To the delight of comic book fans, multiple characters, like Miguel O'Hara and Hobie Brown, were adapted brilliantly in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. However, those same fans felt slighted by how the previous film failed one Spider-Man: Peni Parker.
It's understandable that with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse being a shorter movie than its sequel meant less screen time for other characters like Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, and Peni.
And, of course, not all adaptations will match one-to-one with their source material. Aspects of characters have to be changed, but how they're changed matters.
Noir was a spoof on a niche subgenre of crime drama, and Spider-Ham was riffing on Warner Bros. Cartoons. But Peni ended up as a generic anime parody.
The Kawaiification of Peni Parker
Even before learning who Peni Parker was in the comics, her being a tired riff on anime in the film, done a thousand times in American cartoons since the early 2000s, was boring. But learning about her character in the comics made this adaptation of her even worse.
Peni's introduction immediately ticks off several tired anime parody clichés, such as spouting off one simple line of Japanese (and never again), the mismatched lip flaps, and the overuse of early '90s anime expressions.
Sony even pulled a magical girl transformation sequence when she got into her SP//dr robot like it's 2003. At least with a character like Noir, it's a parody not commonly employed, but everything with Peni was the low-hanging fruit of anime jokes.
On top of all that, Peni and SP//dr were redesigned from the comics. Peni not only was younger, leaning more into the Japanese schoolgirl look, but her robot was made cutesy and less threatening.
It's funny how the adapted designs go so far against the root of inspiration for the character in the comics, which was the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Evangelion Parody ≠ Anime Parody
In the comics, Peni was deliberately created as a homage to the classic anime franchise. So, if anything, she should have been a parody of Evangelion, or at least a more direct play on the mecha genre, instead of just a shallow spoof of anime.
Artist Jake Wyatt even put the main characters of Evangelion in Peni's classroom as background classmates to drive the source of inspiration home. The SP//dr robot also looks strikingly similar to the show's mechs (EVAs), albeit smaller.
Into the Spider-Verse kept the backstory of Peni losing her father and having a psychic link to the spider inhabiting the SP//dr suit. She otherwise has little resemblance to her comic counterpart. It was a missed opportunity, too, as Evangelion shares many themes with the Spider-Verse films.
The anime franchise has dealt with themes of loneliness, discovering one's individuality, exploring Existentialism, and confronting (or accepting) Nihilism. These are themes that happen to align with ones seen in Across the Spider-Verse, such as Miles and Gwen trying to find belonging, Miles making his own story, and the Spider-Society accepting (or rejecting) the inevitability of Canon Events.
From what little was seen of Peni in Across the Spider-Verse, fans of her in the comics were happy to see that the filmmakers took criticisms of her character's depiction in the first film to heart.
Canon Course Correction
Fans of Into the Spider-Verse were ecstatic to see Peni Parker again in the sequel but were shocked to see her sporting a new dower demeanor. No longer was she the peppy and cheerful girl introducing herself with a wink and smile but someone defeated.
Peni also returned sporting a far more comic-accurate design with bags under her eyes, along with operating a SP//dr suit ripped straight from the comics.
Many have speculated that, in between films, Peni experienced one of her own Canon Events, specifically the traumatic death of a loved one. It so happens that several months before the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Peni suffered another loss after her father in the comics.
In Edge of Spider-Geddon #2, published on August 29, 2018, Peni's classmate, Addy Brock, was the pilot for the newly created VEN#m suit. This was meant as a backup for SP//dr, which ran on an experimental biomechanical Sym Engine. But similar to its mainline counterpart, the VEN#m suit had a mind of its own
However, instead of having a symbiotic relationship with its host, it was an outright parasite that began devouring Addy. Peni's Aunt May attempted to save her classmate, but she, too, was caught in the tendrils of VEN#m.
Peni attempted to save them, but, unfortunately, she was too late, as both were eaten alive by the possessed mech suit. So it's possible that a similar traumatic event happened to Peni to cause her to become so broken.
While Peni was nothing more than a shallow anime parody in Into the Spider-Verse, the sequel marked improvement with her revamped design to match closer to the comics. Hopefully, it means dropping the tired anime gags in the animated threequel.
Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse will release in theaters on March 29, 2024.