Who were Peter Parker’s parents? This is not a concept that many of us ever think of. As readers, as fans, we are far too invested in Aunt May, worrying over her health, and how she herself worries over Peter. And then there’s Uncle Ben, whose death is the not only the catharsis for the true origin of Spider-Man, but also the core of the famous phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is shameful but it’s true, Peter’s aunt and uncle are so important in the Spider-Man mythology, that no one hardly, if ever, gives any thought to his parents.
Who were Richard and Mary Parker? Let’s find out after the jump.
There were very few details early on. Stan Lee, the father of Spider-Man, gives us nothing to work on really other than a mention here or there. Then finally in 1968’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5, we get an explanation. Stan and his little brother Larry Lieber weave a rather complex tale of espionage, secrets, and treason.
The story felt to me as if even Stan himself wasn’t sure of what the real deal was. In this time before the internet, Aunt May goes to great lengths to hide a newspaper clipping from Peter, one that accuses the late Richard Parker of treason, and implicates Mary as well. Why May didn’t just destroy it, I’ll never know. Of course, one has to wonder why Peter, if he was interested, never did any research at the Daily Bugle regarding who his parents were. One further reasons that his boss J. Jonah Jameson might have known about something this big and conspiratory – why would he have hired Peter in the first place? He is the son of known traitors, right?
Spider-Man determines to clear his parents’ names. After scoring a lift to Algeria from the Fantastic Four, he runs afoul of the Red Skull and the Finisher, and finds that not only did his parents work for the Skull, but they were killed by the Finisher. Eventually Spidey uncovers that his dad was really a double agent and is able to clear his name. Although in hindsight, the way Spidey was so obsessed about Richard Parker, I’m surprised that the Skull didn’t surmise the connection between the two.
The Annual has some very badly written and awkward scenes that are hard to read. Peter giving his aunt a hard time is bad enough. Later on, as Spider-Man, he attacks an innocent man he thinks is robbing a bank, and the scene turns into a whine-fest about his dad. Like Spidey, I guess even Stan Lee can have a bad day. This was not one of his best.
The Parkers Animated
Quite honestly I never really gave much thought myself to who Peter Parker’s parents might be. I was content with the whole Aunt May and Uncle Ben dynamic. Why was any more needed? As proven by the story in the comics, sometimes just a little is too much. The first time the concept was ever brought to my attention however was in the 1990s “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” on Fox.
The episodes under the umbrella title of “Six Forgotten Warriors” tell the convoluted tale of Marvel’s Golden Age superheroes, the Red Skull, and a doomsday device. They also throw a bit of Richard and Mary Parker in there as well. By the fifth season the series had become a mess of continuity, every story hinging on everything that went before it, so it’s hard to explain what really went on.
Spidey learns that his parents were double agents, and is able to clear their names as in other versions of the story, it’s true. But then there is also the weirdness of rejuvenated World War II heroes, and the Kingpin, Silver Sable, and the Insidious Six are in there too. And the less said of Electro being the Red Skull’s son, the better. I liked this series, but in hindsight it just gives me a headache. Give me the 1960s animated Spidey any day.
And then there’s Trouble, a mini-series that is nothing but trouble if it is actually in continuity. Let’s hope it isn’t, and the movie doesn’t even try to use it. Written by Mark Millar who wouldn’t know traditional comic book continuity if it chewed his typing hand off and lovingly illustrated by Terry and Rachel Dodson. As difficult as it is to hate such a pretty book (I love the Dodsons), I hate this a lot.
Trouble proposes that Peter Parker is actually the child of Richard Parker, and, wait for it, May Parker. All of this is disguised by very pretty art and teenage angst of two young couples in love – Ben and May, and Richard and Mary. Can you say blasphemy? Yeah, I thought you could.
In Marvel’s Ultimate Universe Richard Parker is a prominent biologist rather than a spy. He worked closely with fellow scientists Bruce Banner, Henry Pym, and Franklin Storm among others. He was working on a cure for cancer, but unfortunately his research eventually led to the creatures known as Venom and Carnage. He also showed up later as a clone, or the C-word, as it is known to Spider-Man fans. In the Ultimate Universe, it’s also notable that Richard and Mary are killed in a Hulk rampage.
Back in the 616, there was that Flashback Minus 1 issue of Untold Tales of Spider-Man by Roger Stern and John Romita that told the tale of Richard and Mary saving Wolverine from the forces of Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker. Yeah, it’s a bit much for me too, but what can you do? That notorious cover depicts Richard and Mary as agents of SHIELD, true or not.
Speaking of the C-word, though not as bad, Peter’s parents show up again in the early 1990s as LMDs. For folks not well versed in the tactics and evils of SHIELD, an LMD is a Life Model Decoy, a lifelike robot. They were used and programmed by Spider-Man foes the Chameleon and Norman Osborn to mess with our hero. It was as cruel a trick on the readers as it was to Spider-Man in my opinion.
Here are the facts as they really are. Ben Parker’s brother, Captain Richard Parker was Special Forces, and recruited to the CIA by Nick Fury. Mary Fitzpatrick was the daughter of a famous (as famous as secret agents can be) OSS agent and followed in his footsteps becoming a data analyst for the CIA. As can be expected, the two met on the job, fell in love, and married.
Mary eventually became a field agent like Richard and the two shared many missions, some involving Baron Von Strucker and Wolverine (sigh), locking the couple firmly in the Marvel Universe continuity. A son, Peter, was born, but the couple left him in the care of Ben and May Parker often as they were always away on missions. He never got a chance to know his parents.
On their final mission Richard and Mary infiltrated the Algerian organization of one of the faux Red Skulls as double agents. They were subsequently murdered by the Finisher who sabotaged their aircraft. They died without clearing their names, leaving a legacy as traitors.
Now what any of this has to do with what’s coming in The Amazing Spider-Man shortly in theaters, but we’ll see. I suspect that Richard and Mary have something to do with Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man, as perhaps they were partners with Dr. Curt Connors. But then again, the mystery of who they were, and what they were about is what the movie is about. Can’t wait.