For the TENTH entry (we’ve hit double digits! ahhhhhh!) in this series using only Spider-Man comics to explore the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature (illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we find in life) it’s time to go back to those awkward, social-anxiety-filled days of high school! This celebratory tenth installment will examine one of the most universal romantic experiences which naturally leads to a wildly pervasive trope – the high school crush. Aww, those were some good (and, you know, maybe a little scarring) times. I’m sure many readers who are longtime Spider-fans would expect this post to be about Peter Parker and Liz Allen. But I think Jessica Jones is a far better fit. Trust me, read on and it’ll all make sense. Let’s take a look at Jessica Jones and Peter Parker as we reminisce about all the thrills and gut-wrenching turmoil of our high school crushes!
Why am I using Jessica Jones and Peter Parker as the frame to examine the high school crush instead of Liz Allen? From The Amazing Spider-Man #1, Liz was there. In the beginning, she was just part of the “cool kids clique” always hovering on the periphery of Peter’s life to underscore his outsider status to the reader. The first time we see any mention of a romantic connection between Peter and Liz is The Amazing Spider-Man #4. Flash asks Liz if she’s really going out with Peter and she says, “Well, the poor guy has asked me out so many times, I just didn’t have the heart to refuse him again.” However, in the very next panel Peter cancels the date due to having to track down the Sandman and Liz tells him, “Peter Parker! You’re the top student in the class! If you can’t spare one evening for a date, then I’m sorry for you! Goodbye!”
After a powerless Peter is mercilessly unmasked by Doctor Octopus in The Amazing Spider-Man #12, the world presumes he just dressed up as Spider-Man to try and save Betty Brant whom Ock held prisoner. Then Liz Allen couldn’t be more into “Petey”! Liz even asks Peter out and he turns her down! The tension between her constant flirtatious advances and Betty’s understandable insecurities at Peter always disappearing and never giving her a real reason for it led to mounting tension in their relationship. All this is to say, when I think of my high school crushes this sure doesn’t feel familiar.
Never in my whole life did a high school crush who never gave me the time of day before completely flip and become madly infatuated with me to the point where it caused great tension between myself and the older, intelligent, compassionate, emotionally aware woman I was already dating and resulted in my getting to sassily turn down her date while saying I had a better date ahead of me with my aforementioned girlfriend. Nothing even close to that ever happened! But Jessica Jones and Peter Parker? Here is something oh so familiar.
Jessica Jones was created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, first appearing in Alias #1 in November 2001. As a teenager, on a trip back from Disney World with her family, their car crashes into a military convoy carrying radioactive chemicals. This results in the death of Jessica’s entire family and leaves her in a coma for several months. When she wakes up, she finds it’s also left her with super strength, invulnerability, and the ability to fly. Back in high school after her adoption, Jessica sees Spider-Man battle the Sandman at Midtown High (which he also attended) and he inspires her to use her powers for good. Her career as a costumed superhero begets several deeply traumatic experiences and she ultimately gives it up to become a private investigator. During this time she’ll meet Luke Cage and they’ll eventually marry and have a daughter, Danielle. For all the darkness in her past, beautifully, Jessica and Luke become one of Marvel’s strongest marriages.
Jessica and Peter would reconnect as members of the New Avengers (Bendis would write New Avengers as well). Once Norman Osborn (of Green Goblin infamy) saved the world from the Skrull threat and ended the Secret Invasion, he was put in charge of the new version of S.H.I.E.L.D. (called H.A.M.M.E.R.) and would lead a new team of (Dark) Avengers in the Iron Patriot armor. This drove the New Avengers underground as they attempted to protect the world and avoid Osborn’s machinations at the same time. Luke Cage would lead this incarnation of the team and their first roster included Jessica Jones, Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel, Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird, Logan/Wolverine, Clint Barton/Ronin, Bucky Barnes/Captain America, Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman, and – of course! – Peter Parker/Spider-Man. While the New Avengers roster would rotate over the course of the title – seeing Daredevil, Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, the Thing, and others join up – Spidey, Jessica, and Luke were mainstays.
During the team’s first meeting, the subject of secret identities is raised. In the aftermath of the Skrull invasion with Norman Osborn running things, they can’t be sure who to trust. Naturally, the New Avengers turn to Spider-Man. He’s the only one in the group whose identity isn’t known to the others and if he’s unwilling to unmask with them, he can’t be a part of the team. For this to work, they have to trust him and he needs to be able to trust them as well.
After much perseverating and soul-searching Peter Parker decides to do something he hardly ever does – he lets others in. He decides to trust the New Avengers and expand his circle of natural supports. And, once she realizes who he really is, Jessica enthusiastically tells Peter she had “the biggest crush” on him in high school!
