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CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked – Aunt May is Dead?

All throughout December, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked.

Today we look at the first (of many?) deaths of Aunt May.

Enjoy!

In Amazing Spider-Man #400, Aunt May and Peter spend some quality time together in her final hours before she passes away…

Really well-handled stuff by J.M. DeMatteis.

Okay, so fast forward a few years and Peter gets word that “May” is alive and being held captive by the Green Goblin inside of a house. He thinks it is his daughter, who was stillborn.

He encounters the Green Goblin on the way…

After seemingly defeating him, Spidey heads for his baby…

The next part of the storyline, Spidey takes Aunt May to Reed Richards…

and later, in battle with the Goblin again, Spidey learns Osborn’s rather…complicated plan…

And Aunt May has been alive ever since (for now!)!

49 Comments

Aunt May had already “died” before, in the storyline that runs to Amazing #200. Am I the only one that remembers it?

She also “died” again by One More day, which means she dies every 200 AmazinG Spider-Man issues, give or take.

Aunt May had already “died” before, in the storyline that runs to Amazing #200. Am I the only one that remembers it?

That doesn’t count for this purpose because it wasn’t an intended storyline that was reversed by later writers. She was never intended to actually be dead in the #200 storyline (or the One More Day storyline).

Yet another example of taking a potentially moving moment for Peter Parker / Ben reilly / Spider-Man and cheapening it just to go back to a status quo…

I HATED the whole Green Goblin “master plan” because it took so many moments that affected me emotionally while reading prior and made them into out and out jokes. I honestly felt like a fool for emotionally investing myself in Spidey’s stories from this point on….

I mean Amazing #400 was a perfect issue in my eyes because of that Empire State Building scene…..

You’ve never been good at letting go…
Aunt May, you’re a wise woman – Peter didn’t even want to let you go in One More Day and we know how that turned out…
Amazing 400 is such a masterpiece (it’s among my top10 Spidey issues) and it’s a crime against humanity how Byrne later retconned this…

Why does Reed switch ages suddenly from panel to panel?

God. I endured the entire Clone Saga, but THIS… THIS was the last straw for me and the Spidey-books. I literally did not buy them again until Big Time after this.

Who wrote this wretched nonsense? (The Goblin/”May is alive” bit, I mean.)

Totally agree with those who said it earlier, Amazing #400 is a perfect, heart-breaking send-off for May. The first and one of the only times a comic has actually moved me to tears.

Ronald Jay Kearschner

December 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Has Aunt May died more often than Kenny from SOUTH PARK?

There was a great photoshop image circa 2000 of May’s death which added a thought balloon to May: “Ha! Suckers!”

@Rusty, Reed had to use his stretching and “morph” into his older, more serious face for the news. Yeah.

Ugh.

Ugh.

Ugh.

What a horrible horrible horrible retcon. I’m getting teary eyed reading the Amazing 400 stuff, and to turn around and claim this woman was just an actress? Ugh. I’d heard about both of these stories before, but never read them, and … ugh!

Ugh!

I mean, the fact is, her being a CLONE would have actually been BETTER, since she would still actually have “been” May, with all May’s memories, so the things she was saying would have still been TRUE. But Marvel were shit-scared of blaming things on clones after the saga which shall not be named, so here’s this shit. God, I hate it so much.

“Amazing 400 is such a masterpiece (it’s among my top10 Spidey issues) and it’s a crime against humanity how Byrne later retconned this…”

I know it’s easy to blame John Byrne for everything, but that came about as an editorial decision and both Byrne and Mackie wrote the storyline where she came back.

No one ever blames JMS for OMD even though he supported the part that everyone hated (the Mephisto deal), but John Byrne always takes the sole blame for everything that happened on his own Spider-Man run!

“Has Aunt May died more often than Kenny from SOUTH PARK?”

Not really, just every 200 issues or so. I hope they kill her again by Amazing #800 to keep the tradition!

