider-Verse is in fact entirely faithful to the comic books, give or take a few details. He seems to depend a lot more on his very high-tech costume, for one thing.
It’s also possible that the filmmakers want to pay homage to the character’s comic book origins before doing something radically different with him — something they’ve already started with the character, given his movie status as a multiversal Spider-Cop.
Mostly, Miguel is useful as one of the more prominent Spider-People in Marvel history who aren’t variations on Peter Parker. Unlike Peter or Miles, Miguel becomes Spider-Man as an adult, specifically a Spider-Man who initially embraces and is complicit with a corporate surveillance state. Miguel has to reckon with a world he helped make, and when you hold his story up against Miles’ or Peter’s mantra about power and responsibility, he makes more sense as someone who would have a more hardline stance on how to put it into action.
Which means, yeah — he’s a bit of a jerk. But will Beyond the Spider-Verse prove he’s ultimately a jerk for the greater good? Or will he remain as he is in Across the Spider-Verse, a jerk blinded by his own rigid moral calculus? We’ll find out in