Comics to Screen is a recurring feature in which Ben Kaye analyzes the constantly evolving leap from comic books to screens of all sizes.
Damn, it feels good to have a great Spider-Man movie again. Through the strain of undergoing yet another reboot, tricky inter-company deals, and an absurd six writers, Spider-Man: Homecoming surpassed expectations to be a thrilling triumph on numerous levels. The film’s plot is cleaner than almost any of its peers, and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of the most well-rounded villains in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s all the wit a Spidey film demands while also presenting a more realistic Peter Parker than any of the previous attempts. In so many ways, director/screenwriter Jon Watts simply nails it.
But if you’ve got the right eye and look closely, you can see he also screwed it and wood glued it, too. This isn’t just one of the most successful superhero films in recent memory — it’s one of the best examples of subtle fan-service for which a nerd could ever hope. Though most moviegoers will likely be able to appreciate all the nods to the greater MCU (the Triskelion, the Chitauri Leviathan, a mention of the Sokovia Accords), only comic fans will pick up on some of the better Easter Eggs Watts hid throughout the movie.
Tucked away in the background of scenes, dropped into a simple line of dialogue, or introduced as actual characters, there are loads of awesome little references to Spider-Man’s 55 years of comic book history. While these teases tickle the hardcore fans, it only works if you know what to look for. A good geek wants others to get in on the fun, which is why we’re presenting you with this guide to the best — and potentially most important — Easter Eggs in Homecoming.
Obviously, major spoiler warning for the pages ahead. We’re going to be talking about specific scenes and characters, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, be forewarned. If you’re already planning your second viewing, though, click on and get ready to impress all your friends when you can tell them how much more amazing Spider-Man: Homecoming really is.
When Spider-Man (Tom Holland) tracks Adrian Toomes (Keaton) to the Staten Island ferry, the weapons buyers Toomes is meeting seem pretty inconsequential. That is until Spidey’s suit A.I. Karen reveals their leader is Mac Gargan, and our first close shot of him lingers on a scorpion tattoo on his neck. Spider-Man diehards instantly recognized this was Scorpion, one of the hero’s earliest adversaries. Played by Michael Mando, the character even hints at his future transformation and involvement in the Sinister Six during the mid-credits scene when he tells Toomes of his “friends on the outside” who want to squash the Spider too.
Sony has long wanted to introduce the Sinister Six supervillain group in their movies, but their last attempt was the ridiculously heavy-handed “hinting” in Amazing Spider-Man 2. This time, with the wiser Marvel behind them, they were able to gracefully introduce the concept as part of the actual story at hand. Who knows if Scorpion will show up in Spider-Man: Sadie Hawkins or whatever the sequel ends up being titled, but it seems an appearance is definitely in the cards.
No, the Shocker isn’t anything close to a secret character, as his name is reiterated a dozen times in just one scene. What makes the character an Easter Egg, though, is the guy who wears the gauntlet before Bokeem Woodbine’s Herman Schultz. Logan Marshall-Green plays a character named Jackson Brice, known in the comics as Montana, a member of the gimmicky group of thugs the Enforcers. It’s probably best he didn’t get the cowboy hat and whip in the movie, but the fact that Brice appeared at all is artful fan-service. His replacement by Schultz was also a nice way to represent the fact that super identities are often passed off to multiple people (though Schultz is the only true Shocker).
Donald Glover plays a relatively bit part in Homecoming, but for fans, it’s an incredibly important one. He’s credited as Aaron Davis, a small time crook whose comic origins have much bigger implications. In the (now dead) Ultimate parallel universe, Davis became the Prowler, a burglar who used a super-powered suit in his heists — which is why Glover’s character is so interested at the mention of grappling tech during the busted arms deal.
But the connections go even deeper. Davis decides to help Parker because he has a nephew who lives in the area. That nephew would be Miles Morales, the Ultimate Universe’s Spider-Man (who now resides in the main Marvel comic-verse… look, comics are complicated sometimes, okay?). In fact, it’s the Prowler’s robbery of Osborn Industries that inadvertently leads to Morales’ spider bite origin. Morales is already set to be the focus of Sony’s animated Spider-Man film, but the fact that he now exists in the proper MCU opens the door for some exciting possibilities.
Okay, this is admittedly a stretch, but you can’t say “venom” around Spider-Man and expect people not to think of one of comics’ all-time great arch-enemies. When Ned (Jacob Batalon) is grilling Parker about his abilities, he asks, “Can you spit venom?” No, he can’t, but Ned can sure drop a name. Tom Hardy was recently announced as the lead in Sony’s Venom standalone film, and although the movie is currently not connected to the MCU, Marvel may be slyly planting some seeds with that quick mention.
It was long speculated that Zendaya had been cast as Peter Parker’s main love interest, Mary Jane Watson. Still, she was always referred to as Michelle in cast listings and in the film itself, so the assumption was she’d be a totally original character. At the end, however, she reveals that her nickname is indeed MJ, Mary Jane’s preferred moniker in the comics. Kevin Feige has stated emphatically that Michelle is not Mary Jane Watson, but considering what they’re doing with Zendaya’s character, we doubt we’ll see the redheaded inamorata in the MCU anytime soon. Giving Spider-Man’s main romantic lead such a drastic rewrite was a gutsy call by Marvel and Sony, but as with so many of the decisions in this movie, it paid off handsomely.
Betty Brant, as played by Angourie Rice, only appears on the Midtown School of Science and Technology student news broadcasts, so it’s understandable if you glossed over her inclusion. Brant is important to the Spidey mythos, though, as she’s one of his earliest love interests and eventual co-worker at The Daily Bugle newspaper. In Homecoming, her awkward co-anchor is Jason Ionello (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), an even more minor character who used to bully Parker alongside Flash Thompson.
