Born in Brooklyn during the depression, May Reilly grows up to marry the devoted Ben Parker. Though childless, they adopt Ben’s nephew Peter. When Ben is killed, May raises Peter but little does she know the science-loving, socially awkward teen is the web-slinging hero Spider-Man!
From Poor to Plentiful
May Reilly, a strikingly beautiful but naïve young woman, lives with her parents in Brooklyn during a nationwide depression. When May’s father walks out, her mother raises her begrudgingly—not bothering to conceal the fact that she sees May as nothing more than an unwelcome burden.
As a young woman, two men vie for May’s affection. The flashy, wealthy Johnny Jerome; the other, Ben Parker, a carnival barker. May thinks she’s in love with Johnny, whom she thought offered her more promise during the time of economic hardship than did Ben. Ben warns May that Johnny was a criminal, but she dismisses Ben’s warnings as jealous slander. However, one day, Johnny unexpectedly proposes to May, saying he wants them to leave together right away. May hears the police on the street and realizes something was wrong. Ben storms in, telling May that Johnny had just robbed a jewelry store and had shot a man who tried to call for help. May then realizes Johnny was indeed a criminal and rejects his proposal. The police take Johnny into custody, and he’s convicted for murder and burglary.
May Reilly sets aside her fantasies about marrying someone well-to-do financially and starts to make decisions about the direction of her life. Coming to appreciate Ben Parker and his devotion to her, May fell in love with him. She marries Ben, and they share a peaceful and happy life.
During their time dating, they find themselves often saddled with Ben’s much younger brother, Richard. So after Ben and May married, they chose to remain childless—free from the worries youngsters can bring. Richard and his wife, Mary, however, bring a son into the world named Peter. Unexpectedly, Ben and May dote on their nephew, the young boy particularly captivates Ben. When Richard and Mary—secretly government agents—are called overseas on an assignment, May and Ben happily take Peter into their home until his parents could return. When word arrives that Richard and Mary had been killed in a plane crash in Algeria, May and Ben become Peter’s legal guardians. Since Richard and Mary were secret agents, Peter is temporarily held while Ben and May’s backgrounds are thoroughly investigated. Afterward, they are given full custody of Peter at the memorial service for Peter’s parents.
At first May feels overwhelmed with the responsibility, even angry with Richard and Mary for dying and leaving her and Ben with the challenge of bringing up Peter at such a late stage in their life. Yet her heart could not help but be touched by how kind and thoughtful Peter grows up to be. May grew into an overprotective mother figure to sensitive Peter and together, the three become a true family. As he matures into his teens, little did May or Ben realize that the science-loving, socially awkward Peter had, by way of a radioactive spider-bite, become the daring and colorful Spider-Man they watched on television.
May Parker typically possesses the normal human strength of a woman her age, height, and build who engages in occasional mild exercise. Though she suffers from a weak heart, aggravated after the loss of the love of her life, she stays strong, raising their nephew Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, by herself, facing financial hardship, and volunteering her time at the homeless shelter.
Web of Foes
May often has enemies she doesn’t know about thanks to being closely associated with her wall-crawler nephew, such as Otto Octavius, AKA Doctor Octopus who kidnaps May and later tries to marry her to get at an inheritance. Though, she remains blissfully unaware of his Super Villain status as well as her nephew’s affiliation with him as Spider-Man.
Often getting tangled up with Spider-Man’s web of foes but May survives thanks to his quick thinking and continued protection.
Family Ties and Close Allies
May is a two-time widow and has had a few romantic relationships over the years. Her longtime love and first husband Ben Parker offered her stability. Taken from her by a robber, May must raise their nephew Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, by herself. She later dates Doctor Octopus and nearly marries him, not knowing he solely desires the land she inherits, and others like Nathan Lubensky, Willie Lumpkin, and even Edwin Jarvis, Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man’s long-time butler. While working at the FEAST Shelter, she meets John “Jay” Jonah Jameson, Sr. and they bond over losing their spouses tragically. With their chemistry off the charts, they embark on a romantic relationship which leads to marriage. The couple live in Boston for a stint, but Jay eventually dies of old age, leaving her widowed a second time.
Anna Watson is May’s neighbor and best friend, and they conspire together to set up their teenage charges, Peter and Mary Jane "MJ" Watson. When her nephew moves out, Anna moves in with May.
