In the ever-evolving landscape of comics, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved characters’ sordid histories.
This decade has been a rough one for Peter Parker in the 616 Marvel Universe. In the past 10 years (in our time, of course, not comic book time), Peter has died and come back, nearly lost his aunt, had his identity revealed to the world, and then made a deal with Mephisto that resulted in the permanent end to his marriage and all memory of it. In the middle of all this, he found out that his one-time girlfriend got impregnated by his archnemesis and now her kids are all grown up and want him dead.
“Sins Past” was a six-issue arc in Amazing Spider-Man that ran from issues 509 to 514, written by longtime ASM scribe J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Mike Deodato. When it was being solicited, the arc was hyped by Marvel as being a pretty big deal (it was one of those “things will never be the same” kind of pushes), but what it wound up being was a collection of utter crap along the lines of “One More Day” or “The Clone Saga.”
The arc starts out interestingly enough…in issue #509, Peter gets a letter from Paris that was written by his long-dead girlfriend, Gwen Stacey. That’s freaky enough, but not as much as the fact that the letter was postmarked for 2004 (the year in which this arc came out). The letter emphasizes a terrible secret that Gwen had kept from Peter, but the letter is incomplete, and her secret is not revealed. He later visits Gwen’s grave, where he’s ambushed by two shadowy figures who later send him letters threatening MJ and Aunt May. As Spider-Man, Pete elicits help from a friend on the NYPD, who is able to decode a message on the back of Gwen’s letter that reveals that Gwen had given birth to twins in Paris not long before she was killed by Norman Osborn. After obtaining a DNA sample from one of the threatening letters and digging up a sample from Gwen’s corpse (yes, you read that right), Peter finds out that Gwen’s twins, named Gabriel and Sarah, are the same two people who have been attacking him and threatening his family.
At the time I first read this arc, I found the idea of Peter and Gwen having long-lost illegitimate children a very interesting concept, if not a bit soap opera-ish. That of course was before I read issue #512, in which Mary Jane tells Peter who the real father of Gwen’s children is. She says that, right before her death, Gwen told her of a time after Harry was hospitalized for a drug overdose when she was trying to console Norman…which eventually resulted in them having sex and Gwen getting pregnant. As I read this for the first time, I let out a loud “Are you SHITTING ME?!!”
It is revealed that, after killing Gwen, Osborn raised the twins, who aged at a greatly accelerated rate due (I guess) to the Goblin toxin in his blood, and as they grew older, he told them that Peter was their father and that he murdered Gwen. Rather than go on Maury Povich to prove Norman wrong, Spidey confronts them and tells them the truth. Sarah, a dead ringer for her mom, believes him. Crazy, vengeful Gabriel, however, does not, even when he finds Norman’s Goblin lair. In the final issue of the arc, Gabriel shoots up some toxin, becoming the “Gray Goblin” (because Marvel always needs another Goblin) and fights Spidey one more time before being shot by Sarah and washing up on a beach with amnesia.
After leaving Amazing Spider-Man, Straczynski revealed that he originally intended for Peter to be the twins’ father but that the idea was vetoed by the editorial staff (or, more likely, Joe Quesada himself) because they felt that having grown children, even those that have aged rapidly, would make Spidey appear less youthful to readers. I personally don’t believe that reason for a second… I believe that it was vetoed because they didn’t want to attract controversy by stating that Peter Parker had premarital relations with his girlfriend (AUDIBLE GASP!). So apparently Quesada believes not only that making deals with the Devil is better than divorce, but that unprotected one-night stands, keeping secrets from your spouse and grave-robbing are all morally better than two people in a committed relationship having sex. Not to mention that Gwen comes off as very weak and more than a little slutty in this arc. (“Jeez I really love Peter, and Norman’s a real sleaze, but he looks really worried about Harry, so maybe I should give him some.”)
This was definitely a case where, if the editors didn’t like an integral part of the arc, they should have just scrapped the story altogether, because the arc that was released insults the intelligence of longtime readers and tarnishes both Gwen’s image and MJ’s reputation. What puzzles me is why Quesada nixed the original idea; if he wanted Pete and MJ to split up, what better way to cause tension in the marriage than throwing some full-grown illegitimate kids out there? It probably would have been just as terrible, but it would have been easier to accept than “Magic.”
This arc was most likely retconned by “One More Day” – after all, if Pete and MJ were never married, than she must never have revealed this to him – but I think we need something to assure readers that Gwen didn’t really drop trou for Norman over some crocodile tears. Make her a clone or make the whole thing a dream – I don’t care – but we need some sort of reveal that will restore Gwen’s reputation in the hearts and minds of Spider-Man fans so they can get the image of her and Norman going at it out of their heads. Seriously, ewwww…