Over the years, I have written about many types of characters. I have written about heroes and sidekicks. I have written about villains and anti-heroes. I have written about monsters and saints. I have never written anything like this article. In preparation for Sony Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man,” I am writing about two characters who have never headlined a title of their own, have made fewer than twenty-five (canonical) appearances, have no super powers and yet may be two of the most significant characters in the Spider-Man mythology: Mary and Richard Parker, the late parents of Spider-Man.
Every hero has a “prime mover” or “first cause” that defines their character. When readers were introduced to Peter Parker in “Amazing Fantasy” #15 (August 1962), we met an orphaned teenager raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. While Peter was presented as a “normal” teen, he exhibited very abnormal behaviors. In short, Peter was a driven, anti-social, neurotic who tortured himself over his decisions in an obsessive desire to always do what is right. He was also a remarkable genius, most obviously shown when he invented Spider-Man’s iconic web-shooters and web fluid in the comfort of his bedroom. Even with his Aunt and Uncle serving as surrogate parents, it is plain that Peter was striving to satisfy an ideal, one that many have attributed to his dead parents. This is not surprising when you consider that the trope of the orphan hero is often used to help define with obsessive heroes from Tom Thumb to Tarzan to Batman to Luke Skywalker. With all of that information about Peter and his motivations under our belt, the question remains: Who are Mary and Richard Parker?
For the first six years of Spider-Man’s history, there was no explanation given as to how he was orphaned or why he was raised by his Aunt and Uncle. In 1968, “Amazing Spider-Man Annual” #5 finally gave fans a glimpse of Peter’s parents in flashbacks and photographs. In a story titled “The Parents of Peter Parker,” we followed Spider-Man to Algeria where Peter had travelled after discovering news clippings stating his parents had been accused of treason. Upon discovering the clippings, Peter confronted Aunt May and, in a flashback within a flashback, readers watched as Aunt May and Uncle Ben learned the news of the accused traitors, an infant Peter playing on their floor.
Following this revelation, Peter did some investigating and, as Spidey, hitched a ride with the Fantastic Four to Algeria, and began the hunt for the truth about his parents. It was ultimately revealed that the Parkers were, in fact, true-blue Americans who worked as secret-agents, infiltrating an organization run by the third Red Skull, KGB agent Albert Malik. Malik sabotaged the Parker’s plane, killing the couple. By the end of the story, Spider-Man confronts Malik and discovers his father’s credentials as “an American Counter Spy.” The specific agency the Parkers worked for is not identified, and thereafter, Mary and Richard were relegated to photos and brief flashbacks.
And so it went until 1992. For the 30th anniversary of Spider-Man’s first appearance, in “Amazing Spider-Man” #365, Marvel brought Richard and Mary back from the dead — but wait, not really! Within two years’ time, it was revealed that Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis, the Green Goblin, convinced another member of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, the Chameleon, to manufacture robots that would impersonate Richard and Mary. Why? Because the Goblin wanted Peter to reveal to his robot parents the secret identity of Spider-Man. Because, according to the Goblin’s logic, Peter Parker must know who Spider-Man really is — after all, he takes all those pictures of Spider-Man. Now, I know what you are thinking: Green Goblin already knows that Peter is Spider-Man! This is true enough, so it is then revealed that the Goblin is just a jerk who wanted to watch Peter’s world crumble when he discovered the ruse and lost his parents all over again. So, we’re now up to 1994 and we still haven’t actually met Peter’s parents (save for brief flashbacks). It’s okay, though — three years later, that would finally change.
In July of 1997, Marvel published untold tales of the Marvel Universe when they held spent a month publishing “Minus 1” issues for Flashback Month. “Untold Tales of Spider-Man” # Minus 1 hit stands sporting a cover that featured “Richard and Mary Parker; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” The issue’s story was titled “There’s a Man Who Leads a Life of Danger” and was ably told by Roger Stern with art by Spider-Man veteran John Romita, Sr. Stern and Romita revealed that Richard had been an Army Special Forces Captain who was recruited by Colonel Nick Fury for the CIA. Mary Fitzpatrick Parker’s story origins went a little deeper — she was the daughter of OSS agent “Wild Will” Fitzpatrick, a pastiche of real-life OSS founder “Wild Bill” Donovan. As in our world, the Marvel Universe’s OSS eventually became the Central Intelligence Agency and, when her father passed away, Mary followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the CIA, working as an analyst and translator. An on-the-job romance bloomed between the two, Mary eventually joined Richard as a field agent and the pair were ultimately married.
Using their status as a married couple as a cover, the Parkers were an effective team were soon assigned to investigate Baroness Adelicia Von Krupp. Now, with a name like that, you know the Baroness was a villain. It turned out that she had captured an operative of an allied nation — Canada, to be exact. If you’ve read Marvel comics for any length of time, then you have a very short list of Canadian characters in your mental catalogue, so your first guess as to who the Parkers were tasked with rescuing would probably be right — it was Logan (aka Wolverine). Code-named Agent-Ten, the future X-Man was being held captive not only by Baroness Adelicia, but also by Nick Fury’s old enemy, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, in disguise throughout the story. The Parkers rescued Logan and subsequently discover that Mary is pregnant. Peter was born soon after, the Parkers returned to the field and died in the line of duty. It’s worth noting that, while the cover of “Untold Tales of Spider-Man” # Minus 1 stated that Richard and Mary were Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the actual story never mentions that they’re a part of the Marvel Universe’s most prominent spy agency..
The trailer for director Marc Webb’s franchise-rebooting “The Amazing Spider-Man” has made it clear that Mary and Richard figure heavily into the film’s story. We see the pair leave a young Peter with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, telling the future web-slinger, “There is something your mom and I have to do.” We later see Peter looking through papers in an old valise which is identified by Uncle Ben as belonging to Richard Parker. While there are obvious differences with their printed appearances, it all still ties together nicely with their known origin. How much of that is translated to the big screen remains a mystery for now, though mysteries rarely stay buried for long in fiction. As Peter says at the close of the “Amazing Spider-Man” trailer: “We all have secrets. The ones we keep — and the ones that are kept from us.”