Spider-Man's origin is a tale as old as time. Boy meets Spider, Spider bites Boy, Boy starts wearing spandex and meeting strange people late at night. While plenty of comics have played around with this moment by making the spider genetically modified or pumped full of super serum, no retcon has strayed as far from the pack as the 2005 crossover Spider-Man: The Other.
As part of his run on The Amazing Spider-Man, writer J. Michael Straczynski took the webhead into a strange new direction. In a move that everyone definitely asked for, the source of Spider-Man's powers were revealed not be from the radioactivity of the spider, but the spider itself! This change made Spider-Man the avatar of a Totemic Spider God.
What was once a series known for its mad scientists and crooks with super suits became something very different once it was injected with the supernatural. This is when things got really weird.
After seemingly dying at the hands of a Magical Spider Vampire (no really), Peter Parker developed radical new powers, including spider fangs, a healing factor, organic web shooters, and a pair of retractable stingers for stabbing people. You know, like a wolver- I mean a spider!
And of course all this was after he came back from the dead by recreating his body inside a giant cocoon.
For some reason this retcon wasn't a giant hit with fans. It turns out that magical Spider Gods were a bit too much for most diehards. It could have been worse though. I mean, it's not like the magic spider bit somebody else.
In 2014, Marvel launched a brand new spiderheroine named Silk in the retconniest way possible. Marvel's always had a thing for "feminized" versions of their hero lineup. Back in the day they created a whole slew of gender swapped heroines to insure no other company could grab the naming rights. That's how we got such classic characters as She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Paste Pot Patricia. While all of these Icons started out as tangentially related excuses to secure a trademark, they've all developed into full blown heroes
Nowadays this practice is out of fashion, as creators have sought to make brand new female characters entirely unrelated to a male counterpart. That is, except for Silk. As part of the "Original Sin" storyline, Spider-Man had a flashback to the spiderbite that started it all.
It turns out that a young girl named Cindy Moon was also at the exact same science exhibit as Peter Parker. And she was bitten by the exact magic same spider! And while Peter got science spider powers, Cindy got magic spider powers!
"But Mateo," you say, "If Cindy Moon got her powers at the same time as Peter Parker, wouldn't that mean the whole time Spider-Man was spidermanning there should have been a Silk simultaneously silking?" First off all, we're not on a first name basis. Secondly, Marvel got around that little plot issue by locking the character in a room for the entirety of Spidey's career. Yes, they retconned a character into continuity by pulling a Rapunzel.
That's Jessica "I'm big on Netflix" Jones being retconned into being at the exact same science exhibit as Peter and Cindy.
The perplexing problem of the Parker parents has to be one of the stranger bits of obscure Spider-Man lore. Everyone knows Peter was raised by his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben, but the comics never explained why. It was just taken for granted that Peter's folks were dead, or had gone out for cigarettes and never come back. Eventually Stan Lee decided that they died in a plane crash, and that was the end of the story... until 1992.
The Amazing Spider-Man #366 showed us that Richard and Mary Parker hadn't actually died in a plane crash, but actually had been secret agents for the C.I.A. After infiltrating the inner circle of the Halloween decoration/Nazi terrorist Red Skull, the Parkers had been captured and imprisoned in a Gulag for the entirety of their son's life.
Now I don't know if you know this, but Spider-Man kinda has a guilt complex about letting his loved ones die. Weird, I know. But by bringing back his parents, writer David Michelinie had created an entirely new way to tug at Spidey's heartstrings. For the next two years of comics, Richard and Mary Parker were placed in every precarious predicament that you can predict. They were kidnapped by Venom, savaged by Spider Slayers, and forced to listen to Peter talk about great power and responsibility for the seventeen millionth time.
But as the retcon giveth, the retcon taketh, and in The Amazing Spider-Man #389 it was revealed that the restored Parkers were actually robots in disguise and that the real Parkers were most assuredly dead.
Which is a shame really. Can you imagine if Spider-Man had Magical Spider powers AND was created by robots?
Speaking of messing with Spidey's origins, for this little diddy we're going to have to go back to 2003.
