The first of May is traditionally known as “May Day“. Pagan celebrations, dancing around poles and shot down fighter planes aside, “May Day” is also a good time to appreciate one of the greatest maternal figures in comic book history, Spider-man’s very own Aunt May!
Born May Reilly in Brooklyn, New York on May 5th, Aunt May has been around comics since 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15, which was the debut of Peter Parker and Spider-man. Let’s revisit some of Aunt May’s best, & worst, moments over the years.
In her youth, a naive May Reilly was about to fall in love with a small-time crook who was going to propose to her. Eventually, she developed affections for Ben Parker and over time, they were married.
After Peter’s parents Richard & Mary Parker had died in a plane crash, Uncle Ben and Aunt May took Peter into their home to raise him as their own. Ben immediately took to the role of father figure for young Peter, however May was at first reluctant, fearing having a child in their home would disrupt their marriage. Eventually she settled into caring and providing for the Parker men in the household.
Shortly after Peter was bitten by that radioactive spider, he started using his “Spider-Man” costumed identity to earn money in pro wrestling. A burglar that he could have stopped during a robbery but didn’t had eventually found his way to the Parker residence, gunning down Uncle Ben and leaving Aunt May a grief-stricken widow. Although Peter, as Spider-Man, brought Uncle Ben’s killer to justice, the shock and tragedy of witnessing her husband murdered in cold blood had changed Aunt May forever. It was just her and Peter now, and thus Aunt May began to dote over her nephew like never before.
Money and Medicine
With Uncle Ben gone, the Parker household was short their bread-winner. Fortunately, Peter was able to parlay his adventures as Spidey into a freelance photography career for the Daily Bugle, which helped make ends meet. However, this was the start of lots of money problems for them both. Not only did they have living expenses, but Aunt May’s health began to fail consistently due to her advancing age, sometimes to the point where Peter had to go the extra mile to secure funds for proper medical care. One time, Spider-Man himself went through all sorts of heck to get a rare serum to save his aunt. (See “The Final Chapter“).
As with most old ladies, Aunt May was quite the busybody. Conspiring with her good friend Anna Watson, May schemed to set up her nephew Peter with Anna’s niece Mary Jane Watson. Peter avoided the set-up for several months, for some odd reason not wanting to have to deal with who was likely a nice girl with a great personality who was not-so-easy on the eyes. Look, we’ve all been there before and being caught in a matchmaking is never fun, but lo and behold when Peter met Mary Jane.
I’ll bet he never doubted his Aunt May’s skills again after that!
Aside from dearly departed Uncle Ben, Aunt May had several gentleman admirers in her time. She once dated Otto Octavius, better known as Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis Doctor Octopus. Pretty sure Peter was beside himself over that one, to the point where as Spidey he had to intervene to thwart their wedding from happening. May realized that Doc Ock was only using her to get at the land she inherited in order to gain access to a nuclear reactor that was on it. But imagine the wedding night with Doc Ock…??? On second thought, let’s not!
Aunt May later started a romance with one of her boarders, a wheelchair-bound old man named Nathan Lubensky. Nathan was generally a good person and got along great with Peter and the family, however he had his own personal demons as well. That relationship ended in tragedy when Nathan suffered a heart attack and died while trying to protect his beloved Aunt May from the threat of another of Spider-Man’s villains– Adrian Toomes, better known as The Vulture. Toomes had actually befriended Lubensky from a time spent together in a nursing home. Filled with regret, he later sought out Aunt May for forgiveness, but she refused to do so.
Years later, in an unexpected development, Aunt May fell in love with J. Jonah Jameson!!!! Senior, actually. The father of the cigar-chomping, hot-headed, Spidey-hating long-time editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle (now New York City mayor), John Jonah Jameson was almost the polar opposite of his rageaholic spawn. The two hit it off instantly, so much so that a visiting Peter Parker once caught them in bed together (ewwwwww!!! what has been seen cannot be un-seen!)
