Starting from humble beginnings in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man grew to be one of the most iconic and beloved heroes of all time. Perhaps one of the key elements to Peter Parker’s popularity is the fact that he’s such a clearly defined character. We’re acutely away of his reason for becoming a hero thanks to the famous “With great power there must also come great responsibility” mantra, and it’s been Peter’s guiding light throughout his web-slinging career. In general, the Spider-Man comics hang out on the lighter end of the comic book spectrum. That’s not to say the series doesn’t go to dark places occasionally, but it’s mostly kept from getting too dark and brooding for its own good. Something must be working, as the character’s been going strong for 55 years, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
People have a clear idea who their heroes are and what they represent. If you want a clear example of this, look at the furor over the revelation that Captain America has always been a Hydra agent. When something runs counter to what fans expect, the fallout can be quite severe. With all that in mind, we’ve collected some of the more controversial, tonally questionable, and downright odd bits from the web-slinger’s past and present; the 15 Most Inappropriate Moments in Spider-Man Comics.
15. Peter pictures Jean Grey naked while she reads his mind
When Marvel launched the Ultimate series back in 2000, the idea was to take their iconic characters back to their roots and modernize them. In Spider-Man’s case, he was back to being a geeky teenager, struggling to balance his various responsibilities. In Issue #43, while Mary Jane covers for his absence from class, Peter is out meeting the X-Men and is introduced to fresh-faced versions of Storm, Shadowcat, and Marvel Girl aka Jean Grey.
While exchanging pleasantries over an unconscious mutant by the name of Geldoff, Jean and Peter interact, with Jean using her telepathy to talk inside Peter’s mind. Spidey isn’t sure she should be poking around in there, but Jean says she appreciates the fact that he’s the first guy not to immediately picture her naked. Like a red rag to a bull, Peter’s thoughts switch tracks and it’s clear by Jean’s reaction that she isn’t happy with the results. Thankfully, Geldoff wakes up before things get too uncomfortable. It’s a great moment, but to be fair to Peter, it’s incredibly difficult to not think of something when specifically told not to. You’d think Jean Grey of all people would know this.
14. Superior Spider-Man sucker punches Black Cat
In the Superior Spider-Man series, Otto Octavius (aka Doctor Octopus) has managed to switch consciousnesses with Peter Parker, leaving Otto in control of Spidey’s superheroic form and leaving Pete trapped in Otto’s withered, dying body. When Peter finally dies, Otto takes it upon himself to continue Spider-Man’s work in his own twisted way.
In Superior Spider-Man #20, SpiderOck is alerted to a felony in progress. He races towards the crime scene to find Felicia Hardy aka Black Cat up to her old thieving tricks. Having had a long and tumultuous love affair with Spidey, Cat turns on the charm, aware of how their flirtatious dance usually goes. Otto isn’t interested in a rooftop tumble and sends her tumbling off the rooftop instead, punching her square in the face. He webs her up until the authorities can apprehend her, leaving a seething Felicia swearing revenge and dramatically changing her relationship with Spider-Man, even after Peter was back behind the controls of his own body. Doc Ock definitely left his mark on the wall-crawler’s destiny in his time in the red and blue tights (more on that in a bit).
13. Spider-Man rips off somebody’s face and nearly goes on a murderous rampage
Starting in Amazing Spider-Man #634, The Grim Hunt followed Kraven’s widow and daughter capturing Madame Web and using her visions and powers to find a way to resurrect the famous hunter. The plan is a convoluted one, but it boils down to them needing Spider-Man’s blood to bring Kraven back. Over the course of the story, the Kravinoffs succeed and Kraven returns, stronger than ever. Parker clone Kaine is the unfortunate exsanguinate, and in issue #637, the Kravinoffs toy with Peter, leaving his black costume at the side of Kaine’s open casket with a taunting note reading “Hunt Me”.
Seeking vengeance, Pete pulls on the dark suit and sets off after the murderers. He makes it clear that he isn’t taking any prisoners and intends to kill Sasha. When he catches up with them , he uses his super-strong grip to literally rip off part of Sasha’s face in revenge, leaving a hand-shaped scar. Peter beats Kraven in a ferocious battle and has him at his mercy. The newly empowered Arachne appears to Peter and shows him the future if he kills Kraven. It turns out that killing Kraven in cold blood would start Spidey down a dark path there could be no return from, and by sparing Kraven, he would be sparing the lives of thousands of others. Peter sees sense and drops the spear, suggesting that Kraven use his second chance at life to become a dentist as he walks away.
