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Splitsville for Spider-Man! Marriage to MJ erased from memory!

Sure he could be nerdy, even a bit of a wimp when not in his Spider-Man suit. But one thing Peter Parker always had going for him was a rock-solid marriage to beautiful Mary Jane.

Until now.

Fans of the comic book character are climbing the walls (and not in emulation of their hero, either) at the news that Spider-Man and Mary Jane are kaput.

"When we first did it, the reaction was, 'How could you do this? This is a terrible thing to do,' " acknowledged Marvel Comics Editor In Chief Joe Quesada, who invented the story line that turned Spider-Man into Single-Man.

"But with the first issue of 'Brand New Day' (the 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 the web-spinning superhero and his alter ego, Peter Parker, footloose and fancy-free again, Quesada assures, he will be able to have new adventures, get into new dilemmas and, who knows, maybe even woo back Mary Jane?

Say what?

Well, Spider-Man and Mary Jane did not divorce. After Peter Parker's beloved Aunt May was wounded by an assassin, the couple reluctantly struck a deal with the devil-like Mephisto in which May would be restored to good health if they allowed Mephisto to erase everyone's memory of their time as a couple.

It might have been a great plot twist, but not if you are one of those fans who thought that after 21 years of marriage Pete and MJ (as readers affectionately know her) 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 super heroes 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.

But what of the man who created Spider-Man? What does he think?

"I think it's 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," said Stan Lee, who was not involved in the current story.

It was Lee who married Spider-Man and Mary Jane in a mock ceremony at New York's Shea Stadium in 1987.

"Amazing that they're not even middle-aged yet," quipped the 85-year-old comic book legend.