Spider-Man: Where did it all go wrong?

Spider-Man has probably been in the news (not the real news; they don’t care about comic books, unless Captain America dies on a slow news day. No, I’m talking about the comics news, spread out across a gazillion internet blogs and websites) more than any other super-hero recently, thanks to Marvel’s “One More Day” storyline. Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you know very well what that storyline entailed, but on the off-chance that the only thing you know about Spider-Man is that Kirsten Dunst is a hottie, let me quickly explain.

In the comics, Spider-Man has been married to the beautiful Mary Jane Watson for (our time) almost 20 years. I believe they got married in 1989, but I’m too lazy to look up the exact date. No, I lie, I’m not that lazy. They actually got married in 1987, so they’ve been married for over 20 years. Apparently, there were those at Marvel Comics, led by Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, who felt that their marriage had destroyed some of the very essence of what made Spider-Man the character in which millions had fallen in love. They wanted to get rid of the marriage, but how can you do that? If they get divorced, then Peter Parker has the baggage of a failed marriage. If she dies, then he’s a widower. Neither solution makes him the character he was in the 1960s and 70s.

The solution, from Marvel’s point of view, was “One More Day.” Here’s that quick synopsis I promised: Aunt May has been shot and lies dying. Mephisto, one of the many Marvel Universe iterations of Satan, promises to save May’s life if he can erase Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage from reality. They will not be married, they will have never been married, and no one will remember the marriage. Peter Parker weighs the options over in his mind. “Hmmm,” he thinks, “do I give up sex, love and a strong marriage with a gorgeous redhead who is a former model, or do I save my aunt, who’s 120 years old? What would my Uncle Ben do?” It’s an easy decision. Or it would be, if it had been made by the character. Sadly, it was made by a couple of 40 year old men who refuse to leave their childhoods. Parker took the deal, and the marriage was undone.

There seem to be two schools of thought on this subject. One school believes this to be the stupidest story in a long history of stupid stories, and a bad idea, since it rewrites two decades of Spider-Continuity. The other school believes this to be the stupidest story in a long history of stupid stories, but hey, at least it got rid of the marriage that had ruined their beloved wall-crawler, so alls well that ends well. No one seems to have liked the story itself, with the possible exception of J. Michael Straczynski’s accountants, when he cashed the checks he received from writing said story.

For our purposes, we need to look at where Spider-Man went wrong as a character, and what can be done to fix him. For the purposes of the “One More Day” story, the question is whether or not his marriage to Mary Jane was a mistake. Personally, I liked the marriage. My feeling is that, when you publish a character for over forty years, there has to be some sort of character development. By getting married, Peter was growing up, the exact same thing Stan Lee had him doing when he had Peter graduate from high school and go to college within the first three years of the comic’s existence. A married Peter Parker was an interesting Peter Parker, as he now had to consider how his actions would affect, not just his Aunt May, but his wife as well. Plus, the interaction between Peter and Mary Jane was phenomenal, and when they also interacted with his Aunt, they were a full realized family unit, realistic and relatable. They seemed like real people. It is an irony of which I am quite aware that the writer who did so much to make this family so interesting to readers was J. Michael Straczynski, who then was the one to destroy this family in “One More Day.”

But perhaps not everyone agrees with me, so I open this to the others.

Wait…wasn’t Straczynski the same hack who got Gwen knocked up by the Green Goblin? He’s the reason I stopped reading Spider-Man comics in the first place (and I’ve got a pretty impressive collection). Much like nearly every other modern comic being produced today, I felt that Amazing Spider-Man had gotten weighed down by “real life” and wasn’t the fun book I enjoyed growing up.

That said, I’m torn on the marriage thing. I remember buying the wedding issue (one copy of each cover, thank you) and thinking “Wow, this carefree, wisecracking young hero is getting tied down. How sad.” Of course, I was in high school at the time and didn’t really relate to marriage. Things change. Now I’m married with kids and Peter Parker seems like a guy who wants to make things work but, regardless of his Uncle’s responsibility adage, can never quite get it together.

On one hand, being married takes a lot of independence away from Spider-Man. Like I said, he always seemed like the high-flying, fast-talking type to me. He stays out late. He doesn’t clean up after himself. He just wants to have fun.

On the other hand, he and MJ really work as a couple. And hell, there are very few marriages in comics, good or otherwise. It was a genuine relationship that built over the years and reached its logical next step.

Here’s my thoughts on the storyline: Aunt May is freaking old. She’s served her purpose. May acted as Peter’s conscience. She represented his vulnerability. And she anchored him. Big deal. Let the bonebag die. Seriously. What’s the big loss? Hasn’t MJ embodied all of those aspects in her own way already? By losing Aunt May, but holding onto MJ, does anything really change in Peter’s life?