I think we have a winner for the best story ruined by a retcon.

@Jeff: Oh, I don’t know about that. I read those pages and it’s still moving, even knowing that it was retconned later.

My vote for something actually RUINED by a retcon is that I can no longer read Year One (or watch the animated adaptation) without thinking “Batman just pissed himself.”

They need to bring back Uncle Ben and Peter’s parents (again).

Ahh, Christ! Two comments already and I still haven’t got all my fury out! Dammit, Brian! Why did you have to remind me this existed? I thoroughly agree with Jeff’s analysis above! It retroactively taints the wonderful death issue, and it taints everything going forward when you remember that THIS… this THING, this HIDEOUSNESS… is the reason Aunt May is still alive and participating in the Spider-books today. GOD. I HATE IT SO MUCH.

I was lucky enough to have stopped reading comics from 1996 (because of Onslaught) until 2001 or so, and then only picked up issues here and there until 2007, so I was spared the return of Norman Osborn and Aunt May.

I do remember being utterly confused when I did start picking up issues of ASM in the middle of JMS’s run and trying to figure out how in the hell Aunt May was still alive. I went on websites, I went on forums, I even wrote a damn letter to Marvel, trying to get an idea of how she could be alive again. All I heard was some weak about an actress. It never made any damn sense.

Now that I actually can read it in this column here, it is just comes off as hamfisted and moronic. And I don’t understand the need for it. What does Aunt May still being alive bring to Spider-Man that is so essential? She is definitely a more interesting character dead.

@Pedro Bouça

A lot of people blame JMS for One More Day. It is just that Quesada gets so much more blame because he was so openly the figurehead for the idea, openly had a long-standing desire to get rid of the marriage, and was responsible for some of the most idiotic parts.

Quesada is the reason there were no details figured out for OMD in advance, because he only cared about the big picture and didn’t want anything nailed down that might upset readers. Like when JMS’s lynchpin time change was vetoed by Quesada, because Quesada wanted to be able to claim that every issue of Spider-Man still happened, except for the marriage itself.

Writers do get blamed for mandated stuff. Sometimes they still deserve the blame. Sometimes they are working with their hands tied if they really want to keep their job.

JMS openly separated himself from some of the worst of OMD, and had already established Quesada as a force that made hated stories worse with Gwen’s kids.

We have seen such separations elsewhere. Chuck Austen has some hated X-Men stories, but when asked about (post-Morrison) Xorn, he said that he was ordered to write Xorn into the book.

That was a touching death scene. But Peter Parker’s obsessive, freaky love of his Aunt May has always been one of the main reasons I’ve never really collected the title. It’s weird. And Aunt May’s a pain in the arse – I’d have smothered her with a pillow long ago.

You should add the next page from #400 as well, which shows Ben Reilly’s reaction. Such a great story and reversed in such a stupid stupid way.

Maybe its because I wasn’t a regular reader at the time but as a huge Spider-Man fan, Amz. 400 seems really sappy and cloying. Really stretching to be meaningful. Undoing that mistake was for the best.

That era of the clone saga/Aunt May dying/the baby was really the last attempt at making Peter Parker older. They were doing everything they could to boost sales back then. Of course had they just had half-decent writers and better artists, they probably could have done it easier.

Wow, what a powerful moment. Peter knows he made Aunt May proud and is able to move on. Thank you for showing those panels, Brian

Brian from Canada

December 17, 2011 at 6:24 am

I completely disagree, Ian.

Sappy and cloying is exactly the mood they needed for such an emotional moment. By this point, everyone was claiming Uncle Ben had been given short shrift in Amazing Fantasy #15 and May — being a focal point for Peter’s life for so long — had deserved something more.