May is close with her nephew Peter, but he becomes quite distant after becoming a Super Hero—a fact she does not know for quite some time. He is always there for her though and saves her life on numerous occasions, albeit being the reason she’s put in danger most of the time. They often offer each other strength in times of hardship. Once she discovers his secret life as Spider-Man, she resolves to help him and improve his public image. May and MJ also team up to help their beloved Peter as Spider-Man.
May’s Life Story
As Spider-Man, Peter had become an overnight sensation in the entertainment world. After a television appearance, Spider-Man saw a guard chasing a thief in the studio building. Though the guard asked Spider-Man for help, the costumed youth ignored him and allowed the burglar to get away. One fateful night at the Parker residence in suburban Forest Hills, Queens, that same burglar came seeking hidden assets worth millions of dollars belonging to a previous owner of the Parker home, gangster “Dutch” Mallone. While in jail, the burglar had been a cellmate of the elderly Mallone and learned of the treasure from Mallone’s mumbling while he slept. Ben and May had a small quarrel that night, and Ben left the house to take a walk, leaving the front door unlocked. In his absence, the burglar easily entered the Parker home. Ben returned home and discovered the burglar, who manhandled May for the exact location of the cache. When Ben furiously ordered the burglar to unhand her, the burglar panicked, fatally shot Ben, and fled to a warehouse where he was ultimately caught by Spider-Man. Before May could call for an ambulance, Ben told May he loved her and died.
It was this incident which initially aggravated May Parker’s weak heart condition which has caused her serious health problems over the years. Guilt-ridden for previously allowing the burglar to pass, Peter’s attitude towards life and his superhuman abilities radically changed after that night, devoting his life to selfless heroics. For years afterwards, May too harbored guilt thinking had she not argued with Ben, perhaps her husband would still be alive. May was left to continue her life without Ben’s strength—a life further complicated by financial woes, her own ever-failing health, and the strange new secrecy with which Peter conducted his affairs.
To help his aunt pay the bills, including the escalating costs of her various medications, Peter took a job photographing himself as Spider-Man for the Daily Bugle. May was worried about her fragile nephew, taking pictures so close to the most dangerous of super-powered battles. For Peter, lying to his aunt became a painful—yet seemingly necessary—way of life. Merely by being in the company of Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brant, May was kidnapped by Doctor Octopus during the first attack of the Sinister Six. Though Betty was Doc Ock’s intended target, he treated May so well she never realized the charming scientist was in fact a deadly villain.
Soon after Ben’s death, May became seriously ill and was hospitalized, requiring a blood transfusion. Though not a blood relative, Peter was a suitable match for May; after a moment of hesitation, uncertain what his radioactive blood would do to his aunt, Peter agreed to give May the transfusion. May was restored to health and recuperated in Florida. Sometime later, the radioactivity in her bloodstream began to kill May. Aided by Dr. Curt Connors, AKA Lizard, Peter overcame many obstacles through the underwater headquarters of Dr. Octopus in order to deliver a serum, ISO36, which stopped her blood from deteriorating, and saved her life.
For a long time, May’s neighbor and best friend, Anna Watson, conspired with May to introduce Anna’s niece, Mary Jane Watson, to Peter, but both teenagers resisted. Finally, Peter could put off meeting Mary Jane no longer, and was attracted to her at first sight. Thus began the courtship of Peter and Mary Jane. Peter greatly reduced his need to deceive his aunt when he relocated to an apartment in Manhattan, while Anna Watson moved in with May. Though Peter and May now lived farther apart, many of Spider-Man’s battles still took place dangerously close to May.
The wall-crawler’s web seemed to be inextricably woven into May’s life. Abner Jenkins, AKA Beetle, took May as a random hostage, and Spider-Man again rescued her. Just when life had begun to quiet down, May inherited a Canadian island that was the site of a uranium mine and small commercial reactor. Doctor Octopus charmed May into a sudden wedding, with the aim of acquiring the island’s valuable atomic resources for his own nefarious ends. But the intervention of Hammerhead resulted in the destruction of the island and the apparent death of May’s groom-to-be. Later, Harry Osborn, AKA Green Goblin, captured a confused May after he uncovered Spider-Man’s secret identity, but May was rescued unharmed, none the wiser as to her nephew’s exploits.
