When Spider-Man publicly unmasked as Peter Parker, it changed his life…and also ruined what made him the most famous Marvel superhero.
Marvel’s Spider-Man guards his secret identity closely – because revealing it wouldn’t just ruin his life, but ruin the appeal of the entire character. Peter Parker is often stylized as the Everyman of the Marvel Universe, doing his best to balance his personal life with his life as a superhero. Peter has on occasion told others about his Spider-Man secret identity (and the occasional supervillain has also unmasked him from time to time), but in What If…? Civil War #1, he is unmasked in a different context altogether – after he’s dead.
Spider-Man’s debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1963 was different from any other superhero story on the market at the time. Peter didn’t come from a wealthy family, he wasn’t well-liked at school, and most notably, he wasn’t the teen sidekick to the main hero but the hero himself. Over the years, he developed a name for himself as Spider-Man, and while the city of New York certainly had mixed feelings about the wallcrawler, he quickly made many friends within the superhero community. Peter Parker was famous – but only among his inner circle, and no one would notice him without the costume.
This changes in Civil War, where Peter Parker publicly unmasks to help Iron Man’s pro-registration side. The move backfires spectacularly and Peter’s life is nearly ruined by the amount of attention turned toward him and his friends and family. Peter nearly dies as a result of his decisions – but in What If…? Civil War #1, he actually does die, killed by a stray shot during a heated battle between heroes and Sentinels. In the morgue, SHIELD agents unmask Spider-Man’s body (in this reality, he had yet to unmask publicly) and no one knows his face. “Just some guy,” muses the coroner. “Nobody important.”
Peter immediately loses his everyman status whenever he’s unmasked. While a public unmasking is often the next step for a superhero (see Captain America in 2001 when he publicly revealed his identity as Steve Rogers), Spider-Man would lose his appeal as the stand-in for the reader. Marvel is aware of this and has taken great pains to retcon all of Spider-Man’s unmasking moments in the comics (see the end of Spider-Man: One More Day) and even the MCU (the end of Spider-Man: No Way Home).
In fact, the only correct way to unmask Peter is after his death – which is exactly what happens here. The “Just some guy” comment is precisely who Spider-Man is: Peter wasn’t born special at all, and aside from his intelligence, is just another face in the crowd. Whenever Spider-Man unmasks, he becomes a celebrity like Iron Man or Reed Richards, which is precisely who he should never become.
Next: Spider-Man Can’t Have Children, And Marvel Shows Exactly Why
One-Punch Man’ Saitama Finally Admits He’s Not A Hero