Furthermore, it wasn’t about boosting sales as much as it was dealing with writers unable to handle a mature Peter Parker. Peter was married, and it was logical to want a child at some point… which would make him less adventurous as a hero as a result. So introducing the clone, killing Aunt May, and working towards Peter moving out the burbs was the best plan — UNTIL the readers’ reaction to a hasty decision (Ben is the real Spider-Man) led to a quick reverse.

Everything AFTER that was to boost sales, including the costume changes (Slingers), the reboot under Mackie alone (because they blamed multiple writers for the fiasco), etc.

Brian from Canada

December 17, 2011 at 6:29 am

Billy, I’d go one step further: Quesada had three goals when he got into Marvel…

1) Make the universe unpredictable again;
2) Cut down the number of mutants and titles because The X-Men were too confusing; and
3) Erase the editorially-driven marriage for Spider-Man.

Quesada earns the blame for OMD/BND/etc. because he was thumping his chest the loudest about how it’s his idea, just as he’s doing now with the bla… er, new Ultimate Spider-Man. And with JMS’ distancing himself so openly, it compounds the fact that Quesada was writing the stories and not the writers.

EVERY time editorial steps in, we get weaker stories. Scott Lobdell hampered “Operation: Zero Tolerance” on purpose because of it, Seagle and Kelly walked away from the X-books because of it, etc.

The sad part is that, with all the writers afterwards, very few of them had the brains and the balls to stand up to editorial and write Spider-Man stories where the marriage WASN’T a problem. Unfortunately, it was mandated for nearly a decade that it is — except to STAN frickin’ LEE, who uses it daily in the newspaper strip!!!

Retcon, thy name is Green Goblin.

This is why Spider-man can’t be good anymore. They refuse to do this, even though they promised it to fans that she was definently going to die at the end of OMD (which was terrible beyond words), but refused to kill her despite the fact that it had already been done. They did an unmasking, yet had no idea what do with it and didn’t care. Amazing #400 was a classic issue and well concieved.

Nothing will ever happen ever again. I try reading Spider-man today and he doesn’t seem to have a personality anymore. He seems very happy… or something. Who cares about a guy who will do anything to have things not change including selfishly changing the universe for his own wants and desires?

I remember when May ‘resurrected’ actually feeling a wave of nausea come over me, so totally insipid and ridiculousness was this explanation about the ‘actress.’ And I also knew it meant May would be around for at least another 10 years.

This is why I trust Tom Defalco’s version of Spider-girl’s/ Spider-man’s history, becuase in that timeline he has Aunt May died and remaining dead for good.

I was supposed to write the issues of THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN that tied into the return of Aunt May storyline. As much as I didn’t want to undo the events of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #400, I understood the reasons for it, so I was onboard.

I even pitched a storyline that would have brought Aunt May back into the series but also would have preserved as much of AMAZING #400 as possible. The only major change being that, despite all appearances, Aunt May had not ACTUALLY died. She would have APPEARED to have died, and for all intents and purposes, she WAS dead–but not fully. This proposed storyline would have tied in with other ongoing subplots that were running through the Spider-Man titles during that time, most notably Kaine being on the loose again and Joe Robertson’s investigations into Norman Osborn’s secret activities. These plot threads all would have come together and, hopefully, would have paid off in a dramatic, plausible, and satisfying manner.

But my pitch was DOA, because the folks making the big decisions were already sold on the “Aunt May was replaced by an actress” solution and were not open to other ideas. So J.M. DeMatteis’s beautiful story was retconned into being just an elaborate ruse, and the Kaine and Joe Robertson subplots were dropped in midstream and were never resolved.

I wanted no part of this story. I knew I wouldn’t be happy working on it. Having had such a good time working on the storyline that immediately preceded it, “Goblins at the Gate” (the original Green Goblin vs. the original Hobgoblin, which I co-plotted with Roger Stern), I decided to leave SPECTACULAR on what I felt was a high note. John Byrne ended up writing the issues of SPECTACULAR that were originally supposed to be mine.

So to reiterate–I didn’t think bringing back Aunt May was necessarily the wrong thing to do. But I disagreed strongly with the way it was done.