Jameson eventually married Aunt May, making an honest woman out of her once more. And thank goodness for that!!! Who knows how many beds Aunt May might have sullied during her wake of torrid escapa…. let’s move on, shall we?
You know how in comics pretty much every superhero has died by now? (See this funny post on UnderScoopFIRE about The Death and Return of Superman)
Well, Aunt May died. Not once!!! Not twice!! But a few times! Let’s look back on them.
The first “death of Aunt May” story, albeit poorly timed to coincide with the return of the Peter Parker clone and the eventual “Maximum Clonage” storyline which ran for a good year or so, was a HUGE event in comics history. So much so that the deed was done in Amazing Spider-Man #400, which had a special (I shit you not) tombstone cover!
As the story went, Aunt May had just come out of a coma, during which time Peter was running around as Spider-Man dealing with the revelation that his clone, named Ben Reilly (taking his uncle’s first name and his aunt’s maiden name) was running about. During a walk with her nephew, May revealed to Peter that she had known all along that he was Spider-Man and gave her blessing for his years of heroic deeds in the name of Uncle Ben. It was a touching and fitting last goodbye as she literally expired on her deathbed moments later.
But then, what does Marvel do? Ohhhh, they couldn’t leave well enough alone, could they? They BRING AUNT MAY BACK FROM THE DEAD, explaining it away that the Aunt May we saw die in the overpriced, overhyped special edition 400th issue of Amazing, that I shelled out a lotta coin for and bought several copies of, was a “genetically-altered” actress hired by Norman Osborn (a.k.a. “The Green Goblin”). That the REAL Aunt May was still alive and held captive by villains. So Spidey finds her, she’s never known about her nephew’s secret, she proceeds to don an apron and cook up a fresh batch of wheatcakes like nothing happened and all is well with the Spidey-verse again!!
When Marvel started a “Marvel Knights” line of comics focusing on the more street-level heroes (Daredevil, The Punisher, Elektra: Assassin), Spidey was eventually added to that mix. During the first few story arcs of MK: Spider-Man, Aunt May was abducted, leaving a distraught Peter Parker swinging around the city and fighting a variety of super-villains trying to find her. Eventually, after fighting off the newly formed supervillain group The Sinister Twelve, Spidey was face-to-face with a returning Green Goblin who revealed to Peter that his Aunt was not “down among the dead men” just yet. With that clue in hand and minutes to spare, Peter found Aunt May buried alive with a limited air supply inside of the coffin of his Uncle Ben!!!
Until years later, that is. During Marvel’s Civil War event, which saw heroes divided and battling it out over a controversial government legislation called the Superhero Registration Act, Spider-man had actually switched sides, moving from Iron Man’s pro-registration team to Captain America’s anti-registration outlaws. However, this wasn’t long after Spider-man had gone on live television and revealed his secret identity to the world. As such, Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May were on the run from the cops, the feds, Iron Man’s pro-registration superheroes and, most importantly, villains out for revenge. Unfortunately, it was the latter that brought down Aunt May for a third time. Marvel’s most notorious crimelord the Kingpin, although in prison, orchestrated an assassination attempt on Peter Parker’s life by hiring a sniper to track and kill him. Locating the Parkers who were inconspicuously holed up in a motel, the sniper waited for hours until Peter returned from what was to be the climactic final battle of the Civil War. Once Peter walked in to spend time with his wife and Aunt… BLAM!! The shot rang out and a Parker was down. It wasn’t Peter, however, but Aunt May who took the bullet.
Subsequently,with Aunt May again on her death bed with no chance of survival, Peter and Mary Jane, after exhausting all options to save her, were finally approached by the demon Mephisto and made a deal with him. They pretty much sacrificed their marriage and all memory of its existence in exchange for another chance for Aunt May to live. The “One More Day” storyline in the Spidey books was again controversial, as it pretty much used Aunt May’s death as a plot device to get rid of the Parker marriage.
