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I Love Ya But You’re Strange – That Time Spider-Man Killed Mary Jane With His Radioactive Sperm

Every week, I will spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories (basically, we’re talking lots and lots of Silver Age comic books). Here is the archive of all the installments of this feature.

This is the 50th installment of I Love Ya But You’re Strange, so you know I had to give y’all an especially weird one this week. This certainly qualifies, as today we take a look at the time when, well, Spider-Man killed Mary Jane through prolonged exposure to his radioactive sperm.

Spider-Man: Reign was a four-issue mini-series in 2006/2007 written and drawn by Kaare Andrews. The art in the book is amazing and for the most part, the story works as well. It is essentially Dark Knight Returns, only with Spider-Man.

As the series begins, it has been 30 years since Peter Parker was last Spider-Man. He is now a schlub working at a florist (and not even doing a very good job with it)…

New York City is run by a fascist mayor who has reduced crime to essentially zero, but by having what amounts to stormtroopers running around the city intimidating everyone. A couple of them rough Peter up (breaking his arm) when he gets involved with them chasing down a “crook”…

Here is a taste of the mayor’s plans for New York…

Eventually, J. Jonah Jameson comes to Peter and convinces him to return to being Spider-Man (Peter agrees, but he is also suffering from hallucinations of his dead wife, his dead Aunt and his dead Uncle)….

In issue #3, we learn why Spidey retired. His beloved wife, Mary Jane, was dying of cancer. He left her bedside to stop a crime and she died while he was gone. He never forgave himself.

“How did Mary Jane get cancer?” you ask? Well…read on (Doctor Octopus’ arms, working on a final command from the long dead villain, has dragged Peter to a graveyard where the arms have dug up Mary Jane’s body to torment Spider-Man)…

Yep. Prolonged exposure to his radioactive sperm.

Ooooooooooooooookay.

By the way, Spidey uses this time to come to grips with his loss and decides to full embrace his responsibilities and become Spider-Man full-time again (conveniently, he buried his traditional costume with Mary Jane as he was planning on never being Spidey again, so he comes back wearing the red and the blue).

The story really works a lot better than these pages might attest. And the art is great. So really, don’t take this as me saying don’t get Spider-Man: Reign. I liked Spider-Man: Reign.

All I am saying is that radioactive sperm giving Mary Jane cancer? That’s pretty darn strange.

70 Comments

Eh, I thought it kind of worked. I mean it’s not like the story suggested that Gwen Stacy had twins with Norman Osborn. I mean that would be a really ridiculous story. Can you imagine?

Amusing random fact: The building that broadcasts the energy field in this series look exactly like One Liberty Place, the tallest building in Philadelphia. Because clearly, this series needed to be more random.

I came from a pretty sheltered background. Read the story and didn’t even make the connection it was radioactive sperm, just thought it was the totality of everything they did.

Is he virile?/Listen, worm/He’s got radioactive sperm…

Heck, I really enjoyed Spidey: Reign. This wasn’t weird enough to derail the rest of it.

Whoa, I didn’t pay attention to this when it came out, but it looks like a really good book, I’m gonna have to look it up!

Excellent book, worth checking out. He does a really good job with the characters.

some stupid japanese name

April 20, 2012 at 7:57 am

Thanks for spoiling the mayor’s ID.
….it’s ok, I wasn’t going to read it anyway.

Thanks for spoiling the mayor’s ID.
….it’s ok, I wasn’t going to read it anyway.

I was already showing a whole lot, so I figured it wouldn’t matter, but fair enough, I edited that part out.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

April 20, 2012 at 8:12 am

I’ll have to take your word it’s good – those pages don’t really sell it.

The physics of that are kinda iffy. That “radioactive blood” in the theme tune can be accepted as some kind of rhetorics, but for it to be actually radioactive there should be a continuing source of radioactive material entering Peter’s system…which would mean that either he is a walking nuclear reactor or he keeps getting bit by radioactive spiders regularly.
Being clearly radioactive and having a secret identity is also kind of problematic combination…

There are two separate parts to the issue. One is the radioactivity and the other is Peter’s genetic material./bodily fluids giving her cancer.

AS is right about the unlikelihood of Peter being a continuous source of radioactive emissions. However, it seems fairly plausible that MJ’s body might have an adverse reaction to repeated introductions of Peter’s genetically altered DNA into her body. It’s not hard to imagine that her immune system wouldn’t recognize it as normal human genetic material and go haywire trying to fight it off.

Holy shit, that looks amazing.

There look to be a couple of Dark Knight Returns easter eggs there. The name Miller and Jimmy Olsen lookalike in the DKR-style news panels.

