The adventures of Spider-Man have been in continuous publication for almost sixty years; as happens with any long-running comic superhero penned by dozens of distinct writers, his stories have been subjected to numerous retcons over the years.
As tends to be the case with retcons, fans loved some of these rewrites for opening up interesting story opportunities, but they hated many more for tarnishing the legacy of beloved characters. Let’s take a look at the retcons fan cherished, and ones that prompted outrage.
10 Loved: The Black Suit Is Alive
Spider-Man’s black suit is most well known as the origin for the villainous Venom, but originally, it was intended to be a bit more straightforward; a new costume for Spider-Man. In Issue #8 of the Secret Wars mini-series in 1985, Spider-Man seeks a new costume to replace his damaged one, and a machine seemingly fashions the black suit from his thoughts. The Amazing Spider-Man writer went on to reveal the Black Costume was, in fact, an alien symbiote which wished to permanently bond with Spider-Man, causing the web-slinging hero to discard the costume. This turn of events culminated in the symbiote bonding with Eddie Brock, creating Venom, one of Spider-Man’s most popular adversaries.
9 Hated: One More Day
One of the most reviled stories in not just the annals of Spider-Man, but in the medium of comics, One More Day is a unique example of an in-universe retcon. As Peter seeks a way to save the life of his dying Aunt May, the demon lord Mephisto appears, offering to save his beloved Aunt’s life in exchange for rewriting reality to erase his marriage to Mary Jane Watson. Bafflingly, Peter and MJ accept this quite literal deal with the devil. One More Day undid 25 years of character and narrative development for the sake of regressing Spider-Man to a younger, less-adult character; more than a few fans wish that One More Day would be the retconned out of existence itself.
8 Loved: MJ Knew Peter Was Spider-Man
Ever since her iconic introduction in The Amazing Spider-Man #42, Spidey fans have loved Mary Jane Watson. Following the death of Peter’s first love Gwen Stacy, his becoming involved with Mary Jane was the natural next step. Their relationship had its ups-and-downs before MJ dropped a bombshell in TASM #257 that she’d know Peter was really Spider-Man for years.
The revelation gave new depth to MJ’s actions throughout previous issues, particularly her comforting Peter after the death of Gwen, and granted her character a new degree of agency; she, like any moderately observant person, had deduced Spider-Man’s true identity on her own.
7 Hated: Sins Past
Sins Past ranks just under One More Day for the dubious title of “Most disliked Spider-Man story.” This story revealed that shortly before her death, Gwen Stacy slept with Norman Osborn (aka the Green Goblin and the man who eventually murdered Gwen), becoming pregnant with twins as a result of the encounter. The twins, Gabriel and Sarah, aged rapidly due to their father’s mutated DNA, and told by him that Spider-Man killed their mother, attempt to assassinate Peter. The story was instantly reviled, its revelations deemed character assassination of Gwen as well as putting an unnecessary and uncomfortable spin on one of Spider-Man’s most iconic stories.
6 Loved: Roderick Kingsley Was The Hobgoblin
Roger Stern’s most enduring influence on the Spider-Man mythos was The Hobgoblin, introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man #238 as a replacement for the then-deceased Green Goblin. The villain’s true identity was kept a secret, in an effort to replicate the ongoing mystery of the original Green Goblin’s identity, but Stern had always intended to reveal the Hobgoblin as Roderick Kingsley, a fashion mogul and aspiring crime boss introduced during his run. Unfortunately, Stern left the series before the revelation could take place, and Peter David would reveal that Peter’s friend/Daily Bugle journalist Ned Leeds to have been the Hobgoblin. This revelation left most unsatisfied, and so when Roger Stern wrote mini-series The Hobgoblin Lives, he returned to his original intention by revealing Kingsley to have been the true Hobgoblin, a change fans welcomed.
5 Hated: Aunt May Body Double
In Amazing Spider-Man #400, Aunt May passes on after suffering a stroke; she goes peacefully, with Peter and Mary-Jane by her side. The issue was well-received by fans and was a poignant send-off to May’s character, but due to Marvel editorial’s allergy to allowing Peter Parker to grow up, the death was hastily undone.
As revealed in Spider-Man #97 two years later, the Aunt May who died was really an actress genetically altered to look like May, while the real deal was held hostage by Norman Osborn. Suspension of disbelief straining even by superhero comic standards, the revelation also undid a genuinely touching and emotional scene between Peter and the most enduring character of his supporting cast.
4 Loved: Peter Wasn’t A Clone
The Clone Saga is considered the nadir of ongoing Spider-Man comics; one revelation most disliked came in Spectacular Spider-Man #226, where it was revealed that Ben Reilly, the man believed to Peter’s clone, was in fact the original Peter Parker, while “Peter” who’d been living as Spider-Man for years was the clone. This revelation, combined with Mary Jane’s pregnancy, prompted Peter to retire, leaving Ben to assume the role of Spider-Man. Fans reacted negatively, for it appeared as though the Peter they’d been following for years was being replaced, so in Spider-Man #75, Reilly perishes – his body turns to dust upon death, confirming him to have been the clone, and Peter resumes the role of Spider-Man.
3 Hated: Aunt May Was Peter’s Real Mother
Published in 2003 by Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint, Trouble, a five-issue mini-series written by Mark Millar, focused on a teenage Aunt May, Uncle Ben, and Peter’s parents Richard and Mary. The comic infamously revealed Peter to actually be the product of a one-night stand between May and Richard, with Mary raising the boy as her own so that May would avoid punishment from her fundamentalist parents. Fans’ reaction to the comic was universally negative, with the key revelation derided as unnecessary at best. Trouble has, probably for the best, been swept under the continuity rug since soon after its publication.
2 Loved: Norman Osborn Revived
The Green Goblin was impaled by his own glider in The Amazing Spider-Man #122, shortly after his murder of Gwen Stacy, and remained dead for 23 years, an eternity in comic publishing time. However, in 1996, it would be revealed that Osborn’s rapid healing enabled him to survive, and he was the true mastermind of the Clone Saga.
While Osborn’s return was initially met with cold reactions, fans have come to love the revenant Goblin, and his return has enabled several stories that would’ve been impossible otherwise; in particular, there was Dark Reign, where Osborn graduated from merely a nemesis of Spider-Man to one of the Marvel universe as a whole by seizing control of SHIELD and branding superheroes public enemies.
1 Hated: Harry Osborn Revived
Much like the reversal of Aunt May’s death, this retcon proves that Spider-Man writer just can’t let a good death scene stand. Spectacular Spider-Man #200 featured the death of Harry Osborn; after spending the issue plotting to kill Peter to avenge his father’s “murder,” Harry redeems himself and affirms his friendship with Peter before he dies peacefully. It’s a tearjerker of an ending, made even more effective by the reliance on the art alone to convey the emotion. However, following the reality rewrite of One More Day, Harry returned to life, having never died. What makes this reversal galling is that, unlike his father, Osborn Jr. has had no stories since to justify the resurrection. Sometimes, a character works better as a ghost.
Spider-Man has gone through more than his fair share of Marvel retcons – and these are the best (and the worst).