The Peter Parker of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is already ahead of the comic book character in one important way: He has friends and mentors who know that he’s Spider-Man.
There’s his buddy, Ned, and Tony Stark (well, not anymore, RIP), and, as of the very last scene in his debut movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, even Aunt May knows his super-secret. But in Marvel Comics, Spider-Man’s secret identity is almost always a very well-kept secret. Except for the one time it wasn’t.
And that time has some parallels to Spider-Man: Far From Home.
[Ed. note: This post will contain major spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home.]
If you’re still reading, hopefully you’ve seen Spider-Man: Far From Home, and stayed through the end credits. So, you know that not only does J.K. Simmons reprise his role as J. Jonah Jameson, he outs Peter Parker as Spider-Man on live television, just like Tony Stark’s famous “I am Iron Man” moment ... if it was an anxiety dream.
This sets us up for a third Spider-Man movie in which Peter’s life is fully exposed to the public — something we’ve never seen in a Spider-Man film before. But we have seen it in Marvel Comics.
Spider-Man gave up his secret identity in Civil War
It’s no secret that Marvel’s original 2006 event storyline, “Civil War,” written by Mark Millar and drawn by Steve McNiven, is drastically different from what wound up on screen in Captain America: Civil War. But Spider-Man’s story was probably the most changed.
In 2006, comics Peter was an adult, married to Mary Jane, a member of the New Avengers, and still freelancing for the Daily Bugle but also working as a science teacher at his old high school. The three-part Amazing Spider-Man arc, “Mr. Parker Goes To Washington,” written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Ron Garney and Tyler Kirkham, saw Peter, MJ, and Aunt May (who, at this point, knew about Peter being Spidey) move into Stark Tower, with Peter working as Tony’s assistant and also getting the famous “Iron Spider” costume.
An indebted Peter took Tony’s side in the Superhuman Registration Act debate and, in one of the most famous moments in “Civil War,” unmasked himself at a public press conference in order to drum up support for it. Seeing the news on TV, and realizing that he’d been paying freelance wages to his greatest enemy for years, J. Jonah Jameson promptly fainted. While Spidey’s unmasking did drum up support for the Act, it had dire consequences.
The most immediate was that the wide-reaching powers granted by the Act gave Iron Man and his collaborators, Mr. Fantastic and Hank Pym (really a Skrull), the freedom to build concentration camps, codenamed “42,” in the Negative Zone to house non-registered super people. The second and equally tragic consequence saw a battle between the heroes on Iron Man’s side and the anti-registration opponents led by Captain America which led to the murder of the size-changing hero Goliath by Ragnarok, a clone of Thor that Tony had made (the real one was MIA due to Reasons).
Torn by Goliath’s death and horrified at “42,” Spidey attempted to defect but was nearly beaten to death by two members of the pro-Registration Thunderbolts, acting against Iron Man’s wishes. The Punisher — naturally on Cap’s side — saved him and took him to the HQ of Cap’s “Secret Avengers,” where, after recovering, Spidey issued a statement pledging to fight the Registration Act.
How did Spider-Man get his secret identity back?
Cap’s side eventually won — sort of — but Spidey’s unmasking came back to haunt him after the Civil War had ended. First, Jameson sued Peter for fraud. Secondly, and far more immediate, the Kingpin put out a hit on Spidey. His assassin missed, but managed to hit their “secondary target,” Aunt May, placing her in the hospital and near death.
This led to what’s still the most controversial Spidey story of all time, “One More Day.” Straczynski even took his name off the story. In “One More Day,” a grief-stricken Peter and MJ made a deal with the demon Mephisto to cure Aunt May for the price of removing Peter & MJ’s by-then nearly 30-year old (in real time) marriage from reality. In Mephisto’s new reality, Peter had missed their wedding by being pinned underneath a large robber. Spidey had still unmasked during the Civil War, but Mephisto had erased all memory of who had been under the mask, effectively giving Peter Parker a secret identity again.
While Aunt May hasn’t relearned Peter’s secret, Jonah Jameson has, in the Michael Walsh-illustrated story “My Dinner with Jonah,” a part of Chip Zdarsky’s brilliant run on Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. Only this time, because May had married Jonah’s father, JJJ and Peter were now step-cousins.
What can Peter’s secret identity loss in the comics tell us about the next Spider-Man movie? Well, we can’t say for certain. But you can be pretty sure that it’ll mean that the people close to him — May, Ned, MJ, and probably his classmates — will be in a lot of danger.
Tom Speelman is a freelance writer, proofreader & editor based in Lansing, Illinois. He’s on Twitter @tomtificate and has written, among other things, the English adaptation for Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka by Makoto Fukami and Seigo Tokiya, available from Seven Seas Entertainment. He encourages you to support your local library.