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Quick question: what’s the darkest and most unsettling part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Loki sucking out that dude’s eye in The Avengers? The fact I had to see a good boy teenager get dusted because of a decision Tony Stark made? (I forgave one of these things and not the other; guess which one!) The entire runtime of Dr. Strange?
These are all fine and worthy contenders. The last 11 (!) years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have given all of us plenty of nightmares. But I put it to you, dear reader, that the most horrifying story in the entirety of the MCU has nothing to do with saving the world, but, rather, the life of one Mr. Roger Harrington, Peter Parker’s science teacher.
Mr. Harrington’s life is, quite frankly, a waking nightmare. Sure, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a rough old place for the average Jane, what with all the alien invasions, Snaps, Blips, and property damage, but Mr. Harrington’s life seems outlandishly bleak, especially for someone hanging out in the John Hughes-lite branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Things seemed to be going so well for Mr. Harrington when we met him all those years ago in The Incredible Hulk as a promising grad student. I know we don’t talk about the Edward Norton Hulk a lot, but it does have Liv Tyler in it, which is more than I can say for films that do not have Liv Tyler in them.
If you’ve forgotten, there’s a scene where Bruce Banner desperately needs access to his old lab at Culver University (The Fighting Culvers!). Lucky for him, he finds himself in possession of the universal currency that is pizza. And it’s a young Roger Harrington (yes, this has been confirmed by Kevin Feige, I’m not making this up) who falls prey to the siren call of pizza and allows Bruce illicit access.This barely ranks with the worst Tony Stark has done, but for this sin, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has decided to make Mr. Harrington its chew toy.
Fast forward nine (or however many years, the MCU timeline isn’t exactly tidy) years, and Mr. Harrington is now a science teacher at the Midtown School of Science and Technology who also serves as the coach for the Academic Decathlon Team.
A grad student going on to have a steady job with benefits is something to celebrate in this economy, but that’s just about the only thing to celebrate in Mr. Harrington’s life. While he comes off as a well-meaning, if anxious, dork of a teacher, it’s only in the aftermath of Spider-Man rescuing his classmates from the Washington Monument that we begin to discover that something isn’t it. When interviewed by the school news, Mr. Harrington says, "As you know, we made it out alive. And that's the important thing. I couldn't bear to lose a student on a school trip. Not again."
This is possibly the darkest joke ever made in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—or at least, it was until Rhodey mimed garroting baby Thanos in Infinity War: Endgame for, if I recall correctly, five straight minutes. How does a student die on a school trip with no one getting fired? How is Mr. Harrington allowed to take students on trips out of the state, let alone out of the country, if a kid died on his watch? This can only be the dark will of the universe at work here.
Things only get worse in Spider-Man: Far From Home. We discover that Mr. Harrington survived the Snap, leaving him to mourn all of his students, friends, and families who perished, including his wife. Except his wife didn’t get snapped; she faked her own death in order to run away with her secret boyfriend. And this is his second wife if a deleted scene from Spider-Man: Homecoming can be considered in play at this table. I said this walking out of Midsommar and I’ll say it here: this is why you break up with someone immediately instead of dragging it out like a coward. Bad things happen. REAL BAD THINGS HAPPEN.
He then spends the rest of the film as Nick Fury’s increasingly agitated puppet, his agency a cruel joke in the eyes of S.H.I.E.L.D., even nature claiming his camera. What happened to the young, bright-eyed, pizza-loving grad student we met in 2008? What could make the universe turn against someone with such beard potential as someone played by Martin Starr?
Peter Parker, that’s what.
Back on Earth-616 in the original Spider-Man comics, Peter Parker came to us as a friendless nerd. Attending Midtown High in a time that may or may not be the 1960s (comics!), Peter’s love of science and lack of physical prowess made him a target for bullying. Being raised by his elderly aunt and uncle didn’t exactly give him anyone to talk about the trials and tribulations of being both a teen and, afterward, Spider-Man. Hiding his identity from the people he cared most about was kind of a major thing for him, and, as we know, that takes a toll on your mental health. And once he enters the working world… well, could you be employed by J. Jonah Jameson and not spend your lunch breaks crying in the bathroom? We actually never see Peter do that, but c’mon, he’s only (spider) human.
But the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Peter Parker is different, and I’m not just talking about that Tony Stark, Jr. stuff. He’s hardly a friendless loser with no one to talk to. Peter’s a geek, both academically (SCIENCE!) and culturally (STAR WARS!), but it’s the twenty-teens: this is a cultural landscape where being a nerd or a geek no longer makes you a social pariah. He’s adorkable, kind, and has the kind of support system the OG Earth-616 Peter would kill for: best friend Ned, a supercool Aunt May, and love interest/Murderino MJ. Yes, he gets picked on by the popular kids, but that’s for being uncool and having an easily vulgarized name (an easy mistake to make), not for his love of Lady Science. He’s clearly on the path to greatness as both Peter Parker, Stark intern, and Spider-Man, Iron Man intern.
So Peter Parker used to have bad luck. Now, he has good luck. And if I remember my science correctly, matter cannot be created or destroyed, only redistributed. So where did all that bad luck go?
(If you said Venom, I’m sorry, you’re incorrect about that unimpeachable work of genius. Try again.)Mr. Harrington’s life has been a litany of woe because that free-floating bad luck was out there, searching for someone that reminded it of home: a bright-eyed, down on his luck grad student yearning for pizza. That’s right: Mr. Harrington has been absorbing all of Peter’s bad luck ever since Peter was old enough to hack a Wii.
Because of this, Peter’s basically gotten off scot-free — except for the daddy issues, which he doesn’t even have for his own father figure! Then again, it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe: all protagonists are assigned daddy issues at the door (Carol, you’re excused), so that doesn’t even count.
It’s enough to haunt your dreams: imagine the universe just deciding to treat you like that hall closet at your mom’s house nobody opens but is integral to keeping the rest of the house presentable. At the very least, Mr. Harrington deserves to go fishing — maybe he can catch a freaking break.
Or, you know what, let’s go one better: maybe it’s time for Mr. Harrington to go rogue against the Powers that Be. Spider-Man: Far From Home showed us how those wronged by the heroes and villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe can become villains themselves. Maybe it’s time for Mr. Harrington to go rogue and punch a Watcher in the face to take back control of his destiny from the terrible forces of the universe.
Kevin Feige, call me.
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.