Aunt May’s shocking death is a tragic moment in Spider-Man history…but Marvel fans forget that Peter Parker wasn’t the only one mourning.
Marvel’s Spider-Man has lost plenty of loved ones during his tenure as a superhero, but the death of Aunt May was undoubtedly the most devastating. The character has stayed with the series through thick and thin, comforting Peter Parker and sticking by him even as he pushed everyone else away. In Amazing Spider-Man #400, the character sadly passed away…but Spider-Man fans forget the dark secret that was perched – literally – above May as she died.
The 90s was a time of profound change in comics. This was the decade of the so-called shocking events, in which characters would change irrevocably (or so the cover promised). Batman’s back was broken by a surprising new villain, Green Lantern became evil, and even Superman died after fighting Doomsday that rivaled even his own strength. Seeing the sales of the Distinguished Competition, Marvel created the Clone Saga to serve as Spider-Man’s own massive event, and Ben Reilly – a character from a previous clone-centric story – returned to cause considerable controversy among the Spider-Man fandom.
In Amazing Spider-Man #400, the elderly Aunt May recovers from her latest stint at the hospital and finally confesses to Peter her own secret: she’s known he was Spider-Man for years. She was horribly worried at first, but after seeing everything her nephew has accomplished as the webslinger, she’s immensely proud of him and his accomplishments. Later that night, she dies peacefully in her bed at home before a crying Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Unbeknownst to all of them, Ben Reilly sits on the roof of the Parker household, hearing everything.
Ben Reilly is a perfect clone of Peter Parker, meaning that he has all of Peter’s memories up to the moment he was cloned. This includes his entire childhood, the fateful spider bite, Uncle Ben’s death, and his entire life with Aunt May. In this moment, Ben Reilly is Peter Parker – but since May doesn’t know that Peter was cloned, Ben is unable to see Aunt May in her final moments. It’s a truly angst-ridden scene, complete with Ben hanging his head while in costume as he cries hysterically – but his pain is easy to understand.
Aunt May would eventually be resurrected; she was replaced by an actress by the Green Goblin and was never actually dead. This naturally erased the moment in which Aunt May knew Peter was Spider-Man, but it certainly didn’t erase Ben’s pain. Spider-Man is a character defined by pain, and Aunt May’s death is particularly dark – but far, far worse for Ben Reilly than Peter Parker.
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