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Why Can't We Just Let Peter Parker Be Happy?

Long time writer Dan Slott has stepped down from writing Spider-Man, and Nick Spencer is now trying his hand with the new numbering Amazing Spider-Man. I'm about five issues in, and it's good, but there are a lot of things that are bothering me about how Peter Parker just can't keep anything good in his life moving.

I will preface this, spoiler alert, by saying that he is finally back with Mary Jane, apparently that deal with the devil (literal) has expired. While it's cool that the Marvel gods have finally relented to allow him to spend some time with his true love, they've unrelentingly fucked up everything else in his life once again.

Before we start about the new story arc's assaults on his self-esteem, let's take a walk down memory lane to go over the ways I can think of, off the top of my head, that Marvel's constantly taken away everything he's built.

In the beginning: Peter Parker was a high school student that got bit by a spider and became a superhero. We all know this. Originally using his powers selfishly, he did nothing to stop a robber, that eventually killed his uncle Ben Parker, who raised him. Again, we all know this, but that's tragedy number 1.

Tragedy number 2 is probably Gwen Stacy. Parker's first great love, who is killed by the Green Goblin while Parker just has to watch.

Nothing truly horrendous happens to our boy for a very long time. He figures out that he can make money selling pictures of himself being Spider-Man to make enough money to get by. The biggest market for them is of course J. Jonah Jameson, who uses his photos to constantly attack him in the pages of the Daily Bugle. So, it's a living, but it's a bitter sweet one. I apologize if some of the next events are out of order, but some of them I haven't read, but instead just picked them up from other sources, or recaps in comics that I have read.

Tragedy number 3, I'm sure that there were things you could label tragedies in-between two and three, but this is the one where I starting paying attention to mainstream media's obsession with ruining the lives of their characters. Things are going alright for Peter, he married Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man was an official member of the Avengers, he was integral to the original Civil War, where he revealed his identity to the world, but he got a job with Stark Industries out of it, so things were okay. Then Aunt May happens, poor old Aunt May is finally dying, I say finally, because she's been poor old Aunt May for longer than I've been alive, and I've read more comics with her on the verge of death in a hospital bed than I ever needed to. So, rather than have a sweet send off for her, and let Peter move on with his life, instead he gets approached by Mephisto, one of the rulers of Hell (hell is a really complicated place in Marvel comics, but for all intents and purposes, Mephisto is Satan, with a name change that let him get past the Comics Code Authority, back in the day). So, the Devil shows up, and he says "Hey, I can save Aunt May, the only thing I need, is for you to agree to erase your marriage. You're so truly meant for each other, that keeping you apart will torture your souls a little bit, kind of like you're in Hell, and it's a good thing for me". I still can't wrap my head around how they spin a veteran super hero rationalizing making a deal with the devil, he's literally been tempted by Mephisto before, but dear old Aunt May is just too much, I guess. And poof, Parker is now a bachelor.

Slight side track, I obviously hate the deal with the devil angle, mostly because I think it's out of character, and a ham-handed solution to a problem that I don't think anyone needed to be solved. Which is this. Marvel's editorial felt that being married aged Peter Parker too much, and they wanted him to resonate with children. Peter Parker resonates with young people because he's a goofball that never seems to take anything seriously and he always does the right thing, like heroes should. Things like telling the devil to fuck off when he offers to grant you a wish. The fandom was understandably pissed off about this, with the stroke of a pen, the last 20 years of what their beloved character had done was suddenly a nebulous void. His identity is no longer public, he's back to selling pictures of himself for money.

Okay, thanks for indulging me. After this, things start to sound weirdly personal to me.

Tragedy number 4. Maybe not that tragic, but Peter Parker is involved in some sort of scandal, where he doctored a photograph that he sold to the Bugle, gets outed, and thus is finished in his career as a photographer. It's not all bad, because he eventually bounces around until he ends up landing a job at a super science lab. See, there's a thing that's often forgotten about Parker, which is that the guy is actually a genius. He's maybe not on the same level as Tony Stark, Bruce Banner or Reed Richards, but he can be in the same room as them, understand what they're talking about, and sometimes come up with solutions that they've missed. He could just never complete any school program because he was always too busy being Spider-Man.

Tragedy number 5! This is another weird one. Doctor Octopus, dying of cancer, comes up with a ridiculous plot to transfer his brain into the body of his nemesis, Spider-Man, so that he can continue his doctoral cephalopodic ways. In a surprise twist, he's successful! Peter Parker dies in Doctor Octopus's cancer riddled body. Thanks to the miracle of comic writing, this is not the end for Peter Parker. There are some things to cover in what Doc Ock does in the Parker body that will be helpful in the future. The body swap is not a complete rewrite of their personalities. Being in the body of Peter Parker gives Octavius access to his lifetime of memories, which gives him the drive to carry on the mantle of Spider-Man, albeit as a bit of a dickhead. Octavius finishes up Parker's schooling, gets a doctorate (remember this), and starts a tech company.

Through some more shenanigans that I missed, Peter Parker reclaims his body. Lo and behold he finds himself with a doctorate he didn't earn, a company doing things that he doesn't necessarily approve of, and a girlfriend that's in love with the ghost he kicked out of his body. He manages to make it all work though. The girlfriend becomes a close confidante, no longer romantic but privy to his secrets. He turns Parker Industries into a weird humanitarian version of Apple, producing cheap smart phones, developing solutions for 3rd world countries, he even pulls a Tony Stark and "hires" Spider-Man to be Peter Parker's bodyguard. Develops a close working relationship with SHIELD, and starts dating Mockingbird, whom I've recently decided is my favorite undersung badass heroine in Marvel comics.

