In this series, exploring the variety of romantic archetypes found in literature (illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we find in life) using only Spider-Man comics, I’ve looked at some sweeping romantic experiences. Your first love! Your Soul Mate! Your “What if…” person! Love offers us great variety in experiences when we seek it. But SOMETIMES romantic exploits carry a far more significant risk. SOMETIMES we find ourselves looking at a friend – someone we’ve always clicked with, someone we enjoy being with, someone we fit with so naturally – and wondering if there could be something more to that relationship. Then SOMETIMES we try to claim the Siege Perilous and make that friend a significant other. This is not for the faint of heart. However, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel are courageous individuals so, like so many of us before them and since, they braved this harrowing quest fraught with great risk to see if they could find that something more with each other….or if they’d end up falling right back into the Friend Zone.
One of the ongoing themes in Spider-Man comics is “the ol’ Parker Luck.” Again and again we hear how, no matter what he does, things never go right for poor Peter Parker. The near-sixty years of Spider-Man comics (not to mention movies and cartoons and storybooks and that one Broadway musical written by U2’s Bono and the Edge) are filled with stories which illustrate this. But when you look at his love life it’s hard to feel too sorry for the guy. He’s dated so many intelligent, driven, courageous, women – many who know of his double life and support him in it. Why’s he always complaining?? AND he’s a terrible boyfriend! He’s constantly off fighting crime so, at best, he’s either always a) lying about where he’s going and constantly ditching you or b) leaving early or arriving late as you worry he will die/is dead. Also, it’s obvious he’s never seriously dealt with any of the trauma in his life. He’s a hot mess, so dating Peter Parker would be no easy life. Plus, you’d always have to worry about being kidnapped by supervillains! Seriously, who’d want to date this guy? Yet, there’s someone out there for everyone.
And, summoning more courage than it takes to face down Galactus, Carol Danvers and Peter Parker try to navigate that perilous jump from friends to dating to see if they can be that for each other. Yikes.
In one form or another, Carol Danvers has been doing the superhero thing for a long time. As an homage to her lover Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel, Carol took the name “Ms. Marvel” when her own latent powers manifested. After years as Ms. Marvel, Carol became “Binary” when the alien race the Brood experimented on her, granting her new cosmic powers. Once her Binary powers faded, she took up the name “Warbird.” She eventually became Ms. Marvel again and held onto that alias until taking the “Captain Marvel” mantel for herself. Whew. From a solo career to the Avengers to the X-Men to the Starjammers to the Guardians of the Galaxy to Alpha Flight and back again, Carol Danvers has fought beside and fought against just about everyone the Marvel Universe has to offer.
This means she and Spider-Man have been crossing paths for years. They were even both members of the secret, underground Avengers team – the New Avengers – during the “Secret Invasion” and the “Dark Reign” and the “Siege” and “Avengers vs. X-Men” and on and on (gosh…Marvel did a lot of “events” in the mid-2000’s). So Carol and Peter have had an established relationship for years. They respect each other. They’re close friends. They work together. They even know each other’s secret identities.
Then, after helping Carol find the Essential (an immortal little girl who feeds on information she can draw out of the air) who had been locked away by the CIA since 1953, Peter just did it. He worked up the courage and/or just spontaneously blurted out what he’d been thinking. He asked Carol to go on a date with him. He felt the date, just one date, was a fair trade for his helping her fight off the CIA and a whole slew of soldiers as she talked to the Essential as well as holding on to and making the drop of all the intel she gained. Carol reluctantly agreed.
Peter just sort of impulsively demands a date. Ha. I can’t read that scene without thinking of the times I’ve fallen prey to that trap. You weigh the pros and cons in your head a thousand times. You think it through. You overthink it through. You worry about what will happen if it works. You worry about what will happen if it doesn’t. And then – whether by carefully laid plan or accidental burst of word vomit – the words are out there, hanging in the air between you, and there’s nothing you can do to take ‘em back.
In that moment, you’ve never been more proud of yourself. And you’ve never been more terrified because this is a friend! You have an established relationship! Things are fine! They work so well! Why the hell would you mess with that?!!!? What in the hell is wrong with you?!?!?? No matter what happens this changes EVERYTHING. GAH. And, and it absolutely shifts the balance of power in the relationship. Now there’s no more two equal friends just hanging out. Nope. Even if they have all the same feelings you do, even if they’ve thought about this as much as you have, you’re now vulnerable. You’re twisting in the wind. You are the one who asked. You broke the mold. You upended the apple cart. And they are the one who was asked. All the power is in their hands!