@ Marcus Martin. Yes, thank you. Tom D treated the Spider-verse with respect in the pages of Spider-Girl. It’s the ACTUAL continuation of Spider-Man, not the crap that Joe Q has been shoveling down our throats the last decade. Joe Q has zero respect for Spider-Man or his fans.

The seeds for this were actually planted earlier on in the series when there was a different writer. I think it was DeFalco. At any rate, he had little things happen like Kaine attacking the yacht that Allison Mongrain and some Scriers were on. After he was taken off the book, they abandoned the idea of bringing the baby back (which is what DeFalco was building toward) and instead brought Aunt May back. These ideas were eventually recycled and used in DeFalco’s Spider-Girl series where Kaine was responsible for saving May from Osborn’s people and even “The Gathering of Five” story line ended differently. All this information came from the “Life of Reilly” blog.

I have to agree with all the love for #400.
I remember reading that and thinking it was a classy and strong way to end a character who since her creation been one bad cold away from death’s door. Damn shame that editorial decided that they know best. I know it happpens all the time but it seems when editorial get involved with Spider-Man it really stands out as being particularly bad.

Am I misremembering (I didn’t read any of the clone crap, but I got a free copy of the retailer’s white tombstone edition of ASM 400), but wasn’t the assumption at the time (or shortly thereafter) that “Ben Reilly” was the real Spider-Man and Peter the clone? “Enhancing” the tragedy that he wasn’t able to be by her side at her death (aka ruining the story).

I’d wondered how she came back. I think I was better off not knowing.

To me, the retcon of Aunt May’s death is one of the WORST things I’ve ever read in comic books. (The whole ‘Final Chapter’ story was the worst Spider-Man story I’ve ever read, bar none, but we’re just focusing on Aunt May, here).

First off, the idea of bringing back Aunt May after her beautiful, moving death scene in ASM #400 was a dumb one in itself. The time to overturn Aunt May’s death was BEFORE the story was published. Any sort of undoing afterward would (after the return of Norman Osborn and the whole Ben Reilly mess) ruin the credibility of the Spider-books for good. After this, NO ONE would believe that the Spider-books were books where interesting things could happen to the characters and stick.

But it was made so much worse by the manner in which it was done.

First off, let me make a few things clear. I do not believe there is anything wrong with my ability to willingly suspend disbelief.

I can believe in ludicrous things. I can believe that a young man can be bitten by a radioactive spider and gain the proportionate strength and agility of a spider instead of getting sick from radiation poisoning. I can believe that a criminal can be turned into a creature of living sand. I can believe that a scientist can invent robot arms that respond to his mental commands.

But I cannot for one moment believe that Peter Parker’s Aunt May (who was practically his mother, for crying out loud!) could be secretly replaced with a genetically re-engineered actress and he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. I don’t care how good this actress was, or how long she spent practicing Aunt May’s mannerisms (and just WHEN could she find the opportunity to know Aunt May well enough to do this when the only time the switch could have been made was when Aunt May was in a coma?) — there is NO WAY Peter would have been fooled by this. And why in the world would she stay in character ON HER DEATHBED?!?

There are literally no words to describe just how amazingly stupid this explanation sounds. There’s a fine line between asking the audience to suspend disbelief, and asking them to pretend that Venom ate their brains. The ‘actress’ explantion not only insults the intelligence of those who were moved to tears by Aunt May’s death, but it also insults the intelligence of the readership in general.

I tried to fool myself into thinking that this idea was NEVER meant to see print. That some writer or editor at Marvel suggested the whole ‘actress’ idea to sabotage the whole thing because he thought bringing back Aunt May was a stupid thing to do. So he thought of the stupidest explanation he could come up with, hoping that it would bring editorial to their senses and realize what a dumb idea the whole thing was. But it backfired and it actually got published.

