What Aunt May brings to the comics

Before Mackie and Byrne’s infamous 1999 relaunch, Mackie wrote a four parter in which one of Osborn’s cohorts came to Peter to reveal that “May Parker is still alive.” Spider‑Man investigated hoping to find his lost daughter and found his elderly aunt instead. It was revealed that the May Parker who died in Amazing Spider-Man#400 was an actress hired by Osborn, which didn’t go over well with fans of a story that appeared on a few Top Ten lists. While Aunt May showing up alive and well in “The Final Chapter” may just have been the only good moment in that storyline, as a genuinely memorable twist, there were a few who suggested that it would have been better if the character had stayed dead. Some expressed their hope that the May who came back in “The Final Chapter” could be revealed as a Skrull circa One More Day, so “The Gift” would remain the proper sendoff to the character.

There are also those fans who weren’t around for the clone saga but think that Aunt May’s death would be a great development for the series. With her coma following Back in Black, they thought that if Peter had to choose between keeping his marriage or saving his aunt, it was time for Aunt May and Uncle Ben to be reunited in heaven.

I didn’t see the point of killing off Aunt May then or now. She had been a big part of the pre-Back in Black stories, and had some great moments in the preceding years. Admittedly it was preferable to kill her during Back in Black, as doing it after a string of bad storylines, would have limited the impact of the character’s death. The only reason she was killed off in the first place was that the writers decided that her death would make it seem as if Peter Parker had grown up, at a time when Ben Reilly was going to be revealed as the real Spider‑Man anyway.

Some fans believed that Aunt May’s death would allow Peter to grow, and is therefore an essential step in the character’s maturation, which is a bit perverse when you think about it. My father didn’t become an orphan until shortly before his Sixty-Fifth birthday, when my grandmother passed away at the age of Ninety-four. Most Americans in their twenties have at least one living parent or parental figure, so losing Aunt May represents an unnecessary step for a twenty‑something Peter Parker. There’s the argument that it’ll help Peter grow up after all the years he has lived with his aunt, but since he moved away to college in the Lee/ Romita days, Peter Parker’s spent a majority of his time living away from his aunt. The New Avengers period and first few months of Brand New Day were an exception.

It’s likely that some Spider‑Man writers are going to want to kill off Aunt May eventually, but hopefully the editors will be smart enough to tell them no. The few scenes you get with Peter occasionally mourning the death of his mother figure will not make the comics more interesting than any scenes you could have with the character five years from now, let alone twenty years from now.

Peter Parker 50  Aunt May

One reason she was brought back was that writers realized there were many benefits to her character. She’s a useful foil to Spider‑Man, and there are still stories left to tell with her. After the clone saga concluded, Mary Jane’s aunt Anna quickly moved in with the Parkers to fill the void left by the loss of Aunt May, though she lacked the connection to Peter’s past that made May so irreplaceable. It also helped that the period during which she was believed dead isn’t really considered one of the high points of the Spider‑Man books.

Perhaps the most significant reason to keep May Parker alive is that she’s the only real link to Peter’s pre‑Amazing Fantasy #15 past. If future writers want to do stories about Peter’s childhood or parents, it makes sense to keep alive the one character who Peter can talk about these things with. While you could always have Untold Tales or flashbacks with Peter discussing his past with Aunt May, there may be a time when Peter’s past or Uncle Ben’s past or the history of his SHIELD agents parents could be relevant to his experiences in the present‑day Marvel Universe. If that happens, killing off Aunt May—or revealing that she had been dead since Amazing Spider-Man #400—will seem like a foolish decision.

Aunt May is also a well-known character which has advantages for marketing and storytelling. An elaborate April Fools announcement by the makers of Marvel Ultimate Alliance required a familiarity with Uncle Ben’s widow. It’s rare to have a supporting character with that level of name recognition.

Ultimately, Joe Quesada chose not to resurrect Gwen Stacy, and he chose not to bring back the spider-baby. The revelations about Mary Jane’s backstory from Parallel Lives remained canon. As did Sins Past. Aunt May stayed alive. Hell, the only reason she was ever in danger was to set up One More Day. But there was one character who came back from the dead.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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