Comics : What If? (Vol. 2) #21

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: What If, Whenever, Wherever...

This review was first published on: 2008.

Background...

In this what-if scenario, Peter Parker has chosen to not marry Mary Jane Watson. After she received serious injuries from Alistaire Smythe's spider-slayer, he begins to reconsider his marriage proposal. Since she is unable to defend herself against his enemies, should they uncover his identity, he worries that he would be responsible for her death.

Some time after calling off the wedding, he restarted his relationship with the Black Cat whom he feels is more compatible with his lifestyle. He eventually proposed to her, hoping that eventually she would temper her reckless behavior. However these impulses die hard as she can't resist dropping by Mary Jane's apartment and rubbing her engagement to Peter in her face.

Unknown to either of them, an opportunistic man has overheard their exchange. Having the knowledge that MJ was engaged to Peter Parker combined with the information from Black Cat's public rant, he has managed to uncover Spider-Man's secret identity. He is currently looking to sell this information to the highest bidder.

In Detail...

"What if Spider-Man had married the Black Cat?"
What If? (Vol. 2) #21
Jan 1991 : SM Guest
Editor:  Craig Anderson
Writer:  Danny Fingeroth
Pencils:  Jim Valentino
Inker:  Chris Ivy
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Review
Articles: Silver Sable

The unidentified man makes contact with one of Spider-Man's enemies and sets up a meeting in the alley behind Loew's Paradise at 3 AM. The agreed price for Spider-Man's secret identity is one million dollars.

Peter and Felicia travel to Niagara Falls and are married at one of the local chapels under the aliases of "Peter Palmer" and "Felicia Harvey". Their honeymoon doesn't last too long as Felicia is "not in the mood". Peter immediately knows how to fix that: they return to New York and resume patrol as Spider-Man and the Black Cat. This puts Felicia in a more agreeable mood. Peter realizes that despite everything else that has transpired, she is love with "Spider-Man". He hopes that this will change.

More time passes. Peter returns to his classic red-and-blue costume as he and Felicia try to make their marriage work. One night after capturing some thieves, Felicia is upset. She dislikes the fact that they have to live in separate locations to preserve his secret identity. Peter reminds her that while her identity is public, his isn't. It wouldn't take much to make the logical leap that if the wife of Peter Parker is running around with Spider-Man, then Peter Parker is Spider-Man; all his loved ones would be in jeopardy. Felicia quips that she's his "loved one .. and I can't live in the same house with you".

Weeks later, Felicia meets Peter as his apartment and goes into a jealous rage over a birthday card he received from Mary Jane. Peter denies her claims that MJ is trying to steal him and politely asks to not open his mail. Felicia is absolutely livid and shreds the birthday card and threatens to do the same to Mary Jane if she tries this again. As she walks away, Peter is visibly disappointed.

The informant meets with his contact, who turns out to be the Vulture, for the payoff. The Vulture kills him after he divulges Spider-Man's secret identity, smiling as he flies away. His first act is to detonate a bomb in Aunt May's house. He then calls Peter directly and informs him that he knows who he is and that his aunt is dead.

Changing to Spider-Man he makes his way to Queens and discovers May's house is destroyed. The fire department has finally gained control of the flames that resulting from the explosion. Overhearing one of them mention checking the basement, he beats them to the punch and frantically clears the rubble. He finds Aunt May in the basement, shaken but otherwise alive. He learns that six of the tenants did not survive the explosion. Peter then turns May over to the paramedics and begins looking for the Vulture.

He correctly guesses that the Vulture's next target will be Felicia. He has filled her apartment with knockout gas and was about to kill her when he appears and severely beats him. The Vulture is unconcerned what Spider-Man does to him; he tells Spider-Man that if he doesn't kill him, someone will due to Black Cat's reckless behavior. Filled with rage, Spider-Man prepares to deliver the death blow until the just-arriving Silver Sable tells him to stop. With her is Paladin and the Sandman. They have been tracking the Vulture for the bounty and happen to find him just in time. After he calms down, Spider-Man takes Felicia's unconscious body and leaves for an isolated rooftop.

When she regains consciousness, Peter asks her a few direct questions. Felicia reluctantly admits that she "may have" mentioned his name when she "ran into" Mary Jane, but claims she didn't reveal his secret identity. Angrily Peter reminds her that there are indirect ways of doing that, one of which she has chosen. All it takes is the wrong person to overhear two public figures (a super-model and a reformed criminal) arguing over a common boyfriend, which ultimately leads to this. Peter has reached his limit with Felicia and ends their relationship, swinging away. Felicia is in tears as he leaves, weeping over "Peter" instead of "Spider".

Peter considers going to Mary Jane to discuss what a wreck his life has become but decides against it. He later arrives at the Symkarian Embassy to collect his part of the reward for the Vulture. Silver Sable notices his demeanor and uncharacteristically offers to be a sympathetic ear. An hour later he has given Silver the basics of his dilemma and they realize that they have both experienced tragedy in their lives that have motivated them to live this type of life.

Several days later the Vulture stages an escape from Ryker's Island Penitentiary. He barely makes it to the first wall before he is killed in cold blood by an unidentified assailant. His last words are "Spider-Man".

