Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?

The comic shipped a couple of weeks ago but the Associated Press, as timely as ever, decides it's a slow enough news day to report about the recent Spider-Man storyline "One More Day". Sure, my fellow bloggers have already talked about it, but it's my turn now.

Storywise, the premise is that Aunt May is shot by an assassin's bullet meant for Peter Parker. Conveniently, none of the superhero community can help him (we'll come back to this later). After exhausting every means available, Mephisto (Marvel's on-again-off-again personification of Satan) suddenly appears and offers to save Aunt May if both Peter and Mary Jane allow the demon to erase their marriage and all memory of it.

Editorially, the whole thing can be summed up in a single sentence: End Spidey's marriage quickly (sorry for linking to Wizard magazine).

Playing devil's advocate for a moment (crap, sorry about the pun), I can see what Marvel Editorial Joe Quesada was going for here. 30-plus years ago, readers were drawn to Peter Parker as the love-lorn loser who struggled to pay his bills, do right by Aunt May, and attempt to shrug off J. Jonah Jameson's scathing Daily Bugle editorials about his costumed identity, all while righting wrongs as Spider-Man. Well, the love-lorn part went away when Peter and Mary Jane were married in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (1987). Somewhat recent events in Marvel's shared comic book universe (the "Civil War" storyline) removed both the financial problems and polished the hero's image. Spider-Man had, for the most part, evolved beyond the trappings that plagued him throughout much of his career. Getting the character back to "his roots" isn't so much a bad thing, but the execution of "One More Day" leaves a lot to be desired:
  1. As my friend Chris Karath pointed out, Marvel already rebooted Spider-Man to his original situation when it released Ultimate Spider-Man back in 2000. Sure there are some tweaks here and there, but the basic premise of starting over was accomplished and accomplished quite well. The only sticking point (and barely one at that) is that Ultimate Spider-Man takes place in a parallel universe.
  2. In the Wizard article I linked to above (don't make me link a second time, I felt dirty linking to it in the first place), Quesada claims that "90 percent of writers and editors at Marvel think the marriage was a mistake." Is this a recent assessment or has this been the case for the past 20 years? If it was such a bad scenario, why did it remain the status quo for so long?
  3. In the story, Peter Parker visits none other than Tony Stark (Iron Man), Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, and Dr. Strange, all in hopes of saving Aunt May. All of them say there's nothing they can do. Umm... hello? This is the Marvel friggin' Universe, where miracles are pulled out of people's butts all the time. Dr. Strange was a surgeon once upon a time plus he's a sorcerer now and he can't save an elderly woman from a gunshot wound? Reed Richards doesn't have any super high-tech surgical devices just lying around the Baxter Building next to his time machines? Then again, this is the same universe full of miracles where 9/11 happened (a ginormous can of worms unto itself in the Inexplicable Department).
  4. Pretty much everyone else has mentioned the WTF that is the reappearance of Harry Osborne, who died back in Spectacular Spider-Man #200 (1993). Yes, that story occurred within the last 20 years but I don't recall Peter's being married to Mary Jane as having very much to do with his death.
  5. The writer of the story, J. Michael Straczynski (Mr. Babylon 5 himself), has publicly aired his protest at how things were handled with this storyline. Nothing specific about what he's protesting, but dagnabbit he's not happy about... something. Mr. Straczynski is a decent writer and has always made himself accessible to fans but his statement contributes almost nothing to the discussion about what's good or ill about the story.
This attempt at retroactive continuity is the worst kind imaginable—the kind that's ham-fisted into existence without much forethought. A two-panel "explanation" of the new status quo appeared at concluding with this piece of brilliance (sarcasm mine):

Any questions? Don't ask us—we're new here ourselves! Anyway, the past is the past, so don't look back—look forward, to the next great epoch in the ongoing saga of Spider-Man: Brand New Day!

Marvel Comics: Building on the past when it's convenient and forgetting it when it's not.


smacky said...

I can't believe the devil would give a crap about Peter parker being married. Even if he is a "super hero."

Lame. Peter should have at least said, "OK, but bring Captain America back too." Then they could have fixed TWO stupid mistakes at once.

Wes said...

Considering that Spidey has been married for pretty much my entire relationship with the character (animated/film versions aside), I'm having a hard time understanding why the marriage was almost universally maligned. I never minded it!

But then, I was always more into Spidey for the villains and guest appearances than the titular hero or even the story. Maximum Carnage was pretty craptacular in terms of plot, but I was all about that arc. :)

Siskoid said...

It wasn't universally maligned Wes, quite the opposite. It's only universally maligned if you listen to Quesada's propaganda machine.

Whatever. Turns out the new "rebooted" Spider-Man title is actually pretty enjoyable. But I'm with Chris Sims on this: Spider-Man didn't need to be single. He needed to be well written.

So kudos to Dan Slott for making the best out of an awkward editorial situation.

De said...

Quesada's "90 percent" is total crap. If it were such a problem before, then why wasn't it addressed before now. Over the past 20 years, I've never run into a comics fan who hated the marriage.

And, it really wasn't a shock back in 1987 either. MJ had been Parker's girlfriend for four years at the time so the marriage made sense. However, it was certainly played as quite the publicity stunt at the time (anyone else remember Shea Stadium and the awkward costumes?).

angrygrrface said...

Dude, I need to start reading comics.

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