12. Gwen Stacy’s affair with Norman Osborn
You’d be hard pressed to find many more hated Spider-Man stories than Sins Past. Retcons are always a dicey prospect, but maybe adding to one of the most famous Spidey stories ever, in which Peter’s first love Gwen Stacy dies at the hands of the Green Goblin, wasn’t the best idea. Sins Past starts with Peter receiving a letter from the very dead Gwen. It leads him into a plot against him full of surprise attacks and dead-ends, and it eventually transpires that his mysterious assailants are Gwen Stacy’s children from her affair with Norman Osborn.
The whole thing’s pretty gross and it attempts to add more weight to both the story being told and The Night Gwen Stacy Died. Honestly, though, it really doesn’t. There are certain things that are perfect the way they are. The Amazing Spider-Man #122 was a landmark issue that didn’t need any bells and whistles to be impactful. Adding the context that Osborn kills Gwen because she threatened to take their secret children away from him categorically fails to add anything of note to the established canon and messes with the purity of the story. Most Spidey fans seem to agree and it’s gone down as one of the worst Spider-Man stories ever printed.
11. Sarah Stacy kisses Peter
In a one-two punch of awful ideas, Sins Past was followed up with Sins Remembered, in which Gwen’s daughter, now artificially aged due to her Goblin blood, has a massive crush on Peter. Y’know – the man she believed to be her father until a few short months prior. Sarah’s clearly in a bad place. She’s learned about her heritage, seen her brother turn into the Gray Goblin, and developed a drug problem, popping pills to help her deal with everything. The only constant in her life is Peter, and soon enough, she is crushing on him hard.
This all builds to a moment when she declares her love for Peter and kisses him, right in front of Mary Jane as she walks through the door. Did we mention that Sarah also looks exactly like her dead mother? That’s not to mention the fact that she’s a very young mind in an older body. The whole thing is just a big ol’ pile of wrong. Now let’s all go back to forgetting about Sins Remembered, shall we?
10. The Chameleon impersonates Peter Parker and kisses his “girlfriend”
In the story Red Headed Stranger: Deconstructing Peter, master of disguise The Chameleon impersonates Peter Parker on a fact-finding mission. He digs into Peter’s personal life only to be confronted by Parker’s lover but not-quite-girlfriend, Michelle. Not wanting to be found out, Chameleon spontaneously kisses Michelle and the two have an amorous tumble on the kitchen floor.
This is definitely iffy from a consent point of view. Sure, Chameleon’s meant to be a villain, but the fact that Michelle can’t consent as she doesn’t know the big picture is super troubling. It was certainly controversial at the time, with many publications picking up on the story and questioning the nature of the situation. The writer of the story, Fred Van Lente, defended its inclusion, stating that the characters only kissed and “there was no sex, and therefore no rape”, which many objected to. For those curious to how this little matter was tied up, Peter tells Michelle the truth about Chameleon and she slaps him, yells that she doesn’t believe him, and tells him to drop dead.
9. Doc Ock wants to get together with Mary Jane
Up until Amazing Spider-Man #700, fans had been pretty vocal in their desire to see Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson get back together. They’d both drifted apart and dated unsuccessfully, and people were clamoring for them to find each other again. However, like in the Corrupted Wish game, they got what they wanted, but with an unseen consequence attached.
This was the at the start of the aforementioned Superior Spider-Man arc, and Octavius wastes little time in getting what he wants. As Otto has access to Parker’s memories, he uses Pete’s past with MJ to invite her over for her favorite food, wine, and movie. The issue opens with the pair snuggling on the couch and Mary Jane asking whether they’re actually going to give the relationship another shot. Much like the Michelle issue mentioned above, the issue of consent is once again at play here. This probably wasn’t the way fans wanted or expected Peter and MJ to get together again.
