Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse stars not only beloved web-slinger Peter Parker, but various alternate-universe versions of the Spider-Man concept. Obviously, the protagonist is Miles Morales – originally Parker’s successor in the Ultimate Universe – but he’s joined by other wall-crawlers. All of them are widely different, such as a hard-boiled crime-fighter from the 1930s, a superhero alternative to Parker’s doomed girlfriend, a schoolgirl with an arachnid-based robot, and a cartoon pig.
Of Spider-Man’s heroic knockoffs, almost all of them come from the last decade. Spider-Man Noir first showed up in 2009, Miles in 2011, and both Spider-Gwen and Peni Parker in 2014. Spider-Ham, on the other hand, has been around for 35 years! Holy crap, has it really been that long?
The building blocks of the concept started out five years before that in the pages of What If? #8 (What If the World Knew that Daredevil was Blind?). In a backup story written and drawn by Scott Shaw, he showed a world where Webster Weaver is a mild-mannered spider nerd who is accidentally bitten by a radioactive human. He becomes the ‘Mazing Man-Spider and introduces a whole world of animal-based characters like Octo Doctorpuss, the Kingpig, and the Green Gobbler.
This world of anthromorphic animals never existed outside of that one backup story (though J. Jonah Jameson being a literal jackass would happen again in Earth X). Shaw would later get his chance to shine a few years later when he co-created Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew for DC Comics in 1982. I don’t know if Spider-Ham and his universe was created in response to Captain Carrot or because for some reason animal pun superheroes was the pinnacle of comedy back in the early 80s, but in 1983, Tom Defalco and Mark Armstrong put together a one-shot called Marvel Tails Starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham.
The story is a team-up between the titular pig-based Spider-Man and his best friend and partner Captain Americat. The two work together both as vigilantes and as newspaper employees with Peter Porker as the photographer and Steve Mouser as the reporter. Together, they get roped into solving a mystery of an arcade getting vandalized, which itself is like a Scooby-Doo plot.
Also, there’s this weird moment where they pass by people picketing the arcade.
Kind of timeless for something released in 1983, but since it’s supposed to be taking the piss out of people angry about video games, it hits me as off that, “NO RACIST GAMES” is something we’re supposed to disagree with. Maybe Defalco knew how solid Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out was going to be years in advance.
Another character introduced in this story is Bruce Bunny, a tech wiz who accidentally gets shoved into an arcade cabinet and is zapped into turning into a big, green rage monster called Hulk-Bunny. Listen, they can’t all be gems. A deadline is a deadline.
This “Larval Comics” world would get a reprisal in 1985 with a full-on Peter Porker, Spider-Ham ongoing series under the kid-friendly Star Comics banner. For the most part, the issues would be split up into two parts. Steve Skeates and Mark Armstrong (usually) would do a story about Spider-Ham, a lot of the time involving the greedy J. Jonah Jackal and a trio of newsboy sidekicks. Then Steve Mellor would do a backup story about a different animal hero like Thrr the Dog of Thunder, Awful Flight, the Fantastic Fur, Ant-Ant and so on. All with his very Seuss-like art style.
It was a silly and cartoony series, but didn’t have too much going for it other than the creators trying to come up with as many pun designs as possible. At times, they would just show a line-up of characters who may or may not get used down the line just for the sake of writing out the gags.
There’s even a panel that’s just Mary Jane Water Buffalo grooving out in front of a poster of a bird wearing a giant suit. Within that panel, she mentions that David Bird is the lead singer of the Squawking Heads and their big album is Stop Making Nests.
In the fifteenth issue, they finally revealed Peter Porker’s origin and it’s a little familiar. Peter was originally a cartoony spider living in the corner Aunt May’s basement. At the time, May was a scientist and accidentally turned herself into an irradiated and mindless menace. She grabbed the spider and bit it, evolving the spider into a full-on anthromorphic pig. Aunt May lost her marbles a bit and started insisting that this mutated spider was her nephew Peter and, ergo, Spider-Ham.
Welp. I mean, that’s at least a slightly better origin than Bouncing Boy.
The series ended after seventeen issues. The final issue included a backup story about the Secret Furs, starring the Beeyonder.
Spider-Ham’s adventures continued as backups in Marvel Tales, which is the Marvel equivalent of getting your timeslot moved to 3am. Regardless, he made about twice as many appearances there as his ongoing, albeit less frequent as time went on.
Spider-Ham not only made sporadic appearances in What The–?! (Marvel’s late-80s/early-90s version of Mad Magazine), but the comic itself was sporadic on its own. Only 26 issues over the course of five years on that one. During this time, Spider-Ham starred in parodies of Kraven’s Last Hunt and Spider-Man 2099.
