Spider-Man: How Marvel's Identity Crisis Shattered Peter Parker

Even by the standards of the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man has a complicated life. And while he frequently has trouble juggling his duties as a superhero with his life as Peter Parker, Spider-Man’s life got even more complicated than usual in the 1998 storyline “Identity Crisis.”

After being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Peter Parker has to reluctantly hang up his web-shooters when Norman Osborn posts a multi-million dollar bounty on his head. Faced with the dilemma of how to clear his name when his superhero persona is a public enemy, Peter hatches a solution that involves one of the most convoluted schemes in the history of superhero comics, where he would clear his name by creating four new costumed personas.

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Orchestrated across Spider-Man’s titles by a creative team that included Todd Dezago, Mike Wieringo, Tom DeFalco, Joe Bennett, Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr., Glen Greenburg, J.M. DeMatteis and Luke Ross, “Identity Crisis” tells the tale of Spider-Man being framed by the Trapster and Norman Osborn, who fill a fellow criminal’s lungs with a substance that appears to be web fluid.

After goading Spider-Man into taking a shot at him, Norman has all he needs to declare Spider-Man a menace and post the bounty on his head. Fearful that people will try to kill him every time he dons his webs, Peter determines the only safe plan is to adopt a new costumed persona to help him clear his name. And since another hero sporting a similar power set appearing soon after Spider-Man’s disappearance would be a dead giveaway, Peter comes up with not one, not two, but four separate costumed personas that each reflect one aspect of his personality.

Two of these identities, the armored hero Hornet and the superstrong paragon Prodigy, are heroic personas, while Peter crafts the personas of high-flying crook for hire Ricochet and the terse mercenary Dusk to work the other side of the law. Peter’s thinking is that if one of the identities is exposed as Spider-Man in disguise, he can fall back on one of the others.

Using each identity, Peter was able to slowly build the case for his innocence. As Dusk, Peter befriended the Trapster and managed to convince him to confess to the crime as a means of getting back at Osborn. As the heroic Prodigy, Peter was able to provide doctored evidence that “proved” that the Spider-Man who had attacked Norman was, in fact, a false Spider-Man in an effort to ruin Spidey’s reputation. As Ricochet, Peter got close to the mysterious Black Tarantula and utilized all four identities to sow confusion during the battle and dissuade any of the criminals from tying the identities to Spider-Man. Hornet would clash with the Vulture, and Peter went on to expose that Hornet was, in fact, Spider-Man in order to save the villain’s life.

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With the evidence gathered Spider-Man was able to clear his name and Peter retired the identities, preferring to remain the Amazing Spider-Man. Each identity was an interesting snapshot into the psyche of Peter as a whole, with each costumed character being an aspect of Spider-Man himself. With an armor that was created in partnership with the Prowler, Hornet represented Peter’s knack for tech. Prodigy brought Spider-Man’s heroic side to the fore, and Ricochet took the web-slinger’s knack for jokes and adventurous antics to new heights. Meanwhile, Dusk emphasized the creepy, stealthier aspect of Spider-Man’s crimefighting style.

Although this storyline was six years after DC’s “The Return of Superman” briefly replaced that icon with four similar heroes before Clark Kent’s return, “Identity Crisis” really did feel like it could lead to a long-term status quo change for Peter Parker. While the concept of running four separate superhero identities stretches credulity, the designs for these new costumed characters popped, and all of these personas lived on through the Slingers.  Still, “Identity Crisis” serves as a fun, imaginative spin on what might have been if Peter hadn’t opted for the traditional webs. Ultimately, the fact that he returned to his classic costume and identity proves that there’s no messing with perfection.

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When Spider-Man faced his “Identity Crisis,” Peter Parker became four all-new Marvel superheroes at the same time.

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