Wow…a deal with the devil. That’s original. Look, it doesn’t even make sense on paper. How did that get through editorial? By eliminating the marriage, they’ve set back Spidey’s history by 20 years. Everything that happened to him since 1987 can no longer technically exist because the circumstances that caused the history have changed. It’s some sort of bizarre chaos string theory in reverse. People that he’s met, words that he said, things that he did. All gone. And, in practice, that blank slate has to emanate to every corner of the Marvel Universe. Anyone who crossed paths with Petey during that time must be revamped too. Events that he took part in can no longer be put forth as fact. IT’S ALL WRONG.

Of course, eliminating 20 years of continuity also gets rid of the “Gwen had the Goblin’s twins” storyline AND the -shudder- “Spider-Clone Saga.” I guess that’s not a bad thing.

The problem here is that Marvel has painted itself into a corner where the only “logical” solution is to just make the relationship never happen. It’s almost as bad as the Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower move. Like John said, they couldn’t kill off MJ because then Peter would seem weak or damaged for not being able to protect her. And they couldn’t divorce them because then Petey would either come across as a victim or a jerk (depending on who did the dumping). Even when they briefly separated the couple, Spidey became all whiny and woe-is-me. I got tired very quickly of his inner monologues about how he had screwed everything up. It was almost annoying as most of the scripts from the 90’s animated series.

Oddly enough, it turns out that the “Mephisto Gambit” was also proposed as a solution to the horrible 90’s Clone Saga, but was dismissed as being “out of Spider-Man’s league.” Hmph.

The question before us is “What next?” If I recall correctly, the Clone Saga was followed up by a completely forgettable storyline. Of course, that’s not really fair. Most of 90’s Marvel stories were completely forgettable. So is that the solution? Just write a bunch of filler issues until everyone forgets the debacle and then hope against hope that the readers will eventually come back?

Before I answer Jason’s questions, I have to make a couple of comments. Yes, Straczynski wrote the reviled story where Gwen had sex with Norman Osborn. Yes, we all shudder to think of it. However, if one strips away that story, I think they’ll see that Straczynski has a very good grasp of the character of Spider-Man and of his supporting cast. There were also a lot of people who didn’t like his take on “Spider Totems” and Ezekiel, and the idea that his powers were more magic based than science based. Having read those stories, I think Straczynski actually does a brilliant job of saying, “Maybe my magical explanation works, but if you don’t like it, the science explanation still works just fine.” He didn’t set his new continuity up as a definite, but just as a possibility, and in the end, I thought the story was very well done.

I won’t condemn Straczynski for deciding that Gwen would do the nasty with Norman Osborn. I didn’t like the plot, but he had enough credit from his previous stories that I let it slide. To me, the characters are more important than the plot (which is not to say plot is unimportant, but I think character trumps it) and Straczynski knew these characters inside and out. In fact, I find it interesting that rumors abound that he wanted his name removed from some of “One More Day”, because he didn’t like the way the story was progressing, and the eventual outcome.

Jason mentions that he sees Spider-Man as a high flying and fast talking hero. Some people feel that he’s more interesting as a single man. I’ve read numerous commentators (including Mr. Silver Age, who writes for the Comics Buyers Guide) who seem to think that these are intrinsic parts of his character, as are his status as a hard luck hero. Perhaps I’ve always missed the point of Spider-Man, but I consider only one facet of his character to be intrinsic: his innate sense of responsbility. It’s his understanding that with great power, comes great responsibility. That’s what makes Peter a hero. That’s what makes him interesting. I know that the original stories often cast him as a hero with the worst luck imaginable and more problems than he knew what to do with, but if you look at his origin, I don’t think that the hard-luck hero is part of it. Sure, he was picked on, but that just made him a geek. Otherwise, the only bad luck he had was when his uncle was killed by the same burglar that Peter had allowed to escape him (which, I have to admit, is horrifically bad luck), but it wasn’t so much bad luck as it was necessary for his origin to work. I’m not sure that you need the hard-luck hero to write good Spidey stories.

Yes, Aunt May is expendable. In fact, they’ve killed her already. In Amazing Spider-Man #400 she died. J.M. DeMatteis (what is it with hard to spell names that I have to look up like his and Straczynski….why can’t I be typing about Jim Lee?) wrote a touching and heartfelt story where May and Peter spend some time together, and then she passes away silently in bed. It makes me cry everytime I read it. And they did just fine without her for a few years, before someone decided that they needed to bring her back.