The shock of seeing the apparent return of Peter’s murdered girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (actually a clone created by Professor Miles Warren, AKA Jackal) sent May back to the hospital. There she was confronted by the Mac Gargan, AKA Scorpion (later Venom), whom the Jackal, knowing Spider-Man’s identity, directed to May; May indignantly scolded the Scorpion after Spider-Man defeated him. While Peter and Mary Jane grew closer than ever during this time, the apparent return of “Gwen” derailed their romance. May supported Mary Jane, encouraging her to fight for her man, much the way May had to be assertive while dating shy Ben Parker to bring about their engagement. Mary Jane, however, later rejected Peter when he proposed to her, and moved to Florida.
Despite her nagging ill health, May maintained an iron will. However, while taking part in a rally at City Hall with senior citizen activist group, the Gray Panthers, she suffered a mild heart attack and was sent to Newhope Memorial Hospital. As she continued her convalescence at the Restwell Nursing Home, the burglar who had killed her husband was freed from prison. Still seeking the treasure hidden in the Parkers’ home, the burglar forced the head of the nursing home (Mysterio posing as Dr. Ludwig Rinehart) to fake Aunt May’s death so she could be interrogated without the interference of her doting nephew. When Peter discovered the truth, his fury was so terrifying that the burglar died of a heart attack. More tragic was the fact that all May’s suffering was over nothing: silverfish had long since eaten the treasure.
May returned to Forest Hills after recovering sufficiently and set up her home as a boarding house, taking in half a dozen paying houseguests. During this time, Peter and May’s relationship hit a low point. When Peter decided to drop out of his graduate studies at Empire State University, May was so upset she stopped speaking to him for a time, but the two eventually reconciled. Among May’s boarders was Nathan Lubensky—a charming, wheelchair-bound gentleman she had met at the nursing home. The two were engaged until May witnessed a cold, cruel side to Nathan who caused the death of a mugger who had invaded their house after Spider-Man had already webbed the crook; May called off the wedding. Despite this, Nathan’s final act proved his affection for May: he died to prevent her from becoming a hostage of Adrian Toomes, AKA Vulture. Mary Jane returned to New York, and May was overjoyed when she and Peter were married. While the newlyweds lived in Manhattan, May decided to close the boarding house and live alone. She shared a few dates with mailman Willie Lumpkin during this time.
Then, May was reunited with Richard and Mary Parker, Peter’s parents, to her astonishment. While they were convincing to Peter, May’s doubts were confirmed; they were in fact replicoid duplicates, created by Dmitri Kravinoff, AKA Chameleon, as part of Harry Osborn’s complex revenge schemes. Shortly thereafter, Peter believed he had lost his aunt when she seemingly died of old age. However, he was unaware of the depths to which Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, had sunk. Norman had kidnapped May and replaced her with a genetically adapted actress. While Norman lost what remained of his sanity—taking part in the mystical ceremony, the Gathering of Five—his former agent, Alison Mongrain, aided by Joseph “Robbie” Robertson, revealed May’s location to Peter. Peter rescued his aunt and defeated the crazed Green Goblin, whose plans for the real May were never fully revealed.
After May returned, she struggled to regain her place in Peter’s life. It was with Mary Jane’s reported death (though secretly kidnapped by the mysterious “Stalker”) that Peter again realized the strength he and May could give to each other. Though Mary Jane was rescued, she and Peter separated for a time; Peter relied on May to help him through the difficult times of loss—as they had helped each other many years before.
Arriving at Peter’s apartment one afternoon, May finally learned the truth her nephew had so long concealed. Battered and bruised, Peter was asleep in bed with his Spider-Man costume and equipment tossed on the floor. After spending a whole day dealing with her newfound knowledge, May finally confronted Peter and began to break through a lifetime of deception. Seemingly stronger than ever, May was driven to improve Spider-Man’s public image and determined to understand Peter’s alter ego. With the lies behind them, May and Peter’s relationship deepened like never before, reborn through a new level of honesty and trust.
