Since One More Day, some readers came to the understanding that Peter Parker won’t get the girl, be it Mary Jane or anyone else. I didn’t think much of it. The logic behind the decision was that there are more stories to be told with a single Spider-Man than with a married Spider-Man. His life wouldn’t be stable, so he probably wouldn’t keep the girl, but as long as the stories continued, he would have an interesting love life.
However, with the (likely misleading) hints that Peter Parker’s story coming to an end with Amazing Spider-Man#700, it’s worth considering what happens when there are no new adventures of Peter Parker as Spider-Man. My guess had always been that his story would come to an end in the usual way, with the hero riding off into the sunset with the love of his life. In the earlier entry, there was the assumption that however Peter Parker’s story ends, he will be content in his private life. But that isn’t necessarily the way this tale should end.
In Supergods, Grant Morrison’s autobiographical history of superhero comics, he suggested that the first Silver Age heroes represented the Kennedy Man. They were handsome, intelligent optimists with gorgeous girlfriends/ wives, often with respectable professional positions in a scientific field. Examples included Barry Allen, Ray Palmer, Ralph Dibny and Reed Richards.
Morrison views Spider-Man as a response to that ideal—a guy who is naturally pessimistic, who sometimes screws up and who often doesn’t get the girl. The hero of “the spotty, hormonal outsiders” who “revealed the truth behind the sugared lies of Barry Allen and Ray Palmer.”
It sometimes seems that Morrison has done great work with every major superhero franchise except Spider-Man, so it is worth taking his interpretation of this character with a grain of salt. But it beings up some interesting questions. Was that Spidey’s conceptual engine in the very beginning? If so, under what circumstances is it okay to change the conceptual engine? Shouldn’t the thing that made the series so unique in the beginning be a part of the end?
Peter Parker had a love life, even in the Lee/ Ditko comics. But he did eventually did lose the girl, which made him different from the Kennedy Men. Liz Allen moved away, ending up with neither Peter or Flash. Betty Brant left Peter for Ned Leeds. And Gwen Stacy died.
However you define the first act of Peter Parker’s arc, it doesn’t end with the hero getting the girl. Amazing Fantasy #15, which could very well have been the only Spider-Man story if Stan Lee’s experiment had failed, ended with Peter Parker as alone, and unlucky with women, as he had been before the spider bite. By the end of the Lee/ Ditko run in Amazing Spider-Man #38, Peter & Betty had broken up.
Some say that Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 marked the end of the Silver Age, so you could say that it was the end of the first age of Spider-Man comics as well. It did not mark a happy ending for the protagonist and the first love of his life. More recently, there was the argument that Amazing Spider-Man#545 marked the ending of the first chapter of the Spider-Man comics. And that featured the end of Peter’s relationship with the other great love of his life.
Peter Parker obviously got the girl in Amazing Spider-Man Annual 21, and some would cite the wedding issue as the end of the era. But that seems arbitrary. David Michelinie, the writer of that story, stuck around for nearly a decade, so it’s not as if it marked a major change in creative teams. Two of the first stories with a married Spider-Man featured writers revisiting their earlier work. Peter David penned a rematch between Spidey and the Sin-Eater, while former Marvel Team-Up writer JM Dematteis brought back Vermin for the six part Kraven’s Last Hunt crossover. Todd Mcfarlane would soon become the most consequential Spider-Man artist since John Romita Senior, with the introduction of the most popular villain in decades, although that story served as a sequel to the alien costume saga from a few years earlier. David Michelinie had also seeded Venom in his earlier Web of Spider-Man work.
Peter and Mary Jane did ride off into the sunset at least twice. During the Clone Saga, Peter and MJ went west to raise a family, while Ben Reilly took over as the new Spider-Man. That didn’t take, and Peter was back pretty quickly. He quit once again before the 1998 relaunch, although that wasn’t ever intended to stick. In both cases, members of the creative teams stuck around, continuing their work on the title when Peter returned.
There are also other versions of Peter Parker. While Spider-Girl depicts Peter Parker as a happily married father, Reign and Earth X feature him as a widower. The 1990s Fox Animated series ended on a cliffhanger, with Mary Jane lost in another universe. The first Spider-Man film had Peter realize that he can never be with her. He changed his mind in the sequel, although later films in the saga suggested that at some point, he would still have to choose between the girl and being Spider-Man.
The Amazing Spider-Man seemed to go in the same direction as the first Spider-Man film, until Peter decided to go against his final promise to Captain Stacy. Though it was hinted that this could end badly for Gwen. Unless they decide that a sequel’s going to adapt the final Ultimate Spider-Man saga, rather than the death of Gwen Stacy. Ultimate Spider-Man didn’t get to live happily ever after with the girl of his dreams. He just died. Which was also the ending of quite a few What If? books.
The odds are pretty good that after the Superior Spider-Man story comes to an end, Peter Parker will be back in the suit. So, the answer to the question of what’s going to happen when the story’s over is going to be delayed for some time. And there are quite a few claims for the other side.
There’s the argument that Spider‑Man deserves a happy ending, and therefore should be married to the love of his life. That can be problematic. By this line of thought it’s wrong to give Spider‑Man any severe complications and problems because it’s a good lesson for younger readers that the quiet, studious and shy high school geek can have a good life after graduating high school. Any conflict is antithetical to that moral.
This desire to give the character everything he wants completely goes against the serial nature of the series and robs future generations of getting to read new adventures of the original Spider‑Man. It’s a great thing that Marvel hasn’t needed a Crisis on Infinite Earths type reboot yet.
Spider‑Man should suffer and continue to suffer in the future, because that makes his stories interesting. As long as the adventures of Spider‑Man continue, he’s going to have to have bad days and bad weeks, and because that alone will get old fast, he needs to have good days and weeks too.
It’s the nature of his adventures in a story that has no end in sight. While it would be inspirational to give him a happy ending, that’s just not practical in the serial form. Marvel and DC superhero books show the first two acts of a character’s story arc, but not the third. They can show the beginning and the middle, and not the end. This has led to Marvel launching an entire line of books showing what “The End” would be like. Showing the actual conclusion would mean that they can’t continue the stories most of us are enjoying.
Until they figure out what type of ending the character should get, they also shouldn’t tip the scales in either direction. It’s always satisfying to have the boy and the girl get together at the end of the story, but you could make the argument that Spider-Man’s story has served as a counterpoint to the ordinary. An unhappy or ambiguous ending could be more fitting.