However, Glenn Greenberg’s comment above indicates that this was not the case. They really meant to give us this explanation that would have been laughed off of ‘Dallas’ (the 80′s TV show that became infamous for retconning an entire season into a dream just so they could resurrect Bobby Ewing).

And because of this, ‘The Final Chapter’ and all the ‘mainstream/616/whatever Marvel calls it’ Spider-Man books since then are NOT canon to me. They are, to me, really bad fan fiction. ‘The Final Chapter’ and ‘One More Day’, in particular, are ‘fix fics’ (where the writer ‘fixes’ a part of a movie or TV show that doesn’t sit well with them). Aunt May’s return from the dead is just as atrocious as the one fan fic of James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ where Jack Dawson (who died of hypothermia in the movie) shows up in New York alive and well with no explanation (despite the fact that we saw his lifeless corpse sink into the ocean). And ‘One More Day’ is one of those ‘fix fics’ where the writer hates the canonical relationship SO much that they make the couple act out of character so they can pair them with other people.

Spider-Girl, on the other hand, feels more ‘canonical’ to me (though some might call THAT a ‘fixfic’ of the GOOD kind — the kind that’s fixing something that was dumb to begin with). And Marvel cancelling it won’t change that.

To elaborate further — Spider-Girl feels more ‘real’ to me because it’s a more logical extension of the ‘missing baby’ storyline. There, the baby is rescued by Kaine and returned to the Parkers, and 15 years later Peter and Mary Jane’s daughter becomes Spider-Girl. Oh, and Norman Osborn gets killed in an explosion after Peter bursts in on him during the ‘Gathering of Five’ ceremony (Peter even says in Spider-Girl #49 when discussing it “It seemed wildly out of character, but at the time I didn’t care.”).

Tom Defalco got further barbs at the whole thing at the conclusion of a storyline where Spider-Girl’s spirit advisor turns out to be the spirit of Aunt May. In the conclusion, the spirit of Aunt May banishes the spirit of Norman Osborn, telling Osborn that “We both belong in the past!”

All in all, Spider-Girl has been one of my favorite titles in the past 14 years. It’s written and done by people who really do believe that Comics Should Be Good.

‘The Final Chapter’, on the other hand, reads like it was done by people who completely disagree with the title of this blog. They seem to believe that Comics Don’t Have To Be Good As Long As The Story Gives The Editor What He Wants.

Here, here, Chris!

I am a geek and most of my friends are geeks, and every once in a while, I feel the utter disdain the rest of the world has for our kind. Because we are so hopelessly loyal to the things we love, we often end up getting kicked like faithful dogs. And the attitude of some creators seems to be, “If we serve them up manure and call it Hostess Ding Dongs, they’ll still eat it because they don’t know any better.” You see that sort of thing all the time: it’s totally fine for a childrens’ show to be idiotic and non-creative because “it’s just for kids.” Or it’s more than acceptable for the TRANSFORMERS movies to be revoltingly bad because “they’re just stupid movies for stupid fans of a stupid TV show made to sell stupid toys.”

It’s this kind of attitude that truly depresses me. We, the fans, have to vote with our dollar. We have to stand up and say, “Nope. No more. I will not support this any longer. Not until you show me the respect that I deserve for my years of patronage and fandom.” The only thing the people at the top care about is the bottom line, and when they’re pocketbook starts to hurt, maybe then they’ll take notice. Maybe then they’ll listen. And maybe then things will change.

At the same time, I realize that a lot of the writers of comic books (and cartoons, and action movies, and childrens’ programming, etc.) DO care. Otherwise, most of the unpopular/nonsensical storypoints in this series–prior to this one, I mean–would not have gotten “fixed.” To those creative people who actually give a damn about the things that I give a damn about . . . I salute you.

I remember Spidey #200 because after it was revealed that she didn’t actually die (there was even an issue of Peter mourning her – #199 IIRC) I stopped reading Spidey.