"Trouble" was Marvel's attempt to bring back the romance comics of the 1950s with a timeless tale of summer love, teenage angst and spicy premarital sex. It's every lurid teenage romance book you never let your mother see you read, but with spider-adjacent people! Trouble takes Peter Parker's immediate family and casts them as groovy teens in the 1970s.
The series followed May Reilly, Ben Parker, Richard Parker, and Mary Fitzpatrick as teenagers working a summer job out of a resort in the East Hamptons. They're hip cats with big dreams and even bigger libidos and soon enough they're getting up to antics that would make the Archie kids blush.
Trouble answers all the big questions you've been dying to ask about Spider-lore. Does Aunt May believe in condoms? Which Parker brother was a better lay? And where exactly did Mary Jane learn her famous "Tiger" line from?
Things start to get...complicated in issue #2 when May decides that the only way to butter her biscuits on both sides is to knock boots with both the Parker brothers! After all, an old fortune teller told her she'd never be a mom. This turns out to be less than stellar advice, as by the next issue May finds out she's pregnant.
So after having a Chuck Jones style Shoulder Angel debate, she decides to head out onto the road to have the baby in secret, then hands the kid over to Mary, who proceeds to trick Richard Parker into thinking the baby is theirs. So that means...
Yes, dear readers. According to Trouble, Aunt May is actually Peter Parker's biological mother. Luckily, the series only lasted five issues and has since been willfully forgotten by the world at large. If it had gone on any longer we would have learned all about that one time Spider-Man's mom and dad went to a key party.
Whenever Marvel puts on a big event, it usually leads to even bigger retcons. This was the case with the first Civil War. As part of the storyline that created Robot Thor and the assassination of Captain America, Spider-Man unveiled his secret identity to the world at large. So you know all those reasons every superhero gives for wearing a mask? Something something lead a normal life, yadda yadda protect their loved ones from the costumed madmen they put in prison on a regular basis. You know the drill.
As it so happens, those were all pretty fucking great ideas. As soon as the Civil War comic resolved, every two-bit crook with a grudge was after Peter Parker and his family. This included infamous crime boss The Kingpin, who hired a fleet of assassins to take out Spider-Man. While they couldn't quite pull that off, they did manage to put a bullet into Aunt May, leaving her on Death's door.
Faced with the prospect of living without Aunt May, Peter and Mary Jane did what anyone would do in their situation; Summon the Devil to make a deal. In a move that everyone asked for, the comic book power couple decided to trade the entirety of their relationship in order to save the life of an Octogenarian.
This change effectively wiped out four decades worth of continuity and the entirety of Spidey and M.J's marriage. Unlike most of these retcons, this one's still on the books.
Admit it. You knew this one was coming folks. There have been few events in Comics history as infamous or reviled as Spider-Man's Clone Saga. This storyline ran for two years over 4 different titles and countless tie ins. Originally pitched as a way to simplify Spider-Man's continuity, The Clone Saga ended up confusing readers and writers alike. To this very day you can still find broken editors shuffling through the halls of Marvel Comics, silently mouthing the words "Maximum Clonage" as tears stream down their faces. So what's the deal?
A direct follow up to a 1973 storyline that saw Peter Parker cloned by his old biology professor (no, really), The Clone Saga ran from 1994 through 1996 and introduced a cluster of villainous and heroic Spider-Man clones to the webhead's supporting cast. This included Ben Reilly, the original clone of Peter Parker from the '73 storyline.
Then in a twist that everyone asked for, the Clone Saga revealed that the neighborhood's favorite wall crawling arachnophile was actually the real clone, and that Ben Reilly was the real Spidey.
Just like that, Peter Parker was out, and Ben Reilly was in. Ben took the name "The Scarlet Spider", while Peter moved out to Portland to have a baby with Mary Jane. And that's how it would have stayed, with Peter Parker living the life of a family man while Ben Reilly swung around New York in tights if Spidey fans and creators alike hadn't soured on the idea. So after two years of twists and turns, Marvel retconned the retcon.