Photo: Matt Kennedy/Sony Pictures
A look back at an infamous Marvel Comics moment
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Spider-Man: No Way Home.]
Spider-Man: No Way Home ends with a shocking sacrifice. Many fans thought this might be the end of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, though it isn’t. But it is the end for his Peter Parker, in a way.
As the multiverse threatens to come crashing down on the world as he knows it, Peter makes a choice: He asks Doctor Strange to cast a spell that will make everyone in every universe forget who the MCU’s Peter Parker is. While the world still remembers Spider-Man and his heroics, no one knows the kid behind the mask. It’s an act of true selflessness, one that leaves Peter alone in the world for the very first time.
Though it might have taken some viewers by surprise, there’s actually a pretty serious precedent for this in the comics. So if you want to know what could happen next, it’s time to dig into some of the most divisive comics of the 2000s.
In the much-maligned Spider-Man: One More Day arc started by writer J. Michael Straczynski and essentially completed by writer-artist-editor Joe Quesada, Aunt May is at death’s door. She’s been hit with a bullet meant for her nephew, and because he’s broke, she’s about to be moved to a “charity ward.’’ Peter goes on a rampage, trying to come up with a plan to solve his woes — which all stem from revealing his identity at the behest of Tony Stark.
In a desperate moment, he goes to see Stephen Strange — sound familiar? — but while Stephen can’t help him, he sends Peter into a magical realm to see if he can find the answer for himself. Sadly, Peter cannot find anyone to help him and returns to Stephen, who tells him he needs to say goodbye to May. Alas, before Peter can reach her he’s waylaid by a terrifying child who’s actually Mephisto (essentially the Satan of the Marvel Comics universe) in disguise. And what did Mephisto want in exchange for saving Aunt May? The one thing dearest to Peter: his love for Mary Jane and their marriage.
If that sounds like a weird deal, it’s because it is and that’ll come into play later. But eventually after “one more day” together, Peter and MJ agree to sacrifice their love to save Aunt May.
Peter Parker regained his secret identity
Image: J. Michael Straczynski, Joe Quesada/Marvel COmics
As part of the deal MJ makes, Mephisto agrees to erase everyone’s memories of Peter as Spider-Man. So not only are they not in love any more, but Peter’s privacy is restored. The horrifying truth comes to the fore, though, as it’s revealed the spooky child Peter saw was his and Mary Jane’s daughter, who will now never exist thanks to the deal. Bleak.
The four-issue story arc ends with a party for Harry Osborn, who’s returned from rehab AND the dead. Peter is happy and Aunt May is alive. The issue ends with a cheer to a “Brand New Day,” announcing the name of the Amazing Spider-Man relaunch to follow. It’s there that readers really learn the fallout of the deal and its ramifications on Peter Parker.
Months later and Spider-Man is nowhere to be seen, Peter is using his anonymity to try and find a real job while J. Jonah Jameson laments the lack of salacious Spider-stories. Spider-Man’s alter ego is no longer remembered by any of his heroic friends in the Avengers, Fantastic Four, or anyone else. But it’s revealed that he and MJ were in a relationship and were supposed to get married. But now that never happened, leaving them estranged. There are moments where the pair seem like they might reconnect but they never truly do. MJ is hiding her identity — at the behest of her new celebrity boyfriend — and so is the newly anonymous Spider-Man.
The reason he’s been keeping the Spider-Man identity under wraps is because he’s unregistered, following the events of Civil War and the superhero registration act. This comic establishes that Peter is back to his street-level ways with no real romantic entanglement, and his usual money worries, even while he battled new villains like Mister Negative, and that was entirely the point. While it may seem like an overdramatic way to achieve what could have been done through a divorce and Peter never being unmasked, it was what Marvel Comics wanted.
How did Spider-Man’s choice change the Marvel Universe?
Image: Dan Slott, Steve McNiven/Marvel Comics
According to original writer J. Michael Straczynski, the main intention behind One More Day was always to uncouple Mary Jane and Peter Parker. Joe Quesada and Marvel editorial felt like the marriage was holding Peter back, so this was their answer. It’s still a controversial choice and one that’s still being felt to this day. Peter and Mary Jane never remarried.
The choice made it easier for Marvel to align the comics with the Spider-Man movie canon, which featured an unmarried, will-they-won’t-they Peter and Mary Jane. This all came with an assumed freedom to tell far more simple villain-of-the-week tales that didn’t have to deal with marriage troubles.
Although it’s all very convoluted, Marvel Comics’ editorial established rules about exactly how the forgetting worked — and those rules could potentially help explain some things about No Way Home. For example, almost everything that happened before this Mephisto deal still happened. People just don’t remember Peter Parker being involved. And those who do remember seeing Spider-Man’s face can’t quite remember the face itself, and certainly not his name.
In the years since, some characters have rediscovered Spider-Man’s secret identity — including Aunt May, Doctor Octopus, and even J. Jonah Jameson himself. But for the most part, the genie was put back into the bottle. While Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s recent Amazing Spider-Man run teased a resolution of One More Day, it ended with Peter still in the dark about his deal. In a surprising twist, Mary Jane now does remember the deal she made with Mephisto, but won’t tell Peter.
It’s impossible to say how much of this will become a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — after all we don’t even know when Tom Holland’s Spider-Man will appear again. Neither Sony nor Marvel Studios has currently announced plans for another Spider-Man movie featuring the actor (but never say never). But if ever or whenever this Spider-Man returns, No Way Home has ensured one thing: It’ll be a brand-new day.