Elizabeth "Betty" Brant is a long time friend and ex-girlfriend of Peter Parker. Betty has long been a part of Peter's life, and Spider-Man has often been a part of hers.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Betty grew up with her single mother, Eleonore, and her older brother, Bennett. After Bennett started hanging out with Gordon Savinski, the two men accumulated a hefty gambling debt owed to the gangster, Blackie Gaxton. Betty had been dating Gordon, but the relationship was cut off when he bailed on the Brants, leaving Bennett to face the mob. Gaxton's cronies paid a visit to the Brant home and Eleonore suffered a serious head injury in the scuffle. Betty dropped out of high school and took over her mother's old job at the Daily Bugle as J. Jonah Jameson's secretary but Gaxton kept sending criminals to harass the family into paying him back. In order to protect her family, Betty enlisted Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus, who agreed to break Blackie out of prison to erase the debt. Bennett, a lawyer, was council for Gaxton and was taken to the gangster after he escaped. Betty was taken as well, as Gaxton wanted no loose ends. Spider-Man showed up and in the resulting battle, Bennett was accidentally shot and killed by his boss. Betty blamed Spider-Man, telling him that she would hate him forever. (Amazing Spider-Man #11)
By this time, Betty and Peter had started dating. She was attracted to Peter because he was nothing like the flashy Gordon Savinski. He was polite, intelligent and most importantly, safe. She was, however, unhappy that Peter was a crime photographer, especially of crimes involving Spider-Man. She constantly worried about his safety. She was also very insecure about her status with him and became jealous and suspicious if he was seen with another woman. When Jameson sent Peter to Hollywood to get pictures of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, Betty took his apparent satisfaction as meaning that he wanted to meet beautiful actresses. As she told him "That's perfectly all right, MISTER Parker! I don't claim to be as glamorous as those starlets--or that blond Liz Allan you've been walking home from school with lately!" (Amazing Spider-Man #14) Betty got even more angry after she met Mary Jane Watson at Peter's home and demanded to know just how many girlfriends he had. (Amazing Spider-Man #26)
Betty started dating fellow Daily Bugle reporter Ned Leeds in order to make Peter jealous. While Ned and Betty didn't seem to date for very long, they did get engaged fairly quickly. (Ned was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #19 and Peter heard about Ned proposing in Amazing Spider-Man #30.) Betty wanted time to think the proposal over, as she still had feelings for Peter. Peter, however, flew off the handle after hearing about the proposal and stormed out of Betty's apartment. Peter finally told Ned in Amazing Spider-Man #39 that he wanted nothing to do with Betty. From then on, Betty and Ned only had eyes for each other and Peter started dating Gwen Stacy.
After a long engagement, Ned and Betty were married in Amazing Spider-Man #156. It was a difficult marriage, as Ned was focused on his job as a reporter and Betty resented being alone so often. Ned took out his marital frustration on Peter and Betty and Ned separated in Amazing Spider-Man #199. In a chance encounter, Betty ran into Flash Thompson as armored men were rioting across the city. Flash protected her and Betty thanked him for his bravery, all the while thinking "My husband Ned would never suggest anything that risky. And he's never here when I need him--always away on some stupid assignment for the newspaper." (Spectacular Spider-Man #96) Flash and Betty started going out to dinner with each other (Spectacular Spider-Man #98) and despite Betty trying to talk to Ned about their marriage, he blew her off. (Amazing Spider-Man #273) She was having a hard time deciding between Ned and Flash, until Ned left her. (Amazing Spider-Man #280) Ned was soon murdered by the Foreigner on orders from Jason Macendale, who mistakenly believed that Leeds was his enemy, the Hobgoblin. (Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1)
Betty took Ned's death hard and her emotional state made her easy prey for "the Teacher," the charismatic leader of a cult called The Students of Love. She was missing for several weeks after Ned was murdered, causing Peter and Flash to worry about her. During this time, she was at the cult's farm in New Jersey, at times locked up for days without food. After Peter found her at the farm, she seemed to be happy and at peace as she planted flowers. Betty was eventually kidnapped by Flash Thompson and forced, with the help of Peter and Reverend Tolliver, to come to her senses. With therapy, she over came the cult's mind control. (Web of Spider-Man #43)
Betty's next foray into mind control had the effect of boosting her self confidence. A chance encounter with a revenge plotting Mister Fear made her hallucinate that Spider-Man killed her brother and husband. Mister Fear gave her a gun and ordered her to kill Spider-Man when he arrived, as Fear's gas would also confuse the hero. Spidey talked Betty around and she instead shot the criminal. (Web of Spider-Man #63) After the experience with Mister Fear, Betty began to face her issues with men and fear of loneliness.
