Two original drawings of Sun-Spider, a masked girl with a backwards baseball cap, a small hooded jacket, and sports leggings and kneepads. The first image shows her swinging through the air on crutches, with webbing shooting out. The picture has muted colors, resembling a shadow. The second image features her standing, brightly colored with red and orange accents on her mask and costume under the dark jacket. She is supported by crutches and surrounded by a glowing light, drawing attention to her.

Webs of Representation: The Rise of Spider-Verse’s Wheelchair-Using Hero from Fan-Art to Film

2018 was a huge deal for diversity in film. For fans of super heroes, there wasn’t always much in the way of representation onscreen. When Black Panther came out, people of colour finally felt like they had a big name black character to relate to. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse continued that trend with a strong black character in the forefront with a strong family connection and a diverse group of friends all with their own powers, emphasising that nobody is ever really alone and “anyone can wear the mask”. It was a big thing for Miles Morales, the Spider-Man of the story, knowing he wasn’t alone and that he had people out there he could relate to and count on. Community was being embraced, and the world was loving it.

2023, and there’s a new film, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. As Miles faces a new threat too big for him to deal with alone, he meets the Spider Society. This is a team of the best Spider-people from multiple realities, brought together by Miguel O’Hara, the Spider-Man of 2099. After helping Spider-Man India in his reality, Miguel and Miles disagree about how to handle a forthcoming “canon event”. Miguel says a tragic event has to happen in Spider-people’s stories to make them the heroes they’re meant to be. Miles refuses to accept that, and flees from the Society to find a portal back home. Miguel sends everyone after him, leading to a huge chase scene featuring a Spider-Mobile, a Lego Spider-Man, and a Spider-Cat. As Miles tries to escape, he encounters a Spider-person in a wheelchair. A wheelchair that is crawling on the ceiling. She leaps down to hit him with her crutches, making a comment about Spider-people tending to use humour as a crutch, before acknowledging the poor joke.

Turns out this was Sun-Spider, a Spider-Woman with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a condition that affects connective tissue, and can impact joint movement, meaning sometimes there is a need for help walking.

The buzz surrounding the first film allowed fans to make versions of themselves as characters in the film, creating their own fan art “Spider-sonas” online. One such fan was Dayn Broder, a comic editor, illustrator, and freelance writer with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Her character, Sun-Spider, even uses her crutches to webswing.

The original illustrations of the character Sun-Spider, one of her swinging through the air with webbing shooting out of the crutches, the other with her standing with the crutches supporting her, alongside the first use of the name SUNSPIDER

There’s no reason why a person with mobile disabilities shouldn’t be out there saving the world; Spider-Man was the first comics character to fully cover his face with his costume, and even in that, it meant anyone could wear the mask. 

“As a disabled person, I almost never get to see any disabled super heroes,” said Broder.

“I wanted to create someone like me: an ambulatory wheelchair user, who can still kick butt in her own modified way. Sun-Spider is hyper-flexible, though this does have drawbacks since it means she requires extra stability, and the crutches help with that.”

Two illustrations of Sun-Spider, one swinging, and one sitting in her wheelchair without her disguise

Something Marvel Comics editorial loved so much that, for their 2020 Edge of Spider-Verse crossover event, Broder was contacted to incorporate the character, with “Charlotte Webber” getting her own individual storyline fighting her own version of Doctor Octopus at prom.

It all came full circle when Sun-Spider was recruited to help in the events of Across the Spider-Verse, where she is voiced by wheelchair-using comedian Danielle Perez. 

Before and after illustrations for Sun-Spider’s wheelchair in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, designed by Kris Anka. The wheelchair transforms into a mechanical spider-type device. The illustration contains his handwritten text: “wheels rotate underneath and behind to become abdomine”, “back 2 legs are the backseat”, “second legs are wheel and footrest”, “front legs go under seat”

“I screamed when I saw the wheelchair mech!! what an amazing design!”

Understandably, Broder was very happy upon seeing the way the film had incorporated the wheelchair and how its worked with Sun-Spider’s abilities. Character designer Kris Anka took the best parts of Broder’s initial drawings and really brought them to life.

She might have been at odds with Miles in the film’s climactic chase scene, but she was a hero in her world. And in our world, where we love to see heroes surpass barriers, the Spider-Verse continues to weave a web of inspiration and inclusivity, inviting us all to join the fight.