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With Great Passion Comes Great Annotations

January 25, 2024

By Larry Brenner, faculty, writing for TV, screen, and stage


When I would visit my aunt’s house in Syosset as a kid, I would sometimes sneak upstairs to a hallway bookshelf. On that shelf there was a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which is one of my all-time favorite pieces of literature. I had a copy of the book at home, but my aunt’s copy was different, sacred to me. It was annotated. With a logic that can only belong to children, I reasoned that this copy was for adults only, and by reading the annotations I was learning stuff about Alice that I was never meant to know. And I was going to memorize them and learn all the secrets. When the Mad Hatter asked his unsolvable riddle to Alice “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” the annotation on the side told me that there WAS an answer: “because Edgar Allan Poe wrote on both.”


I was also a Marvel Comics kid. In the days before cell phones, when we would go on family trips, I would enter the car with a large stack of comics and just read for hours on end. I’d grab a handful of Annuals to read the complete “Evolutionary War” crossover. Sometimes I’d pull out the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and read the encyclopedia entries on obscure Marvel characters, noting the key issues that were important and seeking them out in flea market bargain bins.


Last year, Across the Spider-Verse came out. I loved Into the Spider-Verse, but Across made me sob. It was a love letter to continuity, a reward for years of obsessively studying the Spider-Man mythology. It felt as if it had been made for me.


And I was moved to annotate it.


So that’s what I’ve been doing since last summer. I’ve watched both movies in slow motion, maybe twenty seconds a day and writing down anything that came to mind as important. Any secret bit of knowledge that I had accumulated that I might share with my friends who enjoyed the movie. Doing it in slow doses was a guilty pleasure, recapturing that feeling I had when I was on the second-story landing of my aunt’s house with The Annotated Alice in my hands. Right now, I’ve written about 210 pages of notes—some philosophical (“What does the phrase ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ really mean?”) and some obscure (“Is that Swiss Miss from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark in the Spider Society’s cell?”)


Here’s an annotation I’m particularly proud of:


Annotation # 110—Kingpin and trauma—Into the Spider-Verse, 56:38-57:00


As much as these movies are about free will, they are also about trauma. I think this section of the movie, where the Kingpin clicks his pen in perfect precision like a human metronome, really brings this point home.


The expression on his face says it before we even see the flashbacks. Every second that Kingpin isn’t engaging with another character, he is trapped in the traumatic memory that led to losing his wife and son.


First thing to note: Kingpin’s happy memories of his wife are all snapshots, not scenes. Pictures rather than actual events. We can take these moments at face value, I suppose. Maybe the Kingpin’s family life really was happy until “Spider-Man ruined everything.” But I doubt it. The thing about snapshots is that they are staged moments. There are plenty of unhappy families with lovely photo albums.


Notice that in all these shots, Kingpin is BEHIND the rest of his family. They aren’t looking at him in any of them. They’re always looking in another direction. He’s idealized his past, but he isn’t really remembering it correctly.


If my wife walked into a room and saw me fighting Spider-Man, I’d like to think her first thought would be, “Why is Spider-Man attacking my innocent husband?” But Vanessa immediately knows the truth: her husband is the monster. She knows he’s in a murderous rage, and she flees him. As much as Kingpin would like to think that a single moment ruined his life, the groundwork for Vanessa’s retreat was likely laid a long time ago.


In this way, Kingpin and Spider-Man are foils for each other. Spider-Man screwed up and he lost a family member. His trauma propels him to take greater responsibility, spending the rest of his life making sure that no one else loses a loved one. The Kingpin is willing to destroy all of Brooklyn to undo his mistake and pretend like it never happened, other people’s traumas be damned. Spider-Man has learned that with great power comes great responsibility. But while the Kingpin has great power, he hasn’t taken any responsibility for what happened to his family. “It’s all Spider-Man’s fault.”


If you have the time and the passion, you could do worse than to annotate the works of literature, film, or poetry that you love. There are all sorts of buried treasures to find there.


If you liked this analysis, consider downloading episodes of the “Once Upon a Disney” podcast, where Larry and his co-host Andie Redwine analyze the writing and textual messages of classic Disney movies. You can learn more about the podcast at



Larry Brenner is the author of several screenplays, including Bethlehem, which was a winner of Final Draft’s Big Break Contest and then purchased by Universal Pictures. He has also written Labyrinth for Walt Disney Pictures and Angelology for SONY/Columbia Pictures. His stage plays include Saving Throw Versus Love, a romantic comedy that was first produced in the 2010 NY Fringe Festival. Brenner earned his MFA at Spalding and has a PhD in educational theatre from NYU.  He is Associate Professor at Bronx Community college and teaches playwriting and screenwriting in the MFA program of the Naslund-Mann School of Writing. With Andie Redwine, Brenner cohosts the Once Upon a Disney podcast, in which they analyze Disney movies from a writer’s perspective, and the two of them have a screenwriting book coming out with McFarland Press in 2025.




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