This is such a comic book institution that ABC even tried to make a TV show about it. In the books, Tony Stark launches Damage Control as a public service project with Wilson “The Kingpin” Fisk to clean up all the mess left in the wake of superhero activities. In a logical twist, Homecoming turns it into a government agency that also gives motivation to the film’s antagonist. It would’ve been neat to tie Fisk into things, but last we saw him in Netflix’s Daredevil, he was still incarcerated.
If you missed this one, you probably sat down after the opening credits. Composer Michael Giacchino tucked the chords of the classic Spider-Man cartoon theme into his score, which played over the newly updated Marvel Studios logo. The closest we got to this in the previous Spidey films was a busker plucking a violin in Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man.
Rubble and Robbery
It’s not uncommon for a director to be inspired by specific panels from the comics, but Watts really touched the hearts of geeks everywhere with his choices. First, the battle between Spidey and a bunch of would-be ATM robbers wearing Avengers masks is pulled straight from Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s landmark run on Ultimate Spider-Man. The only difference is that, in the book, one of the crooks is wearing a Batman mask, because tee hee.
The other — and far more touching — moment is when Vulture traps Spider-Man under the rubble of a warehouse. Parker is forced to summon belief in himself to push out of the debris, a triumphant moment in the young hero’s arc. This is a direct homage to a famous cover and sequence by Steve Ditko from Amazing Spider-Man #33, in which Doctor Octopus drops a ton of heavy machinery on top of Spidey. Watts’ genius with this is that it’s not just a visual reference, but an earned one, as Holland’s Spider-Man deals with the same challenge of will as Ditko and Stan Lee’s character did. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice wishes it had half the emotional resonance in its The Dark Knight Returns cues.
It honestly seemed this sort of visual egg was a dead art in cinema, but Watts and his set designers dropped some great coded references into the background of two scenes. During the ferry fight, a license plate on one car reads “SM2-0563.” The Vulture and the Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) both made their debut in Amazing Spider-Man #2, released May 1963. Boom.
The car owned by Glover’s Aaron Davis also sports a comic allusion on its plates. They read “UCS-M01,” which stands for Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #01, the first appearance of Davis/the Prowler and Miles Morales’ Spider-Man. If Glover’s character wasn’t enough of a hint for fans, Watts literally spelled it out for them.
Go get ’em, Tiger
This one is so good it’s almost distracting. “Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot” is the first thing Mary Jane Watson ever says to Peter Parker in the comics, and the pet-name has stuck around for decades. At the end of Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, Kirsten Dunst tells Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker to “go get ’em, Tiger” when they hear police sirens in the distance. No character in Spider-Man: Homecoming ever utters a similar phrase, but Dunst’s quote adorns a few banners strung up around the school, ostensibly referring to the team mascot.
The tiger mascot himself actually appears a handful of times in the movie, always running towards some unknown rally off screen. He’s usually seen right before Spidey suits up or Michelle (MJ) appears, making this a personification of the famous catchphrase. The first time you see him, it feels like an odd choice; then you realize Watts is just a nerdy little genius.
At the end of Homecoming, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) offers Spider-Man a position on the Avengers, along with an upgraded suit. Parker never dons the costume in the movie, but he wears a very similar Stark-designed outfit in the comics. Iron Man gives Parker the Iron Spider suit, a high-tech armor with extra arms and an array of gadgets, in Amazing Spider-Man #529 to help coax him onto Stark’s side during the comics’ version of Civil War. The movie model isn’t an exact replica of Joe Quesada and Chris Bachalo’s design, but it’s too similar to be anything else.
Marvel Cinematic Universe
Bruce Banner, Howard Stark, and Abraham Erskine
There are three visual nods to the greatest minds in the MCU on the walls of Midtown High. Iron Man’s dad, Howard Stark (John Slattery), and Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), the scientist who invented the super soldier serum in Captain America: The First Avenger, are part of a mural in one of the hallways. In another scene, a classroom’s whiteboard is lined with black-and-white pictures of famous scientists — including Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It makes sense that students in the MCU would be learning about people like this considering their impact on the world, and it was smooth of the set designers to clue audiences into that fact.
Marvel has only occasionally double-cast actors in different minor roles, but this time it was intentional and logical. Kenneth Choi plays Principal Morita, and on his desk is an image of Choi himself standing besides Captain America in World War II. No, Peter’s principal isn’t a time traveler; he’s the grandson of James “Jim” Morita of the Howling Commandos, the guy in the picture and a role Choi played in Captain America: The First Avenger and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Casual audiences should applaud themselves for picking up on mentions of things like the Triskelion and the Sokovia Accords. However, the reference to vibranium during the academic decathlon prep montage might have passed by many folks. The metal hasn’t played a prominent role in the MCU yet, but it will as soon as Black Panther hits theaters. Vibranium is an impossibly strong, remarkably light, energy-absorbent material found only in the African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther’s kingdom. It’s used in Captain America’s shield and Black Panther’s weaponry, and also apparently in practice quizzes.
If you paid attention while waiting for the wonderfully trolling post-credits scene, you might have noticed Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly had a role in Homecoming. You never actually see her, but you hear her constantly teasing and “helping” Spider-Man as “suit lady,” aka Karen. Not really an Easter Egg, you say? Well, what if we told you Connelly is married to Paul Bettany, the voice of Iron Man’s J.A.R.V.I.S. and now the actor behind Vision? That’s some clever casting right there. (Also, yes, Connelly played Betty Ross in Ang Lee’s Hulk, but that film is not part of the MCU, so the relationship is incidental if anything.)