A Gold Watch for Peter Parker

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I want to pitch a comic. This is the issue of Amazing Spider-Man I would write given the chance: aerial shot of the interior of a loft apartment, decorations, lots of people. A festive atmosphere. Characters we all recognize: Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Steve Rogers, Johnny Storm, etc. And they’re all mingling with the other half of Peter Parker’s life. Aunt May and Jay Jameson Sr., Anna Maria Marconi, Harry Osborn, Flash Thompson, and of course Mary Jane Watson. All of this in a big splash page staged around a party. There’s tension because most of these people just learned that Peter Parker has been Spider-Man this whole time. A series of panels would show both sides of the room attempting to mingle, awkwardly. A mirror to the way these two halves of himself have always fit together. Maybe Jessica Drew shows up with Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Gwen, just so we can see Harry, Flash, and MJ all struggling with the added bit of weirdness.

Then we cut to a darkened room and a brooding figure sitting on the bed. Peter Parker is there, holding a picture in a frame: himself as a boy on Uncle Ben’s shoulders. A sliver of light cuts across the bed, his face still half in darkness, when a shadow covers him again. Aunt May is in the doorway and she tells him his guests are all waiting. He’s about to say something, then he stops. He puts the photo back on the bedside table. There are numerous prescription bottles laid out on its surface, each labeled “Parker, Peter.” He reaches beside the table and takes up a cane and stands on shaky legs. “Coming, Aunt May,” is all he says. His figure is cut up by the darkness as he tries to make his way. He stumbles and almost falls, but May catches him. On her arm he steps out into the brightly lit party. Another big panoramic panel that shows the heroes and friends in attendance all looking to him. Then the title page: Peter supported between Aunt May and a cane, Harry and MJ nearby to help, and Peter saying “Where is he? Where’s Spider-Man?”

This is how I would signal Peter Parker’s retirement from superheroing and his transition into full-time mentorship of the new Amazing Spider-Man, Mile Morales. It’s likely an unpopular opinion to have these days, following Spidey’s recent MCU appearance in Captain America: Civil War and the impending and aptly named Spider-Man: Homecoming (if that subtitle doesn’t make you teary, you are a monster!), but I think it is finally time (in the comics at least) for Parker to hang up the webshooters and blue and red tights for good.

Not that I have any dislike for the character in slightest. Spider-Man has been my favorite for as long as I can remember. In fact what I would like to propose wouldn’t even remove Parker from the comic and might even make him a more vital and interesting character to the on-going universe. The bare bones of it is this: contrive some situation, the culmination of an epic Spider-Man event story perhaps, in which the final sacrifice Peter is forced to make to save everybody is not his life but his “spider-hood.” What happens to the person for whom “great power” means “great responsibility” when that power is taken away?

There are a few reasons to do this. For one, characters must change and grow in an on-going narrative in order to keep their hold on the audience. That’s just fundamental to storytelling, but the failure to change and grow is the reason why things like TV sitcoms eventually come to feel stale: the characters are largely static, and growth over the course of an episode tends to be wiped away by beginning of the next. Dan Slott, current writer of Amazing Spider-Man, gets that and he has been putting Peter through his paces more or less since the beginning of the “Brand New Day” arc. Most notably he killed Peter in ASM 700 and demonstrated for us that we really can survive in a world without Peter Parker. For a couple of years at least.

And it seems as though the recent moves made by Slott are motivated by that need for narrative change. In the current run, post-Secret War, Peter Parker is running his own international tech company, which has him making appearances all over the globe. Spider-Man has become an international superhero as a result. This does represent a stark—If you’ll excuse the pun—change to his character: “Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” just won’t have the same ring anymore. But, to what end?

With Tony Stark seemingly retiring from his superhero ways (to make room for a new armored hero, Riri Williams, aka Ironheart), Parker’s new role in the universe feels a little more like borrowing someone else’s role than forging new territory for himself. In this post-Secret War Marvel U, Tony’s business is failing just as Peter’s is rising, and it feels as though he is merely trading up to fill a void left by Tony’s departure. All of these major shifts in the stories of long-established characters have the potential to be very good. However, change for change’s sake is always bad. I won’t go so far as to say this new run of ASM is actually bad, but I am caught somewhere between feeling as though the international angle is unproductive to the growth of the character and that somehow widening the scope of Spidey’s “neighborhood” has made his exploits less fun. It feels a little like growing up, and out growing those smaller confines. Maybe it should be the same for those webbed tights.

For another, taking Peter out of the superhero gig entirely would thrust the full weight of the Spider-Mantle onto Miles Morales’ shoulders. For almost the entire run of Superior Spider-Man we had a comic book universe without Peter Parker. The Ultimate U Peter died fighting the Green Goblin sometime before 616 Peter’s death at the hands of body-switched Doc Ock in ASM 700. And though he returned sometime later when the Green Goblin also made a comeback, it wasn’t to take back the suit. His presence only seems to affirm Miles, in that arguably the most famous panel of his existence, mask off, saying “I am Spider-Man.” And he was the only real Spider-Man in print, until Peter regained his body in the final issues of SSM.

While one of the best things to come from Secret War is the addition of Miles to the 616 universe, to bring him into the fold of the official U after boldly declaring himself to be Spider-Man for a whole universe of his own only to become a junior league character under the established Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man feels a bit like a demotion. Especially after he has already proven himself equal to the task. Add to that the delightful mess of spider-powered characters we were introduced to by Spider-Verse and Miles is ever more of a Spider-Man rather than the Spider-Man.

Spider-Man will always be a book about a hero struggling to do right in every aspect of his or her life, typically eking out a win by only the barest margin of success. To have two such characters strains credulity ever so slightly. Having two such characters in webbed tights going by the same name is begging for a choice to be made. Peter has had his run, and it’s been a damn good one. The day he’s gone forever, or, if I get my way, hangs up his webbed onesie to mentor Miles full-time, I will shed some bitter tears. That’s good. Change should be bittersweet. We should let our beloved characters grow old and leave us. It’s Miles’ time to shine.

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