She dies every few years. Then she comes back better, stronger, faster than ever!

Maybe its tied to when Aunt May became the herald of Galactus (What If story). Yeah that’s it!

I remember actually feeling a wave of nausea when I originally read this explanation of some elderly actress ‘impersonating’ Aunt May. The explanation was so tortured, so impprobable (even for a comic book) that it filled
me with revulsion. Reading it over now, I couldn’t even make it past the first couple sentences.

Brain Atrophy

May 20, 2012 at 9:53 pm

As a person who wasn’t into comics at the time, reading the panels from ASM #200 here made me weep like a baby. Very heart-string tugging stuff, and it’s writing like that, that makes me happy to be a comics fan.
@Rish, Could not agree with you more.

[...] shadowy, “Emo Spider-Man” of the new film. In his day, Spider-Man has gotten married, buried his aunt, traveled to the ends of the universe, and bonded with an alien symbiote. He’s ridden [...]

Wow, that Aunt May death scene must be one of the (unintentionally) funniest in comics history due to Mark Bagley’s art.

When can Aunt May ever really die?

One More Day to me is the unforgiveable sin that Marvel committed with spider man. Spiderman was on probation till Mary jane came back and I ready from then to superior.(I admit I am team spock) I will put spiderman back on probation again and drop amazing spiderman if I feel if parker goes back to broke and doche bag again

[…] as I write this, and I haven’t even got to the death scene.  If you want to read it, you can click here — The webpage also talks about how Marvel Comics wrote this death out of existence a few […]

Liam, the whole point of ‘The Final Chapter’ was to debunk the notion of Aunt May EVER dying. Before Amazing Spider-Man #400, Aunt May had become something of a joke about how she seemed to live forever despite being in fragile health. People were expecting Miguel O’Hara of Spider-Man 2099 to meet her, alive and well, in the year 2099. And NOT because of time travel.

Amazing Spider-Man #400, and the issues leading up to it, let us know that she was mortal after all. And J.M. Dematteis and company did their best to give her a dignified send-off, clearly believing at the time that, at least in THAT continuity, this would be the final farewell to Aunt May.

And it’s such a moving, beautiful story that one does NOT go back on it. It rings true to life, as it’s yet another experience in Peter Parker’s life that many can relate to — the loss of a parent figure. Having Aunt May return would miss the point entirely.

That didn’t stop Bob Harras, though. Apparently wanting to bring the Spider-Man books ‘back to basics’, he insisted Aunt May be brought back even though it made absolutely no sense to do so. And in doing so, he debunked not only her death scene, but the notion that Aunt May was mortal. Seriously, if one gives an explanation THIS stupid for a return from the dead, and then expects the readers to buy it, then it’s clear that the character just plain isn’t ALLOWED to die.

So therefore NOTHING was at stake in ‘One More Day’. There’s no real tension, as we KNOW Aunt May isn’t going to die because the editors won’t let THAT happen again, and no one would believe it if it did. Really, unless it’s proven that the ‘Aunt May’ who returned was a clone, an alternate universe counterpart, or something, and that the whole ‘actress’ story was just the insane ramblings of a madman (I’m talking about the Green Goblin, of course), then there’s no way to convince readers that Aunt May is mortal.

Not that I care, really. I don’t consider Aunt May’s return or anything that took place after it canonical. This was the point where I had to say “No. Just no. You do NOT do this. You don’t bring back a character who died in a beautiful and meaningful fashion, give one of the worst possible explanations ever, and then just move on and expect your audience to accept it. You don’t DO that. Good writers … good creators … don’t do that.”

I’m thinking of doing a blog series on this story. There are some people who I feel need to know about the story that set the precedent for ‘One More Day’. To be honest, I’m not sure which one is worse. Both are horribly written, they exist only because of editorial interference, and there’s a COMPLETE rejection of effort in both of them.

When you read articles like this you realize just how stupid f*****g comic books really are.

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