Nobody could have seen this celebrity breakup coming: After more than 20 years of marriage, Spider-Man and Mary Jane are kaput.
Joe Quesada, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, said it was time to shake things up in the life of Peter Parker, the nerdy New Yorker who upon being bitten by a radioactive spider attained the ability to transform himself into a web-spinning world savior. And it was easier to do that, he said, if Parker wasn't married.
This week's plot twist left many comic-book fans climbing the walls.
"When we first did it, the reaction was, 'How could you do this? This is a terrible thing to do," said Quesada, who invented the story line that turned Spider-Man into Single-Man.
"But with the first issue of 'Brand New Day' (this week's comic book in which Spider-Man returns to single life), our letters very quickly changed to people saying, 'This is fantastic. This is the Spider-Man we remembered. We didn't know what we'd been missing."
With Spider-Man footloose and fancy free again, Quesada says, he'll be able to have new adventures, get into new dilemmas and, who knows, maybe even woo back Mary Jane.
Well, the pair didn't exactly get divorced. After Peter Parker's beloved Aunt May was wounded in an attack, Spider-Man and Mary Jane reluctantly struck a deal with the devil-like Mephisto in which he erased everyone's memory of the couple's time together in exchange for May being restored to good health.
The story was received less than warmly by fans who thought that after 21 years of marriage Pete and MJ really were going to make it.
"Considering I have been reading Spider-Man for exactly 20 years now, and that seems to be the amount of time Joe Q. has decided to rip from Spider-Man continuity, can I simply return all of my Spider-Man comics for a full refund?" asked one of the more polite postings on Marvel's Internet message boards after the plot was revealed.
Some message threads were discontinued after they became nothing more than forums to insult Quesada and others.
"It's heresy for some people," laughed Dave Pifer, who runs the Secret Headquarters comic book store in Los Angeles. Others, however, are beginning to adapt.
"The ones who are new to superheroes like Spider-Man, they're excited about it," Pifer said. "They feel like they're starting at the beginning."
One message poster even joked that the beautiful Mary Jane, who remains in the Spider-Man cast, is free now to pursue Brad Pitt.
Stan Lee, who created Spider-Man, isn't involved in the current story but called it "a very creative idea."
"It should stimulate a lot of interest in the characters and the books, and I'm eager to see what happens next," he said.
The 85-year-old comic book legend said it's a challenge to come up with new and interesting dilemmas for beloved characters that have been around for decades.
"You have to introduce new elements to spark interest, to keep it alive. That's the reason we decided years ago to have Peter and MJ get married in the first place," said Lee, who married the couple in a mock ceremony at New York's Shea Stadium in 1987.
"Amazing that they're not even middle-aged yet," he quipped.