[This story contains spoilers for Spider-Man No. 1.]
The first issue of Spider-Man, the five-part comic book series by J.J. Abrams, his son Henry and artist Sara Pichelli is in comic stores today, revealing the previously unknown secret behind the series — and it’s a pretty big one. While Marvel had been promoting the miniseries as an event due to its creative talent, plot details had remained under wraps beyond the promise of a new villain called Cadaverous. With the release of the first issue, the reason for that becomes clear: The series is set in an alternate timeline where Cadaverous has killed Spider-Man’s wife, Mary Jane, and focuses not on Peter Parker, but on Peter and Mary Jane’s son, Ben — a teenager with both emotional issues and spider-powers, thanks to his parents.
That’s not to say that Peter Parker doesn’t appear in the issue, because he does show up — as a somewhat deadbeat dad, leaving the task of raising Ben to his Aunt May, while he escapes into his work rather than deal with the great responsibility of dealing with his son. (Peter also seems to have retired as Spider-Man, although this is unclear; if he has, it might be because he only has one hand, the other lost as a result of the battle with Cadaverous, which opens the issue in flashback.)
It’s purposefully unclear where the story goes from the end of this first issue — in an editorial at the end of the issue, editor Nick Lowe boasts, “this story goes in so many unpredictable directions that I WISH I could just blurt out” — but it appears on the evidence of this first issue that, unlike other recent high-profile Marvel comics launches, Spider-Man is intended to exist entirely separately from the central comic book universe of the rest of the Marvel line without any repercussions on the “main” Spider-Man.
If true, this would mark a considerable shift in Marvel’s publishing strategy, which has featured interconnected stories to an almost complete degree, leading to the inclusion of Conan the Barbarian to the Marvel Universe in recent months. By contrast, Marvel’s primary comic book competition DC has been doubling down on stories featuring its core superhero characters outside of it’s core timeline with recent announcements following the long-term sales success of such out-of-continuity titles as Batman: The Killing Joke. Could Spider-Man be a sign that Marvel intends to follow suit?
Spider-Man No. 1 is available now.