Betty still works for the Daily Bugle, now as a crime reporter. The teenage girl that feared for Peter Parker has now become the thrill seeker. She has taken on criminals such as F.A.C.A.D.E., Ero, the Foreigner and the Hobgoblin. She has also resumed her on again/off again romance with Flash Thompson.
OCEAN: The Big Five Personality Traits
OCEAN is an acronym for the Big Five Personality Traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.
From Betty's life story, she seems to be fairly open to new ideas, highly conscientious, introverted, agreeable but neurotic (although much less so than she used to be).
For years she had mixed feelings about Spider-Man, but after Peter revealed his identity to the world she understood that he had been trying to help her for all those years. As she explained to Deb Whitman, "My life finally makes sense! For the longest time, it seemed like Spider-Man was this...this creature who cursed my life. Ned's death and the Hobgoblin, even my poor brother...it all tied back to 'that lousy wall crawler' as Jonah calls him. And now I find out it was Peter all along." (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #15)
She is also very conscientious. She steadfastly hunted the men who murdered Ned, despite the danger that they posed. Ever Spider-Man commented, upon seeing that Betty seemingly moved out of her apartment without notice, "She's always been about as impulsive as a sequoia." (Web of Spider-Man #40)
While Gwen, Felicia and Mary Jane loved being the life of the party, Betty has never been seen out dancing. She and Ned were happy to stand on the sidelines at Flash Thompson's going away party while Gwen made MJ jealous with her dance moves. After Kraven the Hunter crashed the party, looking for Harry Osborn, Betty worries that Ned will leave her to cover the story. "I remember...when I went steady with Peter...how I'd worry whenever he left me to photograph a dangerous story. But if anything happened to Ned...I couldn't bear it!" (Amazing Spider-Man #47) All of these traits are typical of an introvert.
Betty has always been a caring woman. After Peter unmasked, she was very supportive of him. As they talked, she told him why she wasn't angry with him for never telling her his secret. "Because all I can think of is how lonely it must have been for you, carrying that secret all those years, afraid to inflict that burden on anyone else." (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #20)
She has come a long way from the nervous teenage secretary that hid under a table as the Vulture tried looting the Daily Bugle. In fact, she redeemed herself as Vulture attacked Deb Whitman's book signing to draw out Spider-Man, shooting the old man to protect Deb. (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #15) She handled her kidnapping by the Crime Master and her rescue by Agent Venom, shooting the Crime Master in the process. (Venom vol 3, #21)
Betty and The Men in Her Life: Peter, Ned and Flash
Peter and Betty were each others first loves. Yes, Betty dated Gordon first but Peter was the preferred partner. While the relationship ended years ago, Betty has said on more than one occasion that she regretted that things didn't work out differently. (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #20, Peter Parker: Spider-Man #77 and Amazing Spider-Man #184)
After a marriage to Ned and a relationship with Flash, why should Peter still be important to her? After all, it was a fairly brief pairing many years ago. Most likely its because of the primacy effect, in which the first time a person experiences something, it becomes seared into their memories. People tend to remember events from their late teens and early twenties the most vividly, even decades later. This is because the experiences are so new that they take the individual by surprise. All of the senses are engaged by the newness, creating deeply powerful memories, called "flashbulb memories." Betty did have very strong feelings for Peter when they were together. When she told him that Ned had proposed to her and Peter walked out, she tried to tell him that he was the one she loved and he always had been. (Amazing Spider-Man #30)
However, Ned was likely seen as an acceptable alternative to Peter, because he seemed to be a safer man to be around, especially after Peter arrived at the Bugle one day with bruises. He refused to quit working for the newspaper and Betty couldn't stand seeing another man she cared about putting himself in danger. (Amazing Spider-Man #33) However, Ned turned out to be a risk taker as well and was eventually forced to become a pawn of the Hobgoblin. He spent a lot of time away from his wife, either as a reporter or as the criminal's lackey. When she tried to talk to him, he got physically intimidating. Lack of emotional intimacy is a common reason why women have affairs. (Remember how Ned ignored Betty when she wanted to talk about their marriage in Amazing Spider-Man #273.) She wanted revenge for Ned's treatment of her and she found it with Flash.