The most notable appearance during this time was 20th issue, which was a big, one-issue crossover event of Marvel’s joke heroes in a story called “Infinity Wart.” Spider-Ham teamed up with long-running Marvel lame-o Forbush Man and lesser-known heroes Milk and Cookies (a parody of Cloak and Dagger and superhero duos in general) and Wolverina. Wolverina’s deal was that she was a female version of Wolverine because, haha, wouldn’t such a thing be ridiculous?!
Since the story was supposed to be a send-off of the Infinity War comic, that meant that the heroes had to fight evil doppelgangers. Rather than fight a version of the six-armed Spider Doppelganger, Spider-Ham instead took on Pork Grind, a wonderfully-named take on Venom who talked in an Austrian accent because it was the early 90s and that’s how we did things back then.
After the cancellation of What The–?!, Spider-Ham stopped showing up with any regularity. Over time, he became more of a nostalgic footnote. It was one of those things where people would just remember that for a stretch of ten years, there was a pig version of Spider-Man who occasionally showed up in comics. I recall Brian Michael Bendis joking about how he’d always want to bring him back, but realized that there’s not much you could really do with the character.
And honestly, for the most part, he was right. When they tried doing stuff with him, even after so many years later, it always fell flat. In 2007, there was a one-shot called Ultimate Civil War: Spider-Ham that was just a big mess about Spider-Ham trying to figure out what ever happened to thought bubbles while giving nods to Civil War and Marvel Zombies. Then they had a bunch of pin-up pages of pig versions of different heroes.
The one saving grace was that this comic’s animal parody of the Hulk was called Green Ham and Eggs, which is at least better than Hulk-Bunny.
Around the release of Spider-Man 3, Marvel started a short-lived series called Amazing Spider-Man Family, which was made up of short stories revolving around everything spider-related, including the alternate future adventures of Spider-Girl. Tom Defalco – creator of Spider-Girl and Spider-Ham – merged the two together and introduced Swiney-Girl for a couple issues. Gone was the cutesy 1980s art and replacing it was Shawn Moll inspiring us to kill it with fire.
GAH! At least it’s better when the masks are on.
Oh, and Mary Jane Water Buffalo was rewritten as Mary Crane Watson. I blame Moophisto.
A 25-year anniversary issue of Spider-Ham was released in 2010 and while it had its moments, it was nothing earth-shattering. Yet the same year would give us a single gag that would finally figure out a way to make Spider-Ham work as a concept.
2010 gave us the video game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. In it, Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir, and Spider-Man 2099 are drawn together to fight side-by-side. Crazy concept, right? In the post-credits scene, Madam Web – the one who brought them all together to save the multiverse – is surprised when Spider-Ham shows up in front of her, late for the party. She gives a surprised, “What the–?!” and Spider-Ham simply tells us, “’Nuff said, folks.”
And that’s it! That’s the gold of Spider-Ham! It isn’t about seeing him fight villains with silly names and act as a parody of a superhero already known for being comedic. It’s about the fact that he exists and the contrast of seeing him interact with normal comic book characters.
This spark gave us Spider-Verse, the big comic event that brought together Spider-Men from all throughout the multiverse while introducing us to Spider-Gwen and Peni Parker. Spider-Ham, naturally, got to show up, even if he was considerably less ridiculous than the likes of Original Animated Spider-Man and Newspaper Comic Strip Spider-Man.
Spider-Verse was enough of a success that they even did a loose adaptation on the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, which itself included Spider-Ham. Yeah, Spider-Verse is only a few years old and there’s already two animated takes on it. Wild.
Speaking of cross-dimensional Miles Morales stories, shortly before the fall of the Ultimate Universe, Ultimate FF by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andre Araujo introduced the bizarre concept of Ultimate Larval. Ultimate Sue Storm and her teammates got to meet a refugee from the destroyed, more-modern-and-edgier superhero world.
“Miles Morhames.” I don’t know, I think that needed more workshopping.
Born out of the more recent Secret Wars, Peter Porker joined a new team of spider-folk from different realities called the Web Warriors. The Mike Costa series only lasted eleven issues, but sweet Jesus was it a fun eleven issues. In it, Spider-Ham mostly played the role of the team’s oddball comic relief. He got the mid-00s Plastic Man treatment where it was apparent that jokey hero or not, Spider-Ham is still an unkillable being who will wreck your shit if you give him the reason to.
Also, there was a thing where Spider-Ham 2099 and Spider-Gwen fight the Marvel Megamorphs version of Doc Ock (glad someone else remembers those) and this happens.
I like her moxie.
Now with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, we get yet another example of Spider-Ham doing his shtick while human beings tower over him and shrug. Plus it’s John Mulaney doing the voice and he’s just delightful.
Spider-Ham, in the end, is about basic comedy. If everything is wacky, then nothing pops. Put something wacky up against something straight? Well, then you got a pork stew going.