The slow evolution of Peni Parker

You all know Peni Parker? Of course you do, everyone laughed at the joke about an anime girl Spider-Man when we saw her appear in the 2018 film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse! It was a quick gag that we all moved on from after the movie ended. Well, most of us moved on. I however had a mission in 2022 to read all Spider-Man and Spider-Man adjacent comics ever released and as I did a question popped into my mind: why was Peni in this movie? 

Now, saying that Peni Parker had origins in a comic book isn’t saying much. Everyone has done a Google search and saw her origin comic and design, however how many people have read it and thought about it? Because when researching and comparing Peni to the other Spider-People who appear in this movie you immediately notice a huge difference; Peni is the only one to never get her own series. 

Before this film went into production there was a single issue of Peni Parker content in existence, with a second one released about two months before the film came out. Compared to any of the other characters like Spider-Man Noir or even Spider-Ham Peni barely existed before 2018.

So because such a small amount of Peni Parker content exists how about we go through her entire character history and see if this character has evolved at all throughout the years, especially now that she’s been in a movie seen by millions.

Edge of Spider-Verse #5

Yes, Peni’s very first appearance was back during the very original Spider-Verse event in 2014, making her almost a decade old now! Peni and her entire world in this comic are portrayed much, much differently than how she was in Into the Spider-Verse. While in that film the character was given a cutesy charm to fit in with the jokes they wanted to do this comic’s tone is an homage to more serious anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion. I am completely justified in calling it that as the cast of Eva literally cameo in this issue in the background as Peni’s classmates.

Peni’s introduction in this issue is a relatively simple one. We learn that Spider-Man in this universe is a robotic suit called the SP//DR and that the original pilot, Peni’s father, has died and as such she needs to take his place. The SP//DR is controlled by Peni and a small robotic spider that needs her DNA to function. Now despite this being a homage to mecha anime it’s important to note that the SP//DR isn’t a super huge mech as in various shots throughout the comic it’s only about twice Daredevil’s size so it can’t be more than 10 feet tall.

Being a Shinji Ikari stand-in, Peni naturally comes across as very depressed in this entire book. Gazing off into the distance, saying that the wave of crime in the city is nothing but constant noise, and talking about how she’s tired. Even though I compared her to Shinji it’s important to note that she isn’t cowardly as she is not only never objects to fighting crime in this issue but at the end when Spider-Ham comes to recruit her to fight Morlun and the Inheritors she has a pretty cool shot where she accepts but “I need to grab my suit.”

This issue is a pretty fun read but it’s not surprising that this was the last we heard of Peni for years. In an event that introduces more Spider-Man concepts than you can count (including the fan favorite Spider-Gwen) you can’t be surprised that not many people cared about the Evangelion reference girl. Plus she didn’t get to do anything in the main Spider-Verse book itself, her only appearances are in crowd shots and even then she’s far in the background. 

Now while this one issue was Peni’s only appearance before the Spider-Verse film went into production it wasn’t her only appearance before it came out as in 2018 Marvel decided to do a second Spider-Verse event known as Spider-Geddon for the sake of having brand synergy with the upcoming film.

Edge of Spider-Geddon #2

Right off the bat, thank God for this issue’s cover. There aren’t many good shots of just Peni in her original appearance as most panels from the original comic would rather show off her suit. Without this issue’s cover, me and every other person who wants to talk about her wouldn’t have a good image to use over and over for WordPress or Youtube thumbnails. 

Right off the bat the Evangelion references are in overdrive as Peni now wears a blue pilot suit like Shinji’s when piloting the SP//DR, as compared to her first appearance where she was always wearing her school uniform while piloting it. Despite there not being literal cameos from Eva characters like in Peni’s first appearance this issue feels like it references it way more in its art. Venom in particular looks nearly identical to the Berserk Eva Unit-01 from Evangelion. I’m not a fan of the references being this explicit.

Peni’s characterization in this issue is vastly different than in her first appearance. While Peni didn’t exactly come across as sociable there she didn’t appear to be constantly angry. Here though? Peni doesn’t go a few pages without yelling at someone. Whether it be her aunt and uncle or Addy Brock Peni always has some reason to yell or be angry. I’m also not a fan of this characterization for Peni as she comes across as very unlikable throughout the whole issue.

Plot wise this issue does something that will affect Peni in all of her future appearances: Her Aunt May being killed by Venom. I know, a Spider-Person whose aunt and/or uncle is killed? A shocking turn of events! In all seriousness though I do feel like from this issue onward any writer who gets their hands on doing a Peni Parker issue does try to slowly progress her character in the little screen time she has.

Unlike the original Spider-Verse event where Peni was entirely in the very back of group shots and had no speaking lines she gets slightly more to do in Spider-Geddon. Not only does she get a few speaking lines when the various Spider-People are discussing the situation but it’s actually possible to tell which one is her in group action shots.

Next up we need to cover what made the general public aware of Peni Parker

Into the Spider-Verse

Yes, the very reason I started talking about this character at all the, the 2018 Spider-Verse movie! As I sort of covered earlier in the article, Peni in this movie is an entirely different character than how she was portrayed in her two comic appearances. She only has a few minutes of screen time too so there’s not much to talk about in general about her role in the movie.

