Defending the Defenders.

Apr-15-08

Okay, enough playing around with the big boys. Let’s dig into the meat that the readers really want to read…

Steve Englehart. Len Wein. Chris Claremont. Steve Gerber. J.M. DeMatteis. Gerry Conway. Pretty much an award-winning list of writers from Marvel’s history, right? So why does The Defenders have such a tragic track record when it comes to comics? Why is the very mention of the team a punchline for the comic book media? Well, let’s examine some of the details:

Problem #1 – The Defenders is a non-team (or so they say). It’s continually pushed, both in the book itself and in Marvel’s communications with the fans, that The Defenders is Marvel’s non-team of heroes. Seriously. That was their selling point.

Problem #2 – The original team consists of Sub-Mariner, Hulk, Silver Surfer and Doctor Strange. That’s four nigh-omnipotent characters that have next to nothing in common. I guess that was supposed to be the charm…either that or they had to use the characters somehow before their trademarks ran out. Of course, The Defenders changed members more often than Spinal Tap changed drummers. I’m surprised any of them even knew each other’s names. The title quickly became Marvel’s circular file for unused characters.

Problem #3 – Many of the team’s adventures had to do with villains named Yandroth, Xemnu, Nebulon, Mandrill, Overmind and The Headmen. Wow. Those names just invoke terror, don’t they? I am an insufferable fan of hokey villains, but only in the right context. A truck driver dressed in coveralls, rubber gloves and an electrified pig’s hide is the perfect foil for a laid-back and sarcastic Spider-Man. But when you have four of the universe’s most powerful heroes going up against a giant dust bunny , therewith a unibrow’s a clear disconnect.

Problem #4 – Closely associated with the bad villains is the fact that most of the adventures The Defenders embarked upon were either overly concerned with bizarre dimensions or so steeped in cosmic mumbo-jumbo that they were almost nonsensical. What the hell are the science-minded Beast and the Prince of Atlantis doing in a Dali-esque dimension straight out of Alice in Wonderland? And, seriously, the Dragon of the Moon? If I can’t even explain it to my wife, then I don’t blame anyone for not reading it.

So, to sum up the problems: The Defenders couldn’t pin down a membership (and when they did, the chemistry wasn’t there), they fought obscure foes in weird situations and no one took them seriously as a team. How the heck do you fix all of that?

I’m not sure if you do fix it. I think that the strength of the Defenders is in their innate ability to fight obscure foes in weird situations. Let’s be honest; if you have a super-hero team, you really should have a reason for them to exist. They need some sort of hook to justify their existence. The X-Men are for the mutants, the Fantastic Four are explorers, the Avengers are the premiere super-team….and the Defenders, I think, are more of a mystical group, fighting those foes that no other hero even know exists.

I think the Defenders worked best when they were associated with Dr. Strange, whether or not he was a regular member. Strange was able to pinpoint and identify mystical threats, or at least more obscure threats, that other super-teams didn’t really know (or, to be honest, probably care) about, but truly were dangerous to the world. In fact, I think the Defenders even became somewhat known for this. I remember, when the Defenders were fighting a group of demons called The Six Fingered Hand, that they got a call from the Avengers. Captain America basically called them to say, “Hey Strange! We found some really weird *^@#, so we think you should take care of it!” Everyone knew that the Defenders operated on the outskirts of the Marvel Universe.

With that being said, if you move in that direction, you also find that the Defenders fulfill a need that is currently not being filled in the Marvel Universe, and that’s dealing with things in a more supernatural or mystical bent. With Strange being the only really well known magical hero in the Marvel Universe, and with Strange no longer having a monthly comic, I think there is a true dearth of stories that touch on the occult. And yes, Strange is currently in the New Avengers, but when he’s with them, he’s just a superhero with magical powers. There’s no sense of a magical realm like you used to see in his own series.

So, I think that the first step would be to assemble a group of Defenders that gathers together some of their more mystically aligned members (and there have been plenty of them) and then sending them off to defend the supernatural edges of the Marvel Universe that tend to be ignored by the mainstream heroes.

I think you hit the nail on the head in that last sentence: The Defenders need to defend something. They need to defend the Earth from weirdness. They need to defend reality itself. And I agree that that mission begins and ends with Doctor Strange. He was the character that drew me to the Defenders to begin with (to be honest, I’ve never liked the Hulk or the Silver Surfer and I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the potential of Namor).

I guess one of the inherent problems with the original run of the Defenders was just a product of the times. You mention the occult and it has to be acknowledged that a certain interest in occult themes peaked in the 1970’s. I remember a lot of Bronze Age books from Marvel touched on those same ideas…Tomb of Dracula, Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Marvel Spotlight (with Son of Satan) and, to an extent, Conan the Barbarian…not to mention Heavy Metal magazine and DC’s Swamp Thing, House of Mystery and House of Secrets. It was like leftover sixties hippie residue, black light posters and psychedelic music all coming together to freak people out.

