Spoiler Alert

“Bad things are gonna happen. It makes us who we are.”

Peter B. Parker’s words of comfort to Miles Morales in Across the Spider-Verse turned out to be true in ways no one expected. The movie ended with a shocking revelation that showed how bad things led another Miles down a dark path. In the dimension where a radioactive spider never bit him, Miles became the Prowler. Now that alternate version wants to destroy the hero he never became.

What does that cliffhanger mean for both the film and its sequel, Beyond the Spider-Verse? The existence of Prowler Miles gets to the core of the franchise’s most important and meaningful idea about what really defines us.

Why Is Spider-Man Miles “The Anomaly?”

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A radioactive spider bit (the film’s primary) Miles’ in his home dimension of Earth-1610. But that DNA-altering arachnid came from Earth-42 via Kingpin’s Super Collider. That spider—seen glitching prior to biting Miles in Into the Spider-Verse—wasn’t from his world.

That’s why Miguel O’Hara calls Miles “the” anomaly. Miles was never supposed to become Spider-Man. His world already had one, and suddenly getting a second instantly led to tragedy. His dimension’s original Spider-Man (Peter A. Parker) died saving Miles, who only needed rescuing because he’d been turned into a Spider-Man.

That bite had huge ramifications for another universe, too.

Why Did Earth-42’s Miles Morales Become the Prowler Instead of His Uncle?

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Because Earth-42’s radioactive spider never bit anyone from its own dimension, that world didn’t get its very own web-slinging superhero. But it still got all of Spider-Man’s villains. A news report revealed the Sinister Six operate with near impunity in a burning city overrun with crime. There is simply no one to stand against them.

While that universe’s Miles didn’t became Spider-Man, he still suffered the way all Spider-Mans do. His dad, a police captain, died rather than his uncle Aaron. (Which indicates Miles-42 was supposed to become Spider-Man.) And without the great responsibility of becoming a superhero, Miles instead followed his uncle into a life of crime. Without his father as a guiding light Miles became the Prowler rather than Aaron.

The two Miles unknown connection ultimately led them to meet face-to-face.

How Did Spider-Man Miles End Up in the Wrong Dimension?

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Spider-Man Miles desperately wanted to go back to his home world. Miguel told Miles his father needs to die to ensure the safety of hthat entire universe. Without that “cannon event” reality itself could fall apart, killing everyone. And since Miles is “the anomaly,” Miguel also fears interfering with fate could impact every world.

Miles refused to accept that his father must die. He believes he can “save everyone,” his dad included. (Gwen’s own final encounter with her father indicated he might be right.) To get home Miles jumped inside Miguel’s arachnid transport machine. It sends people back to their own dimension by reading their DNA. Except, Miles’ DNA no longer identifies him as being from Earth-1610. The spider that bit him rewrote his genetic code with its own. That caused the machine to think Miles comes from Earth-42, the spider’s dimension.

That’s how he ended up encountering his still-alive uncle and his evil alternate Prowler self who was never pushed towards greatness. And that difference gets to the most important theme of the film and the franchise, just not in the way it might seem.

What Does Prowler Miles Mean for Across the Spider-Verse?

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Like Into the Spider-Verse before it Across the Spider-Verse is about what it means to be Spider-Man. As Peter B. Parker said, “Being Spider-Man is a sacrifice. That’s the job.” Part of that sacrifice, in every universe, involves dealing with the death of someone very close to them. No one becomes Spider-Man without Uncle Ben. Sometimes that role is filled by a different uncle, a best friend, a significant other, or a police captain. In Miles’ world that sacrifice appeared to be his Uncle Aaron, a cautionary tale about how easy it is for a good person to end up being bad. Aaron’s death was clearly important in Miles becoming Spider-Man. It helped unlock something inside of him. Without that loss he might never have taken his “leap of faith.”

A different bad thing that happened to Prowler Miles. Instead of his uncle he lost his dad, and without the great responsibility of being Spider-Man to anchor him, his grief consumed him. Because as much as Spider-Mans are defined by bad things, Peter B. Parker also pointed out they are also shaped by the good things that happen to them. That includes the best thing that happens to them: being burdened with responsibility. Without the good, Miles turned bad.

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That’s the main idea of Across the Spider-Verse. The things that happen to us, no matter how painful they might be or how much we wish they didn’t happen, shape who we are. But whether good or bad, the events of our lives don’t define us, it’s how we respond to them. Our choices define who we are. We’re not passive actors in our own lives. We pick the path we’ll walk down. Miles recognized that before he met his evil self. He told Miguel, “Everyone keeps telling me how my story is supposed to go. Nah. I’m gonna do my own thing.”

He’s right. And that’s exactly why Prowler Miles isn’t a hopeless cause, either.

What Will Happen With the Two Mileses in Beyond the Spider-Verse?

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Gwen Stacy is putting together a team of Spider-Mans to save Miles. She gathered together their old friends from Into the Spider-Verse along with their new friends. They don’t know they’ll be potentially rescuing Miles from his alternate self. But we don’t know if they’ll even need to.

Prowler Miles can do his own thing, same as Spider-Man Miles. Neither of them have to follow a story others or even fate itself have seemingly written for them. They can tell their own tales with their actions. And maybe getting a chance to see who he could have been will be good enough for Prowler Miles to realize he can be a better version of himself. Just because you’re not a superhero doesn’t mean you have to be a super villain. Like every Spider-Man who has something bad happen to them, he can still choose to be a better person.

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Across the Spider-Verse‘s two very different Miles make clear how easy it is for us to go astray. But it also makes clear we decide who we are. Miguel, Jessica Drew, Gwen Stacy, and both Miles each decided who they wanted to be. Same as we all do in our lives, whether we’re a Spider-Man or not.

And that will be true no matter how Beyond the Spider-Verse resolves that cliffhanger.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.