If you’re a slave to the main Marvel continuity, you’ve learned to not examine just how old Aunt May and Uncle Ben must’ve been when they adopted Peter. Hell, most of those early flashbacks have May getting engaged to a Prohibition era mobster before meeting up with Uncle Ben Parker. Uncle Ben set her straight and the two got married. Peter’s father Richard was his brother Ben’s best man. Mary Parker showed up because, well…there’s a good explanation. If you buy Mark Millar’s argument that his Trouble limited series is supposed to be in-continuity, then Mary and May were buddies who went to summer camp together. Unfortunately, May got knocked up and had a baby. Mary and Richard raised the baby and then we pieced it all together.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. May and Ben are supposed to be 10-15 years older than Peter’s parents. It would be like a 16 year old girl asking her 31 year old friend to raise her baby. Legality and related issues would be raised. Even in a universe where Galactus shows up with the munchies. Let’s just say that Ben and May were a childless old couple that got stuck with an infant when his parents disappeared overseas and likely died. The kid spends the next 15-17 years living in relative peace with the couple until a science experiment goes awry. We all know Amazing Fantasy #15 and Peter loses a father figure.
There hasn’t been a lot said about the politics of age in relation to the Spider-Man Universe. However, it’s very hard to ignore. The only parental figures that Pete is given at a young age are an older couple. All of the adults that Peter known are shown to be significantly older than him. Hell, his neighborhood in Queens is practically a retirement community. Everything that comes out of Aunt May’s mouth sounds like a Depression saying. What is the deal with that?
Was it meant as an effort to express the values of the emerging counter-culture. All of the old people are worthless and don’t share in your power. Only the kids and youth of NYC are down with the powers scene? Stan Lee was in his late 30s by this point and I’m not sure what he was trying to say. I keep getting this image of an older Randy Marsh screaming Excelsior while wearing rose tinted glasses and love beads. May and Ben Parker were a loving couple that made no problems for Peter. All they wanted to provide him with was love. But, if you care for a kid in the Marvel Universe, then you’re old as balls.
Richard and Mary Parker are another story all together. Stan Lee left them dead for a reason. When you’re telling a story about a super-powered orphan, it’s important to help define their uniqueness. Unfortunately, the 1960s lingered on and we got a Spidey Annual that decided they were undercover agents that were killed by The Red Skull. When we eventually cover the Avengers and Captain America, I’m going to make a big point about how you can’t ever tell what Red Skull you’re dealing with at a given time. Needless to say, the Parkers died as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.; that was a later retcon. That followed the Parkers coming back as weird robots via the Chameleon and Parker freaking out in his identity as “The Spider”. Let’s try to forget the mid 1990s until later. I know that Marvel has done their best to forget it.
Out of the four, Uncle Ben will always be the key impact figure. That’s not to say that Aunt May wasn’t important. She is and she remains a big support player in the greater Spidey universe. However, Ben Parker is the reason that Spidey didn’t turn out like Octavius, Connors or the Osborns. Ben provided a framework that hangs like Catholic Guilt in the mind of Parker to this day. Hell, it’s so strong that it’s now controlling Doc Ock as the Superior Spider-Man. But, why does it matter?
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility is the mantra that keeps the last great science accident from destroying Mid-Town. Peter is weighed down with the fact that he was given these powers as some sort of divine providence. A lot of writers have read religious implications in the matter and it’s not wrong. Peter’s religion and Ben’s enforcement of its values have been lightly touched upon throughout the years. No one comes out and makes a big deal about it ala Shadowcat and The Thing’s Judaism. However, Peter knows that there is a great reason that he can stop crimes and save people from dying. It’s the misplaced rage he feels over indirectly causing Ben’s death.
That’s damn near Shakespearean, but 51 years into the run…it feels like we’re hitting a point of diminishing returns. While Peter will always love what Ben did for him, when does Webhead get to move on from that one fateful night? Think of all the lives he saved, plus the kid that collected Spider-Man. Peter has become a hero in ways that Ben could’ve never imagined. He has become the son he wanted to be for his father figure, for May and even for his deceased parents. When do the appeals of love for the parental units end?
They end there.