This is an explanation of the context for the cliffhanger of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #1, which is likely to play a role in the second issue out tomorrow. It’s going to include some spoilers for the graphic novel Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business.
Towards the end of the best-selling comic book of 2017, Peter Parker missed a movie date with Johnny Storm when an investigation takes him to Chicago. A pissed off Johnny encounters a young woman, who has a surprising identity.
Peter has consistently been established to be an only child, although there was initially a mystery to the fate of his parents. In Amazing Spider-Man #39, he tells Harry that his own father died before he could remember. That conversation changed Harry and Flash’s impressions of Peter, and paved the way for him to be part of their social circle.
In Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5, Peter learns that his parents were American spies killed during a mission. This is one of the most controversial developments of Stan Lee’s run on the title, since it makes Peter a little bit less ordinary than if his parents had been regular people.
As Stan Lee wrote in “The Saga of Spidey’s Parents” (a text piece in Amazing Spider-Man #365), it started with an effort to give readers their money’s worth…
The year was 1968 and I was looking for a new theme for a Spider-Man King-Size Special, which is what we called our 64-page annuals in those prehistoric days. In fact, to enable you to fully appreciate how long ago it was, our King-Size Specials were probably the most expensive comic books you could buy, with a cover price of 25 cents. Remember, that was at a time when other comics were twelve cents!
Well, as you can imagine, we wanted to make sure we had a theme that would be truly special, a theme worthy of the 25-cent price, And that’s when we got lucky!
Despite the fact that the Spider-Man series was then more than five years old, and despite the fact that we had done stories involving every possible aspect of Peter Parker’s life, it occurred to use that we had never given out readers any clue as to how he became orphaned, or who his parents had been ! The minute that thought his us, we knew we had our theme!
He felt it would be underwhelming if the parents were ordinary folks, and that the parents can’t be tied to the origin since the readers knew Spider-Man’s story. The jigsaw pieces came together as he settled on an antagonist.
Since out story was to be a movie-length 40-pager, it had to have a really big theme plus an exciting supervillain, some deadly baddie whose appearance would shock the readers because it would be totally unexpected in that particular tale!
It was then that I got together with my brother, Larry Lieber, who was scheduled to draw the story, and we decided the last villain anyone would expect to see in a Spider-Man adventure would be the Red Skull! Naturally, that made him the perfect choice for us!
Okay, we had out villain and we had our theme.
From that foundation, the brothers plotted a story where Peter learned that his parents were considered traitors, and his efforts to clear their name brought him into the conflict with Algerian assassins and the Red Skull—later retconned as an impostor Red Skull. Spider-Man eventually finds the evidence that his parents were double agents, killed when they got too close to the Skull.
This remained a relatively obscure part of Spidey’s background until a generation later. The Parallel Lives one-shot featured a brief scene in which Richard and Mary left Peter with May and Ben. In “The Child Within” storyline (Spectacular Spider-Man #178-183) J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema explored the psychological cost of losing his parents at a young age on Peter Parker.
The bigger development was the appearance of Richard and Mary Parker at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #365.
They claimed to have been stuck in the Soviet Union. It later turned out that they were robotic duplicates, part of a master plan by the Chameleon and the Harry Osborn Green Goblin. This led to Peter’s precarious mental state at the beginning of the Clone Saga.
There were some later stories involving Peter’s parents, mainly untold tales. Untold Tales of Spider-Man #-1 featured a team-up between the newlywed Parkers and a Canadian agent named Logan. It also has art by John Romita Jr. “An Untold Tale of the Amazing Spider-Man” from the Amazing Spider-Man 1996 annual by Fabian Nicezia and Steve Lightle has an enemy of Peter’s parents seek him out as part of an effort to get revenge. It was set during the black costume era.
The mystery of Peter’s parents was an element of numerous adaptations. It was part of “Six Forgotten Warriors”- a five part epic from the tail end of the 1990s Fox animated series (the longest storyline of the series). In the Ultimate comics, they were scientists whose final project led to the creation of the Venom symbiote. Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films tied the parents to Peter’s origin (in retrospect, they should have paid more attention to Stan Lee who determined that the origin was already good enough as is.)
This leads to Family Business, where writers Mark Waid and James Robinson had a similar goal to Stan Lee when he did the fifth annual. They had to provide an incentive for readers to pick up the most expensive standalone comic on the stands: a graphic novel with a cover price of 25 dollars. They did have the advantage of gorgeous painted art by the Italian illustrator Gabriele Dell’Otto. Their story featured Peter targeted by enemies of his parents. He escapes them, and encounters a woman claiming to be his sister.
She’s a SHIELD agent, who claimed to have recently learned the identity of her biological parents. During the course of the adventure, she also learns Peter’s secret.
Peter and Teresa stay at the house of Emile Chigaru, former mission controller for the Parkers. He collects a cup Teresa was using.
It later turns out that Teresa’s role was part of a conspiracy by the Kingpin, who needed Peter to access items locked to Richard Parker’s DNA. He used the mutant Mentallo to make evidence appear more convincing, as well as subtly changing Teresa’s appearance to be closer to that of Peter’s mother (in case anyone who hadn’t read Family Business was wondering why the woman at the end of Spectacular Spider-Man #1 appears different than Teresa in the graphic novel excerpts.) This was part of a strategy to make Teresa a more effective hostage. Towards the end of the story, Mentallo makes sure that no one remembers Peter’s secret, including Teresa.
However, there is a clue that she may have remembered more than she lets on, as she makes a potential reference to his ineptitude at French after they part.
The final scene is an epilogue in which Chigaru sees the results of the DNA test on Teresa, and the reader gets a flashback to Richard and Mary celebrating the news of a new child, suggesting that the Parkers were Teresa’s long-lost parents after all.
This seemed like a plot point from a graphic novel of questionable canocity, until she popped up in the first issue of a new monthly. It’s not yet clear how much she remembers of her adventure with Peter, or how she came to learn that she is his sister after all.
So, what do you guys think of this element of Spider-Man’s background? Are you happy that Chip Zdarsky is exploring this in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man? Where do you want him to go next with this plot point?