Who is the love of Spider-Man‘s life – Mary Jane Watson or Gwen Stacy? Peter Parker may continually complain about his bad luck, but over the years lots of other guys – including Flash Thompson and the Human Torch – have found themselves envying “Puny Parker.” He’s been at the heart of some of the most iconic love stories in comics.
Gwen Stacy came first, created by Stan Lee, modeled on his beloved wife Joan. She was a staple of early issues of Amazing Spider-Man, until she was tragically killed by the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #125.
Peter’s romance with Mary Jane progressed a lot further, with the two actually marrying, although the marriage was eventually retconned out of continuity because Marvel’s editorial team felt readers couldn’t relate to a superhero who was married to a model. But which one is Peter Parker’s one true love?
The answer, surprisingly, was revealed in 2005’s “House of M” event. Driven insane and under the influence of a powerful demon, Scarlet Witch rewrote reality, creating a twisted world where Earth’s superhumans had received the deepest desires of their hearts. It was hardly a paradise, because she’d granted Magneto his greatest wishes as well, and as a result this world was ruled by mutants. Crucially, though, for Spider-Man it meant a life in which he had married Gwen Stacy and started a family with her. Mary Jane was nothing more than a movie star who he crossed paths with every now and again.
On the face of it, “House of M” settles the question once and for all; given a choice between Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy, Peter would choose Gwen. However, there is another aspect that needs to be factored into all this; Gwen’s death, which Peter always felt responsible for, given she had been targeted because of his secret identity as Spider-Man. Their relationship was still only in its early days, tinged with adolescent hope and longing, before either of them really had to come to grips with the reality of making romance work in a complicated world. Peter’s fantasies of Gwen Stacy symbolize his longing for a more innocent world, one without tragedy and loss, so much simpler than the life he had to navigate with Mary Jane – and a whole lot less real. He is like a man thinking back to his first crush, ‘the one that got away,’ and imagining an idyllic life with her – but amplified a hundredfold because of Gwen’s death.
Unfortunately, more recent comics have seen Peter Parker alone, his love life having imploded after some mysterious and terrible thing he did just prior to 2022’s new Amazing Spider-Man run from Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr. While he was prepared to move in with Mary Jane and perhaps even propose (redeeming their erased marriage), MJ and Spider-Man are currently separated with Watson now having her own family. To make matters worse, the recent Judgment Day crossover saw Peter being haunted by Gwen Stacy’s ghost due to the Progenitor Celestial taking her form. That being said, it’s possible that Spider-Man may try to start a new romance with Black Cat in the near future, a surprising yet exciting turn of events.
Regardless, it seems as though Mary Jane will never be able to compete with Gwen Stacy. Even when they were married, every year at the anniversary of Gwen’s death Spider-Man returned to the George Washington Bridge and remembered her. But Spider-Man’s grief for Gwen was always tinged with self-pity, as he mourned what her death meant for his life as well.