Funny, it looks to me like New York still has Twin Towers, but they vanish when “the Webb” is deployed.

Kalorama, true, that is a plausible explanation for the scenario here…

Wasn’t Betty Banner kill off because of the Hulk’s radioactive sperm?

@JROCK: Just in case you weren’t joking…no. For a while everyone thought it was because of proximity to Bruce Banner, who emits radioactivity from his body as the Hulk, fluids be damned. It turned out the Abomination had been injecting her with his own radioactive blood.

Not that any of it matters now, of course….

I’ll pass. I prefer my Spider Man stories a little less bleak.

Mike Blake: Wait, are there any non-DKR-style panels in Reign?

I don’t know…the panels above are all I’ve read of it.

I really could have gone my entire life without hearing of this comic.

>Sigh< There's a reason that Daredevil is the only Marvel comic I'm reading these days.

Well, at least the panel showing “little Spidey” wasn’t brought up here (my reprint of issue #1 had it shadowed over)…

That said, while “Spider-Man: Reign” was a tad on the bleak side, the story was enough to keep me buying and reading.

sandwich eater

April 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm

I liked Spider-Man Reign, but the radioactive sperm is pretty goofy. If Spider-Man really has radioactive blood and being in close contact with MJ gives her cancer then shouldn’t Peter have gotten cancer first.

Really? I always thought Reign was petty unpopular. Hated it myself, just didn’t work for me. I’d say the bit about the sperm was just the icing on the cake, but then I would have to shoot myself from shame.

Oz the Malefic

April 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm

This may be a statement of the obvious, but this really is a continuation of an idea put forward in some of the earliest Spider-Man stories.

Back in Amazing Spider-Man issue #10 Aunt May received a blood transfusion from Peter and radiation sickness developed over the next few years worth of issues, nearly dying in issue #29, and was cured in #33.

So yes, it’s a strange idea what was shown in Reign, but it is an interesting extension of an idea that had been shown in early Spider-Man history.

That being said, I quite enjoy Reign.

This looks terrible in every way. Blarg.

Good lord, this is… worse than I expected. It’s like they tried to do The Dark Knight Returns, but ended up with All-Star Batman instead. > <

I hope Linkara reviews this one to pieces like he did One More Day.

God, what an awful mess.

Bleak, dumb, unoriginal, revolting.

Wait a cotton-picking minute here.

This is Marvel, where radiation is equivalent to magic. All it should have done is given MJ super-powers. Or she should have had children who were super-powered.

It doesn’t actually say the sperm killed her. Doesn’t even really imply it. Being around her killed her. That could be interpreted in any way.

It’s kind of icky but it makes sense in a comic book way.

I believe the more correct term would be “irradiated,” not “radioactive.” Isn’t that they term they use now when referring to Spider-Man’s origin? He was bitten by an irradiated spider, not a radioactive spider.

Um, I know you say that this art is good, but it just does not seem very good. I’m open to different styles, but this just seems amateurish, like a bad web comic (no pun intended).

@bookerg: Sure, it could be chastely interpreted. But not even implying it? “And not just blood. Every fluid. Touching Me. Loving me…” Sure, sweat, spit, urine, and bile are some other bodily fluids that MJ could have been in contact with through their love if you prefer those interpretations.

@bookerg: It could be interpreted that way, but by that interpretation, then the radiation (or whatever it was) that his body emitted that killed her should have also had some effect on the other people he spent significant time around.

Yo man, that shit could HAPPEN! :P

liked the little dark knight returns twist they were doing with spider man reighn all till the reveal that peter caused Mary jane to die due to his sperm. of all things. but given that his blood is radioactive from the spider bite. not surprised that maybe spider man could kill some one if he shared it but never thought sperm.

The cgi crutches used as backgrounds don’t help. They always look like cheap off Broadway scenery props.

Has any Spidey story in the last 20 years NOT been completely insane?

What the hell is going on with Spider-Man writers?

This was also the series that had to be re-issued and re-drawn due to Peter’s low hangers.

the obvious lesson here, is to always use protection.

Reign wasn’t nearly as good as DKR, but it was still a fun read. Interesting What If?/Elseworlds stories always make for a nice break from monthly, non-changing status-quo stories.

Googam son of Goom

April 21, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Was this sold as Spider-man done Dark Knight Returns style? It certainly recalls that work stylistically. Oh yes okay i went and reread the intro so to answer my own question. Yes

Reign is fun. Yeah, it’s DKR ala Spidey, but if you dig What If…? and alternate timelines, it’s great. I’ve never understood why fans were so freaked out over radioactive sperm. I think fans can handle the idea that MJ and Pete are knockin’ boots, but discussing the sperm itself just sets us/them off.

