Marvel kicked off Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man this week, a new comic series that aims to explore a more grounded side of Spidey’s life. But even though this new series isn’t striving to be the epic, continuity-driving title Amazing Spider-Man is, it’s clear Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man will have a significant impact on the larger franchise. And in the process, it might just be able to address a critical mistake Spider-Man made back during the Marvel superhero Civil War.
Warning: the rest of this article contains spoilers for Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1 by writer Tom Taylor and artist Juann Cabal!
This first issue ends with a depressing revelation, as Aunt May struggles and fails to write a letter to her nephew revealing she has cancer. Needless to say, Peter is not going to be happy when he learns this news.
This is hardly the first time Marvel has flirted with the idea of killing off Aunt May. They actually did the deed way back in 1995’s Amazing Spider-Man #400, resulting in a tender goodbye scene where May revealed to Peter that she had always known he was Spider-Man. But as with so many dramatic plot twists in superhero comics, that death was undone and May returned to her usual status quo not long after.
More recently, Marvel explored the prospect of Peter losing Aunt May in the aftermath of 2006’s Civil War crossover. Having revealed his secret identity to the world, Peter faced the consequences of that foolhardy decision when Kingpin hired an assassin and May wound up taking a bullet meant for Peter himself.
Theoretically, this should have been an opportunity for Marvel to explore a profound tragedy and force Peter to deal with the unintended consequences of merging his private and superhero lives. Instead, the Spider-Man books veered in a very different and much more outlandish direction. This dark development played directly into One More Day, a highly controversial story wherein Peter made a literal deal with the devil. In exchange for saving a dying Aunt May, Peter sacrificed his marriage to Mephisto and all the personal happiness their relationship would have created.
For Marvel, One More Day was a necessary evil, allowing them to reset Spider-Man to a more traditional, unmarried status quo. But whether or not you feel that end justified the means, there’s no denying that One More Day prevented Amazing Spider-Man from telling a profoundly emotional story about May and her nephew confronting her own mortality. Instead of facing responsibility for his actions, Peter simply magic’d them away.
The hope is that Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man can tell the story One More Day refused to tell. Once again, May is faced with a potentially life-ending medical condition with no quick or easy solution. It’s an intriguing development for May herself, as it allows the chance for her to move to the forefront of the series and fight a battle all her own. It’s not a fight that necessarily needs to culminate in her death, but one that will challenge her in new and significant ways.
And it opens up all sorts of new storytelling potential for Peter. This is a character whose greatest flaw is that he feels responsible for every bad thing that happens on his watch. Despite all his strength and intelligence, May is finally facing a threat Peter can’t do anything to stop. This time, there are no supervillains to punch or demons offering Faustian bargains. Past stories like Doctor Strange: The Oath and The Mighty Thor have made it clear that cancer is one enemy even the mightiest Marvel heroes are utterly powerless to stop.
As grim as this development is, May’s cancer diagnosis is also the perfect way to kick off Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Writer Tom Taylor has shown that for all he excels at crafting epic superhero conflicts, his work shines the brightest when he focuses on quiet, ordinary character moments. Now he has the opportunity to do for Spider-Man what he previously did for books like All-New Wolverine and DC’s Injustice. And in the process, fans may finally get the story they deserved to read after Civil War.
Be sure to check out our review of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1.