As Mary Jane enters her darkened apartment, Peter tells her that he's "all mixed up" and needs to talk. The light from the hallway reveals that he is sitting on the couch in costume, with his mask off. Her date "Brad" asks what's going on. She says that it's nobody, trying to delay Brad long enough to give Peter time to leave without being seen. Peter takes this harder than she expected and promises to not bother her again. As he leaves Mary Jane looks on wistfully.

Outside MJ's apartment, Peter is caught by the Sandman, who with Silver Sable, accuse him of killing the Vulture. He of course denies this, but they don't believe him. Mary Jane appears in the alley - having ditched her date to look into the commotion. She backs up Spider-Man's claim, having known him for a long time. Silver orders her to leave, but MJ refuses until Spider-Man is released.

At this point, Spider-Man escapes Sandman's hold and the alley erupts in gunfire. Felicia swings in and saves MJ from being hit by any stray bullets, taking her to the first-story ledge. She admits that she killed Vulture not Spider-Man. When Silver accuses her of taking MJ hostage, Felicia tells them that's not her style and tells MJ to crawl inside the next window. On her way to the window, MJ slips and begins to fall. Spider-Man instinctively saves MJ from her fall and Paladin - misreading the situation - shoots Felicia three times in the chest, causing her to fall to the ground.

Spider-Man wants to take Felicia to the hospital but she tells him that it wouldn't help; Paladin's too accurate. With her dying breath she tells Spider-Man that she did what had to be done and that she loves him. Spider-Man looks up to a tearful Mary Jane. They silently exchange one last look before MJ turns the corner and walks away. Silver Sable escorts Spider-Man away from the arriving press, eager to get a statement from him about the death of the Vulture and being cleared of any charges.

It takes a great deal of time for Peter to accept the loss of Felicia. When he eventually does, he finds himself spending more time with Silver Sable. Sporadic moments in which he and Silver share their true thoughts and feelings become more frequent until they find themselves in a romantic relationship.

It is at this point The Watcher ends his story. He informs the audience that "for the time being [they have] found solace and comfort in each other". He does not reveal whether their relationship continues to develop or if meets the same fate as Peter's other relationships. For now they are happy with what they have.

In General...

Overall I was impressed with this two parter. This relies less on fitting into established continuity than part one as it fully explores this new reality. I have a two issues I want to point out before I continue.

One was the meeting between the Vulture and his informant. From the first page, it would seem that their initial meeting would be that night. When they finally show their meeting it occurs after the birthday card shredding sequence, which is a "few weeks later". It should have been placed closer to the beginning and give readers a nice feeling of impending doom to underlie the more direct problems Peter has with Felicia.

The other would be the aspect of Peter and Felicia getting married under assumed names. This makes sense in that the Black Cat's identity is public knowledge. However I see the Black Cat as being indifferent to the concept of marriage, so this would be mostly a formality for Peter. Sure it's probably not legal, but in this reality, Peter wants to be married and will ignore things like that. Felicia was excited at the prospect of being married, but I think that she was more excited about "keeping" Peter and spiting Mary Jane than anything.

Overall - in this reality - Peter's decision to marry the Black Cat was a poor choice. It brought him nothing but misery and near tragedy. The additional lengths that they had to go to maintain his secret identity caused Felicia to become even more bitter and jealous. Felicia wasn't excited about being married to Peter Parker; she was excited about being married to Spider-Man. From the honeymoon night until May was almost killed, her behavior proves that. She somewhat redeemed herself when she cleared Spider-Man of killing the Vulture, at the cost of her life.

The final meeting between Spider-Man and Mary Jane in the alley is done quickly but has a lasting effect. Why didn't they try to reconcile after Felicia died? Perhaps MJ finally understands Peter's reasons for calling off the wedding. Perhaps Peter's pride won't let him admit that all this might not have happened if they had been married. Perhaps that they simultaneously realize that for the time being, they can't be together.

And that brings us to the end of the story: Spider-Man and Silver Sable. This too makes a great deal of sense, given the situation. Peter has limited options and Silver did indicate that she was concerned for him as a person as well as an employee. In "reality" she is much less given to emotions; she's all business all the time. Which is why this seems to be an odd way to end the story, but that's the direction that it was heading.

The one thing that can be learned from this is that Peter Parker wants to get married. He wants to emulate the kind of loving environment in which he was raised. As this story illustrates, other options are not nearly as successful as one would hope. The most obvious choice is Mary Jane who loves him dearly, is understanding almost to a fault, and whose situation allows him to continue his role as Spider-Man without compromising his identity. Try to find another character strong enough to be the wife of an unappreciated super hero.

Overall Rating...

The minor complaints that I have do not detract from the overall story. This continues to be a well thought out story with logical choices made at each turn. This has been a textbook example of how a "What If" story should be written: some adherence to continuity (a lot in this case) and a logical, interesting extrapolation of what would happen if history did branch off from one point in time. Bonus points for making me want to read the original issues again.

Footnote...

As of this writing, Joe Quesada has decided to annul the marriage of Peter and MJ. You can find out what happened in Amazing Spider-Man #545. I'm disgusted with the manner in which they were separated and the new direction that results from it. I'm sure that it will be reversed when sales drop, but it will take time to convince them that they're wrong. In the meantime, I'm in Spider-Man limbo with no new stories as I have dropped Amazing Spider-Man from my reading list. This was not an easy decision.