It’s always been the toughest choice Peter Parker has had to make: be a normal guy with normal relationships or be Spider-Man. When it comes to romance, he’s almost never been able to be both (the marriage he had with the one woman he was both openly Peter Parker and Spider-Man with was magically ended by the devil) and in Amazing Spider-Man #660, we see the dents in Peter’s “I’m Spider-Man but I can’t tell you that” armor become more pronounced regarding his relationship with current fling Carlie Cooper, an NYPD detective who I’m sure is capable of discovering Peter’s secret identity if she really wanted to.
I haven’t talked much about the Peter/Carlie relationship because I’m still unconvinced that theirs is going to be a long-term thing. But inside ASM #660, which saw Spidey and the remaining three members of the Fantastic Four finish up their battle with the Sinister Six, the final pages signaled to me that at the very least Marvel is going to take Peter and Carlie to the traditional “next step” for all ASM love interests:
“Where were you? The truth this time?” Carlie asks Peter, after checking in at his current place of employment, Horizon Labs, and discovering despite his claims to the contrary, he has not been sent out on a business trip (he’s instead engaged in inter-dimensional battle with some of his longest-standing villains).
“It’s a secret Carlie,” Peter replies.
Not good enough. I’m your girlfriend,” Carlie says.
Peter asks her to trust her gut about him, and for now, Carlie says he’s a good guy. Peter Parker obviously is a good guy, but my guess is the mystery around where he runs off to for long stretches – and considering in addition to his normal superhero duties Spidey is also a member of the Avengers and Fantastic Four these days, so he’s busy – will continue to fester for as long as the ASM creative team chooses to push the Peter/Carlie romance.
Peter’s inability to come clean about his Spider-Man identity to the women he loves goes back to the earliest issues of the series, when the brother of Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brant is killed during a battle between Spdiey and Doctor Octopus. Prior to this tragedy, Peter is on the cusp of telling Betty the truth, but in the aftermath of her brother’s death, Betty says she can never see Spider-Man again. And so Peter has to choose between living a lie or alienating someone he cares about.
A fascinating angle to Peter’s ongoing secrecy is that he withholds this information for reasons both selfless and selfish. On one hand, he’s trying to protect those he cares about from being sucked into the dangerous world of Spider-Man through romantic obligation. In many ways, being a girlfriend/wife of Spider-Man’s is like being a mob wife. There’s guilt by association for the women regardless of how hard Peter strives to keep his romantic life and superhero life separate. And even when he keeps things secret, Peter has often failed to protect his loved ones from Spider-Man. The best example of this is the death of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Green Goblin – a comic book moment I know I bring up on a regular basis but mostly out of necessity since it was such a defining moment for both Spider-Man and comic books. Peter never got around to outing himself to Gwen. Similar to Betty, he’s on the verge of doing so when her father, Captain Stacy, a police captain, is killed inadvertently during a battle between Spider-Man and Doc Ock. Gwen blamed Spider-Man for her father’s death and Peter is heartbroken.
Which brings us to how Peter is also motivated by selfishness. With public opinion slanted so negatively against Spider-Man due to unfortunate circumstances and the ongoing smear campaign of Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson, Peter knows staying mum about his superhero antics also protects him. While Peter has almost always viewed his own actions as Spider-Man through idealistic lenses, the rest of the world doesn’t share this rose-tinted view. And while there are plenty of people who view Spider-Man as a hero, their seem to be an equal number who see him as more of a vigilante, who wears a mask to cover his face because he is hiding something. If Spider-Man was just universally hailed as a hero, it would make his choice of coming out to his loved ones so much simpler. But since some of the people he loves are the same ones who distrust Spider-Man, he knows he can’t come clean about his secret because it would damage what little happiness Peter Parker, the person, has in that moment.
Of course, this whole convention gets turned on its ear with Mary Jane – who despite her portrayal in popular media such as the Sam Raimi movies, was not Peter’s long-sought love, but rather the ditzy 60s-esque girl who evolves into his true love after the death of Gwen. Before he proposes to her, Peter reveals his secret to Mary Jane but she tells him she’s known this whole time, and because she knows, she has her doubts about marrying a man who spends most of his time as Spider-Man. But Mary Jane comes to accept both Peter Parker and Spider-Man, which essentially transforms her into the character’s one true love. And of course Marvel negates this marriage a few years ago, but that’s a post for a brand new day (rimshot please).
The set-up with Carlie seems to be following the path of Peter’s earliest (and lost) loves. He struggles to be the idealistic boyfriend, but for reasons both selfish and selfless he maintains a shroud of mystery. Unless Marvel throws a curveball at its readers and we learn that Carlie does in fact “know,” it means we’re probably going to see the same three-act drama play out again – Peter meets girl; girl loses trust in Peter; Peter must choose between Spider-Man and romance. And considering this comic book is called the Amazing Spider-Man and now the Amazing Peter Parker, I can already predict who Peter will ultimately choose.
All images from Amazing Spider-Man #660: Dan Slott, Stefano Caselli & Mike McKone