What I would really like to talk about in this section is public perception of Peni Parker. I think it’s safe to say that before this movie came out, next to no one knew this character existed. There is a pretty famous image that pops up whenever you look up Peni Parker about how after the trailer that featured the cameo Spider-People came out her wiki views completely exploded. Now I know wiki stats are by no means a way of measuring popularity but I feel like the public immediately enjoyed the idea of Peni as they saw her in the movie

Because of this any future appearances of Peni are obviously influenced not only by her two minor appearances beforehand but also by the movie people actually watched! As we continue this journey I fully expect to see much more movie-Peni influence than Eva-Peni influence in her characterization.

Spider-Verse (2019) #3

In 2019 Marvel released yet another Spider-Verse comic, this one very explicitly having been influenced by the movie as it’s the first one to star Miles Morales. The plot of this comic is that every issue Miles travels to another universe to help another Spider-Person fight a villain, and in the third issue Peni was the one he teamed up with.

Peni and her world in this issue are given a portrayal much closer to her first appearance than in Spider-Geddon. The pilot suit from her second appearance has been completely scrapped in favor of the school uniform look and she once again fights together with Daredevil. She also isn’t constantly angry so that’s a plus. 

The plot of this issue has Peni, Miles, and Daredevil team up to fight a resurrected version of Kraven the Hunter from Peni’s universe. This issue teases us with the idea of Peni having her own Sinister Six led by traditional X-Men antagonist Mister Sinister (good pun). 

This issue does a pretty good job at setting up a unique reason for Peni’s Sinister Six to exist as Mister Sinister wants revenge against Peni’s Uncle Ben while Kraven wants to hunt Peni’s father. That second one actually leads to a unique way for Peni to beat Kraven as he refuses to kill a kid and is shocked to learn that the SP//DR he hunted years ago is actually dead. The issue ends on a slightly somber note of Peni’s Uncle Ben looking at a photo of him, Peni, and her late Aunt May and wondering what he’s even doing. Continuing the progression of Peni’s and her world’s own story after the death of her aunt in her previous appearance.

After this appearance Peni Parker remained unseen for years. Because her appearances have always been linked to Spider-Verse books, when Marvel finally gave us a break from constant Spider-Verse stories we also got a break from Peni. The few Peni Parker fans in existence were finally thrown a bone though in 2022 when Marvel decided to finally do something new with her

Peni Parker After School

Throughout 2022 the Marvel Unlimited App has been running a Spider-Man Infinity Comic (basically a weekly webtoon) called Spider-Verse Unlimited. Despite the name Spider-Verse there are very little multiversal shenanigans in this comic and the title is more of an excuse to focus on a different Spider-Man each arc. While the obvious focus characters like Peter and Miles get their own arcs we also occasionally get a few weeks to showcase a less known Spider-Person. Heck, at the time of writing this, Mayday Parker is starring in her own arc!

As you may have keyed in on from that paragraph, for a few weeks of this comic we got a Peni Parker story: Peni Parker After School. For seven whole weeks Ken Niimura was given charge of Infinity Comic to tell a story about Peni and her Uncle Ben.

As the image above shows, Peni here takes a LOT of more influence from her movie portrayal than any of her previous comic portrayals. Movie Peni has completely replaced the original Evangelion homage. I’m mixed on this as although I definitely prefer Peni’s original design over her movie design I can’t really fault the writing team for wanting to make a character more like the version people know as opposed to a version that is inherently going to make people think of a non-Marvel property.

However it is undeniably really weird to imagine the current version of Peni going through everything that happened in her previous appearances, and yes those are still canon as her aunt’s death is a big part of these issues and we even flashback to when Peni originally got bit by the SP//DR

Seeing the same scene events in a vastly different tone is undeniably weird

Having seven entire issues all to herself Peni here is able to completely shine brighter than she ever has before. We dive into her relationship with her Uncle Ben, how she feels about her father, and her struggles to juggle both school and being a superhero. 

I’m in the process of writing about the top 10 Spider-Man stories of each decade and plan on talking about this when going over the 2020s so expect a full review of these comics then. For now though I will say that Peni in these few issues is exactly what you would want if the movie’s version of Peni made you interested in her. Now all of you should subscribe to the Marvel Unlimited app and read this!

And that brings us to the present day. As you can see, Peni Parker hasn’t appeared much over the years. Before Peni Parker After School she had only 3 appearances where she was the focal point of the issue and a small appearance in a movie that had a lot more going on. So, what does the future hold for Peni Parker?

Honestly, not much probably. Despite a small popularity boost because of the movie it’s very unlikely for Peni to appear more than once every few years because she just isn’t that popular. Even popular characters outside of the main 616 universe struggle to get screen time in comic books so don’t expect to hear from her often and appreciate the screen time she does get.

I for one hope we do get some more Peni Parker content soon. Because let’s face it, the idea of a mecha Spider-Man is just cool and I’m curious to see if any future Peni writers continue to develop her. Heck, just so what you did with Spider-Man 2099 and strand her in the main universe for a while and give her screen time that way. Do it to satisfy me and only me, Marvel!

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