Spider-Man Returns in 'Avengers: Endgame,' But Is Death Preferable to Peter Parker's Radioactive Sex Future?

Even in its horrific context—the loss of half the life in the universe with the snap of Thanos' fingers, superheroes and civilians alike—there's no death at the end of Avengers: Infinity War more cruel than Spider-Man's. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) disappears while urging Okoye (Danai Gurira) to her feet, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) dies as oracular as ever, but Spider-Man (Tom Holland) dies begging and whimpering. "I don't want to go. I don't want to go," he says, clutching to Tony Stark. He is a kid, after all. But should Peter Parker return in Avengers: Endgame (we can all pretend we haven't seen the Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer for a few paragraphs, right?), his future holds even more terrible tragedies than evaporating in a gentle puff of dust. Spider-Man has always had it rougher than most Marvel characters.

From the early days of the character, Spider-Man writers were adept at twisting the knife. Unlike Batman, who was only a child when his parents died, or the Marvel Comics mutants—whose misuse of their blooming powers sometimes lead to tragedy—Spider-Man's two foundational tragedies are both directly attributable to his actions.

Peter Parker's indifference doomed his Uncle Ben. "That Face!" Spider-Man says in 1962's Amazing Fantasy #15. "It's the fugitive who ran past me! The one I didn't stop when I had the chance!"

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Eleven years later, in The Amazing Spider-Man #121, Green Goblin throws Gwen Stacy from the Brooklyn Bridge. Spider-Man catches her with a strand of web, but the whiplash caused by her sudden stop breaks her neck.

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In both cases, what would otherwise have been standard hero tragedy backstory is amplified to exquisite pyschological torture for Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Still, through the 70s most traumatic events in Spider-Man's life were well within standard comic bounds. Since Parker was a young man, first in high school and later in college, his superhero life often blended with coming of age events: the pathos of first love, making your way in the world, finding a family balance and other personal experiences became hyper-charged with super science and villainy. Unlike more powerful and insulated heroes like Tony Stark, or cloistered specialists like Doctor Strange, Peter Parker had to live in the real world, which made him a tempting subject for tragedy, tormented introspection and strife.

Spider-Man in the 80s was defined by overreaching ambition: Spider-Man had to reign his own power back by rejecting the alien symbiote Venom. There was also Parker's wedding to Mary Jane Watson. All in all, a good decade for Peter. But it was the 1990s that invented truly exquisite tortures for our web-slinging hero, establishing a legacy of horrors and suffering the Peter Parker of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home can't yet fathom.

Peter Parker's Parents

Comparatively, this Spider-Man has had it easy with family issues. Marvel Studios

Spider-Man was raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May after a Red Skull impostor murdered his secret agent parents. But in 1992's Amazing Spider-Man #365, his parents return to life and claim they've spent decades in a foreign prison. It wouldn't be until Amazing Spider-Man #388 that Parker would learn the truth: the villain Chameleon created the simulacrum of his parents to torment him. But, as usual when it comes to Spider-Man, there's another twist of the knife, when his artificial mother reveals that she wasn't aware of the deception and genuinely loves Peter. Now, it isn't just his surrogate father and first love that dies in his arms, but his parents too.

Clone Saga

The clone situation quickly grew out of control. Marvel Comics

Like so many of the saddest events in Parker's life, the Clone Saga grew from one of his foundational tragedies, in this case the death of Gwen Stacy. After Stacy's death, a villain named the Jackal clones both Gwen and Peter, in a storyline mopped up by 1975, with the death of the Spider-Man clone. But from 1994 to 1996, the Spider clones came roaring back, tearing apart Peter's life in a protracted (and eventually loathed) storyline that came to be known as the "Clone Saga," which went into overdrive when Parker learns that the original Spider-Man has been "dead" all of these years—he is the real clone and a new Spider hero on the scene, Ben Reilly, is actually the original Peter Parker returned. Parker later learns that the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, was behind the entire charade and tricked Parker into believing he was a clone.

Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson

After years of marriage, sometimes happy, often not, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada decided that Peter Parker needed to be single again. Under objections from long-time Amazing Spider-Man writer J. Michael Straczynski—who shaped Parker's life from 2001 to 2007—Spider-Man bargained with a demon for the life of Aunt May, making a pact with Mephisto that would save his surrogate mother, but erase all trace of Peter and Mary Jane's marriage.

The decision, which also erased from continuity Spider-Man's public unveiling of his secret identity during Marvel's 2006 Civil War event series, papered over a marriage heavy with tragic and terrible events. One of the most grotesque happened in 1996's Sensational Spider-Man #11, when a pregnant Mary Jane is poisoned, inducing labor. Jump to Amazing Spider-Man #418, where Mary Jane gives birth in a strange laboratory. She's told the baby is stillborn, but Mary Jane's original poisoner soon meets with Norman Osborn to deliver… something. Osborn later confirms that Mary Jane and Peter's baby died, but it's led to rampant speculation ever since: what happened to baby May?

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But an ambiguous poisoned miscarriage kidnapping infanticide scheme doesn't even approach the depths to which Marvel would eventually plumb in their search for ever-more baroque torments for Peter and Mary Jane. In 2006's Spider-Man: Reign, a limited series consciously emulating Batman's dark future in Frank Miller's seminal The Dark Knight Returns, Parker is haunted by Mary Jane's death years earlier. She was killed, we learn, as Parker literally clutches her dug-up, rotting corpse in his arms, that it was Parker's radioactive sperm that delivered the killing blow.

"Your body slowly became riddled with cancer," Parker tells the stinking corpse. "I am filled with radioactive blood. And not just blood. Every fluid. Touching me… loving me… loving me killed you! Like a spider, crawling up inside your body and laying a thousand eggs of cancer… I killed you."

Peter Parker found some new lows in 'Spider-Man: Reign.' Marvel Comics

It doesn't get much lower than that. Perhaps it's better Mephisto erased this possible future.

Doc Ock Kills Spider-Man

In 2012, Dan Slott wrote an end to long-time Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus, whose aging body is deteriorating, relegated to a prison bed after a failed attempt to kill 7 billion people. With the help of other supervillains, Doc Ock escapes SHIELD's underwater prison (seen in Captain America: Civil War) and confronts Spider-Man. Spider-Man beats the aging Dr. Otto Octavius to death. But it's not as it seems, because Otto and Peter Parker had already switched bodies. Yes, Peter Parker is beaten to death by Spider-Man while trapped in the frail body of his arch-nemesis.

Has any superhero had a death as messed up as Peter Park dying while trapped inside the aging body of his enemy? Marvel Comics

But at the last moment, Parker projects enough of his memories into Otto's mind to change Doc Ock's morality. The supervillain vows to use his new position as Spider-Man for good and The Amazing Spider-Man was supplanted by The Superior Spider-Man , starring Otto Octavius as Peter Parker as Spider-Man. It's eventually revealed that Peter Parker's consciousness is still trapped, somewhere within Doc Ock's mind (where he learns that Otto slept with Aunt May). After 33 issues as The Superior Spider-Man, Peter Parker takes back control of his body and, in 2014, becomes Amazing once more.

If Spider-Man can come back from this, maybe he can survive whatever's ahead for Peter Parker. Marvel Studios

Should Parker return to life in Avengers: Endgame, he has all this and more to look forward to in the years ahead. Or, perhaps, this Spider-Man can write a better future for himself.