I was always aware that there were some Spider‑Man creators who thought that the marriage was a bad idea, namely Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid and Roger Stern. However, I remained convinced that undoing the marriage by divorcing the couple or killing Mary Jane would be a bigger mistake.
As a kid, I wanted to write Spider-Man comics. Whenever I came up with new adventures for the hero, Peter Parker and Mary Jane were usually together. But it wasn’t something I was particularly invested in. That might have to do with the quality of the stories at the time.
Science fiction editor David Hartnell says that “the Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.” He means that the work you remember most fondly was something you experienced when you were younger, so it would always be difficult for subsequent material to compete with your memories of that. This isn’t really the case with Spider-Man comics and me.
I don’t have a tremendous nostalgia for the comics I grew up reading, perhaps because it was such a mediocre period. The Clone Saga and the 1998 Mackie relaunch are justly considered two of the worst Spider-Man eras ever. The intermediate era in between wasn’t particularly bad, but it wasn’t particularly great either.
I read some good back issues and TPBs featuring a married Spidey. While many of the first Spider-Man stories turned out to be pretty bad (the “Peter Parker No More” era, the Facade saga, etc) there are stories that I remember fondly, perhaps because I read it at just the right time. I still think Todd Mcfarlane’s Lizard saga “Torment” is awesome. And there’s an obscure issue of What If? with a widowed Peter Parker transforming into a spider-monster that I’ll praise to the stars.
But I came across even more great stories featuring an unmarried Spidey in various reprints, such as The Essential Spider-Man series, and Spider-Man Megazine back issues. And I may have even come to associate the marriage with below-average material, as much of the best new Spider-Man content happened to feature the character when he wasn’t married. This category contains the movies, the best of the anthology titles Tangled Web and Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man, assorted mini-series and Ultimate Spider-Man.
If you also consider the periods in which Peter believed Mary Jane to be dead or when the two were separated, the category also includes the first year and a half of JMS’s excellent run of Amazing Spider-Man and much of Jenkins’s Peter Parker Spider-Man. This was the first time in my experience that the regular Spider-Man titles were consistently excellent. I’ll address this in more detail later, but it did likely influence my interpretation of the direction of the franchise.
Joe Quesada, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief at the time, had said numerous times that there were good reasons for getting rid of the marriage. The links to his first Cup of Joe columns are lost to history now, but his main argument was that you could tell more stories with an unmarried Spider-Man than with a married Spider-Man. For the most part, I had to agree with this, especially if Marvel had no plans to allow the characters to further grow and develop by giving them children, an approach which would bring about further problems. But I couldn’t think of any appropriate solution.
At the end of April 2006, there were rumblings of a coming JMS/ Quesada mini-series that – according to Wizard– was supposed to have a major effect on the series. Then the second issue of Civil War came out—ending with Peter Parker unmasking at a press conference—and I knew that whatever would inevitably undo Spider-Man’s unmasking could also undo the marriage. It was a status quo I believed that Joe Quesada and company knew was something that just couldn’t work as well as the alternative for a prolonged period of time.
I have somewhat selfish reasons for wanting the best for the franchise. I still want to write Spider-Man comics, so there was the incentive to choose whatever option is most convenient for the writer. I wouldn’t mind scripting a married Spider-Man for a decade, and I think I could come up with a decade worth of adventures within that setting. But the franchise had to last long enough for me to be able to make a mark. And I’d presumably want later writers to build on my work for as long as possible.
When I started thinking more about how such a retcon could be done, the continuation of the marriage became less inevitable. So, I started considering the benefits of the approach, along with the disadvantages. The first step was to look at Quesada’s assertion and determine what storytelling opportunities would be lost if Spider-Man became a bachelor again.