8. Spider-Man kills The Finisher
As a rule, Spider-Man doesn’t kill people. It’s part of the whole “great power, great responsibility” thing. However, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t killed people before. Even in those extenuating circumstances, the times where he’s killed on purpose is practically zero. We say “practically” zero because we’d like to draw the court’s attention to Exhibit A: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5, in which Spider-Man straight-up kills a villain called The Finisher.
Peter’s doing his spider-thing when a missile comes out of nowhere. Parker deftly dodges it, but soon realizes it’s a heat-seeker. He webs it and spins it around, scrambling the sensors before dumping it in the river. A second missile is fired and Spidey leads it back to its point of origin. a parked limo. The vehicle explodes, and The Finisher is no more. Peter shows zero remorse afterward, and it’s a weirdly out of character moment for him. You could argue that The Finisher died by his own hand, but why didn’t Spidey try to guide the missile away from harm? Peter knew exactly what he was doing, which makes it pretty disturbing in retrospect. In any case, it’s certainly not becoming of the hero we know and love.
7. Superior Spider-Man executes Massacre
The whole point of the Superior Spider-Man arc was to establish how far Ock moved away from Peter’s brand of heroism. He was inappropriate incarnate. When Otto decides to fight crime, his twisted morality corrupts his good intentions and he sees things with a cold, hard logic. In no moment is this more apparent than when Superior Spidey confronts the gun-toting maniac Massacre in Superior Spider-Man #5.
Massacre is a deeply disturbed villain who was caught up in an explosion. His wife died, but his life was saved. However, shrapnel was lodged in his brain, causing him to not feel emotion or any kind of connection with other people. Because of this, he becomes a crazed mass murderer. When Otto tracks him down, shoots him in the shoulder, and holds him at gunpoint, Massacre feels fear for the first time since the accident. He pleads for his life on account of his emotional revelation, but Spider-Ock is having none of it. He coldly pulls the trigger and executes him where he knelt. It’s a dark and shocking moment that was the perfect way to define not only who Ock is, but double down on who Peter isn’t.
6. Radioactive spider love
Sorry to dredge up Spider-Man: Reign again, but if we’re talking about inappropriate moments in Spidey’s past, this one has to be on the list. For the blissfully unaware, Spider-Man: Reign was basically a response to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Both took the concept of an aged hero looking back at their life and expressing their regrets and low points. Whereas this worked for the dark and brooding Batman, it didn’t mesh nearly as well with the colorful Spider-Man, and the result was a deeply miserable comic that nobody liked.
There are many WTF-worthy choices made on the pages within, but we’re gonna have to spring for the revelation that Mary Jane died as a result of Peter’s radioactive semen. Yup. Apparently, years of spider-love led to her contracting cancer and dying. Elderly Peter is completely guilt-ridden by choosing to fight crime instead of being at his wife’s bedside. That’s genuinely tragic and a solid motivation on its own, but making Peter the cause for her death on top of everything else is overdoing things by a ludicrous margin. As it stands, it’s a dumb moment in a not-very-good comic that has deservedly gone down in infamy, sentenced to a future of only ever being brought up on snarky internet lists.
5. Norman Osborn is behind the death of Peter and Mary Jane’s child
Death is a part of comic books. It happens all the time. However, the death of a child, especially a baby, is a lot more rare. Mary Jane revealed she was pregnant in Spectacular Spider-Man #220 and Peter quit being Spider-Man to become a father. This didn’t last long, of course, and he was soon tempted back into the tights. There’s a convoluted plot afoot and Mary Jane is poisoned by a mysterious woman. MJ goes into labor, but the baby doesn’t survive. We learn the poison lady’s name – Alison Mongrain – when she reports to her boss, revealed at the end to be none other than Norman Osborn.
That should have been it, but it was brought up again with Mongrain’s reappearance a year later, implying she was taking care of a baby. Mongrain eventually dies, but not before revealing that May was alive. Spider-Man confronted the Green Goblin, who insisted his daughter was dead. Peter doesn’t believe him and discovers that May is alive, but it’s his Aunt May, and the person who died was an actress made up to look like her. Not only did this bring Aunt May back into the mix, but it confirmed that the infant May Parker did indeed die thanks to the nefarious Norman. Cheery.
