WARNING: The Following Contains SPOILERS For Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #5.
Marvel Comics may have finally admitted that one of the most controversial Spider-Man stories of all time was a mistake. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man accomplished this by broadly recreating the circumstances of that earlier story... before spinning the tale in an entirely different direction.
The first issue of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man ended with a short story showing Peter Parker's Aunt May writing a letter in a doctor's office waiting room, trying to find the right words to tell Peter that she had been diagnosed with cancer. It took four issues for May Parker to finally catch up with her nephew, tell him the bad news, and ask him to come with her to her first chemotherapy session. While Aunt May's ill-health has been a recurring plot-point since the days of Stan Lee, it was quite rare for her illnesses to be defined this specifically or treated with the gravity that writer Tom Taylor handles the announcement here.
Afterward, Peter took to the streets as Spider-Man, hoping to find some situation that would distract him from things for a time and help him to clear his head. The action of the issue sees Spidey helping one of Peter's neighbors escape from a bad situation and eventually ends with him taking the troubled teen to Doctor Strange to treat his broken wrist. While Doctor Strange is willing to help, he is also quick to point out that there are trauma centers that Spider-Man could have gone to just as easily and Peter finally admits that he had another reason for visiting the Sorcerer Supreme.
Despite Doctor Strange knowing his secret identity, Peter just refers generally to someone he knows being very sick and wondering if Doctor Strange could do anything to help her with his magic. Doctor Strange says there are things they could do, but they'd involve making "a deal with an inter-dimensional demon" and that could lead to "an eternity of torment." Both heroes quickly agree that's not a realistic option.
This reference to making a literal deal with a devil to heal a loved one is a pretty clear reference to "One More Day" - a 2007 Spider-Man storyline considered by many to be the worst Spider-Man story of all time, if not the worst thing ever published by Marvel Comics. The plot of "One More Day" saw Peter making a bargain with the inter-dimensional demon Mephisto to rewrite reality and erase his marriage to Mary Jane Watson in exchange for healing his dying Aunt May, who had been fatally wounded by hired guns shortly after Peter revealed his secret identity to the world. The story was blasted by many readers for many reasons; from the idea that Peter would ever try to dodge the consequences of his actions with a satanic bargain to the notion that everyone in the Marvel Universe, from Doctor Strange to the many mutants with healing-touch powers, said there was no way they could save Aunt May from a couple of common bullets.
Unfortunately, while Taylor may have been allowed to making a teasing jab at the most controversial storyline in Spider-Man history, that does not mean that the events of "One More Day" are going to be undone anytime soon. Indeed, a recent storyline in the new Champions series saw Miles Morales strike a bargain with Mephisto to save the lives of his teammates. Given that, it seems unlikely that The Powers That Be at Marvel Comics have learned their lesson regarding having the heroes meant to exemplify responsible behavior taking the easy way out with Faustian pacts.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #5 is now available from Marvel Comics.