While Betty claimed that she didn't want adventurous men, she did end up with Flash Thompson. As her mind first started to wander towards cheating, she realized that Flash was braver than Ned and she found that attractive. She also liked his sense of humor. (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #16) In short, Flash made her feel good and Ned didn't. (That doesn't justify her cheating, but it does explain it.) As time went on, she learned to trust Flash less and less. He developed a drinking problem, causing him to get into a car accident and became difficult to handle. He also started lying to her about where he was, which she saw right through. In a way, she was right. Ned had been secretly working for the Hobgoblin and Flash was secretly working for the U.S. government as Agent Venom. She had come to know when a man was lying to her.
Betty the Cult Survivor
An article published in the New York Times in 1982 described the typical cult member. The study had started in 1974 and found that most members were intelligent, middle to upper class and tended to be young. The average age studied was nineteen and a half and Betty was likely in her early twenties when she joined the Students of Love. It was found that emotionally vulnerable people were most likely to be indoctrinated into a cult by promises of rewards. These could be piece of mind, companionship or a place to stay. Cults also promote a "we-they philosophy:" "We have the truth and you don't."
This all fits Betty well. She was emotionally disturbed after Ned's murder and the Students offered her love and peace. All they asked for in return was for her to sell all of her possessions and give the money to The Teacher, their leader. Teacher taught that worldly possessions were corrupting and that he would remove their influence from the members troubled lives.
Three major events seem to have shaped Betty's life: caring for her sick mother as a teenager, her brother's death and her husband's death. She was forced to drop out of high school to get a job to care for her mother's medical bills and also to pay for Bennett's gambling debts. This role reversal of a child caring for their parent is called parentification. This causes the child to lose his or her place in the family, leaving them lonely and unsure of themselves. (Remember Betty getting jealous of Peter walking home from school with Liz Allan.) As adults, these people may have difficulty finding and maintaining romantic relationships.
Betty herself seemed aware of the way that the double blow of the murders of her loved ones effected her. She had coffee with Mary Jane, telling her "Ned's murder stirred a lot of unresolved grief over my brother's death. I had to work through that grief before I could get on with my life." (Web of Spider-Man #66) Betty likely never sought treatment for witnessing Bennett's death, which left her depressed. This underlying depression, as she herself said, was stirred up after Ned's death and made her vulnerable to the cult.
Betty Brant isn't a terrible person, she just hasn't properly dealt with the trauma she has experienced in her life: being raised by a single parent (who became dependent on her after a traumatic head injury), her brother's gambling debts and murder, Ned's death and partnership with Hobgoblin, the emotional strain of an alcoholic boyfriend, the cult experience and various kidnappings. Her new, pro-active attitude towards life is a strong indicator that she will improve her emotional stability. She has proven strong enough to stare down murderous criminals, so therapy should be fairly simple.