Spider-Man arguably has one of the best supporting casts in comic books, a collection of friends and enemies nearly as iconic as he is. It’s one of the reasons he’s so popular, and why Sony is content to make movies like Venom, Morbius, and Kraven the Hunter based on his rogues’ gallery, with no connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and nary a hint of Spidey himself.
Spider-Man’s villains and allies are almost as iconic as he is. Madame Web and its antagonist, a guy named Ezekiel Sims, however, are not. Instead they suggest that Madame Web is quietly adapting one of the most controversial and out there Spider-Man stories printed in the last 20 years, one that I’m frankly thrilled to have people ask me questions about.
But first, the basics. The trailer for Madame Web introduces us to Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson), a paramedic who, after a near-death experience, discovers she can see the future. That future is haunted by a man named Ezekiel Sims (Tahar Rahim), a violent man who dresses like an evil Spider-Man and seems to have it out for three other young women destined to become Spider-People — Julia Carpenter (Sydney Sweeney), Mattie Franklin (Celeste O’Conner), and Anya Corazon (Isabela Merced).
Each of these characters has extensive ties to Spider-Man lore, some more bonkers than others (Mattie Franklin’s Wikipedia page is a lot) but Ezekiel is where things get truly wild.
A central pillar of Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski’s six-year tenure on Amazing Spider-Man, Ezekiel Sims is a wealthy older gentleman who rocks Peter Parker’s world when he not only shows up with similar spider-powers, but seems to know everything about him. He then poses a question, which Straczynski would tease out over the course of his run: what came first, the spider that bit Peter, or the radiation?
Ezekiel, it turns out, believes that Peter was destined to gain spider powers, and that the bite would have changed him just the same without the freak accident. Thus begins a years-long saga of mystical spider-totem bullshit, a term I used endearingly to describe a baffling yet fascinating story where Straczynski suggests Spider-Man is an avatar of myth, turning the comic into an urban fantasy complete with vampires and cosmic threads that would lead to, among other things, the Spider-Verse comics.
Again, this was a hugely controversial story, but one that led to enough now-popular things (like Cindy Moon/Silk and the whole idea of the Spider-Verse) that it’s never been fully disavowed, just politely ignored. And now it’s front and center of a big movie that doesn’t seem like it’s shying away from the source material, lifting Ezekiel’s Amazon expedition origin story directly from the comics, even as it plays fast and loose with Madame Web herself.
This is perhaps the most perplexing thing about the Madame Web trailer: It’s full of wildly interesting and truly strange Spider-Man characters, yet it spends its three minute runtime explaining how it’s about a woman who can see the future over and over again, as if it were some run-of-the-mill 2000s thriller. Given Sony’s hit-or-miss track record with its Spider-villain movies so far, that may be an accurate representation — but there’s plenty of room here to surprise. Too bad we can’t see the future.