Once those energies dissipated, interest in the Defenders waned. You can see it in the fact that Beast joined up and immediately worked to legally justify the team’s existence. Up until that point, it was just an informal association of heroes who happened to have the same interests and experiences. And I think that’s what it should get back to as well. I want to see a “team” of occultists, mystics and magic-based characters working together to investigate the edges of the Marvel universe. But I don’t want it to be an extension of SHIELD or the government, it should be a group that is completely unknown and invisible to the world. Think less X-Files and more Buffy. They have their own networking abilities built on trust and ancient history. They go where they need to go and do what they need to do. No rules. No distractions.

My other problem with the original Defenders lineup, as I mentioned above, was the inordinate amount of raw power it contained. Sure, they could punch the hell out of foes, but does that really help on the magic side of things? I think any plausible Defenders lineup should have a focus more on detective abilities and a knowledge of the obscure, a certain attunement to that realm and its surroundings. So who fits the bill in the Marvel Universe?

Well, let’s look at past Defenders to begin with. Obviously, Dr. Strange would be the catalyst for forming the group. Like you said, he is Marvel’s foremost authority on magic and the most easily recognized manifestation of it. One of my favorite characters, who I don’t believe has been used properly lately, is Daimon Hellstrom. When you think of occult, you can’t get much more appropriate than a Lord of Hell who has tried to rebel against his lineage. He and his wife (Ex-wife? Estranged wife?) Patsy Walker once ran an investigation business themselves. Gargoyle had been living with the couple for years after the New Defenders disbanded…you can’t look at that character without thinking of Gothic horror stories. And, for a character steeped in both a mythic past and his own scientific education, Black Knight would be a curious addition to the team. He was a Defenders member briefly and brings a legitimacy with his Avengers past.

Outside of previous members, I’ve always been interested in Cloak and Dagger. They’re young, they live on the edge of society and yet have a certain connection to religion, purity and salvation. Both have worked with Strange in the past and recently post-Civil War. I think they’d add youth and a different outlook to the team.

How’s that for a new Defenders lineup?

The wonderful thing about using Dr. Strange is that he’s a really busy man. He can pull the team together (as he did many times during the run of the original series), set them on their path, and then he can fade out if you don’t want to use him (“Sorry, have to go check out a revolution behind The Purple Veil in the Dimension of Watoomb!”) or you can keep him front and center during the story. He works either way.

I think saying that Daimon Helstrom and Patsy Walker haven’t been used well lately is something of an understatement. I don’t want to knock the creators who have been using them since they left the Defenders, but their personalities seemed to change drastically, and for no good reason. I’m all for character development, and if natural forces change people to a point where they would no longer logically be together, I’m fine with that. But when characters just suddenly start acting like completely different people with no explanation as to why, I get concerned. That seemed to happen to both of these characters and I’m horribly confused as to their status, since it almost seems like writers have been throwing ideas about these two out to the reading audience pell mell, hoping something would stick. Heck, even the Marvel Universe official site doesn’t seem to know what’s up with these two crazy kids, as in some places on the site they’re considered separated and sometimes they’re considered divorced. What the heck?

I would love to see them used again. I don’t even have a problem with them being separated, or divorced. Look how much more interesting Hank and Jan Pym often were when they worked together after their divorce. And Jan was upset that Hank hit her….Patsy has that beat hands down, since her husband drove her to an insanity fueled suicide! I’m pretty sure that Patsy gets to be guest of honor at the next “My Super Powered Husband is a Big Fat Jerk” convention. I think the tension between the two of them could be very interesting.

I love Dane Whitman, and he really fits in well here. Except for Dr. Doom, I can’t think of another character who straddles the science/magic line so well. Dane is a scientist who wields a magic sword. He’s a modern man who spent years fighting in the crusades. He’s spent years of his life as a stone statue, fighting in the land of Avalon with the druid Amergin, and as a living weapon when his entire body started to become razor sharp, after invoking the curse of the Ebony Blade. There’s a great history here, but he hasn’t really had much of a showcase since he left the Avengers right before The Crossing started (and kudos to Dane for knowing the best time to get the heck out of that group).

I think Cloak and Dagger are a great duo, and don’t have much more to add to what you said about them. As for the Gargoyle…<sigh>. He does have an interesting visual. Sadly, his visual is about all that’s interesting about him. At the same time, there is potential here. I think the way to use him would be to play up the fact that he doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose. I always saw him hanging out with Patsy simply because he didn’t know what else to do. He’s really an old man, and it must seem to him that the world has passed him by. I think he’s got some potential, but for me, he’d be the most work. At the same time, once you started bouncing him off the other people in the group, he could become one of the most interesting people in the book. Who has not felt, at some time, as if they are adrift, without a specific goal, purpose or mission in life? Gargoyle would be easy for people to relate to.

