Love is a powerful motivator in a superhero’s life. It is also a powerful deterrent as well. So in honor of “Spidertember”, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Peter Parker’s love life. For this article, I will be focusing on his two main romantic relationships with Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane (MJ) Watson. To be clear though, I am not pitting the two ladies against each other and suggesting they “girl fight” it out…because that would be kind of weird. Rather, I wish to examine the effects these relationships had on Peter Parker, and his ability to carry out his duties as Spider-Man.
DISCLAIMER–I will be discussing the relationships found in the comics and not in the movies. (Sorry emo Spidey from Spider-Man 3) Besides the fact that both film franchises offer differing storylines from those found in the comics, I would get too biased about the actors that portray the roles *swoons from thinking about Andrew Garfield*.
Although Peter Parker dated MJ for a bit, Gwen Stacy was Peter’s first love. Peter first met Gwen when they were both students at Empire State University. Opposed to MJ, who Peter saw as shallow and vain, Gwen was attracted to Peter’s intelligence, and shared his love for science.
Despite her interest in him, Peter rebuffed her advances. After dating Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn and after Peter stopped seeing MJ, Peter and Gwen finally dated.
Gwen and Peter’s relationship traveled through a couple of bumps along the way, as Peter kept his identity as Spider-Man a secret from her. However, when George Stacy died accidentally, as a result from a fight with Doctor Octopus, Gwen and Peter broke up. Believing Spider-Man was responsible for her father’s death, Gwen fled to London. Even though Spider-Man was innocent, Peter couldn’t help but feel guilty about his alter ego, and he let her leave. During her time in London, Gwen had a brief affair with Norman Osborn, resulting in twins. However, Gwen realized the error of her ways and decided to return to Peter.
Even though Gwen and Peter reconciled, unfortunately, the relationship did not last. In the “Night Gwen Stacy Died”, the Green Goblin threw her off of a bridge. Peter, who was coincidentally ill and not performing as well, attempted to rescue her. However, the webbing Peter sent to catch her caused her neck to snap.
Her death, while tragic, cemented her as one of the greatest loves of Peter’s life. Because their time together was unexpectedly cut short, Peter never had to experience hard real life situations that comes with a long term relationship. Instead, Gwen could remain on a pedestal in his mind. At the same time however, Gwen’s death cheapened the concept of their true love as she became a common trope: “fridging”. Killing Gwen transformed her from the love of Peter’s life to a literary device to prepare Peter for his relationship with MJ.
But, what would have happened if Gwen hadn’t died? We have seen a glimpse of this possibility in the House of M comic series, in which the Scarlet Witch provides an alternate reality in which Gwen Stacy is alive and married to Peter. Would this have happened if Gwen’s neck hadn’t snapped? Would Gwen and Peter’s relationship progressed to the point of marriage? Would their marriage survive? While Gwen loved Peter, would his duties as Spider-Man finally take a (non-fatal) toll on Gwen’s tolerance? Would Peter have quit being the web slinger for Gwen’s sake?
Even though I dislike the transformation of Gwen into a plot point, I have to agree with the decision to kill her in the “Night Gwen Stacy Died”. Because Gwen and Peter truly loved each other, I believe Gwen would have stayed with Peter whether or not he continued to be Spider-Man. Even if Gwen were alive and understanding of his situation, Peter would have most likely given up his duties as Spider-Man, MJ would have just been a friend, and Peter and Gwen would have lived happily ever after… and there would be no story left to tell.
As mentioned earlier, Peter dated MJ before Gwen Stacy. After giving into Aunt May’s insistence that Peter meet MJ and after finally seeing her face for the first time, Peter gave in and went out with MJ. However, the relationship did not last long as Peter found her superficial. Despite this, MJ maintained a friendship with Peter and Gwen as she moved on to date Harry Osborn.
After Gwen’s death, MJ consoled Peter through his grief. In turn, he began to gain a deeper understanding of her personality, and they became close friends. Eventually, the two entered a romantic relationship. However, it was far from perfect. They continued an on and off relationship for awhile as Peter’s responsibilities as Spider-Man and MJ’s commitment issues alway got in the way of their happiness. Finally, after two failed marriage proposals, MJ accepted Peter’s offer of marriage, and the two were married.
Their marriage was scattered with troubles. Peter constantly feared for MJ’s safety, and MJ always being endangered, caused a rift between them. The stress of being married to a superhero caused MJ to pick up smoking, almost enter an affair, and for a time, move away from New York and Peter Parker. At one point, MJ was pregnant with Peter’s child. However, a combination of stress and poison caused the baby to be stillborn. Despite all of their marital problems, the two remained married and in love.
Unfortunately, Peter and MJ’s marriage and romance was erased in the comics, One More Day. In this storyline, the demon, Mephisto, propositions Peter with the choice to either save Aunt May’s life and erase his time with MJ or let Aunt May die. According to Mephisto, the love shared by Peter and MJ was worth much more than Peter’s soul. Not ready to let Aunt May go, Peter chose Aunt May over MJ. After promising that they would love each other again, Mephisto removed Peter and MJ’s romantic history.
Again, Peter seems to be the most compelling when he is unhappy, and how can he be when MJ continues to be his loving wife? Their relationship has given all it can give the series. If he chose MJ over Aunt May, their marriage would really crumble. The resentment could possibly lead to divorce and then that would lead to a whole mess of problems. Love is no longer serving as a deterrent or motivator because there would be no love left. You can’t kill her, that would be way too dark if Peter lost two great loves. You would also then you would have to build another great love in order to push Peter along.
Once again, even though MJ becomes a plot point, I have to agree with the choice to erase their history. It gives them a chance to start over and have another go at their relationship. Will they ever find their way back to each other? The story is refreshed as there is a compulsive need to find out if Peter and MJ truly are meant for each other.
Who do you think is Peter’s greatest love? Gwen? MJ? Or being Spider-Man? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!