The recent push under Spider-Man writer Dan Slott’s reign is Spider-Man’s commitment to keeping everyone alive. After one of my favorite single issues of “Amazing Spider-Man”, Peter Parker realizes that he can’t handle the guilt. Everyone is someone’s Uncle Ben or Gwen Stacy. Parker suffers from a terrible dream that issue. Basically, everyone who has ever died because of Spidey, because Spidey couldn’t save them or were near Spidey when they died comes back to haunt him. They know it’s not his fault, but he can’t shake the fact that he is willing to accept the guilt.
That guilt would become the crutch that keeps The Superior Spider-Man from conquering the world. Hell, it forced Doctor Octopus to step outside of himself and see that world could be better than the hellhole he always experienced. Sure, Doc Ock’s shared memories with Peter place Ock back into those loving times. However, the truth remains. The loving structure that has informed Peter as an adult ends and begins with May and Ben. The parents are such a blip that they had to be forced into the recent movie revamp to keep them relevant.
In the aforementioned issue, Peter is hit with the realization that he’s starting to forget the first people that died on him. That’s what kicks off the whole “No One Dies”, but what is it really all about? Spider-Man can’t be everywhere at once and he won’t kill his enemies to keep his friends and family safe. Therefore, he will always be running after crooks and desperately hoping that they don’t step up their game. Even if he loses people like Silver Sable, the Stacys or Ned Leeds; Peter will eventually move on.
What has become a recurring trend in the Spidey comics is that Peter often doesn’t want to move on. At the finale of “The Ends of the Earth”, the dying Doc Ock creates a situation that leads to the Rhino drowning Silver Sable. The kicker is that the Rhino doesn’t care if he lives or dies due to the recent death of his wife. Realizing that Peter can’t fight him and save the world; he puts Peter into a Catch-22 that still impacts him.
Either you stop the Rhino and save Silver Sable, but you let half of the planet burn to death or you save the world, but the Rhino and Silver Sable drowns. Before Peter can make up his mind, Silver Sable makes the choice for him and kills the Rhino and herself. Peter is enraged, fights Doc Ock and saves the day. He spends the next few issues trying to recover Silver Sable’s corpse until the Avengers force him onto another assignment just to keep from losing his mind.
Then, there’s Gwen. Gwen Stacy will always be that sick of bricks sitting on Peter’s chest. Some say that is needed, while others say that it’s getting old. However, it ties into certain elements related to Silver Sable’s death. Peter will try to save everyone, but the choice will often be removed from his ability. When confronted with his still present humanity and constant failing, Peter can’t process it and eventually goes into a heavily emotional state. When Gwen died, he lashed out at MJ and got pulled into the first round of the Clone Saga. When Sable died, he started trying to beef up and eventually fell into Doc Ock’s Superior Spider-Man setup.
But, if Peter Parker didn’t have heavy emotional reactions to death, then we wouldn’t have Spider-Man. Healthy and stable kids don’t put on costumes and fight crime on a nightly and daily basis. Hell, Parker didn’t know if that spider bite would eventually kill him. Peter just starts shooting webs and meeting the various scientific accidents of the day. I know that S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t become a legit thing until about a year after Spidey appeared along the standard Marvel Universe chronology. That being said; why didn’t anyone notice all of these walking science experiments and draw connections?
Ultimately, everything returns to Uncle Ben Parker. While Richard and Mary Parker died first and left Peter with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Peter was too little to remember them. For all intents and purposes, Ben and May were his parents. When Ben died in that first issue, we got that emotional trigger that I’ve been discussing. However, there’s more to it. The emotional triggers related to how Peter handles death are very important. Peter didn’t have the strong character of Cap, the money of Tony Stark or shared alienation of The Uncanny X-Men to ground him. All Peter had was a loving but poor family with severe needs.
Supervillains have started in his own book from less than that. The inability to process his emotions of guilt and concern are what keeps Spider-Man from webbing up banks and taking what he needs. Peter realized this before Doc Ock took over his body and forced his memories and feelings on Ock when the mind transfer completed. Peter knew this life could easily generate a master criminal, but he rebels against nature. Parker is defined by his love of life and that love is what keeps the bad guy from taking over. No One Dies isn’t a declaration, but the mantra for Spider-Man’s second act. His great power and great responsibility will be used to keep others from having to make the choices that he had to make at a young age.