So, how does this get fixed? Well, I have to admit, sometimes there is more harm to be done by trying to fix bad continuity than there is in simply throwing your hands up in the air, giving up, and ignoring it. That worked fine with the Spider-Clone storyline, because in the end, there were no changes to continuity, and you could cut those years out of the Spider-Man mythos without really changing much. Sadly, that doesn’t work for “One More Day”, since we’re left with a screwed up continuity. If we ignore it, then what? If Peter starts getting serious with someone in a relationship, we’re basically going to be treading much of the ground we already tread with Mary Jane. I suppose they could put him with someone who’s personality is much different than MJ’s, but I think that many of the problems faced in a relationship are somewhat universal, and it still seems like they’ll be retelling the same stories all over again.

This also brings up another problem with “One More Day”. This plotline again shows us how short-sighted Marvel Editorial is. What sort of future can Peter have? If he gets serious with another woman, what are they going to do? They can let them date for awhile, but after dating for years, it’s going to begin to look bad if Peter won’t take the next logical step. Besides, once a relationship gets serious, you start to have some of the same issues you have with marriage, even if the participants aren’t actually married. So is he never going to be allowed to be serious with a woman again? If he gets serious, are they going to start dropping them off bridges again, as they did with Gwen? It seems that Peter is either destined to always be moving from relationship to relationship and never getting serious (which is likely to eventually make him look like something of a cad) or he’s destined to get in a serious relationship and make more deals with Satan knock-offs. What kind of solution is this?

I think something has to be done about “One More Day”. I’m not sure what. Not much time has passed; how about Peter waking up, and Mary Jane is in the shower and the whole thing is a dream?

Zing! And we’re right back to the Dallas solution. I agree with your assessment about relationships. Marvel can’t honestly hook Peter up with another woman or the readers will scream foul. Then we get into Bruce Wayne territory…which is to say, every time a new female character shows up as a love interest in Batman , DC has Pavlov-dogged us to know that she’ll either turn out to be evil or she be killed within four issues. It’s similar to the new red-shirted dude on any given episode of Star Trek or the mysterious stranger that shows up at the Peach Pit on Beverly Hills 90210. That kind of mindless redundancy is what destroys the limited credibility of comics.

I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but thinking about it, the dream bit makes a lot of sense in this situation. Petey’s under a lot of stress from the “unmasking on national TV” thing…he’s bummed about his aunt’s health…maybe he has a wicked ingrown toenail or something…why wouldn’t he have a fever dream about the devil?

You’re right. This isn’t an ignorable offense. This changes everything. And it needs to be changed back before it’s too late.

Well, I had a great post all written, and it was witty and insightful and would have netted me that Pulitzer for sure….and the computer ate it. Somehow. I have no idea. These new fangled computer things sure throw me. I had originally suggested to Jason that we simply chisel our thoughts onto stone tablets, as we did back in my childhood. Jason felt that we would not receive as much attention as we would posting onto a blog. “Well, what if we threw the stone tablets at people, asking them to read them? Maybe drop them from airplanes. That should get us attention,” I suggested, proud that I had reached a solution for the apparent problem. Oddly, Jason said nothing, but simply slowly backed out of the room.

On the plus side, this means that this post will probably be more concise and easier to read. You’ll have to imagine that it is much wittier than it really is, and trust me that all of the good snarky comments and funny jokes were actually eaten by the computer. In fact, feel free to assume that about any posts I make from this time forward.

I’m not sure that fixing Spider-Man would be that difficult, and I think we can even do it without using a plotline from a nighttime soap opera that aired over two decades ago. First of all, can Mephisto really bend reality in this way? I know he’s cosmic level, but I thought he was more Galactus level. I don’t think Galactus can rewrite reality for an entire planet. That seems like something that only someone on the level of Eternity can do. If we assume that this is slightly outside Mephisto’s power range, that means that this never happened. What happened? Here’s how I would lay it out.

We keep doing the stories in Amazing Spider-Man for a few months, as we’ve been doing. However, Peter starts waking up from dreams. In these dreams, he’s married to MJ, and he’s very happy (as they often were). The dreams are good, but he’s somewhat sad when he awakens, since he now has no one with which to share his life. Meanwhile, while awake, things start going bad for him. Small things at first, but they escalate, and soon he’s dealing with some relatively major problems, all depressing and disheartening. Meanwhile, he’s still having these dreams of his marriage to MJ, and they’re getting more vivid.

I wouldn’t drag this on for more than a few months. Soon, his new life is crumbling around him, but his dream life is strong. However, he’s beginning to remember more of this dream life including the deal he made with Mephisto to give up his marriage. Something about that rubs him wrong, the first thing in his dream life that has done so. It just doesn’t seem like something he would do. As problems continue to mount in the waking world, he retreats into his dream life, all the while beginning to realize something is wrong. Suddenly, in a burst of emotion, he wakes up to find himself confined in Mephisto’s realm.