All through high school, Jessica never had the courage to tell Peter how she felt. Peter had no idea she had any feelings for him and, in fact, barely knew her at all. And THIS is why I think Jessica Jones and Peter Parker are the far, far, far, far better example of the high school crush than Liz and Peter. Because this is how the majority of high school crushes go!
Right? Am I wrong here? Do the majority of us look at the majority of our high school crushes and tell them how we feel let alone ask them out so many times they eventually agree only to cancel the date and then turn them down when they ask us out because we’re dating someone else?? Does this happen? Are people doing this? I would say no. I think the majority of high school crushes go unvoiced. We pine from afar, our hearts beating with the visions of the perfect future we would have with this person if we could just find the courage to tell them. It would all be perfect if you could just…tell her about it. Tell her everything you feel. Give her every reason to accept that you’re for real.
But we don’t. Hardly ever. Or at least I didn’t. Because HOW DO YOU EVEN DO THAT?!!? Put yourself out there? Let that declaration slip from your mouth with that asked-for-date just hanging in the air between you? Risking that social-shaking and soul-crushing “no”? Yeah, forget that. And, like Jessica and Peter, I’d wager most of those girls had no idea I had a crush on them and many of them probably had only the vaguest (if any) idea of who I was. Pining and dreaming and “If only…”ing feels a lot more authentic when it comes to high school crushes to me.
So, obviously the high school crush is clearly universal but I think the unspoken high school crush occurs far more often. When I think back it seems like I was in love ALL THE TIME in high school – four years of erupting hormones with absolutely no idea what to do with any of it. Let me open the Vault of High School Stories and relay two examples to help illustrate how little I knew what to do with this world of adolescent romance.
My first break-up happened when I was in ninth grade. This girl came up to me in the cafeteria with a group of her friends to tell me she wanted to break-up with me. She said she really liked me but felt we weren’t right for each other. She said she hoped I would be ok with this and she hoped we could still be friends. I vividly remember thinking, We…we were dating? Shouldn’t someone have told me? Shouldn’t there have been kissing involved? I was new to this dating world but I was CERTAIN kissing should have been involved. I do remember dancing together (though it was only a slow dance) at our eighth grade dance. But then nothing. We didn’t say much of anything after. We didn’t see each other all summer. We didn’t call or write or anything. And now we were breaking up. Huh. I was clearly in over my head with this romance thing XD.
To put me in the frame of mind to write this post, I opened up my old high school yearbooks and took a walk down memory lane. One of the girls I had a MAJOR crush on in high school had signed my yearbook sophomore year. And reading it now…it was absolutely flirty. She said all the usual “it’s been a great year and I’m glad we had class together” stuff but then she went on to say how much she liked hanging out with me and how we should hang out over the summer. She suggested we go riding around in my car. She even left her number and an encouraging “Call me!”…and I did nothing with this. Not because I was too nervous but because I read that and actually thought, “Hm, we don’t normally hang out. I wonder why she left her number.” In fact, there were a few similar notes and phone numbers (let’s not get the impression I was any sort of heartthrob…when I say “few” I mean like four of five over four years) in those yearbooks written by girls who I’d’ve loved to go out with. So I get where Peter’s coming from when he tells Jessica, “Because before I got my powers I was sitting at home with test tubes and beakers eating giant piles of flapjacks.” I never got superpowers and you can replace “test tubes and beakers” with “reading comics and Star Wars novels, listening to Billy Joel albums, and watching Highlander” but the point remains the same.
Looking back at all this, the fact that I’ve ever kissed anyone is somewhat surprising.
All this isn’t to say that high school was devoid of romance! I remember a bit of smoochin’. I remember the raging anxiety of calling girls on the landline as nobody was using cellphones and praying they would answer so I didn’t have to add the awkward dimension of asking a parent or sibling, “Is [so-and-so] there?” as my voice most likely cracked because puberty was the worst. I remember long chats on the phone (until someone else needed to use it (because, again, landlines)). I remember movie dates and hand holding. And I remember high school dances! Talk about sense memories! That brilliant mix of the right slow song, my I-hope-she-doesn’t-feel-how-sweaty-they-really-are hands on my date’s waist as I tried to figure out just where exactly I should put them on the waist/hips/bum line, staring into each other’s eyes, as we slowly swayed in a circle was magic. Fast songs weren’t bad either. I remember a DJ who played AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” back-to-back with Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and oh my goodness did that lead to myself and the girl I was dancing with enjoying some magical moments.
But these moments were few and far between and the number of girls I somehow managed to stumble into anything remotely resembling a romantic experience with was a tiny fraction of the experiences of pining I had. From 1997-2001 you could say the unspoken high school crush was basically my parttime job.
