By Marc Gravelle
Perception is a funny thing when it comes to comic book heroes. As characters living with dual identities, which persona really lives and breathes at the core of their existence? What’s the true secret identity? The hero or the civilian? I envision Bruce Wayne as nothing but a front for living out his life as Batman, and Clark Kent as a necessity to keep Superman grounded with humanity. Spider-Man is different, though. As far as I’m concerned Spidey will always be first, and foremost, Peter Parker.
I don’t ever remember a time in my life without my buddy, Peter Parker. If memory serves correct, then my first experience with him was in the classic 1967 animated series, which I used to catch daily in reruns. Perhaps this show is what set the wheels for my fondness of Peter in motion, as I remember him playing a more important role in the stories than Spider-Man did. Whenever Spider-Man faced a menace, I had no doubts that he would prevail. I never worried about his well being. Peter Parker had real woes, though, and even as a little boy I felt sympathy for the guy. Peter had frail old Aunt May to look after. He had school to deal with. Peter’s boss was none other than J. Jonah Jameson, and that just had to be stressful. Around the same time as the original cartoons, I received my first Spider-Man toy; an 8” Mego action figure, complete with a removable cloth costume. As much as I loved this toy as a kid, it always bugged me that his clothes could come off but his mask couldn’t. How could this be Spider-Man when it wasn’t also Peter Parker? Equally perplexing to me back then was why the webslinger needed a Spider-Car, even though I owned one and loved it. I also owned the Mego Batman and Robin figures, but I couldn’t have cared less that their masks weren’t removable.
For two decades, I continued my relationship with Peter Parker. I’ve followed his struggles in the pages of comics, an ever growing collection of animated series and movies. Time and again, in every form of media, the focus on Peter Parker was always equally as or more important as the attention that Spider-Man would receive. Spider-Man may have been a web swinger in his spider-duds, but Peter Parker was a swinger in his own right. His many romantic relationships included the likes of secretary Betty Brant, student Gwen Stacy, cat burgular Felicia Hardy (the Black Cat) and supermodel Mary Jane Watson, among others. Being Parker, things rarely went smoothly. Perhaps Gwen Stacy was meant to be Parker’s soul mate, but her life ended prematurely at the hands of the vile Green Goblin. You’ve got to love that Peter Parker luck. Ultimately ending up with Mary Jane, I was an honored guest as a reader when Peter finally married Mary Jane Watson in the 80’s. Parker certainly isn’t the only character to have ever gotten married in comics, but he did it back in 1987 – nearly a full decade before Superman officially married Lois Lane in ongoing continuity. It’s particularly interesting to note that on the cover of Spider-Man’s wedding, it’s Peter Parker, but with Superman’s wedding cover it’s Superman himself- not Clark Kent. Of course, comic book continuity has a tendency of rewriting itself and Parker has since become a swinging bachelor.
How cool is it that Peter had a job as a photographer taking photos of himself as Spider-Man to get by in life, whether it was paying for Aunt May’s medication or his rent? I’m not sure what his web fluid cost him to make, but it couldn’t have been cheap.
Spider-Man is amazing. He’s spectacular and sensational. But Peter Parker is Tiger to the love of his life Mary Jane Watson, he’s Puny Parker to high school jock Flash Thompson and simply Parker! to his boss J. Jonah Jameson. Of course, he’s also Spider-Man.