In the media
Aunt May also enjoyed a long stretch of appearances on-screen as well as in print. She and much of Spidey’s supporting cast are also mainstays in the Spider-Man comic strips published in several daily newspapers. On television, Aunt May was a character in most of the Spider-Man cartoons, the most memorable being her run on the early 1980’s Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends series. Just as aloof and dotish as she was in the books, Spider-Friends Aunt May kept house for Peter Parker as well as two college student boarders who turned out to be the mutants Iceman and Firestar. Most times, May stayed in Queens and looked after their dog Ms. Lion.
Aunt May was also in the 1990’s Spider-Man cartoon series that aired on Fox Kids.
Aunt May returns years later in the short-lived Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon series. Here she keeps her white hair, but looks decidedly younger than in the previous versions.
Cartoon Aunt May can currently be found on Disney XD’s current Ultimate Spider-Man series. Due to popular demand from our readers, here’s a pic of her doing yoga!
In the movies, Aunt May was played in the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man trilogy by veteran actress Rosemary Harris. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the impact among some fanboys of Aunt May’s freak-out scene in Spidey 1 when The Green Goblin busts in on her while she’s saying her bedtime prayers.
In 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man movie (ugh!) reboot and its sequel, Aunt May was played by former Gidget, Cannonball Run and Forrest Gump actress Sally Field! I am not a huge fan of film reboots, but can admit that this may have been creative casting of Mrs. Field as a younger May Parker for the silver screen.
In the latest twist, Sony and Marvel announced a partnership that will bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starting with Spider-Man’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War and continuing in the upcoming reboot (ugh! that word again!) movie Spider-Man: Homecoming, Aunt May will be played by Oscar-winning actress and A Different World alum Marisa Tomei– the youngest version of Aunt May yet!
Several Marvel Comics both in and out of the regular 616 universe have shown us the many more faces and versions of May Parker.
A long, long, loooooooooooooooooooong time ago (back when comics cost 60 cents!), Aunt May teamed up with Franklin Richards, the superpowered son of Fantastic Four members Reed and Sue Richards, to take on the world devourer known as Galactus. I kid you not, Aunt May was actually empowered as a herald of Galactus during this issue (think Silver Surfer, only with silver hair!). This was fortunately just a forgettable one-shot, never to be repeated or brought up in the world of comics again.
In one issue of the mutant merc with a mouth Deadpool’s comic series, Deadpool had to take on various clones from the Marvel Universe. At one point in the issue, he runs into clones of Uncle Ben and Aunt May… in the buff! As with most things he runs across, Deadpool’s immediate reaction is to shoot first and crack wise at the same time.
Comic books’ Ultimate Spider-Man version of Aunt May? More hip, more modern, more astute (she figures out Peter’s secret a lot sooner than the original version), and apparently not to be fucked with!
Granted, she outlived Ultimate Peter Parker (RIP) but is enjoying life overseas with… um… I don’t even wanna explain Ultimate Gwen Stacy in this article.
Aunt May also appeared in the Spider-Verse story-line in comics which featured every version of Spider-Man from various dimensions appearing and converging to do battle vs. the worst threat imaginable– one of the Spideys came from a universe where Aunt May was the one bitten by the radioactive spider and became “The Spider-Ma’am”.
Finally, in Marvel’s MC2 comics universe (Earth 982), Aunt May’s death in Amazing Spider-Man #400 actually held true. There was no “genetically-altered” actress and no coming back from the grave. Also different from the regular Marvel Comics continuity, Peter and Mary Jane’s unborn daughter actually survives and is born a healthy baby girl. The Parkers name her after their departed aunt, and so May “Mayday” Parker is born!
May Parker went on to assume the mantle of the Spider-Man costume that her father wore, becoming the highly popular Spider-Girl.
In closing, kudos to you, Aunt May. Without you, there’d be no Peter Parker and no Spider-Man, and damn it, that makes you an awesome lady! Oh, and those wheatcakes are slammin!