And don’t forget Dr. Druid. I love Dr. Druid! I’m one of the select few comics readers who seem to like this character (I meet with the other three once a month), and boy, has he been misused over the years. He has a great history with Dane; they were close while Avengers, until Druid tried to take over Dane’s mind and use him for evil. I wonder if Dane has gotten over that yet? Sadly, Druid has a mild case of being dead that he’d have to recover from before he could be used. On the plus side, there’s obviously a medication in the Marvel Universe that cures that particular problem, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem.

What I really like about this group is that there isn’t a lot of raw power. Don’t get me wrong; none of these are really lightweights. But what they have in spades is knowledge (maybe not Cloak and Dagger so much, but the others). Hellstrom, Hellcat, Strange, Dane and Gargoyle (and Druid) are all experts in different areas of mysticism, the occult, and supernatural matters.

Plus, Patsy knows fashion.

Which is odd considering her costume is the lamest of the group. Zing!

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve always been a fan of the group or if it’s because this concept is so obvious, but I feel like we could do BUNCHES with this lineup. I’m more excited by this than any other ideas I’ve got running around in my head. I guess the biggest question is, “How do we get these characters together without it seeming forced?” Well, I’m going to take a stab at it…

Dr. Strange is meditating in his Sanctum Sanctorum when an odd noise disrupts him. The sound is coming from his library. When he enters the library, he sees an ancient artifact disappear in front of his eyes. He calls to Wong to ask if they’ve had a visitor, but both Wong and Strange’s own defenses reveal that no one has entered the building. Strange isn’t overly alarmed, but he is curious. He contacts Cloak and Dagger, because of their street connections, to ask them about the disturbance/possible theft. They assure him that they haven’t heard anything, but then Dagger reveals that she feels a strengthening evil. Strange asks Cloak to transport them to Massachusetts.

The trio arrives at the home of Daimon Hellstrom. He and Strange confer and Hellstrom agrees to help them in their search. The four of them arrive back at Strange’s abode where Wong informs them that two other artifacts have gone missing. Strange takes inventory and determines that the three missing items could be combined into a very powerful weapon. Strange finds Hellstrom in his library flipping through the pages of the Darkhold. As Strange is telling the group about the potential weapon, the Darkhold disappears right in front of them. Immediately, there is a knock on the door.

Wong opens the door to find The Dwarf (of the Darkhold). The Dwarf informs them that 12 pages of the Darkhold have been used. He then hands Wong a vellum envelope and vanishes. The envelope holds a piece of parchment with an arcane riddle on it. Strange decides they need more assistance to tackle this problem, but before they can decide on who to contact, something comes crashing through the window…a giant mutated crab’s claw. The heroes rush outside to confront hideous versions of Cancer, Scorpio, Leo and Taurus from the Zodiac.

After a brief battle, the heroes defeat these monsters. Daimon tells Strange he will return shortly. Then Strange uses his astral form to contact Dane Whitman (Black Knight). He tells Whitman about the possible supernatural weapon and enlists his help. Meanwhile, Hellstrom has traveled to find his ex-wife Patsy Walker and their friend Gargoyle. His appearance startles Patsy, but she tells him that her current position with The Initiative is not very fulfilling and, with the agreement of Gargoyle, the two of them go AWOL from The Initiative to join The Defenders.

The group returns to Strange’s home where they decode the riddle and determine that the force they are facing is none other than…Doctor Druid! Returning to the site of Druid’s death, they discover a black hole tearing through reality. Here, they face off with the rest of The Zodiac, possessed by the Darkhold pages. The team works well together in defeating their enemies. Druid emerges from the nothingness and promptly collapses in front of them.

As it turns out, Druid’s spirit had been inhabiting a plane that ran concurrent to reality. This allowed him to move easily between the centuries, essentially plucking the artifacts from the timestream before Dr. Strange ever had them in his possession. With the staff assembled and the Darkhold to power it, Druid was able to bring himself back from the dead. Unfortunately, the Zodiac were on the same plane with him and took advantage of his power to resurrect themselves as well. Druid wasn’t purposely doing all of this to be evil, but he had no other way to come back. The group accepts this explanation and welcomes Druid to their fold.

The NEW New Defenders

Unfortunately, by invoking the Darkhold and by using the weapon he created, Druid has started a ripple effect that threatens to allow the supernatural to take over reality. The Defenders now have a mission…to investigate these potential uprisings and defend the Earth from their powers.

I agree that this group as a lot of potential, and I think that the group could be very interesting. To me, team books succeed or fail on the strength of the personalities involved and how they interact. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, these characters have diverse backgrounds, and together, they have connecttions all over the Marvel Universe, from the street level contacts of Cloak and Dagger to the cosmic connections of Strange. There are also a lot of interesting character arcs that you could work through as you throw mystical menaces at them.

