Once I assumed that the reason the Spider‑Man Unmasked arc was allowed to happen was that the people at Marvel knew that a retcon was coming anyway, I started considering the possibilities for what may happen in this storyline, and how it could create a status quo more conducive to better stories.
An early guess was that Doctor Strange would wipe out the memories of everyone who knew that Peter Parker was Spider‑Man, including MJ. This was similar to something that had happened in the Sentry mini-series.
I started considering how it could work, developing my own theories and writing about it on various message boards, including the Joe Quesada forum. Somehow something I wrote was even attributed to Marvel’s Editor in Chief on Newsarama’s Cup of Joe column. Unfortunately, the link is lost.
“slexicDys” asks: I recently read a quote by you, “Doctor Strange offers to make the world forget that Spider‑Man is Peter Parker (the same way the world forgot about the Sentry in the Sentry mini series.) Peter agrees, and finds himself in a changed world.” Is this being considered as a serious decision, or something like it, that Marvel might go with?
Joe, Newsarama here ‑ Is that an accurate quote, and if so, can you explain the context you posted/said it, and is that a possible plot point for the future?
JQ‑ No, that is not an actual quote; I honestly don’t know where that’s from. Sorry, Slexic, can’t help you out with that one. Sounds like a fun story though.
DazWhite on the Joe Quesada forum suggested that Loki would be the more likely candidate for such a reality warp, arguing that “Loki is the Trickster/God of Lies. Loki has a history of playing tricks, he can’t help himself. Loki has manipulated reality before and as he is a God, he presumably can wield magic on a level equal to if not greater than Dr. Strange.” He asked “Why would Dr. Strange cast a risky spell of this magnitude just to break up Peter’s marriage? When he did it for The Sentry, it was because of the threat to all reality posited by The Void.” At that moment, I decided that Loki was the more likely candidate to change history for a few reasons. I recalled that he had owed Spider‑Man a favor from Amazing Spider‑Man #504 (JMS was credited as the plotter for that issue, although Fiona Avery came up with the main narrative).
While the Norse Gods did die in Mike Oeming’s Ragnarok storyline in Thor, JMS was writing the relaunch of that book, which presumably gave him the ability to revamp and resurrect Loki. The Ultimate Universe iteration of Loki explicitly had the power to warp time and space, so it would be reasonable to give the reborn Loki those abilities, thus making him a more dangerous A‑list villain. It seemed quite logical, though I later read an interview with Fiona Avery in which she said that JMS had no involvement whatsoever in coming up with the Spider‑Man/ Loki two‑parter, which meant that it couldn’t be part of any master plan of his. On the other hand, Mephisto’s interest in Spider-Man wasn’t exactly established throughout JMS’s run either. I didn’t think any foreshadowing was particularly necessary, but more on that later.
At the time, I imagined that something bad could happen to Spider‑Man’s loved ones in the JMS/ Quesada mini series (this was when “One More Day” was promoted as a mini‑series, rather than a crossover) as a result of Spider‑Man’s identity being public. Peter could ask Doctor Strange to make the world forget that Spider‑Man is Peter Parker the same way the world forgot about the Sentry. Rereading the Sentry mini series demonstrated that that wasn’t exactly how the world forgot about the Sentry, though Quesada didn’t pick up on that immediately either. Doctor Strange would refuse to help Spidey, at which point Loki offers to help Spider‑Man and repay the favor he owes the hero.
Aunt May’s coma worked well with this theory. Loki might offer to remake the world so that no one knows that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, which would have prevented the Kingpin from being able to hire a gunman to shoot the Parker women. It would be a bad idea for the retcon to somehow erase deaths, as that would raise some ugly questions—Why doesn’t Spider‑Man try to undo an objectively greater tragedy like the time Magneto/ Xorn turned Manhattan into a concentration camp?—and set a precedent for more unnecessary resurrections than we already have, so Loki could establish that the rewarping can’t bring back the dead. This would also mean that Peter has a limited amount of time to make the decision before Aunt May actually dies. After Peter agrees, he would find himself in a changed world, where anything can happen.
Almost everyone who had known Spider‑Man’s identity has forgotten it. This could include Norman Osborn, who remains in charge of Oscorp, with no one aware of his other life. Jonah and the rest of the supporting cast would still remember Peter Parker. They just wouldn’t remember that he’s Spider‑Man. Peter would be free to reveal his identity to others, who he knows have been able to take the news well (IE‑ Aunt May, Felicia Hardy).
This particular retcon could have removed Spider-Man’s marriage. Peter and MJ’s relationship changed in Amazing Spider‑Man #257 when Mary Jane told Peter Parker that she had always known that he was Spider‑Man. If she had never learned his identity, a massive retcon which contradicted earlier storylines, Mary Jane would have been unable to comfort Peter during some of the dark moments in Spider‑Man’s life. And Peter would not have proposed to her, which he did only when he was aware that she would know exactly what she was getting into.
They may have still had a romantic relationship, and could always do so again in the future, but this wouldn’t contain the storytelling limitations of a marriage. In this scenario, Peter would not know that he’s giving up the marriage when he makes his deal with Loki. I though the cheat fit the God of Mischief.
With this retcon, Peter would have many reasons to avoid a relationship with Mary Jane aside from his penchant for putting her life in danger, especially if he’s one of the only ones who remembers the relationship as it was. He may just want to avoid the awkward explanation of just what he knows about her (ie‑ her addiction to cigarettes, the times she was kidnaped by one of his enemies, their stillborn daughter, their mutual dead friends, etc). Or she may be happy with someone else and Peter Parker, as an insecure and nice guy, wouldn’t want to disrupt that. In those cases, he would be free to see other women. Eventually.
While thinking about the many ramifications of this potential retcon, I became convinced that the new status quo was something that could last for a prolonged period of time. I couldn’t say that about the alternatives, especially the option of keeping the marriage as it was. Although there were a few readers opposed to the concept of retcons in general.