So they ripped off DKR. Like thry tried to repeat the end of killing joke bey having Spider-Man and Norman Osborn joking around at the end of Goblin reterns.

There should have been a caption box with a parody of the old Spider-Man theme.

Spider-Man… Spider-Man…
Does whatever a Spider-Can…
Is he strong? You bet he is…
He’s got radioactive jizz….

LOOK OUT! Here comes the Spider-Man!

Spider-man comics have just been awful for so long. There’s no way it will ever recover. This is the guy who was the best character in comics and they destroyed him. They demolished him. They let writers trample all over his character and do whatever they want even if they don’t have a plot to go with it. There’s not much story in the Civil War/Back in Black/OMD stuff.

This ‘future’ Spider-man stuff was just a part of it. I don’t care if it was editorial or a TV’s writers idea. Some people will blame the clone saga, but there was some good stuff in there and stuff actually happened. Aunt May died. She didn’t come back with no plan (until later), but she actually died. Look at OMD, they promised she would die. How did she not die. I heard it was CPR. YEah, we can bring back people with CPR, even they’d been shot up.

I think Slott and the other 20 writers they hired around this time to write future stories of indeterminate results must of been angry. Hey, I bet they’d write some good stories, but they aren’t allowed too. THere’s nothing to do.

At least he didn’t start using this “superpower” as an offensive weapon, I guess.

Xanadude pointed out:
This was also the series that had to be re-issued
and re-drawn due to Peter’s low hangers.

What? Paging Mister Comics Legends Revealed, is this true?

Good grief, what a piece of derivative hack garbage that excerpt is That is everything wrong with comics for the past 25 years distilled into a few pages. Let’s take the hero retired in a dystopian future theme and style of Dark Knight and throw in some assaulting the defenseless and killing our loved ones accidentally with radiation from Watchmen. The creators should be ashamed of themselves. This is the comic book equivalent of writing a song called “Stairway to California/Hotel Heaven”

I really miss old Spider-man stories. Back when you knew who he was. Spider-man today could be anyone. This guy in those pages could be anyone, but even back during the 90s you knew who he was. Oh maybe the went off character at times with Mary Jane slaps or them making him grittier. However, you knew who he was most of the time. He had a personality and many emotions to go with it. NOw, he’s like a childish man who spouts jokes on every page or something. He’s like Deadpool, I’ve heard. He’s not like that old Spider-man. Gradually, magically, they lost that guy. This guy up there isn’t much a character and I don’t need a Dark Knight rip off with gross descriptions. Hell, the Clone Saga’s worst looks better.

I know that people believe that was what Andrews meant, and I definitely giggled at what it sounds like, but it clearly doesn’t literally mean radioactive sperm. By love he didn’t mean sex, he meant just being there. He was subtly radioactive. Not enough to give everyone around him cancer, but enough that a woman who spent so much time with him and shared his bed every night did. Sure, his sperm was radioactive. So was his sweat, saliva, and dandruff. The bodily fluids line was a poor word choice to be sure, but clearly not intentional.

mike cullen wrote:
“the obvious lesson here, is to always use protection.”

Shouldn’t Peter’s spider sense take care of that? Jokes about “tingling” left as a exercise for the reader.

OK, not a popular statement by the looks of things, but I really enjoyed Reign. Yes, it’s just The Dark Knight Returns, and nowhere near in the same league, but I’m a sucker for seeing superheroes who’ve become all old and hopeless make a triumphant-but-flawed comeback. DC definitely does it better, though.

I thought Reign was an interesting, new take on Spidey, so thumbs up here. For all those dissing the series based on this one column, please read it before you call it trash.

I don’t know, I quite liked Reign. While the whole idea may have been taken from somewhere else, you’ve got to remember: No idea is original anymore.

You can’t write a completely original tale anymore, because the ideas are used up. You can rewrite it in a different way, but it’ll always be a rehash of SOMETHING, whether that was the intention or not.

You can’t judge a comic based solely on the idea that it’s been done before. Everything has, really.

All in all, while it may have been a bit ridiculous, it was an interesting and thought-provoking “what-if” tale.

It’s really something you have to read.

Matty Macomber

April 23, 2012 at 8:46 am

@Dalarsco – Not sure why/how you are absolutely sure it can’t mean sperm. The bodily fluids line isn’t a poor choice of words, it’s a conscious choice of words by Andrews. In the regular continuity, of course they wouldn’t have Spider-Man have carcinogenic sperm. However, this world is an intentional homage to Dark Knight, including the crassness and ugliness of sex. In a Frank Miller urban environment everything is corrupt and tawdry… of course Spider-Man’s sperm is destructive there.

