The worst part about “Brand New Day”, Marvel’s quasi-reboot of the on-going adventures of the amazing Spider-Man a couple years ago, was how they made his identity secret again. Never mind that at least two decades of continuity were rendered irrelevant with the flick of a switch. Never mind that the editorial interference of Joe Quesada nearly pushed writer J. Michael Straczynski to remove his name from the finished product. The biggest Missed Direction as regards Peter Parker and the world at large knowing that he is Spider-Man is that Marvel already knew how to recover from this sort of dramatic change for a character, yet they still took the easy out.
In the early part of this century, Matt Murdock was publicly outed as being Daredevil. Though officially Murdock denied any such claims, he made it very well know to his enemies who he truly was, unmasking himself in Josie’s Bar after handing the Kingpin a savage beating. Murdock did this knowing full well there would be consequences for his friends and loved ones. And there indeed have been, the most devastating of which concerned his beloved wife Milla being committed to a mental health facility due to the machinations of DD’s long-time foe Mister Fear. But despite even this horrible blow to his personal life, Murdock (and more importantly, the writers of his adventures) never backed down from his decision to unmask.
In the Marvel Universe, truly anything is possible. If one wants to, say, sell one’s soul to the devil in order to save a dying mother-figure, like Peter and Mary-Jane Parker did, one is afforded the opportunity to do so. But if a writer is smart enough, if a publisher has enough patience, this universe’s fantasticalness can be utilized against itself to much the same end, while simultaneously creating a much more engaging story.
In Daredevil (volume 2) #25, written by Bob Gale, we find Matt Murdock on trial, accused of property damage while disguised as Daredevil. Murdock pleads not guilty, which was a shock to many, but an even bigger shock came as Murdock defended himself from the witness stand, when none other than Daredevil himself bounded in the courtroom window. The reader is privy to the knowledge that this is actually Peter Parker(!) in a Daredevil costume. But the seeds of doubt have been planted. As Murdock argues, “Obviously, anyone can put on a Daredevil costume and pretend to be Daredevil. But the question we must all address is… how can we be sure that he’s the real Daredevil?”
And for a while there, it seemed this same strategy would be applied to Spider-Man’s similar problem with a now-public identity. By the time Avengers: The Initiative #7, written by Dan Slott, was published, the Civil War was over, and Parker now had to operate incognito. However, even while disguised like a celebrity avoiding the papparazzi, he still assists the Scarlet Spiders in defeating the Vulturions. In a show of solidarity, the Scarlet Spiders all use their own personal image-disrupters to take on the guise of Peter Parker. Now there are four identical guys with spider-powers all claiming in front of dozens of eye-witnesses and live TV newsfeeds to be none other than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
The seeds of doubt were thus planted, but sadly their fruits were never sown. Rather than nurture and grow this potentially medium-changing story-line, Marvel settled on the same boring old “classic” Spider-Man set-up. A Missed Direction, true believers, if ever there was one.