When I attended Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim over the weekend, I witnessed a world filled to the brim with everything that one would expect. Mickey Mouse was there, obviously, along with a cosplay extravaganza of princesses, pirates, stormtroopers, and superheroes. The two biggest presentations (Disney+ and Walt Disney Studios) kept spirits high while unveiling tidal waves of new TV and movie content for the next few years, and overall, the event consisted of three days of nerd paradise.
Oh, and the Haunted Mansion also held an event to celebrate its 50th anniversary, but the real haunting — the Sony-Marvel Studios split over Spider-Man — overwhelmed the expo as a whole. One would have been hard-pressed to forget the increasingly likely prospect of never seeing Peter Parker in the MCU again, especially with that news dropping only a few days prior to panels like artist Brian Crosby (stage shown above) showing hopeful D23 civilians how to draw the teenaged superhero in costumed glory.
Of course, this is only one example of the Spidey-oriented festivities scattered throughout the weekend. The real kicker arrived at the end of Saturday evening, at Marvel’s 80th Anniversary panel, hosted by Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort. They unveiled a special edition issue, Marvel Comics #1000, due to arrive on shelves on August 28. As one can see, this is the first time that Mickey Mouse will join members of The Avengers in the comics, and he’s presenting a celebratory cake to Spider-Man.
Yeah, this sight hits pretty hard. Early on in this same panel, Cebulski referred to Spider-Man as “this guy … that we are legally prevented from mentioning” before setting aside pretenses and uttering “Spider-Man” freely because the character infiltrated nearly every subtopic of conversation. It’s not like this could be avoided. Spider-Man’s webbing is an integral part of the Marvel Comics DNA. While running through the entirety of Marvel Comics history in this panel — and Spidey is embedded throughout the fabric of almost every title with crossovers, team-ups, and the like — Cebulski (unavoidably) mentioned how Sony acquired the Spidey license prior to Kevin Feige launching Marvel Studios. A chorus of angry boos then erupted from within the Stage 28 crowd.
So yes, everyone in attendance at D23 (including the person who erected a tiny memorial outside the Anaheim Convention Center, but excluding Jeff Goldblum) was perfectly aware that Spider-Man, despite being the Marvel Comics bestseller and having appeared in five recent Avengers movies, will be striking out (again) on his own at the (Sony) movies. It’s a sobering turn of events, since he’s always been the flagship of the whole Marvel Comics line. Co-creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Peter Parker’s stories to be the most accessible and prominent example of “the world outside your window” that Marvel Comics superheroes represented. You know, sort-of fantasy but still relatable and grounded in realism with the sense that Peter Parker could soar overhead at any moment. So his sudden MCU departure, particularly because Tom Holland’s Parker has been so delightfully eager to assist Mr. Stark, remains jarring (even if Stan Lee’s daughter doesn’t seem bothered at all).
Well, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige didn’t sound optimistic when asked at D23 about the possibility of bringing Spidey back to the MCU. This is tragic for fans who wanted to see him carry on Tony Stark’s vision, and that’s the biggest reason why Hall D23 erupted in deafening applause when Holland surfaced onstage during Pixar’s unveiling of Onward footage during the Walt Disney Studios presentation. No one imagined that we’d see Holland appear over the weekend, but he popped onstage with co-elf Chris Pratt because they were obliged to promote their elf-brother movie. The footage was very much a Pixar affair, pulling at heartstrings while eliciting laughs. Yet at the same time, the room wondered whether Holland (who could barely get a word in with all the audience shouting at hand) would mention the Spidey dust-up, and he seemed very clearly aware of this, which made things awkward despite the jolly tone of the Pixar segment.
Well, Holland chose not to ignore the matter altogether, although he obviously couldn’t say much, and his words have been quoted endlessly as a classy addressing of the matter.
“It’s been a crazy week,” Holland declared. “But I want you to know that I’m grateful from the bottom of my heart, and I love you 3,000.”
He looked both emotional and sheepish and like he hadn’t fully processed the sudden “divorce” news himself. At least we know that if this had to happen, Holland’s Parker was able to finish the Infinity Saga, but seriously, who’s going to carry on Mr. Stark’s legacy in MCU now?
It’s a valid question, but Marvel Studios will likely aim to distract (and maybe sidestep the issue) with their Phase Four rollouts (The Eternals, sequels, new titles, and finally, a Black Widow standalone movie). That hunch feels especially unfortunate, given that Marvel Entertainment rolled out word this weekend that the House of Mouse’s inaugural Spider-Man-themed ride will be coming soon. It will be located at the upcoming Avengers Campus, which will get its own theme park zone inside of Disneyland’s California Adventure. Here’s concept art for what the Avengers Campus shall look like, and that’s definitely a telltale character swinging around atop the building.
Adorable Spider-Bots will also scatter themselves throughout the attraction.
Yeah, I have no idea how all of this will go over when Avengers Campus launches, other than with misty eyes from attendees of this attraction. In the case of D23’s confused vibe, the Spider-Man-borne sadness might partially be a case of “too soon.” Wandering the expo — filled with sights like a massive balloon Spidey (below) — made it impossible to forget this superhero’s weighty presence, despite the inherent lightheartness involved with a nerd-filled weekend. Spider-Man will live on within the Marvel Comics side of things, and we’ll always have Tom Holland MCU movies that surfaced before now, but this studio divorce cast a shadow over the entire expo.