So I love that Jessica was “in science class” with Peter and that she “had the biggest crush” on him. I love that Jessica says, “Peter, seriously, you don’t even remember that I was totally in love with you” for “Most of ninth and all of tenth grade.” And I love that Peter didn’t know and didn’t even know her name. This is life! This, ladies and gentlemen, is the painful and beautiful reality of the high school crush :). Well, most of them anyway.
Jessica Jones, I hear you. I see you. Because I have been there. It was a life of looking wistfully at those crushes and waiting and hoping that maybe someday when my ship comes in, she’ll understand what kinda guy I’ve been…and then I’ll win. If only! As I said above, I basically lived on Pining Ave. from ’97-’01.
Incidentally, I also love how well Spider-Man handles it with Luke Cage afterwards. Admittedly, this is not a scenario I’ve ever found myself in. But I love it all the same XD.
One of the wonderful things Bendis does in bringing Jessica and Peter together like this and having her voice her crush to him and then have them continue to bond and grow closer as adult friends is to show the potential we have to affect people. High school is weird. It’s wild and awkward and no one has any real idea of what they’re doing with anything. Everyone’s making believe that they know all of the intimate things that we ever might have said and everything seems like the most important thing in the world. Then, when you grow up, you’d often trade any of the problems you face now for the ones you had in high school (although, to be fair to our past selves, they were world-ending problems then and I have been a fool for lesser things). But no matter how awkward or exaggerated or transitory those times were, we still leave all sorts of impressions and make all sorts of impacts on the people around us – even or especially when we have no idea we’re doing so.
That’s a beautiful thing to think of, how we radiate outwards, like ripples across a pond. Really, in a series exploring relationships, this is a reality we need be mindful of. We exist in relationship with everyone and everything all the time. It is literally – physically, biologically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually – impossible for us to live on our own in any way (I don’t know about you, but I’ve picked up quite the nasty oxygen habit (I need it like all the time and I sure can’t produce it on my own)). We are always connected. We are always in relationship, in all ways.
With Jessica’s unspoken crush and Peter’s example for her as Spider-Man – and then having her share it all with him later in life – Bendis gives us two wonderful gifts. First, he gives us the perfect reflection of so, so many of our own high school crushes. In our reminiscing, all of our hearts can universally pine alongside Jessica’s. Second, he makes us consider all the possible effects we may have had on people over the years. In our better, brighter moments and, to be fair, in our harsher, darker ones, too, how have we touched those around us? Those we don’t even know or whose names we could never recall? Because we are all connected, always and in all ways, and our ripples extend further from us than we can ever imagine. Thinking of this, being mindful of how we carry ourselves in the world, can only make the world brighter.
One of the greatest things about the unspoken high school crush is it’s universality. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had those crushes. We’ve all lacked the courage to voice them. We’ve all pined from across the classroom, cafeteria, or gym. And in that beautiful misery of tongue-tied, anxious silences and heart-wrenching pining, we are all united. Heck, even superheroes struggle to talk to their crushes in high school! Looking back on all those brilliant, awkward moments can bring so many smiles :D. It’s been so fun reminiscing as I wrote this! But if it seems like I’ve been lost in “let’s remember,” if you think I’m feelin’ older and missin’ my younger days – then you shoulda known me much better, ‘cause my past is something that never got in my way. Oh no. Far from it! A mindful exploration of our past only helps us.
I am who I am – we all are who we are – because of and not in spite of all our past experiences, the good and the bad, crushes included. No matter how difficult it may’ve felt to carry those crushes at the time, we are all united in that beautiful, anxious, awkward agony. And, as Jessica Jones and Spider-Man remind us with theirs, the lives we touch will always reach farther than we can ever know. In that, we are connected in a very special way, too.
BONUS GAME: How many Billy Joel lyrics did you catch in the above piece? As a tribute to the albums I had on most regular rotation during my high school years, as well as one of the greatest songwriters ever, I wove different sets of lyrics from different Billy Joel songs through this piece! You get a point for each lyric you spot AND you get two points if you can tell me the album each originally appeared on! If you wanna play, feel free to comment below and you may well be the winner of…..(drum roll please!)…..my heartfelt respect at your excellent taste in music. But, to be clear, I love you right now just the way you are :). You’re beautiful and perfect and you don’t have to go lyric hunting to win my love. But if you want to you can have my love and imaginary points!
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 to look 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 Captain Marvel: The Super Friend Zone which uses the one date Peter and Carol Danvers went on as the frame to examine the friends we’re attracted to, the nature of “the Friend Zone,” and what we do when we start to feel a li’l romantic and/or sexual chemistry percolating in a platonic pairing.
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 Jean DeWolff: The Lonely Echo of Unrequited Love is a sort of mirror to the cute-anxious experience of the crushes we don’t voice in high school, as it examines the very real pain we can carry in our hearts when we love someone who has no idea how we feel nor loves us back in the way we love them.