Jim from Queens

April 24, 2012 at 8:31 am

this series was AWESOME and it definitely doesn’t belong on this list.. there are literally hundreds of strange and retarded story lines, like Peter selling his marriage to the devil to keep aunt may alive.. wait what?.. yeah exactly.. i loved this story and its not that crazy to think a normal woman’s body may react poorly to a superhero’s bodily fluids..

one good thing about adding it to this list is that now I’m gonna read it again when I get home from work today :D

Oh come on, this is the Marvel Universe. Mary Jane obviously should have simply received semen-based superpowers.

I stand by my statement above (of it looking awesome), considering that it seems like every commenter who has actually READ the series loved it. Of all the people talking mess, I don’t see a single one claiming to have actually read it. So I will seek it out.

I read the series and didn’t like it at all, but I say that only to counterbalance the silly claim that everyone who read it loved it. Certainly don’t let that dissuade you from the reading and the loving. I’m always glad when people like things, even if I don’t like what they like at all.

The fact that he works in the flower shop makes me think of something else that was brought up here before. The fact that Parker invented the webshooters (genius in both chemistry and engineering), the spider tracers that broadcast to the frequency of his spider-sense, and a few other inventions that come up as he needs them. It was pointed out that he couldn’t really patent their design and sell the formulas as it would reveal his secret identity, but if he can invent that stuff, then he would be smart enough to invent something that he could sell to Stark Enterprises or something. Yet he always only has jobs, delivering pizza, taking pictures for the bugle (Which doesn’t pay that well as he is always struggling to make rent) and working in a flower shop…. Of course as mentioned in the other articles, this was a time when even a physician like Dr. Donald Blake could invent devices undreampt of in the mortal world.

That book pretty much failed straight from the concept. Spider-Man’s “DKR” played STRAIGHT? C’mon.

Even if it was brilliant, I doubt it would have registered on me when it was on the rack. As I grew older, the sheer number of different Spider-titles (and Batbooks and Superbooks and oh, yes, Xbooks) had a numbing effect on my interest in the character.
Yes, I used “numb” in a column discussing radioactive sperm (though yeah, swapping radioactive spit would be just as valid). Forgive me.

It’s basically like getting raped… By a horse.

I’m not that much shocked by the revelation that Peter has radioactive semen. I am really disturbed by that necrophilliac moment in the last page. Did he just kiss a rotting corpse? Is that his blood, or MJ’s putrid juices that’s coming off his mouth? I’m not against going gritty sometimes, but can’t you keep some dignity while you’re doing it? Ewwww…

The implication of radioactive sperm is the only part of these pages that I DON’T find ludicrous. (After all, that’s just Peter’s self-loathing opinion and might easily be wrong. Folks develop normal cancer every day.)

But Peter Parker retired? Refusing to defend the helpless? Waxing poetic at MJ’s deathbed? Who is this emo impostor? Sure, he’s always had a problem with self-pity but can this really be the same guy who recovered from Gwen Stacy’s death?

And the dialogue has all the subtlety of Spidey Super Stories. “A true American hero”? Jeez, good job telegraphing your villain, Kaare. “No one to save us. No one.” Does anyone outside the Frankmillerverse talk like that? “I need you. The city needs you.” Sure, why not make JJJ just another sockpuppet in Peter’s angsty power trip. And even worse is Peter’s purple-prose self-talk.

See, this kind of crap is what you get when you let non-nerds like Frank Miller and Harlan Ellison write nerd stories. They rub their balls all over everything and sneer at concepts such as subtlety, continuity, and pathos. “Fuck it, just show the hero getting kicked down before he wins. It works for Rocky.”

Reverend Meteor

August 27, 2012 at 5:37 am

Most of her cancer was oral.

what i dont get is why sex is abad thing in millerverse. is it a dystopia thing? nevertheless if this is a dkr tribute its prettybad at it. pete shuda beeen a cynical bitter old man.

[…] Andrews is both the writer and artist on Iron Fist (or Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, I don’t know what’s official and I don’t really care anymore).  He delivered some fantastic, refreshing art on Incredible Hulk, which is where he first made his name.  However, the first time I remember him taking on both writing and art was on Spider-Man: Reign, and that should have been a warning.  For those who are unfamiliar, Reign was Marvel’s attempt to give Spider-Man the Dark Knight Returns treatment.  Because Spider-Man is a wisecracking character full of hope and relatability who doesn’t generally fit in well with that kind of super dark story, they decided to break him by killing Mary Jane.  With his radioactive spider-semen.  I promise you, I made up none of that. […]

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