At the centre of Spider-Man: No Way Home’s explosive trailer is a simple request from Peter Parker that seemingly turns the Marvel universe upside down: can magic make the world forget he’s Spider-Man? It’s a desperate act — and a road that Peter has gone down before in his comic book journey, as part of one of the biggest, most transformative, and controversial tales in Spidey history.
Spider-Man’s push and pull over his identity has been an indelible part of the character since his conception nearly 60 years ago, but when it comes to actually exposing that Peter Parker is the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, it’s never really happened on the scale it did in Marvel’s original Civil War event. Although before that, and even since, Peter has let slip his dual life to people on smaller, more intimate scales, his decision to support Tony Stark’s advocacy of the Superhero Registration Act — a government record of the identities of all active superheroes in Civil War provided immediate and horrifying ramifications for Peter.
Acting on orders from the Kingpin, a hitman targeting Peter and his family shot and mortally wounded Aunt May. Slipping into a coma that not even a transfusion of Peter’s radioactive blood could bring her out of, the stage was set for a radical re-alteration of Spider-Man’s status quo in the form of One More Day.
In 2007’s One More Day, Marvel’s answer to Satan himself, Mephisto — himself the subject of myriad rumours about an arrival in the MCU after the events of WandaVision earlier this year — offers Peter and Mary Jane a deal: save Aunt May’s life, in exchange for their nearly 20 years of marriage.
After Mary Jane took the deal on Peter’s behalf, knowing he couldn’t ever make the decision himself, Mephisto re-wrote reality. In the “new” Marvel universe, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson dated seriously for several years, but broke up after Peter left MJ at the altar. May was still shot by a hitman, but had her life saved by CPR from Peter himself — but how did the world forget the events that shaped Spider-Man in Civil War?
It would take three years for Marvel to provide an answer in the four-issue story arc One Moment In Time, which ran through Amazing Spider-Man #638-641. Penned by Joe Quesada and featuring new art from Paolo Rivera, interspersed with pages from across Spidey’s comic history recontextualised by the new art, One Moment In Time is framed around Peter and MJ finally sitting down and talking to each other after years of frostiness between the two since the events of One More Day.
Covering everything from the stresses of their relationship in a post-Civil War reality to the reason why Peter missed their wedding day in the first place (he was, in true Parker luck fashion, knocked unconscious by a hitman he was chasing), One Moment In Time’s final reveal is about why Peter and MJ properly broke up in One More Day’s final moments… and now, it’s kind of in No Way Home, as far as we know from the trailer.
In the fourth chapter of One Moment In Time, Amazing Spider-Man #641, Peter brings Mary Jane to Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum, after a hitman hired by the Kingpin once again attempted to kill both her and her aunt Anna, as part of the crime boss’ continued attempts at revenge against Peter. Although Peter only shows up at first to have MJ’s head wound healed, he has an ulterior, desperate motive: breaking down in tears, Peter begs Strange to wipe public knowledge of his not-so-secret identity with a spell.
It’s much more seriously toned than the version of this encounter we see in the No Way Home trailer, even if the MCU’s Peter is facing similar dangers from his identity being public (and, at this point, is using Strange as a preventative option moreso than the Band-Aid on a gaping wound Comics Peter had). But what’s also interesting is how much more sincerely caring the comics version of Strange comes across when debating whether or not to acquiese to Peter’s request, especially compared to the relative flippancy we see in No Way Home’s riff, like the Sorcerer Supreme is a naughty schoolkid breaking the rules once his teacher (or in this case, a very done-with-all-this Wong) has left the room.
In the comics, Strange astrally projects himself into a spiritual meeting with two of the most powerful people around: Tony Stark, who stands “victorious” after the events of Civil War at this point, and now has his all-powerful Extremis suit, and Reed Richards, one of the smartest men in the Marvel multiverse. Strange begs them to help him cast this spell, a mix of magic, science, and the Extremis technology to craft a mystical virus that effects the whole world.
And he begs them not just because it’s impossible without their help, and could even kill them in the process, but because he truly believes that Peter Parker is one of the best heroes left standing in the wake of the Civil War, an ideal that these old heroes should look towards as the hope of generations beyond them. If they’re not willing to help him in a time of need, then do Reed, Stephen, and Tony even deserve to be doing what they do?
Strange’s impassioned plea works, but only after both Reed and Tony convince him that, despite Strange’s initial plan to have the trio remember Peter’s identity as well, as penance for the hurt they’ve put him through, no one in the world save Peter should remember his secret. But, as Strange begins casting the spell, weaving a protective shield around Peter, the impulsive man drags MJ’s body into it at the last moment, rendering her able to remember his identity… a decision that becomes, as we see in the page’s last re-contextualisation of scenes from One More Day, the real reason she decides to cut all contact with him for years.
It’s interesting to see then, how many of these ramifications actually align with what we see in No Way Home. Of course, we don’t know how the movie plays out yet — we only have the trailer to go on, and even then it’s clearly a different spin on things, not just because we know MJ isn’t present for the spell as she was in the comics, but also Peter’s attempts to tinker with it seemingly help in part to mess up the fabric of the multiverse, rather than go his way as it does in One Moment In Time .
But no matter how different things play out in No Way Home, leveraging this premise — the fallout of one of the most controversial chapters in Spider-Man’s comics history, full stop — to facilitate the Marvel movies’ increasing fascination with the multiverse as a concept certainly is a weird hook.
We’ll have to wait until December 26 to truly see how it plays out, when Spider-Man: No Way Home hits theatres.