There’s actually two entities we have to talk about here when we talk about SP//dr. We have to address the machinery, and its pilot, Peni Parker. The concept of the character as a whole is the creation of Gerard Way, front man for the band My Chemical Romance, and prolific artist Jake Wyatt. SP//dr is essentially a parody on the Japanese animation industry and their use of bipedal mechs in their shows for fighting larger threats. We get this from Voltron, Gundam Wing, Gurren Lagann, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
In fact, we see some familar faces in Peni’s classroom during the premiere issue for the character. Kei from Dirty Pair; Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann; and Asuka Langley Sohryu, Rei Ayanami, Kaworu Nagisa, and Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion all make cameo appearances as Peni’s classmates.
In American media, we haven’t really explored this much other than in live action shows. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve seen Iron Man suiting up in the Hulkbuster armor to subdue an enraged Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron. We had the live-action television show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers where teens jumped into Megazords to battle against giant sized baddies. We also have the Pacific Rim movies, which are a bit of that Japanese mecha battle feel with an American cast at the helm of the large machines.
The SP//dr suit
The mecha is actually first piloted by Peni’s father. A CPU half-controlled by a radioactive spider comprises the suit. However, the spider also needs a human element to pilot the bipedal craft. The mech and its pilot serve as protectors of the city.
Kind of doing a Lion King thing with the plot, Peni’s father dies and the city is left without its mechanized protector. It also just so happens that 9-year-old Peni is compatible with the suit’s CPU. So the youth takes on the responsibility of piloting the SP//dr suit, as her father did before her.
In order to pilot the machinery, Peni must first be bitten by the radioactive spider that comprises part of the suits CPU. This creates a sort of empathic link between her and the spider, and grants her access to the Core Processing Unit of the craft in tandem with the spider.
Peni Parker herself is an average 9-year-old girl in the New York area who lost her parental figure and gets taken in by her Aunt May and Uncle Ben. The two are actually responsible for Peni’s acceptance of taking on the role of pilot of the SP//dr suit, as they are the ones who discover her compatibility with the mech. We actually don’t see her in action with the mech until five years passed.
Her adventures since then had her battling against her universe’s Mysterio. The villain is using a large mechanical orb and releasing a hallucinogenic gas on the city. He is easily defeated and admits to being a long-time fan of her music. It wasn’t long after she was approached by Spider-Ham/Peter Porker and Ezekiel Sims/Old Spider-Man about a possible danger to everyone with Spider-like powers across the multi-verse. It was in Edge of the Spider-Verse #5 that her character is introduced and her whole backstory is covered before the duo approach her. This whole thing culminates into this huge team-up effort spanning several issues of Spider-Man comics in 2014.
Another Brock Another Venom
After the events of Spider-Verse she returns to her own reality. Her uncle Ben and aunt May are working with another student in her class, Addy Brock. They reveal their work on another suit prototype VEN#m. However, this suit functions off a Sym engine rather than with a radioactive spider like hers.
And Parker has to fight another baddy, this time a techno-organic life-form by the name M.O.R.B.I.U.S. This creature seeks to siphon energy from the city and devour its tech. The young Parker reluctantly battles against the creature, and the fight overwhelms her. Her aunt and uncle deploy the VEN#m prototype with her classmate Brock piloting. The battle intensifies and Brock eventually defeats M.O.R.B.I.U.S.. However the battle takes its toll on the pilot, resulting in the young Brock and the Sym engine assimilating into the VEN#m suit. Peni must then fight against a mech gone rogue, and SP//dr and VEN#m begin battling. Young Parker eventually emerges as victor in the battle. However, her classmate Brock, and her aunt May who came to the scene to assist are both missing.
In the aftermath of the battle, her uncle Ben summons her to speak about the incident and her father. It was at this point Peter Porker comes on to the scene once again. And once again, his task is to recruit her for another effort to divert disaster to the Spider-men/women/animals.
What we can expect from the movie
This is somewhat not the same Peni Parker when looking at the promotional material for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It seems like her personality has undergone a complete makeover. In the comics, she has a gloomy and oft despondent trait like Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion. But the promos show her more like Madoka Kaname from Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
We know this personality change is to fit the tone of the film.
It’s not clear whether this will be the 9-year-old version or the 14-year-old who has seen a fair share of battles in her life already. But we can expect that Peni Parker will have a mecha suit acting somewhat independently of her. Both are pretty light characters, being cutesy iterations of their comic book counterparts. And it may make for an incredibly fun watch. I’m waiting to see what Philip Lord and Christopher Miller do for her character in the film.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse premieres in theaters December 14th.