Upon its initial release in December 2018, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was immediately hailed for its groundbreaking artistry and innovation, revolutionizing not just comic book characters but the way that they and their fantastical worlds are rendered on screen. But comics fans know that in terms of both style and storytelling, its filmmakers were standing on the shoulders of giants—in particular, Marvel luminaries Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, who in 1962 quite literally changed the landscape of superheroes forever with the creation of Spider-Man.
Among the expansive collection of bonus materials and special features created for Into the Spider-Verse is a tender and timely tribute to Ditko and Lee, clips from which were shown at a recent press day for the film’s release on digital and home video platforms. Both Lee and Ditko passed away last year, but during an introduction, director Peter Ramsey spoke briefly about the time they spent with Lee during the making of Spider-Verse. “It was just a very short time that we got to work with Stan,” Ramsey said. “He wonderful and he was everything you would want him to be – sweet, he was enthusiastic, genuine. He was in failing health, but he still had that Stan Lee ‘Excelsior’ sparkle.” The footage includes an interview with Lee himself, who left it to the filmmakers to analyze and deconstruct their impact, instead offering his appreciation for the years of love he’s received from fans. “I think the thing I’m proudest of is the fact that people of all ages seem to love Spider-Man,” Lee says. “People come over to me and they’re so warm and friendly and all they want to do is talk about Spider-Man. If you spent your life working on something and you find out that the fans love what you have done and can’t wait to tell you how pleased they are and to thank you for what you’ve written and done for them, it’s an experience—I can’t even describe how wonderful that feels.”
But it feels crucial that the bonus materials emphasized the contributions of Steve Ditko, who is perhaps less well known to the public but who was directly responsible for the look and silhouette of the character who has become a pop culture icon. Executive producer Chris Miller explained what he loved about Ditko’s work, and how it influenced the filmmakers on Into the Spider-Verse. “It’s very graphic and the silhouettes are really strong and it’s very simple, clean storytelling,” Miller said.
“That was a real inspiration for this movie as far as anytime you have a complicated action sequence with a lot of characters that you want to make sure that the audience can follow what the goal is and the audience is supposed to care about, what the emotion is, we would sort of think, well, what would, Steve Ditko do?”
Added storyboard artist Denise Koyama, “Steve Ditko is an amazing artist. I admired his comic books when I was a kid and his knowledge of anatomy and just the beauty with which he put down the lines, I mean, as an artist, if I could possibly be able to bring even like a tiny bit of that into my storyboards, I would just be like on air.”
The featurette of course focuses on Ditko and Lee, but it also attempts to capture precisely what it is about their creation that continues to resonate not just as a character or mythology, but as a cultural force for inspiration and empowerment. Said producer and former Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairperson Amy Pascal, “The reason that Spider-Man matters to kids all over the world is that he’s not a rich guy. He’s not a god. He doesn’t have those kinds of powers. He just grew up in Queens, lives with his aunt, has a normal life and has all your problems.”
Phil Lord, who produced Into the Spider-Verse and co-wrote the script with Rodney Rothman, agreed. He said, “I mean, it was radical when the thing that’s out there in the world is this more standard superhero, that this is a guy who’s picked at random.”
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is available now on digital platforms and 4K and Blu-ray.