Peter Parker’s life hasn’t been easy and as everyone knows, it wasn’t made any easier after he received the proportionate strength of a spider in Amazing Adult Fantasy #15 (reprised in Amazing Spider-Man #1). When we first meet him on the opening splash page of his origin, Peter is in the process of being mocked by his peers including long time scourge Flash Thompson. Walking away in tears, Peter’s shoulders are slumped in dejection as he makes his way to the science hall for an exhibition that’s destined to change his fortunes forever. But being granted super powers does Peter no good as he soon discovers. They only complicate his life as he’s forced to hide his identity beneath a full face mask and becomes the object of fear and suspicion by the general public.
Thus is launched an exciting secret life as a super-hero but one that further alienates the lonely teenager from the rest of society. Unable to share his secret with anyone and fearful that if his identity as Spider-Man were ever revealed, it would be too much for his Aunt May’s weak heart, Peter lives a life apart, his powers at once cutting him off from others while granting him a kind of personal freedom that only anonymity can provide.
Created in 1962 for Marvel Comics by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Steve Ditko, the Spider-Man character was imbued with fully human feelings and failings right from the start. Lee had begun the trend with the Fantastic Four the year before but really turned up the heat with Spider-Man as he and Ditko turned Peter Parker into a real hard luck charlie whose shoulders often seemed too narrow to bear up under the weight of the problems he was given.
But it was those problems that proved to be the key to the character’s popularity and one that has driven a string of recent films to huge monetary success. But those films have been a mixed blessing for fans of the comics. While managing to endear Spidey to general audiences, their jumbled continuity has only served to rob the original stories of the power of those special moments. So, as a special service to PJ Media visitors, here are the most significant, life altering events in Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s life, events that over the years have served to enrich the character while keeping his life from becoming too ordinary. Some have been featured in the movies while some still wait their chance at being adapted:
1) The Death of Uncle Ben
In terms of the low points in Peter Parker’s life, you can’t get much lower than the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. A key figure along with Peter’s Aunt May, Ben Parker took in Peter when his parents were killed and tagged as traitors to their country (that’s another story for another time). But the tragedy of Uncle Ben’s death was made doubly poignant to his nephew because he was killed by a burglar whom Peter, in a moment of hubris, had allowed to escape from the law. As Spider-Man, Peter helps to capture his uncle’s killer and learns that “with great power, there comes great responsibility.”
2) The Death of Gwen Stacy
Next to the death of his Uncle Ben, there could be no more staggering loss for Peter Parker than that of girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Both being science majors, she and Peter had met in college but due to Peter’s many preoccupations (including trying to save his Aunt May’s life) got off on the wrong foot. That was soon rectified however and the two soon formed a close relationship. Although Peter had had a former girlfriend in Betty Brant, Gwen turned out to be the real thing so when she was kidnapped by the Green Goblin and subsequently killed, it turned Peter’s life inside out.
3) Peter Parker grows four arms
You read that right! By Amazing Spider-Man #100, writer Stan Lee needed a vacation and while he was gone, right hand man Roy Thomas filled in on the strip and initiated a number of stories that were way out of Spidey’s comfort zone. Spidey fought dinosaurs and vampires until, in an attempt to cure himself of his spider-powers, Peter injected himself with a serum of his own invention and instead, grew himself four extra arms! It may not have been the comic’s most shining moment, but it did present what was possibly the character’s lowest ebb.
4) Peter Parker’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson
At first glance, one would think that marriage would be a happy occasion. Unfortunately, if you’re a comic book character whose career thrives on bad luck, it was a wrong move. Possibly the most significant event in the character’s life outside of the deaths of Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy, Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane was also likely one of the worst decisions made by the movers and shakers at Marvel. An idea suggested by Stan Lee for his Spider-Man newspaper strip of the 80s, it was approved by then Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. Though it proved a happy circumstance for Peter Parker, it robbed the Spider-Man stories of much of their drama. After all, it was hard to sympathize with Peter as a hard luck charlie when he was married to a super model!
5) Death of Capt. Stacy
In what would prove to be a dress rehearsal of sorts for the death of Gwen Stacy a few years later, the death of retired police captain George Stacy was made at the hands of another Spidey bad guy, Doctor Octopus. Again, Spider-Man is involved. As he fights Ock atop a building, crumbling masonry falls toward the street below threatening to strike an innocent child. Stacy manages to shove the boy to safety but is struck and killed by the falling debris. Dying in Spider-Man’s arms, Stacy reveals that he’s known our hero’s secret ID all along and asks Peter to take care of Gwen after he’s gone. That would prove to be more difficult than Peter expects as Gwen will blame the death of her father not on Doctor Octopus, but on Spider-Man!
6) Death of Norman Osborn
For many months the identity of the Green Goblin had been kept from readers due mainly to a disagreement between Stan Lee and Steve Ditko as to who he would turn out to be. That said, a rich industrialist had begun to make appearances in the comic who was eventually revealed to be the father of Peter Parker’s college friend Harry Osborn. But Norman Osborn had a secret which was revealed only after Ditko left Marvel. He was Spidey’s arch nemesis, the Green Goblin. It was the Goblin who was eventually involved in Gwen Stacy’s death and though a maddened Spider-Man almost beats him to death, the villain does himself in by accident. Unfortunately, with a mind addled by drugs, son Harry, like Gwen, will end up blaming Spider-Man for his father’s death and cause Peter no end of problems!
7) Spider-Man is cloned
Before Gwen’s death, she and Peter Parker had been friends with college biology professor Miles Warren. Secretly enamored of Gwen, Warren uses tissue samples belonging to Gwen and Peter to clone the two students. Later, taking on the identity of the Jackal, Warren vows to kill Spider-Man whom he blames for Gwen’s death. The Jackal is defeated but his clone of Gwen survives and disappears. The one of Peter is thought to have been destroyed until it was brought back in the 1990s. At the time, the plan was to have the clone be revealed as the real Peter as a way of getting rid of the married Peter and returning the Spider-Man comic to the status quo ante with a protagonist who was once again single and open to more plot complications. That plan however, fizzled and the clone Peter continued with his own adventures as the Scarlet Spider!
8) Spider-Man’s marriage ends
Following the aborted plan in the mid 1990s to have the Peter Parker who was married to Mary Jane turn out to be a clone, Marvel editorial tried again in 2007 to change the status quo. This time they succeeded. In a plotline called “One New Day,” Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane was wiped from history with the aid of Mephisto, Marvel’s personification of Satan. ‘Nuff said!
9) Spider-Man confronts the drug scene
In response to a suggestion by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) that comics be used to warn young people about the dangers of drug use, Stan Lee decided to risk angering the Comics Code Authority by doing so in Amazing Spider-Man #s 96-98. After largely succeeding in putting across the desired message with a minimum of didacticism, the story reveals that Peter Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn is an addict. Harry’s addiction will take a long time to overcome but not before he’s driven to madness and takes over his father’s identity as the new Green Goblin!
10) Doctor Octopus switches bodies with Spider-Man
As if all the preceding weren’t enough, Peter suffers the final indignity of being replaced in his own body by the consciousness of his arch-enemy, Doctor Octopus! It was 2012 and Marvel Comics had long since abandoned any attempt at preserving the continuity of its comics begun in the 1960s. Looking to end a 700 issue run of Spider-Man and reboot the title, it was decided to have a dying Doctor Octopus scheme to switch bodies with Spider-Man (don’t ask how!) The villain’s plan proves successful and while Ock goes on to become the new Spider-Man, Peter Parker meets his death in Ock’s diseased body. As low points go, you can’t get much lower than this, folks!