The secret identity of Spider-Man is one of the most sacred in comics history. Peter Parker has seen the consequences of those close to him in his private life becoming entangled in his superheroics too many times to count, and although he was once unmasked, that’s since been undone. Spectacular Spider-Man changed that this week, in a pivotal, emotional moment.
So far, Spectacular Spider-Man has told a tale about Peter’s discovery of his apparent long-lost sister Teresa Durand, an ex-SHIELD spy now on the run after discovering SHIELD was collecting illegal information on superheroes and villains alike. Spectacular Spider-Man #6—written by Chip Zdarsky with art from Michael Walsh and Ian Herring, and lettering from Travis Lanham—takes Peter on an unexpected sidestep. In order to find out more information about Teresa’s circumstance, he finds himself forced to sit down for a cozy one-on-one interview with one of his oldest nemeses: former Daily Bugle Editor-in-Chief turned obsessive blogger J. Jonah Jameson.
The interview starts off just like you’d expect any encounter between JJJ and Spidey to go. Jonah can barely hide his contempt for the wallcrawler, brazenly slinging demands to reveal his identity alongside insults. Peter can’t help but crack jokes and take potshots, cocky at knowing he holds the power over Jonah’s impotent rage, even though he needs information from his former boss. Both the audience and Peter know that as long as it goes on like this, the whole interview is a spectacular waste of everyone’s time.
When the two begrudgingly start getting into it, things get progressively more intense, as more emotions get laid down on the table by both Jonah and Peter. Both men are too hot-headed for each other. Jonah can’t stop himself from launching into tirades as Spider-Man’s platitudes about why he fights crime fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, Peter can’t stop himself from rounding on Jonah’s attacks by mocking his obsession with one—just one—of the many costumed vigilantes that make New York home. Then Jonah yells that Spider-Man’s lackadaisical actions have gotten people killed while he hides behind a mask. Peter counteracts that with all the times Jonah has had the power to help other people—as the Bugle’s editor, as the Mayor of New York—but couldn’t help himself from abusing it to go after Spider-Man instead.
It manages to serve as both a weird trip down memory lane for just how much both of these characters have gone through over the years, both alone and because of each other. But the stubbornness of both Jonah and Peter’s inability to really listen to each other just makes things get more and more heated, until everything boils over and Jonah finally snaps.
Because really, this interview was always more about Jonah than it was Spider-Man. It’s meant to be the ultimate catharsis—getting to dangle information his most-hated nemesis desperately wants over his head, while verbally flagellating Spider-Man for years of perceived injustices. And while it is cathartic for Jonah, it ends up being so in a manner he didn’t probably expect it to be, as the grief behind the reason he hates Spidey so much can’t help but come pouring out.
Because J. Jonah Jameson has lead a life of traumatic loss thanks to Spider-Man’s actions, and in true comic book style, it’s almost a little too ridiculous in its extremity. In 2014, he lost his wife Marla during a fight between Spider-Man and Alistair Smythe, only to see her resurrected and then die again during the events of this year’s clone-crazy Clone Conspiracy storyline. Jonah didn’t just lose the love of his life, he lost her twice, leaving him alone, with nothing to comfort him and drive him but his quest to bring Spider-Man down. Even when, through tears, he reveals his wife’s final words were to ask him to let go of all the rage in his life, Jonah has found himself unable to, because there’s nothing—and no one—left for him without it.
Over the course of their conversation, Jonah goes from a man with all his cards close to his chest to a broken, sobbing wreck, so deeply isolated from the world around him. And it’s such a painful image for Peter to see, he can’t help but reach out and show Jonah that he isn’t alone, in the only way he can: by taking off his mask and letting him in on his deepest, closest secret.
This is by no means the first time the reveal of Peter’s identity has been leveraged for drama—hell, it’s not even the first time Jonah has learned Spider-Man’s greatest secret, comically tumbling out of his chair when Peter unmasked himself in the events of Civil War, before that reveal was erased during the widely-vilified One More Day storyline. But there’s something different about how it goes down in Spectacular.
This isn’t some daring moment of high drama, no one’s life is at stake if Peter doesn’t take off his mask right this instant. It’s a moment of reconciliation, two men with a long, bitter relationship confiding each in other, two broken victims of awful circumstances finding common ground among their shared sufferings. It’s a huge deal to these characters, and speaks more to their long history together than being a simple punchline moment like Civil War’s reveal ever could.
While we don’t see how Jonah is truly left to react—Peter dashes off after their interview is cut short by FBI agents hunting Teresa tracking down his location, leaving Jonah in a stupor—this is an important moment in the current Spider-Man canon. Considering just how it went down, it seems like it could lead to an emotionally better path ahead for J. Jonah Jameson, but we’ll have to wait and see if he’s really capable of giving up one of his oldest, hardest grudges now that he knows the face behind Spider-Man’s mask.