To her credit, even after dying and being resurrected (because…comics), Carol remembers and honors her “yes.” One night Carol asks Peter to meet her and she, as Ms. Marvel, helps Spider-Man take down a random smalltime bank robber. After the bad guy’s left webbed to a lamppost for the cops, she tells him to swap out his superhero suit for his civvies because she owes him a date. So now we move from the panicked rush of the ask, where the dynamic between friends has been irrevocably shifted, to the actual date where the dynamic can be forever ruined. Or, you know, it can work too, I guess.
The moment has finally come. You are looking at your good friend or the person you’ve been pining for from a distance or the object of your unrequited love (or any combination of the above) and you are actually going to go on a for-real date with them. This is what you’ve been dreaming/worrying about for so long! You’re going to cross that emotional Rubicon! You try to psyche yourself up and you certainly try not to think about what it’s going to be like tomorrow if it’s super weird and/or doesn’t work out. It’s just one of your best friends right? How bad can it be? You’re sure this is a good idea.
They go to a fancy restaurant and, as they do the date small talk, there are just SO many pauses. They talk a lot of shop – archenemies, the Avengers, things like that. They struggle to get the conversation to flow and, while it’s clear they have a solid relationship, they just can’t seem to find a romantic rhythm. They aren’t clicking. They talk about appetizers and what they want to drink. Peter goes to the bathroom. They talk about how good the food is. Again, they say all this between loooooooooooong pauses. It’s SO AWKWARD and I love it. The scene captures this experience so perfectly! I’ve been on these dates and this scene provided both full body cringes care of triggering my own memories as well as sheer joy from reading about it instead of being the one sitting at the table XD.
Eventually two armored thugs come to try and capture Ms. Marvel. Carol easily dispatches them while Peter finishes his dinner. As she flies them away, they stop for a chilidog from a street vendor. Peter says he loves junk food. Carol says she does, too…but she took him to a nice restaurant because she wanted him to think she had nice taste in food. It’s cute. The whole issue is cute, really, especially in its awkwardness. You feel for Peter and Carol! While they sit there eating their chilidogs, the issue ends with the hint of the potential of something more.
I like this so much more than just a comedic “hard pass” and an unceremonious drop in the Friend Zone. Because that happens all the time! But there are also moments like this one, where you have a friend with whom you have a long, shared history and you decide to give it a try. And sometimes it works! But far, far more often it ends up like this. It’s an awkward attempt though you still kind of wish it could’ve been something more but it’s just not there…even if you both would like to have found something.
I also like how they talk/joke about how awkward and uncomfortable it could be if they try dating and it doesn’t work. Because this happens all the time, too! As friends, we see the potential of that spark and we try it out. But when it doesn’t work it can make the shared social circle a wee bit unpleasant for a time. It’s terrible when it’s been a long relationship that ends badly and everyone feels they have to pick sides or navigate a life between both of you. But it is cringy-uncomfortable when it was just a date or two, it falls flat, and then everyone has to deal with the awkward “Sooooooo….” left hanging in the air to commemorate your mutual failure. I mean, you get over it eventually. But there are certainly a few days (or weeks (or months)) where you just wish you could disappear for a nice, long holiday in Europe until everyone forgets about this whole embarrassing mistake. How do you act around this person now?? What do you do? What do you say? GAH. SO AWKWARD.
Despite “The Amazing Spider Date” (as issue #47 of Ms. Marvel was literally and adorably named) not leading to “The Spectacular Spider Relationship,” Peter and Carol continue to fight alongside each other in the New Avengers. Eventually Norman Osborn (former Green Goblin, full-time villain) takes control of the U.S. security network and S.H.I.E.L.D. and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, Osborn’s forces invade Asgard and the New Avengers come to face him. Spider-Man is battling Venom (but Mac Gargan (who was the Scorpion (but now has the Venom symbiote as opposed to the “classic” host Eddie Brock (because everyone in the Marvel Universe eventually wears the Venom symbiote (because so many readers think Venom is cool (so Marvel milks it)))))) and the two fall from the floating city of Asgard to Earth. Shortly after, Ms. Marvel shows up to help. Ultimately she rips Gargan out of the symbiote and, after she frees herself from the clingy little parasite, she and Spider-Man defeat it.
While in Carol’s head, Venom tells Spider-Man she has feelings beyond simply friendship for him. When Spider-Man asks her about it, Carol says her feelings for him are complicated…not bad, just complicated. The conversation ends there though as she flies both of them back to Asgard to continue battling Osborn’s Dark Avengers.
Friend Zone or not, I really like what this adds to their story. Because sometimes, when we have those dates that just don’t click, it doesn’t mean we still don’t wish they would have and that can lead to all sorts of complicated emotions. Even if we know we only work as friends, it doesn’t mean there aren’t residual pangs of pining. And it doesn’t mean it’s easy to shake the hopes/wishes/feelings that led to going on that date in the first place.
