This article contains Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse spoilers.
There was an audible gasp during my press screening of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. As has become common practice when watching a superhero movie, the entire audience sat glued to their seats throughout the long rolling credits for producer Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s follow-up to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). Obviously, we were waiting for a post-credits stinger, as is the genre’s wont ever since Samuel L. Jackson first showed up rocking an eyepatch in Iron Man 15 years ago.
And yet, when the credits finished scrolling, there remained only darkness—and a promise that this story would not end until next year’s now eagerly anticipated Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse. The lack of post-credits scenes was thus further evidence that Lord and Miller, as well as directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson, had little interest in playing by the ground rules set by the Marvel Studios and its Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are no post-credits scenes; little in the way of seedlings for spinoff movies; and despite being laugh out loud funny, there’s a real sense of gravity and emotional weight to the action in the third act of Across the Universe.
With that said, there are still easter eggs aplenty in the film (buckets upon buckets of them). And in the case of the most shocking one, it even has an unexpected effect on the continuity of the MCU going forward…
Despite being an animated film, Donald Glover appears (briefly) with his physical, three-dimensional body in a scene-stealing cameo in Across the Universe. The moment occurs at the midpoint of the movie after Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) has been taken by Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) to the Spider-HQ. In reality, HQ is a veritable Citadel of Ricks which exists in a futuristic dimension ruled over by Spider-Man 2099, aka Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac).
Even before Glover shows up, it’s a Las Vegas-sized breakfast buffet of easter eggs, complete with cameos from ‘90s comics’ biggest drama queen, Ben Reilly (Andy Samberg) and The Spectacular Spider-Man’s version of the character (voiced by Josh Keaton). Heck, they even have a T-Rex. Still, the biggest surprise is that among Miguel’s prison of undesirables—“anomalies” who broke the taboo of traversing across the multiverse without Spider-Man 2099’s permission—is popular actor and rapper Donald Glover, appearing in the flesh and blood. And he’s not just appearing as any character; he’s specifically Aaron Davis, aka the Prowler.
This cameo makes for the most unlikely of payoffs to a Marvel Studios plot thread that was seeded way back in 2017 during the MCU’s first solo Spidey film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. In that movie, Glover appeared as Uncle Aaron, the man who would become the Prowler, although in the film he was still just a small-time crook making deals with the film’s main villain, the Vulture (Michael Keaton). Glover’s Aaron even vaguely compliments Tom Holland’s Spidey for helping clean up the neighborhood because he’s got “a nephew” growing up around here.
That cameo functioned on several levels at the time. First, it was nice for Glover to appear in a Spider-Man movie since fans of him during his Community days campaigned for Glover to be cast as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). Glover came to embrace the support but did not get the role. However, he did get a taste of online fanboy racism when some internet dwellers insisted Spider-Man could not be Black. The insidiousness of this argument disturbed not only Glover, but Brian Michael Bendis who was subsequently inspired to invent Miles Morales in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man.
Glover’s appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming was an acknowledgement of his unique history with the character, and a seeming suggestion that perhaps Miles could one day exist inside the MCU too.
Yet six years later, this has not come to pass. In fact, Glover’s Uncle Aaron never showed up in another MCU movie, as the Prowler or otherwise. Still, many fans might argue that the animated Spider-Verse films starring Miles have turned out better than the MCU live-action Spideys, as well as any other big screen variation. And in 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, Mahershala Ali got to at least voice Uncle Aaron as a fully realized Prowler.
Now five years later, we finally get to see Glover as the masked supervillain in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, wearing the Prowler’s costume while imprisoned in Miguel O’Hara’s 2099 fortress. It’s obviously fun to see Glover in the suit (and probably easier on the Atlanta creator to have to wear it for only a day or two). However, it does seem to have implications for the MCU canon as well.
First of all, it means Glover’s Aaron became a supervillain off-screen. That this occurred at all is curious since Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige generally likes to keep all of his characters close to the chest and under one umbrella. There was, indeed, a tension between Marvel Studios and the now defunct Marvel Television when the latter produced more adult-skewing television shows for Netflix that were allegedly part of the MCU. (Those shows have now been softly erased from the continuity, with only spare aspects like Charlie Cox’s Daredevil being carried over.)
By his mere presence, Glover’s Prowler would seem to suggest that Marvel Studios has lost interest in utilizing the Prowler (if indeed it ever had any real notion to do so to begin with). The cameo also could suggest we are still a long way off from seeing Miles Morales in live-action, at least insofar as appearing in the MCU continuity. Then again, next year’s Beyond the Spider-Verse could very well lead to that being moot. Consider this: Many fans have already speculated Moore and Steinfeld could easily play Miles and Gwen in live-action…
No matter how it plays out though, it is nice seeing Glover on the big screen and finally getting to share time with Miles Morales, a character he inadvertently had a hand in inspiring.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is now playing in theaters.