Before delving into the spider-totem lore, created by J. Michael Straczynski, it’s important to re-visit Spider-Man’s origin as we originally learned it.

During an experiment in atomic science, a spider descended from the ceiling of the laboratory. When the spider accidentally absorbed radiation, it began to die. On its way out, however, it bit one Peter Parker before expiring. As a result of the radioactive bite, Parker got the proportionate strength of a spider. Additionally, he got other neat abilities including increased speed, agility, and “spider sense”. Everyone knows the story, right?

In the early 2000’s, Straczynski dared to say, “Wrong! You don’t know the half of it.” As a writer on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Straczynski introduced an unprecedented supernatural lore to the character. Though much of Straczynski’s Spider-Man run was later undone by “One More Day”, his spider-totem idea persists to this day. In fact, the spider-totem concept continues to influence plenty of Spider-Man stories including SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE!

To think, it all began with a question:

AM I A FRIEND, OR AN ENEMY?

Spider-Totem Origins

With that question, fans met Ezekiel in the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #30. With him came a long list of questions. For instance: who is he? How did he get his spider-powers? Why won’t he get his suit pressed?

Before getting those answers, Ezekiel calls into question Peter’s whole conception of how he became the Wallcrawler. First, Ezekiel suggests that perhaps the spider had powers before encountering the radiation. Moreover, perhaps the bite was destined to occur. Radioactivity and chance had nothing to do with it. Ezekiel Straczynski

Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

According to Ezekiel, once Parker became Spider-Man, he also became a spider-totem. Consequently, Spider-Man became a part of an ancient lineage of people chosen by “the spider” to be its totemic representation. This theory also introduced the idea that, in the Marvel Universe, all spiders are somewhat sentient. They share a hive mind and a mental bond with Anansi, the first ever spider-totem. This legacy did not just mean that perhaps Peter had always been meant for greatness. N0, it turned out that with great magical inheritance there must also come… side effects.

Supernatural Side-Effects

Unfortunately, becoming a spider-totem meant entering the supernatural world. In addition to spider-powers, becoming a spider-totem marked Spider-Man with a magical aura that affects the rest of his life. Could it, perhaps, have always been the source of that dreadful Parker luck?

Worse, it also meant becoming part of the supernatural food chain. For example, Ezekiel explained Spider-Man’s rogue gallery consisting of multiple animal-themed villains could not be a coincidence. In AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #32 Ezekiel said, “One type attracts another, similar type.” Ezekiel’s theory implies that Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery chose their identities under the influence of Spider-Man’s totemistic force. In addition to this, Ezekiel labels them all “pretenders” for not actually being the totem of the animal they call themselves.

spider-totem straczynski
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The invisible, magical, spider-flavored totemistic force that Spider-Man emitted made him a target in the supernatural world. Thankfully, this resulted in team-ups with the one-and-only Doctor Strange, as well as cool new storylines. Unfortunately, it also meant new threats. Most dire among those new threats was the vampiric Morlun.

To Kill A Spider-Totem

Ezekiel first warned Spider-Man about Morlun in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #32, mentioning that Morlun’s kind feeds off of totemistic forces. Apparently, Morlun’s cells “break down over time” — by the way, so do all our cells — without that supernatural energy infusion. Morlun could accept his mortality and the inevitable breakdown of his body. Instead, every so often, Morlun fed on a totem — or “source life-form” as Parker describes them in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #34 — to stay alive.

Morlun Straczynski
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

In other words, Morlun stayed alive due to hunting and killing beings like Spider-Man. And he proved very good at it.

Only the unusual circumstances of Parker’s choosing, that the spider had radiation poisoning, saved the Webslinger. The radioactivity in his blood became his best weapon again Morlun. The villain could not ingest Spidey’s totemic energy without poisoning himself because of that “tainted” blood, saving Peter’s life in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #35.

Ezekiel was also different from past totems. In fact, Ezekiel was never chosen to be a totem. Instead, he used his financial resources to attain power via a secret ancient ritual within a spider-temple. The Gatekeeper, a magical being in charge of protecting the totemic energy, formed in response to Ezekiel’s actions.

Spider-Totem Gatekeeper
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

To avoid the Gatekeeper’s punishment during the “The Book of Ezekiel” storyline, Ezekiel tricked Parker. Thus, Spidey took on the being, believing himself to be the target. Ezekiel even went as far as to abandon Webhead to die at the hands of the Gatekeeper to save himself. At the end of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #508, though, Ezekiel earned redemption by ultimately sacrificing himself for Parker.

Interestingly, the Gatekeeper never targeted the likes of Silk, Kaine, or Ben Reilly, suggesting that each generation can support more than one totem.

The More Spider-Totems, The Merrier

After Straczynski set the groundwork for Spider-Man as a supernatural force, other writers built on it. Most notably, writer Dan Slott used Morlun and the spider-totem concept as the building blocks for his original “Spider-Verse” storyline. The premise of “Spider-Verse” revolves around Morlun’s family hunting spider-totems from other dimensions, with the help of the Master Weaver. Fortunately, the Superior Spider-Man notices that something is hunting other spider-totems, and he forms a Spider-Army to defeat Morlun and his ilk. In addition to a bunch of Spider-Men, “Spider-Verse” introduced Morlun’s family, and an inevitable prophecy.

Loomworld
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Alongside Morlun’s family, the Inheritors, Slott created Loomworld. In this realm dwelled the Inheritors and Earth-001 in the Marvel Universe. This choice felt like something of a retcon, considering Ezekiel’s familiarity with Morlun during Straczynski’s run. On the other hand, it could be each Inheritor had a “beat” — a set of worlds they specifically hunted on — and Morlun’s included Earth-616.

In Loomworld, the Inheritors stored clones of themselves who could easily be “activated” if a member of the family died. Thus, Morlun’s demise during Straczynski’s run did actually happen, but his consciousness immediately ended up in one of his clone bodies. Hence, the villain did not so much come back to life as body-leap onto the next. The Inheritors also utilized Loomworld to feast upon spider-totems and discuss flawed rituals and prophecies.

A Flawed Spider-Verse

The Inheritors became concerned that some of the spider-totems within the Spider-Army could actually defeat them. They specifically singled out Kaine Parker, Cindy Moon, and Benjy Parker. To circumvent a battle they might lose, the Inheritors looked to perform a ritual that would prevent any further spider-totems from being created. But something’s not quite right there.

Spider-Totem Prophecy
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Given what we know of the Inheritors’ needs, the plan seems a strange fit. No more totems, in essence, means no more food. Evidently, the Spider Army scared them so badly that they would rather have to find a new food source than take on the webslinging squad.

The Inheritors never end up having to face that paradox, though, as Morlun never completes the ritual. In AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #14, the Spider-Army trapped the Inheritors on a heavily irradiated Earth. As previously noted, the Inheritors, like most of us, do not do well with radiation. The Spider-Army thus proved victorious. However, it proved a short-lived triumph. The Inheritors would soon return in SPIDER-GEDDON.

The Other  Stuff

Believe it or not, this leaves out several aspects of Spider-Man’s supernatural lore. The Master Weaver, Madame Web, the Spider-Society, The Other, and Cindy Moon, the Spider-Bride all remain unexplored. Waiting for you to discover them. And perhaps for me to explain them sometime in the future.

For now, however, you have the tools you need to dive in. So snag a webline and swing your way into Spidey’s supernatural lore confident in your ability to navigate its strange delights.

spider-totem straczynski slott spider-verse
Image Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

 

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