It turns out that Mephisto, always eager to break a noble person (as he’s continually tried with the Silver Surfer), saw Peter Parker before “One More Day”. Peter was incredibly vulnerable at that time….his aunt was dying, he was on the run from the law, many of his super-hero friends were unavailable to him because of Civil War, the population hated him more than normal, he had just dealt with Captain America dying, he had been fired from his source of income…so Mephisto grabbed him and took him to his realm. There, he tried to break his spirit, but Peter fought back.

Perhaps his escape from Mephisto’s illusionary world was facilitated by Dr. Strange. After all, Strange was a teammate in the New Avengers, and if Peter was missing for a few days, no doubt Strange would have tried to find him. Strange found Peter in Mephisto’s realm, and he comes with a group of New Avengers. The New Avengers fight some miscellaneous demons, while Peter faces Mephisto, and beats him in some sort of philosophical discussion (so the victory remains Peter’s), or if that seems dumb, perhaps Strange just grabs Peter and they get the heck out of there.

This returns Peter to the real world. He rushes to the hospital and gets to speak with his Aunt May one more time, before she dies. He has MJ to comfort him, and together, they move on with their lives. The end. Well, except for the fact that we now have a ton of plots open to us. I have more thoughts, but I want to try and post this, and see what the others think first. And there may be a better way to undo this, which I’d be more than willing to entertain.

Holy crap! That’s BEAUTIFUL. Have I mentioned how much doubt I had about this website working correctly and how that all disappeared with your latest response? No? Okay, then just forget I said that. Wouldn’t want your ego to get any bigger.

I’ve always hated non-tangible villains like Eternity and Death and all that stuff (almost as much as I dislike most cosmic characters, but that’s for another post). Give me a guy you can just punch in the face and I’m satisfied. Mephisto is better left in a drawer somewhere and, hopefully, this retcon would put him back there for another decade or two. It makes perfect sense with Spidey’s New Avengers connections and the general paranoia gripping the Marvel Universe right now. It’s a perfect mirror-verse brought on by Peter’s vulnerability under the circumstances.

And we get rid of Aunt May in the process. Huzzah!

Thank you. You’re too kind. What saddens me is that no one at Marvel Comics will take the time to devise a solution like this one (and I don’t mean a solution that uses these elements, but any solution that solves a major problem with their continuity). Of course, Marvel doesn’t see the problem here, and I suppose that saddens me more than anything. Look at what happens if we get rid of “One More Day”, let Aunt May die, and continue Peter in the Marvel Universe married to Mary Jane.

First of all, the relationship between Peter and Tony Stark can never be the same. Even though we know that Peter will always blame himself for his Aunt’s death, just as he does his Uncle’s, he surely is going to acknowledge the part that Stark played in everything. Had Stark not convinced Peter to unmask, the chain of events that led to May’s death would not have happened. Had Stark not pushed through the Superhero Registration Act, and at the same time, begun acting like Iron Fascist, Peter and his family would not have been forced out of Avengers Tower, and May would not have been vulnerable. Stark is indirectly responsible for May’s death.

Now, I don’t think you use May’s death to make Peter grim and gritty. That’s not Peter, and if Ben’s death didn’t turn him into Blood-Spider, I don’t think May’s should. I don’t see Peter infiltrating the Helicarrier with an Uzi to take out Stark, especially since we know that Peter will ultimately lay the blame at his own feet. That being said, when the craziness of Civil War subsides, and all the heroes love each other again, which is bound to happen, there will always be some bad blood between Peter and Stark. I think you could write some very interesting scenes between the two of them, the next time they end up in the Baxter Building during one of those huge cosmic crossovers, where all the heroes plan how to beat the cosmic villain with an afro.

What about the Kingpin? He ordered May’s death, and he did it from prison. How does Peter react to this? He’s fought the Kingpin for years, but now it’s personal. This isn’t the Kingpin getting Matt Murdock disbarred; this is the Kingpin ordering the death of Peter’s only living blood relative. Again, I don’t think Peter should put a Spider-Skull on his chest and go gunning for the Kingpin (although, am I the only one who thinks it would be amusing to see the Spider-Punisher, with a little spider skull and crossbones on his chest?), surely Peter is going to want to see justice done. But the Kingpin’s already in jail. So what can Peter do him? Killing isn’t an option, and neither is incarceration. Peter’s resourceful, and I think there could be an interesting plot there as well.

Finally, for those who approved of “One More Day” for making Peter closer to his original incarnation, we get that too. He spent years being guilty over his actions being responsible for the death of his Uncle Ben. However, over time, that has somewhat faded (it won’t ever fade completely, but you can’t be guilty about something for forty years). Now, he can have that with the death of his Aunt May, which again came about because of his actions. That’s some good psychological drama there.

I think there’s more possibilities in this direction, more stories to be told, and new ground to be tread, rather than old ground to be retread. Now all we need to do is get someone to agree with us. Who has Joe Quesada’s phone number?

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