The Avenging Spider-Man (so named because the title ran concurrently with some of Spidey’s time as an Avenger) #9-10 would be written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, the author who famously had Carol Danvers take the “Captain Marvel” mantle and helped solidify her place in the center of the Marvel Universe. Fun Fact: The Avenging Spider-Man #9 is actually THE VERY FIRST TIME Carol is called “Captain Marvel” in any Marvel comic! She’d officially take the title in Captain Marvel #1 but, due to publishing schedules, Avenging Spider-Man #9 came out a week before Captain Marvel #1 even if it’s story happened after. Anyway, these two issues see Peter bumming a free flight to Boston with Carol to visit Aunt May, as she takes her newly purchased airplane for its first spin.
Of course all sorts of superhero shenanigans happen, involving a corrupt bank and a private mercenary army and a rogue A.I. and stuff like that. They punch a bunch of things and save the day. But there’s this cute story thread that runs through both issues. In #9, as they fly, Carol shares a personal secret with Peter – something she’s never told anyone before. She then begins goading him to do the same.
At the end of issue #10, after the crisis is resolved, back at her hanger a week later Carol reminds Peter he still owns her a secret. Eventually, he whispers one in her ear. These scenes can be read as flirty or they can be read as just the playful banter between two friends. That ambiguity is perfect as that’s just what exists between Peter and Carol now. They went on a date. They didn’t click. They kinda wish they would’ve. And while there may always be that question hovering in the air around them, there’s just not enough chemistry to bear a relationship.
Regardless of how we may read it, nothing ever materializes from this. Peter and Carol seem destined to forever remain just friends. And sometimes the Friend Zone feels like a fate worse than death. And sometimes it just feels like the result of a cringy mistake. And sometimes, after time has passed, if we’re lucky it becomes something we can joke about. But we can never avoid the Friend Zone. Even superheroes can’t! Because no matter what we do, not every romantic relationship works out. Some – *cough* many *cough* – fall flat on their face right at the very beginning, too. But that’s just part of life, you know? If anything in life is worth risking embarrassment and awkwardness and ever-continuing frustration for, it’s love. And when we find ourselves wrapped in our own cloak of shame, wracking our brains trying to figure out what we always do wrong and why it just didn’t work, we can take solace in knowing that even Spider-Man and Captain Marvel have ended up in the Friend Zone, too.
Want more of my li’l series exploring romantic archetypes using Spider-Man comics? Well you’re in luck! Check out:
Spider-Man and the Black Cat: Flirting with Perfection to see how the Black Cat represents those people we know may be wrong for us and/or we know it won’t work out with in the long run…but we’re drawn to them all the same and we seemingly can’t stop flirting with or the pursuing them no matter how hard we try :).
Spider-Man and Mary Jane: Soul Mates? (Y/N/Maybe) for an examination of Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship, with a focus on the question of Soul Mates as well as the classic romantic tropes of the will-they-won’t-they and best-friends-first relationships.
Spider-Man and the Spider Family: A Look At What Might Have Been… to contemplate the “What if…?” people we think of when we consider our romantic “what might have been”s care of the alternate reality series The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows.
Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy: All the Beautiful Angst of First Love to consider how Gwen Stacy has far more significance than just “the girl who died” and how her relationship with Peter perfectly presents all the awkward, cringy, and still oh-so-magical moments of the first time we fall in love.
Spider-Man and Silk: You Gotta Love A Physical Attraction looks at Peter and Cindy Moon’s relationship as an example of those people who inexplicably turn us on. The attraction, the draw to these people, is like a force of nature, completely beyond our control. It’s fun buuuut complicated without romantic feelings, too.
Spider-Man and Betty Brant: Complicated Affairs of the Heart uses one of the oldest characters in Spider-Man’s character history to explore everything from first crushes and first dates to the confusing pull of falling in love with someone who’s married.
Spider-Man and Michele Gonzales: Hook-Ups, Hang Ups, and Bad Habits and explore how all the personal problems and issues and baggage we have that we refuse to acknowledge/own/see can hurt our ability to make it work with a really fantastic partner, as well as what happens when we meet someone who calls us on all our shit.
Spider-Man and Mockingbird: The Allure of the Workplace Romance looks at Peter’s relationship with Bobbi Morse during his time as CEO of Parker Industries to consider why we are so drawn to the workplace romance…and what awkwardness may be waiting for us if it doesn’t work out.
Spider-Man and Jessica Jones: Harkening Back to the High School Crush opens the door to reminisce about allllllllllll those awkward, anxiety-filled high school crushes we had and could never find the courage to act on while also considering the influence we may have on all the people we hardly know who come in and out of our lives.