Warning! Spoilers for Amazing Spider-Man #60 ahead!
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how important mental health is, and heroes like Spider-Man aren’t immune to the pressures of anxiety and depression. The latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man shows Mary Jane using role-playing to help Peter Parker confront his inner demons in a real way. This is part of a growing trend in Marvel’s comics which give readers concrete information about mental health, and encourages them to seek help if they need it.
In Amazing Spider-Man #60, written by Nick Spencer and Mark Bagley, Spider-Man’s life has been in a tailspin as he’s battled the increasingly demonic assaults from Kindred. The further revelation that Kindred was none other than his friend Harry Osborn has pushed Peter Parker to the breaking point. Though Kindred is ultimately defeated and then trapped in a Darkforce cage, Peter remains deeply shaken by Harry’s sprawling revenge plot, so much so that he’s vowed to leave the Osborn family behind entirely.
Desperate to help, Mary Jane takes Peter to an abandoned theater. There, she explains that she sought therapy after the death of Gwen Stacy. She wants Peter to role-play as if Harry Osborn was in the room, just as she used therapy to act out what she never had the chance to tell Gwen all those years ago. Though Peter is skeptical at first, Mary Jane urges him to take the stage, close his eyes and begin. He confesses his frustration with Harry, his innermost doubts about being Spider-Man, his desire to help Harry, and his inability to fix the situation before collapsing into Mary Jane’s arms. Peter says a weights has been lifted, but Mary Jane points out he’s been through numerous traumas over the years, and those don’t go away quickly. Still, this gives him something to build upon.
This is part of a growing trend among Marvel, previously seen in books like X-Factor and New Mutants, which gives readers concrete information about mental health. From simple mindfulness exercises to red flags on abusive relationships, Marvel seems to making a concerted effort in dealing with mental health topics. This certainly isn’t the first time comics have taken the lead in handling major social issues, ranging from racism to drug abuse. What is interesting, however, is the great care being used to depict these issues. Amazing Spider-Man #60, for instance, does an excellent job explaining how therapy works and how role-play can help ease trauma by handling some of the pain buried deep within the sub-conscious. The issue also clearly shows Mary Jane taking great pains to give Peter a safe space to sort through his emotions.
So far, Marvel’s push to bring more mental health focus to its content has shown how social issues and great storytelling need not be mutually exclusive. If anything, the visual-literary storytelling of comics might be the best suited for handling this content, as readers move through the stories at their own pace. Hopefully Marvel continues to use its platform to put out great content in service to the needs of its readers, even after life returns to normal.