What Marvel Superheroes Remember About Spider-Man's Secret Identity

Today, we look at how Marvel never really got around to explaining the ramifications of a spell that erased the secret identity of Spider-Man from the world.

In Left Unresolved, I spotlight storylines that have been, well, left unresolved.

In the year or so before Civil War, Spider-Man joined the New Avengers and began to both live at Avengers Tower with his wife, Mary Jane, and his aunt, May Parker, once May's house was destroyed. They moved in in Amazing Spider-Man #519 (by J. Michael Straczynski, Mike Deodato and Joe Pimentel)...

Once they moved in, May and Edwin Jarvis started flirting and ultimately began to date...

Peter then went to work for Iron Man. Peter was so close to Iron Man that when Iron Man got involved in the United States government's attempts to regulate superhero registration, Spider-Man went along for the ride. Iron Man was able to deter the government for a while, but then the New Warriors blew up in a fight with supervillains in Stamford, CT near a school and a bunch of innocent people died, including a bunch of kids.

So the government established the Superhuman Registration Act and Iron Man decided that he was going to back it (as better that he do it and control it than let other people take control of it). Spider-Man went along for the ride once again and so, during Civil War #2 (by Mark Millar, Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines), Spider-Man decided to prove that he was all the way in on Iron Man's plan (Peter felt a lot of pride in Tony being his mentor) by revealing his secret identity to the world....

and he really did do it, to J. Jonah Jameson's shock...

The problem is that Spider-Man then began to realize that he did not actually BELIEVE in Iron Man's position. So he decided to split from Iron Man. Of course, this was way too late for him to do this, because he had, you know, revealed his secret identity to the world. Spider-Man went on the run with his wife and his aunt. He was now hunted by both the government and all of his old foes who now knew his secret identity. It took a turn for the worse when Kingpin ordered Spider-Man assassinated in Amazing Spider-Man #540 (by J. Michael Straczynski, Ron Garney, Bill Reinhold and Matt Milla). This being Spider-Man, though, his Spider-Sense caused him to move out of the way of the bullet and it instead hit Aunt May.

It fatally wounded her.


Spider-Man was distraught. This was a dude who is all about guilt and now he feels like he was responsible for Aunt May's impending death! So Mephisto offered Spider-Man a deal - he would cure Aunt May if Spider-Man would surrender his marriage to Mary Jane. Mary Jane said that they had to do it, because she knew Peter and she knew he would never forgive himself for May's death. So they gave up their marriage and Aunt May was saved.

Now, Peter saves May's life with, like, super CPR in Amazing Spider-Man #639 (by Joe Quesada and Paolo Rivera)...

The doctor later said that it was basically "love" that saved her...

However, his identity was still public knowledge.

In Amazing Spider-Man #641 (by Quesada and Rivera), Doctor Strange, Tony Stark and Reed Richards got together and came up with a scientific/magic solution to erase Spider-Man's secret identity from the rest of the world...

Strange and Reed Richards convinced Tony to allow his Extremis to be used to take care of all of the technology out there that had information on Spider-Man's identity...

In the end, Spider-Man couldn't allow Mary Jane to forget...

So, Spider-Man's secret identity was now hidden from the world (except Mary Jane still knew, although she crushed Peter by noting that she would have preferred had she NOT remembered).

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Soon after, Spider-Man, now on the run with the rest of the heroes who opposed the Registration Act (and then, once Iron Man, the prime mover of the Act, was replaced by Norman Obsorn as the head of SHIELD, then they were on the run from Osborn), was pressured by his Avengers teammates in New Avengers #51 (by Brian Michael Bendis, Billy Tan, Matt Banning and Justin Ponsor) to reveal his identity to them if they were all going to be on the run together (this is especially notable after the Skrull invasion of around the same time - it was hard for people to trust each other).

So Spider-Man revealed his identity to his teammates, including some people (Mockingbird) who he wasn't even all that close to at the time....

However, that reveal seemed like they all just learned it for the first time, right?

Soon after, we saw the specifics of Doctor Strange's spell when Peter was unmasked in front of the Fantastic Four in Amazing Spider-Man #590 (by Dan Slott, Barry Kitson, Mark Farmer and Dean White) and they could still not see his face.

As it turned out, Spidey had to actively choose to reveal his identity to people for them to perceive his true identity (and then, if they knew it already, they would regain their memories of having previously known it). So, in Amazing Spider-Man #591, he did just that...

So here, the Fantastic Four all regained their memories of Peter from BEFORE the spell was created.

Okay, so what about the rest of the world, though?

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After the spell is cast, Peter goes back to visit Aunt May and, well, why is she in the hospital now? Why was she shot?

Marvel never actually specifically revealed what happened to reality due to the spell. For instance, what about all of the newspapers that covered Spider-Man's announcement? Were they just, like, NOT written? One of Peter's ex-girlfriends wrote a book about him, as seen in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #14 (by Peter David, Scot Eaton and John Dell)...

Did that book not get published? What does she recall about the period in her life when she wrote a book about her ex-boyfriend and it now doesn't exist? It'd been over a decade and Marvel doesn't seem to be too interested in ever answering this question.

The closest we've come was in Amazing Spider-Man (2015 series) #14 (by Dan Slott, Christos N. Gage, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Marte Gracia), where Tony revealed what he remembered from when Peter lived in Avengers Tower...

And now, Tony AND Jarvis both remember Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May moving into Avengers Tower to...uhmmm...help with Spider-Man's gadgets?

It's not a whole lot, but I think that it probably suggests that reality WAS altered in a way to try to fill in as many gaps as possible while keeping in mind that Peter's secret identity was not known.

So I guess some OTHER story was the top news story for the days when Spider-Man revealed his secret identity? I really don't know, which is why it is in "Left Unresolved."

If anyone has a suggestion for a future edition of Left Unresolved, drop me a line at [email protected]!

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About The Author
Brian Cronin (15295 Articles Published)

CBR Senior Writer Brian Cronin has been writing professionally about comic books for over fifteen years now at CBR (primarily with his “Comics Should Be Good” series of columns, including Comic Book Legends Revealed). He has written two books about comics for Penguin-Random House – Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed and Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! and one book, 100 Things X-Men Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, from Triumph Books. His writing has been featured at ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, About.com, the Huffington Post and Gizmodo. He features legends about entertainment and sports at his website, Legends Revealed and other pop culture features at Pop Culture References. Follow him on Twitter at @Brian_Cronin and feel free to e-mail him suggestions for stories about comic books that you'd like to see featured at [email protected]!

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