I really like the idea of having Gargoyle realize that his life since he became a super-hero has been somewhat bereft of any direction, at least one he set for himself. He’s followed the Defenders, and then the Hellstroms, and then Patsy alone, but he’s never done much on his own, and seems to be something of a blank slate when I’ve read anything with him in the past. I think that he’d want to start to find his own way in the world. He’s an older man (he should be at least in his 80s by now, although with the sliding Marvel timescale, that may not be accurate) when he’s not a gargoyle, and that has to color his actions. How do Patsy and Daimon feel about him hanging around them a lot? Do they like him, or is he kind of annoying to them, like Kramer from Seinfeld constantly hanging around? If the Gargoyle persona is functionally immortal (as in it doesn’t age), is his human form also immortal? Or, does anytime he spend as a human age that form? If so, time spent as a human would be quite precious for him and how would he want to spend it? Would he be attracted to the youth and vigor of Cloak and Dagger and want to spend time with them? Could they help him reconnect with who he used to be, and start making his own way? Or, would he find their youthful outlook confusing and unwelcome? There’s plenty of direction here.

How do Patsy and Daimon deal with each other? Obviously, there have been some bumps in the road for these two. Daimon even went out of his way to lie to Patsy, believing that she would be happier without him. But, he still loves her. Does she love him? Will he work towards reclaiming her love, or will he continue his policy of pushing her away so that she doesn’t get hurt again? If the latter, how will he feel if she starts dating someone else (like, perhaps, Dane Whitman)?

As I mentioned before, Druid and Dane have quite a history together. How will Dane feel about Druid’s actions when Druid took over the Avengers? For that matter, how does Druid feel about those actions? Will he be wracked by guilt, will he expect Dane to understand that Druid was being controlled at the time? Plus, Druid’s now created even more problems when he managed to resurrect himself. Can this man do anything right? Druid also has history with Strange, since he was technically the proto-Strange, and the two worked together quite a bit during some of the crazy Infinity crossovers of the 90s.

I see this as being a dark, moody, supernatural book. Lots of dark colors, and probably as close to horror as one can go when you’re dealing with people in spandex. Please note that I’m not saying grim and gritty (well, maybe some gritty). I’d like to see some humor in the book as well. I’m not necessarily suggesting big laughs, but some of these characters are upbeat. Dagger has usually been portrayed as pretty optimistic, and Patsy is often portrayed as something of a joker (and I see Daimon having a sense of humor, albeit a very dry one). So, yes, moody, horror type stories, but with strong character development and leavened by a sense of humor. I think it could work quite well.

Humor? Yeah, I think we’ve got that covered. The first running gag I can think of would involve Strange and Druid. We assume Strange will step back and become more of an absent leader for the group…like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels, right? Well, considering how often Druid has been possessed by everyone, wouldn’t it be funny to have Strange use Druid as his “speakerphone” every time he wanted to talk to the group?

I agree with you about the feel of the book, to an extent. It should be closer to horror than superhero fare. I wouldn’t expect an crossovers with Spider-Man, Wolverine or The Punisher…more along the lines of Ghost Rider, Moon Knight and Man-Thing. However, while the environment is dark, I feel it would be clever to have the group be rather nonchalant about it all. Been there, done that. I think that’s where a lot of the humor could come in to it. These characters are in their comfort zone and almost feel nostalgic for what they’re doing.

There’s definitely a lot of room for interaction too, as you’ve said. The fact that most of them are already familiar with each other is a plus, but it’s also interesting that they haven’t all worked together at the same time. I think a “love triangle” between Daimon, Patsy and Dane is a smart move…probably humanizes Daimon more than anything. I would see him as being pissed off at first like, “How dare she have feelings for a mere mortal over me!” But eventually he realizes how out of place he truly is and maybe gets some real emotion behind him. I’m guessing another woman would be brought into the group eventually…perhaps someone powerful like Gargoyle (he may venture off to “find himself”) then Daimon might show interest in her. Could be fun to have Patsy and Daimon trying to one-up each other with their new relationships only to realize they really love each other.

I think the trust factor would come up with a lot of people. Dane doesn’t trust Druid. Patsy doesn’t trust Daimon (and I’m sure everyone else is a little wary of a Hell Lord). Maybe Gargoyle doesn’t trust Cloak and Dagger because they’re young. Druid probably doesn’t trust himself. Interesting to see how they’d handle all of this in team situations.

To be honest, I’ve already taken notes for literally a dozen different storylines. And that’s not even counting your basic vampires, demons and killer plagues. I WANT THIS.


Spider-Man: Where did it all go wrong?

Apr-08-08

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?