For those who don’t know, Ultimate Spider-Man comic series premiered in the year 2000 and was the very first of Marvel Comics’ Ultimate imprint that reintroduced popular Marvel characters to newer and familiar audiences. Starting at new issue number ones, these comics and characters generally contained the same basic ideas, characterizations, and abilities as their longstanding mainstream counterparts that existed far longer. Some characters were largely the same as the mainstream versions, while others were radically altered to bring new angles to familiar stories.
The most important thing to note is that the mainstream, longstanding Marvel Comics Universe was unaffected by the happenings in the newer/flashier Ultimate Universe. Mainstream Marvel is designated Earth-616 (not to be confused with the MCU, we are talking specifically about the comics here), and the Ultimate Universe is designated Earth-1610. This was also the very same universe that saw the debut of Miles Morales.
Some Fans Say…
Many longtime fans of Spider-Man familiar with many of his animated series, least of all the 90’s animated series, and the mainstream comics, agree that Tobey Maguire was perhaps the best actor who captured the goofy, earnest, do-gooder yet tragic and misunderstood average guy that is 616, Peter Parker. He is also a Peter Parker who falls in love, falls hard, and fights to protect those he cares for including his elderly aunt May. Maguire was able to capture all of these qualities and was a fairly awesome Spider-Man to boot, complete with quips to the people he fights. Some fans also say that it was Maguire’s performance as Peter specifically that rings the truest to the comics, and I am inclined to agree… it rings true to the mainstream comics.
When Andrew Garfield graced the silver screen as a different Peter Parker/Spider-Man, I was captivated almost immediately. But his characterization and performance were divisive among fans, especially those who immediately compared him to Tobey’s Peter/Spidey. “He’s too cool”, “He seems too well-adjusted”. “That guy would never get bullied”, I heard people say about him as Parker. But for me, as someone who read the Ultimate Spider-Man comics, I felt Garfield’s Spidey felt closer to 1610 Ultimate Spidey rather than classic 616 Spidey. And why would Garfield also be closely based on classic Spidey when Maguire already was and absolutely killed that portrayal? Sony knew they had to go in a different direction, and I believe most of that inspiration was Ultimate Peter.
Ultimate Spider-Man’s Personality
Ultimate Spider-Man begins with Peter and his friends as young teens at about fifteen years old. And these were teens in the year 2000, as opposed to teens of the late ’60s as from the original Spider-Man comics in 616. They used contemporary (at the time anyway) slang and colloquialisms, and had updated teen fashion senses and sensibilities. So 1610 Peter had a more average teen and snarkier personality, as many teens had such traits as time marched forward. 616 Parker was far more reserved and shy in his teen years which was a part of why he was bullied. 1610 Parker was less quiet but still managed to be bullied anyway, which we also saw in the first Amazing Spider-Man prior to him getting his powers. Visually, the two Peters are far different as 616 Parker was pretty much built to resemble a grown man once he got his powers and donned his costume, while before and after receiving powers 1610 Peter was noticeably scrawnier to visually distinguish him from the established, and now adult and experienced 616-Peter.
Some of the best examples of Ultimate Peter’s personality I remember reading when I was younger was when Peter got mind-swapped with Wolverine over reasons that weren’t even his fault (Peter was the last person Logan wanted to live life as, and had wronged a telepath capable of knowing this and doing something about it). Peter’s reaction to the revelation was a bit harsh (I love the X-Men), but understandable. Jean should have had the sense not to swap the bodies of a very grown man and a very young teen.
For me, Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker rang truer to this version of the character rather than classic Peter.
Ultimate Gwen Stacy vs. Amazing Spider-Man Gwen Stacy
Gwen Stacy was a character who would debut later-ish in the Ultimate comics after Mary Jane was already established as Peter’s primary love interest and friend rather than the reverse as in the 616 comics. This Gwen was tough, troubled, and had a troubled home life, something of a delinquent in some ways. One of her very first acts was pulling a knife on a bully to defend Peter, whom she didn’t yet know was Spider-Man and needed no help. Like the mainstream Gwen, this Gwen would also tragically die, this time from Carnage instead of the Green Goblin, and would later return as a Carnage clone herself. Eventually, all traces of the Carnage symbiote was removed, leaving the clone Gwen with the same appearance (except she now had blue eyes instead of amber as she originally had in this universe), feelings, and memories of the real Gwen. Tony Stark himself would argue that those things made her the real Gwen and who was anyone to say otherwise?
The most important thing to note is that once Gwen was resurrected and brought back to normal, she became a lot more like mainstream Gwen in appearance, style, and personality and even ends up dating Peter for a bit when originally Gwen (prior to her death in the Ultimate Universe) confided in a threatened Mary Jane that she was not interested in Peter and saw him as her “superhero little brother”. Played by Emma Stone in The Amazing Spider-Man, Gwen had far more in common with classic Gwen as she had a love for science, was immediately interested in Peter, and shared the character’s same core style and typical personality traits people expect from 616 Gwen Stacy. I say ‘typical’ because many fans don’t know that Gwen Stacy originally was very different from what comics would often allude to, especially after her death. Check out Sasha Wood’s great video on Gwen’s retrospective and how her character evolved.
I do feel that perhaps not all of The Amazing Spider-Man films were inspired by Ultimate Spider-Man, but at least Peter himself and other elements were. And while the above panel and some of the others I demonstrated of Ultimate Spider-Man display a level of crassness not shown in those films (in my opinion), that might be indicative of the fact that the comics came out in 2000 while the film came out in 2012, so there was time to make things more subtle. Some folks in 2012 might have taken offense to the degree of Ultimate Peter’s hot takes and personality. Gwen and how she was used is the clearest example of a meld of different sources of inspiration: she met Peter in high school in this film and the Ultimate comics while they met in college in the mainstream comics, and she was an immediate love interest in the film while both comics (yes, even the mainstream comics, watch that video) took a more gradual approach towards their romance, and she dies in all versions as it is pretty much expected from anyone named Gwen Stacy who is not Spider-Gwen. Ultimate Gwen got better, though, and she didn’t have to be a superhero to do so.
But yes, to all who claim that “Tobey was Peter, Andrew was Spidey, and Tom Holland is both” I say nay!!! Tobey was classic Peter/Spidey, Andrew was Ultimate Peter/Spidey, and Holland is Peter-Tingle and the thief who stole Miles’ qualities just to give us another white Peter Parker when we already had two great Peter Parkers who both deserved subsequent, better films to make up for their disastrous last solo showings. And then it should have been Miles, Miles was the obvious next choice. It took all the way until Spider-Man: No Way Home for more fans to come around to Andrew Garfield, but the fact is he understood the assignment all along, even if his sequel was an utter disaster (but he was still good in it, it was the writing and elements around him).