Tragedy number 6, if you're still counting. Octavius manages to come back from the dead, into a cloned Peter Parker body no less (Yeah, there was another whole clone saga, it was fun, but not notable, other than to re-introduce a Kaine and Ben Reilly, Parker's clones of old). On it's own, that's not so bad, but let's not forget that Octavius made Parker Industries. So of course he leads a raid, with Hydra backing during the Secret Empire event, and tries to take back control of his company, with backdoors that he left in all of the software. Rather than let all of that research and tech fall into his hands, Peter decides to destroy it all, including all of the data. Now Peter Parker is vilified as the man that not only put an entire company out of business, ruining investors, employees, and making all of the consumer electronics they had sold completely non-functional (The internet of things baby!).

Things are not great for our boy again. He's crashing on Mockinbird's couch, because they were dating, but not "yeah you can live with me" dating. Thankfully before completely burning that relationship, he manages to land a job back at the good ol' Daily Bugle as their science editor, and we settle back into our classic starving Spider-Man routine.

That brings us up to the current run of Amazing Spider-Man, so let's get to it:

Tragedy number fucking 7. Peter goes to cover an event revealing a new piece of technology, and the concept for this is so perfect. Someone's developed software to validate academic papers, because it's hard to police in this modern comic universe, they cite one person that used technology to look into a parallel universe and steal the doctoral thesis of their counterpart, another where someone hired Skrulls, shape-shifting aliens, to be the control group in their study. The final absurd aspect of this technology that I love is that they claim it's derived from technology used in Cerebro, which if you don't read much X-Men, is the device Charles Xavier built to locate and track mutants as they manifest. So, as an example, they review Parker's doctoral thesis, if you'll remember back in tragedy 5, he didn't actually write it, and it's outed as being written by Otto Octavius, oh noes! Parker's doctorate is revoked, he's fired from his job at the Daily Bugle. Once again, our boy Peter Parker is unemployed with no credibility. But hey, at least he managed to tell Mary Jane that he was still in love with her, she reciprocated, and their back to lovey dovey boot knocking.

Oh, one other thing that just contributes to his generally well trod upon standing: Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of crime (yeah, that dude that crushed someone's head in a car door in Netflix's Daredevil) is now the duly elected mayor of New York, and he's actively banned vigilante-ism. So all of the superheroes that operate in New York are in a bad way, except Spider-Man, whom he constantly thanks, and upholds as paragon, he even tried to give him the key to the city, all as part of some elaborate gaslighting campaign, but it's been effective at driving a wedge between him and the other heroes.

Okay, so, is it just me, or does someone at Marvel just really hate Peter Parker? I'm gonna get to a few of the things that I'm really loving about the new run in just a bit, but lemme just bitch a bit about the mentality that led to most of this happening. As consumers of fiction we're often sold a story of the heroes progress. This apparently suits the industry just fine for finite fiction, like movies and novels. When you go to mediums where you could potentially have an infinite duration though, instead they want to sell you the illusion of progress, while still trying to keep everyone's status the same. One of my favorite shows has to be House M.D., at some point, House manages to resolve the sexual tension he'd had with the hospital director for the entire run to that point, and things were good, they were happy. But, you can't have that, so he blatantly sabotages the relationship, because he can't allow himself to be happy, or some bullshit, I guess someone in the production pipeline couldn't envision a world where a happy character would still be an unapologetic asshole to people?

I could list examples like this all day, but I don't want to get too far from the new run of Amazing Spider-Man, so I'm just going to list one more. The Batwoman run that came in with the New 52 reboot of the DC universe. Blackman and Williams made a frankly phenomenal book about the bastard child of the Bat-family. Batwoman is famously a lesbian, and in this book she was dating Maggie Sawyer, a captain of the Gotham Police Department. I don't remember if it started off with Sawyer being in on her identity, but they handled that no problem. The relationship progressed perfectly with the rest of the book, up until the creators wanted them to get married. Papa DC stepped in and put the "go no further" stamp on that damn quick. I remember a big push from the LGBTQ community about it being because of their orientation, when really it's the same thing as everywhere else. The character's status can't change.

Okay! Nick Spencer! Amazing Spider-Man! It's fun. There's a lot of stuff to like about this run. Peter's happy with the love of his life, and we get to see the playful couple rediscover what they loved about each other. It's sweet, as much as I want to harumph the fact that it's already been done before. He's still unemployed, but hopefully that'll be resolved fairly soon. His doctorate is another fun thing. Instead of being completely revoked, the university has opted to let him attend and develop his doctorate again, this is heavily influenced by his new advisor, Doctor Curt Connors, also know as The Lizard. Connors has a chip implanted in his neck now that allows him to stay in control while in his reptilian form, and even prevents him from acting in violence. Every panel of a giant lizard man in a lab coat shouting at college students just makes my heart happy.

The other thing that gives me immense joy is that Peter Parker rents an apartment with two other people. One is the son of the owner of the Daily Bugle, nothing terribly interesting there, but the other is the supervillain Boomerang. He's officially pardoned, but he's just generally one of the worst human beings, never doing his chores, and sneaking around and creeping on Peter and MJ when they think they're alone. If you haven't read The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, you should, that's really where this characterization of Boomerang is coming from, and while he's an awful human being, you just can't help but laugh at him. Once he finds out that Peter was "tight" with Spider-Man he immediately takes him to a villain bar for Spider-Man trivia night, just so he can use him as a ringer to take home the prize money.

One last thing. During the Secret Empire event, one of my favorite supervillains, Taskmaster, was paired up with Black Ant, basically evil Ant-Man, and they just keep turning up as this great comic relief duo of baddies.

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