Spider-Man is The World’s Most Popular Super-Hero, So Why Does Marvel Never Give Him Any Respect?
Back in April, Marvel Comics released Amazing Spider-Man #1, which kicks off a new story for the title character being helmed by writer Zeb Wells and with the art being done by Spider-Man veteran, John Romita Jr. The announcement for a “new #1” came after the end of the Beyond storyline, which saw Peter Parker take the mantle of Spider-Man back from his clone-brother, Ben Reily, and had received mixed reactions by the time the story concluded. In my personal opinion, the Beyond storyline felt like it ended too soon and reached an unsatisfying conclusion just as it was starting to pick up.
With Sony/Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man: No Way Home not only being the biggest movie release of 2021, but also being the sixth highest grossing film of all time, it may have been seen as a smart move by Marvel’s comics department to release a new “First Issue” for that sweet movie synergy.
What takes place in this new number 1? Well, it picks up six months after some big event that transpired; we never see what this event was, but we see the aftermath of it and how it affects Peter Parker’s life. Whatever the event was, it has brought nothing but ruin to him, because now all of Spider-Man’s closest friends no longer trust him; even his Aunt May is saying that he’s changing for the worse. On top of that, Mary-Jane Watson has detached herself from Peter’s life and has become a step-mother to two new kids. Along with this, the wallcrawler is once again strapped for cash, now living in a dingy, run-down studio apartment while being hounded by debt collectors to pay for medical bills—and I’m just so sick and tired of it.
I’m tired of this same type of story being played out, again and again and again for Spider-Man comics. Any time any kind of change in the direction for the comic comes, we’re hit with another retrograde of the character of Peter Parker. This is something that any longtime fan of the character can tell you has plagued the titles for well over a decade now. Marvel has infamously forced Peter Parker to return to the state that is in-sync with his commonly known image, with storylines like “One More Day”, that infamously saw the character retconning his marriage to Mary-Jane in a deal with the devil to save Aunt May’s life. To Marvel, Peter Parker needs to be young for the readers, he needs Aunt May to take care of him, he can’t be married, and he can’t change.
The problems with Spider-Man are problems with the comic book industry as a whole and its devotion to the status quo. No change can ever be permanent. Characters hardly ever stay dead anymore, and any time a hero’s mantle is passed down to a successor, it is just as quickly given back to the original, so that any new readers aren’t confused as to why Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman anymore. What makes it so aggravating for Spider-Man in particular isn’t just the frequency of how it happens, but how it betrays what the character stands for.
Peter Parker is a character that has always been someone that gives all of himself to overcome any obstacle that comes his way. What makes him so endearing is that this mindset goes beyond just fighting supervillains, but also applies to the struggles that the man behind the mask faces. Over the years we’ve gotten to see him grow through high school, college, into becoming a young adult, but somewhere along the line that growth just…stopped. Marvel Comics stopped letting the character of Peter Parker grow.
Sure, they might have teased it over the years. Peter has been married, a high school science professor, the CEO of a tech company; all of these things eventually get retconned so that Peter can be brought back to his lowest point. He’s no longer overcoming obstacles in his life, but is instead being put in a place of limbo, forever stagnating as a broke 30-something unable to have any meaningful change in his life.
It isn’t like stories of Peter growing up aren’t able to work; they’ve shown to be a proven success before. What-If stories like 1998’s Spider-Girl or 2015’s Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows both tell stories of proud Girldad Peter Parker raising a super-powered daughter to become a webslinger like him. There’s also Chip Zdarsky & Mark Bagley’s spectacular Spider-Man: Life Story, showing the character accurately aging from his start in the 60’s to present day, which is considered to be one of the best Spider-Man stories to come out in the past decade.
The OSCAR WINNING animated film, 2018’s Into the Spider-Verse, showed an older, more veteran Peter Parker becoming a mentor figure to a young Miles Morales, and helping him train to become his own version of Spider-Man. Despite him gaining massive amounts of popularity over the past few years, Marvel refuses to solely give that mantle of “Spider-Man” to Miles. Because to them, they already have their template for what Spider-Man should be and Miles doesn’t fit it.
For me, the most exciting thing that has happened to the character in the past ten years was back in 2018 with Nick Spencer’s Amazing Spider-man #1. At the end of the issue, it showed the reunion of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson as a couple. It gave me hope that maybe Marvel was willing to finally let the character grow and learn from their past sins. However, Marvel has shown me that it was foolish to ever expect any fulfilling change for the character anymore.
Months have passed and, as the storyline has progressed a little more, this feeling of exhaustion with the comic books has remained. Peter’s longtime nemesis Norman Osborn has returned to help Peter as a way to show that he is reformed. He’s given him a new suit, new gadgets, and new ways for Peter to solve problems that don’t involve any character introspection. The way that this story is going, I can already see how it will end in my head because I have seen it done so many times before. Norman Osborn will return to being the Green Goblin, Peter Parker will return to his red and blue. A fight shall ensue between the two as it always has.
Call me pessimistic or that I’m not showing enough faith in Zeb Wells’ talents as a writer to subvert how the age-old Parker/Osborn feud will play out. But they haven’t shown me that they’re willing to change anything with the character yet, so why start now?
I’ve read enough comics long enough to know this song and dance. That things like the stinger of Mary-Jane having two offscreen kids is some kind of red herring that will be solved by the end of the run. I just no longer have the patience for it. I can’t in good faith wait around for a year for a chance to see a character that I love be happy. I’m lucky though; Spider-Man is big enough that there are plenty of other types of media that are capable of understanding what makes the character so great. And if Marvel Comics refuses to care about evolving Peter Parker in any meaningful way, then I won’t either.