Mary Jane returned to Peter, and she and May were partners in caring for Spider-Man. When Norman Osborn was finally jailed, publicly revealed to be the Green Goblin, he had May captured by the Scorpion and buried in a sleep-like state as ransom for his liberation from jail. Spider-Man complied, freeing Osborn and rescuing May. More tragedy struck May as her home in Forest Hills was burned down by Charlie Weiderman, a vengeful former classmate of Peter’s. While Spider-Man joined the Avengers, May was invited to move into the luxurious Stark Tower to live with Peter and Mary Jane. There she befriended and began dating whom she believed was Edwin Jarvis, the Avenger’s butler (secretly an alien Skrull infiltrating the Avengers). During a date with “Edwin,” her beloved husband reappeared. This Ben Parker was, in fact, taken from an alternate universe Earth-6078 by Robin Borne, AKA Hobgoblin, of an alternate Earth in the year 2211. Rejected by the horrified May, Ben fled and was ultimately killed.
May supported Peter’s decision to publicly unmask for the sake of Iron Man and the Superhuman Registration Act. Peter later regretted his decision and withdrew his support for Stark. A fugitive from the law, Peter moved into a seedy motel with May and Mary Jane. When the incarcerated Wilson Fisk, AKA Kingpin, learned of Spider-Man’s identity, he dispatched a sniper to the motel. Peter saved Mary Jane from the sniper’s bullet, but May was struck instead. In a coma, May was hospitalized under her maiden name. In the same hospital as the cancer-stricken Eddie Brock, AKA Venom, May was nearly murdered by the deranged Brock. With May still in a coma, Peter discreetly offered May another transfusion of his blood, but the effort failed. Hoping to revive his aunt, Peter contacted the comatose May via the psychic Cassandra Webb, AKA Madame Web, but May seemed complacent about her fate. As the police investigated the suspicious nature of May’s gunshot injury, Peter and Mary Jane were forced to break the law to move May to another hospital. After Peter violently demanded Tony Stark help pay for May’s hospital bills, Stark remorsefully sent “Jarvis” to deliver two million dollars. Still, May’s doctor offered little hope for her recovery. Peter frantically searched to save the life of his precious aunt. Out of options, he and Mary Jane painfully consented to a deal with Hell-Lord Mephisto, who offered to restore May in exchange for eliminating their marriage from ever occurring in history.
Subsequently, May returned in full health to her home in Forest Hills, rebuilt by Harry Osborn (who had returned after faking his death). No longer aware of Peter’s alter ego (through unrevealed means), May temporarily housed her nephew until he found a new apartment. She has been volunteering at the Food, Emergency Aid, Shelter, and Training project (FEAST), a homeless shelter under the management of Martin Li, AKA Mr. Negative, and began a romantic relationship with J. Jonah Jameson’s father, J. Jonah Sr. (Jay), who proposed marriage and surprised May by gathering her extended family in Boston for an engagement celebration. After their wedding, May and Jay honeymooned around the world. Back in New York, May was temporarily corrupted by Mr. Negative, turning brusque and cruel, until May’s love for her nephew overrode the effects.
After this incident and many dangers May faced due to being affiliated with Spider-Man, she and John decided to leave New York for their safety. They moved to Boston, but still visited the city from time to time. Upon flying back for such a visit, their plane experienced a tough landing after being hit from one of the newly minted Super Hero Andrew Maguire, AKA Alpha’s energy beams. May suffered a hip injury from the landing, which left her without the use of one of her legs for a time.
Despite facing this danger, the couple decided to move back to New York. Peter made her a prosthesis for her hip, but little did she know his mind and body had been taken over by Doc Ock who was posing as her nephew. Once Peter had his body back, he apologized to May for how he had acted, while possessed, and checked out her prosthesis. At this time, he also cut his Spider-Man ties to Parker Industries, which were made stronger by Doc Ock.
May then became an executive assistant to private detective Howard the Duck, keeping him accountable to his schedule and clients and working alongside his ally Tara Tam. While Parker Industries grew, May and John joined the Uncle Ben Foundation, a charity that provided for those in need. Not long afterward, John died from old age. She then helped out Spider-Man when Parker Industries’ Shanghai branch suffered an attack by Hydra and Superior Octopus, giving him the emotional support boost that he needed to save the world from their nefarious ends.
When May was diagnosed with Cancer, she kept it from Peter at first but ultimately shared the news with him and that she was moving forward with chemotherapy. He didn’t respond well right off the bat as he hated to see her so vulnerable. But when she started her chemo, he was already at the cancer center to meet her. He brought her things to keep her busy, like coffee, crosswords, and trashy magazines, which she was grateful for but more so for his presence during her time of need.