4. Black Cat’s abusive past
Kevin Smith’s controversial Spider-Man/Black Cat team-up, The Evil that Men Do is a tale of two halves. After a fairly light-hearted first half, things take a dark turn. The main antagonist is Francis Klum, a powerful mutant who was sexually abused by his brother, Garrison. Garrison manipulated him into the life of a drug pusher and the two became wealthy. When Francis tells this to Black Cat, she relates her own story of abuse that happened back when she was in college.
It turns out that she was raped by her then-boyfriend Ryan, and that it was one of the galvanizing factors in making her the Cat in the first place. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that we shouldn’t discuss these sorts of topics. What we are saying is that maybe the handling could have been better. These are all very prickly issues, and they definitely weren’t given enough care. Black Cat became yet another heroine with a traumatic abusive incident in her past, something which the character didn’t warrant. Stories can be mature without devolving into the world of drugs and depravity, but so many follow the same tired path. It seems doubly weird that Smith chose to do this in a Spider-Man story of all things (complete with random cameos from Daredevil and…Nightcrawler). Comics should absolutely deal with serious issues, but not when it’s done like this.
3. Curt Connors has always been evil
Spidey villain The Lizard is one of Stan Lee’s many homages to the classic story the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Curt Connors is a kindly mentor of Peter’s. As both men got older, they formed a lasting friendship. However, Connors has an accident that transforms him into a snarling reptilian villain under times of stress. As The Lizard hates Spider-Man, it makes it tough for Peter to try and reach Connors’ consciousness buried deep under a 6′ 8” furious tower of razor sharp teeth and green scales. The Lizard is normally subdued and Connors returns to his human form, just in time to learn about all the horrors he committed as his alter-ego.
The Spectacular Spider-Man story A Lizard’s Tale does away with all of that. For some reason, Connors is revealed to have always been aware of his evildoings, his transformations had always been on purpose, and his victimhood had all been a convenient act. This sucks for many reasons, but first and foremost is that it completely changes the character and makes him less interesting in the process. Surely, the most compelling thing about the Lizard was the fact he was still a decent guy underneath it all. To make him just another villain is boring and does a disservice to the character. Luckily, the change didn’t stick.
2. The Lizard kills his son
We’re not done with the good doctor yet. In Amazing Spider-Man #631, a mere six issues before Sasha Kravinoff got her face viciously scarred, the mother and daughter team are in the middle of their long-gestating plan to mess with Spider-Man and resurrect Kraven the Hunter. They use Madame Web’s future-seeing abilities to keep several steps ahead of Peter. One of the cogs in their scheme is Curt Connors. They intend to destroy Connors’ mind and turn him into a purely primal beast. The Kravinoffs kidnap Curt’s son Billy and enact their plan.
The Lizard has always shown an obsession with trying to kill Billy, and the Kravinoff women leave him unprotected. Lizard catches the boy’s scent, and with no Spidey in his way, he kills the Connors boy. Unable to deal with the horror he just witnessed, Curt’s consciousness dies, with his thoughts shattering and crumbling on the page itself. It’s a dark moment by itself, but Billy confessing he’d always known his father would kill him is downright chilling.
1. Peter hits his pregnant wife
As part of the wretched Clone Saga, Peter Parker faced off against his clone Ben Reilly in the ultimate mirror match. In Spectacular Spider-Man #226, a raging Peter fights Reilly, convinced that a medical test proving he was the clone were rigged. He attacks with blind fury and beats Ben into submission. Mary Jane tries to stop him, but Peter lashes out and hits her, sending her flying backwards.
Peter likely meant to simply push her away from the fight, but is so clouded with rage that he misjudged his super-strength. However, the comic panel does seem to look like a deliberate back-hander (with a closed fist to cap it off) aimed at his pregnant wife. Peter immediately realizes his mistake and runs away, leaving MJ meekly begging him to stay. It’s certainly an eyebrow-raising moment. However, quite why they felt the need to include this at all is anyone’s guess. It’s so at odds with his character and it sticks out like a sore thumb. The Clone Saga is one of the most hated Spider-Man storylines ever, and with weird, out-of-character moments like this, it’s not hard to see why.
What other Spidey stories left you in need of a shower after you closed the comic? Let us know in the comments.
Fingers crossed that none of these stories play out on the big screen when Spider-Man: Homecoming hits theaters on July 7th 2017.