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Spoilers for Spider-Man: Far From Home below.
To say Far from Home ends on a cliffhanger is something of an understatement.
The last image we see is Spidey’s lenses widening and him exclaiming “WHAT?!” as the film cuts to black, seconds after a dying Mysterio reveals to the world that Spider-Man is, in fact, Peter Parker. It was a particularly impactful moment not only because of the reveal but exactly who didn’t release it: the Vulture. Adrian Toomes has known Peter's true identity since Homecoming. What does this mean for Vulture, who presumably is in prison somewhere knowing Pete’s identity? (Jury’s out on how a top-five MCU villain fared in the Snappening, but I like to think he’s around, if only because why give up on Michael Keaton’s eyebrows two movies into this Spidey-world?)
It’s a big move from Marvel, and one that clearly expresses an investment in the coming phases of the MCU (in which a new Spider-Man movie has yet to be announced). Between the reveal and J.K. Simmons' return in the role of J. Jonah Jameson, they are building to something big, but we’re going to have to wait a while to find out what that is.
But back to secret — or rather, not-so-secret identities. Friends, we’ve been here before.
From 2006 to 2007, Marvel Comics published a cross-character event called "Civil War," and part of that narrative was the public unmasking of Spider-Man. Granted, this is comics, so it got a hard reset not too long after, but before Peter gave up his marriage to the villain Mephisto in an effort to put the cat back into the bag, he spent a good number of issues in the comics having to deal with the aftermath of a world that knew his name and face. The biggest differences between this story and the movie are, of course, that Peter made the decision to unmask and he’s an adult when he does so.
A quick setting of the scene: The Superhero Registration Act, the crux of Marvel’s original "Civil War" event, required superheroes to ... well, register with the government. Spidey has always kept the mask on to protect his loved ones; from a young age, he knew the power his identity could give his enemies. But Tony Stark made a compelling case to come forward. And so he did. In Part 2 of “The Night the War Came Home,” Peter stands in front of a room full of reporters, pulls off his mask and says, “My name is Peter Parker and I’ve been Spider-Man since I was 15 years old.”The first personal reaction we see, fittingly enough in the context of Far From Home, is J. Jonah Jameson’s. He’s calmer than we might have thought, but still livid. “But it’s Peter who has finally succeeded in hurting me," he says to Robbie.
Spider-Man’s secret identity has been a key characteristic of the superhero since its inception. Other heroes have backup, have support systems in a way that Peter Parker has never had access to or allowed himself to rely on. His secret is integral to his survival as well as the survival of those he loves most — so to throw that out the window turns the world on its axis.
It was a surprising decision at the time, and though Peter’s world was eventually reset, in the few issues where the world knows who he is behind the mask we get to see his worst nightmares come to life. In Marvel Comics, it’s been said that the true character is the secret identity and the masked superhero just an extension. In the case of Spider-Man, we care about Peter Parker and his relationships. After his reveal in #533 of Amazing Spider-Man, we spend nearly the entire issue with Pete out of the costume, sinking into the anxiety of what he’s done and dealing with the ramifications: angry citizens, a lawsuit from the Bugle. There's a single great page of Peter pulling off the mask, surrounded by images of his greatest enemies finding out the news, followed by a full bleed of the same page, but this time it’s fellow heroes. And then someone tries to shoot him — Peter Parker. Not Spider-Man.
It’s not for a few more issues in ASM #535 that Peter realizes his mistake, but by then it’s too late. After breaking with Tony Stark and losing any security that Tony’s money afforded him, Pete, MJ, and May end up on their own, and that’s when things come to a head. In "Back in Black," Peter goes on a rampage after Aunt May is shot by an assassin hired by Kingpin, further driving a wedge between himself and his Spider-identity. When Spidey is a secret, he can fit into Peter’s life as a piece, used as a tool. When he’s out in the open, Peter has to contend with both parts and make hard choices as a man and as a superhero. He knows that Spider-Man represents something bigger than himself to the world at large, so how do you handle it when the two identities bleed into each other? Peter himself isn’t sure. There are a few pages in #536 where he has an imagined conversation with his 16-year-old self and … he’s got nothin’. There are no great pieces of advice beyond “wear sunscreen.” Which is, uh, not that great.Peter Parker’s life is a constant balance between Spider-Man’s antics and how they impact the human part of him, and how hard they make his life, but he’s managed to keep his security by distancing the name Peter Parker from that of Spider-Man. When the two are put together in a single sentence, his life falls apart.
I don’t know what Spidey’s future in the MCU looks like, but I know it won’t be easy.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.