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Thursday, January 17, 2008

So Long Spidey: Teebore Says Goodbye to Amazing Spider-Man

Much has been said in the last several weeks on the blogosphere in regards to Marvel’s recent Spider-Man story, One More Day, and the dissolution of Spider-Man’s marriage. I wasn’t going to add my two cents, because they’re not a lot different than what’s already been said better elsewhere. But, consarnit, I’m just too riled up to stay quiet.

What’s that you say? Spider-Man was married? Come again? Yup, way back in the days when greed was good and yuppies walked the streets with impunity, Spider-man and Mary Jane tied the knot in Amazing Spider-Man Annual 21, 1987. All was marital bliss (or as close to it as two people in a super hero comic book can come) for awhile. But for the last ten years or so, various Spider-Man writers and editors have tried to do away with the marriage in some way or another. They claim principally that there are no interesting stories to tell about a married Spider-Man, that a married Spider-Man destroys an important element of his storytelling engine, namely the love triangle/soap opera aspects, and that marriage ages the character and makes him less relatable to a younger audience. The infamous Spider-Clone story of the mid-90s was, amongst other things, an attempt to address these criticisms by replacing married Peter Parker Spider-Man with his clone, a single Ben Reilly. Needless to say, it didn’t work, for a variety of reasons. They tried again shortly after a largely ignored quasi-reboot in 1999, having Mary Jane “die” in an exploding plane. The resultant outcry from fans (and presumably the realization that a widower Spider-Man seems even older than a married one and still unlikely to hit the singles scene, at least for while) nixed that idea, and it was revealed that MJ survived and was held captive by an obsessive stalker. Time and again writers tried to find ways to get rid of MJ and the marriage without ageing Spider-Man, instead of just, you know, trying to write about the marriage.
When Joe Quesada became Editor-In-Chief at Marvel, he made no secret that he was firmly in the “Spider-Man Marriage Bad” camp and quickly became the most vocal advocate for a change. He knew killing MJ wouldn’t work, and he felt that divorce wouldn’t either, because that would age the character too (and again, he couldn’t have Spidey knocking boots immediately after a divorce and really, that’s what the kids want to see, right?). After years of trying to come up with a solution and story after story that took Spider-Man further and further away from the character we all knew and loved, the comic reading public was presented with Joey Q’s final “solution”: a four part story entitled One More Day.


As One More Day opens, Aunt May is dying, put in a coma by a sniper’s bullet fired on the orders of the Kingpin, taking advantage of Spider-Man’s public unmasking in Civil War to get back at the webslinger. Desperate to save her (because if she dies, it’s his fault) Spider-Man does everything he can think of, including going to mystic Dr. Strange. Strange insists there is nothing he can do and that perhaps, it is simply her time. He does cast a spell that enables him to magically teleconference with the Marvel Universe’s top minds (Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Hank Pym, the Beast, etc) and none of them see any way to refute the doctors’ diagnosis’s. Distraught, and on the verge of accepting that his aunt might just die, Peter and Mary Jane are approached by Mephisto (one of Marvel’s various devil characters, the most obviously satanic) and is offered a deal: in exchange for their marriage (which will cause everyone to forget it ever happened), he will turn back time and save May. He wants their marriage because it is pure and unique, so much so that taking it away will strike a great blow for Mephisto against “Him”. Peter and MJ agree, with the added caveat that Spider-Man’s identity will once again be a secret. The catch in the deal is that both Peter and MJ will remember, somewhere deep inside, unconsciously in a piece of their soul, that they once had the greatest of happiness’s and gave it up. That piece of soul will sing out to Mephisto and he will know great joy. Also, the baby Peter and MJ had conceived (and may have been stillborn or may have been stolen by Norman Osborn) will have never existed. So Mephisto is an abortionist as well as a divorce lawyer. Peter and MJ spend just ONE MORE DAY together, then the world fades to black and when it comes back, May is alive and well, Peter is living with her and eating those wheatcakes, having recently broken up with MJ. He goes to a party to celebrate returned-from-the-dead (for some reason) Harry Osborn’s completion of rehab, surrounded by Flash Thompson and some new babes, likely potential love interests. Let a Brand New Day of super Spidey swinging (in more ways than one) commence!

I consider myself a “fan” of the Spider-Man marriage, inasmuch as I don’t see the need for it to go away. I won’t get into, but let’s just say that I believe there are just as many (if not more) stories that can told about a married Spider-Man as there are a single Spider-Man. Different stories, yes, but not “worse” or “fewer” stories. The lack of such stories over the last twenty years I credit more to the writer’s and editor’s lack of desire to create them or laziness in finding them than I do an inherent lack of quality or quantity of such stories. After all, MJ, and by extension, the marriage, is just a supporting character in the book. It isn’t like creators needed to come up with a new and fresh “marriage” story to fill every issue, just enough to sprinkle in amongst the high octane super hero action and other supporting cast storylines (of course, supporting cast storylines would require Marvel to have not killed off most of Spidey’s supporting cast in the last ten years, but that’s another post).
Anyways, my biggest problem with Joey Q’s anit-marriage agenda is his assertion that a single Spider-Man is a better character with better stories, and that is what “people” really want to see. Here’s what really grinds my gears about that argument. Let’s say he’s right. Let’s say we need a single Spider-Man. Guess what? We’ve got one. Several, in fact. First and foremost, there is Ultimate Spider-Man. Part of Marvel’s Ultimate imprint (in which classic characters are re-imagined for a new, modern audience) this book chronicles the adventures of a young (he’s in high school) single (boy, he’s got girl problems, what with MJ, Gwen Stacy and Ultimate Kitty Pryde all making their presence (and romantic interests) known)Spider-Man. Then there’s Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, a single Spider-Man starring in a book geared towards children. And the Spider-Man who appears in Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, a book geared towards young women (but that I hear is actually pretty all around good). Not to mention the Spider-Man that appears in multi-media ventures, like the movies and various cartoons, all of which tell the tales of a single, unwed Spider-Man.
So what really irks me about the whole “we need a single Spidey” argument is this: how often do we get to, as the cliché goes, have our cake and eat it, too? Here’s a perfect example of how Marvel could do just that. Hey there, Spider fan, you want to read about a Spider-Man with girl troubles? Here’s Ultimate Spider-Man. What’s that? You want to read about a slightly older, more experienced Spider-Man who is married? Well, then, here’s Amazing Spider-Man. Done and done. Both types of fans are pleased, both sides of the marriage argument are given what they want-and it’s been that way for the entire tenure of Quesada’s reign as EIC; it was under his watch that Ultimate Spider-Man launched.
I have yet, in any of the vast coverage of One More Day, seen Joey Q address the issue of why it isn’t enough for him to have an unmarried Spider-Man, but that every Spider-Man in any book Marvel publishes has be that way. What’s wrong with diversity? With telling two types of stories with one character?
He even uses this argument himself, telling disgruntled fans of the marriage that if they really do want to see a married Spidey, then they should pick up Spider-Girl (a book that takes place in a possible future which chronicles the adventures of Peter and MJ’s teenage daughter). Well, I say to you, almighty Joe, if you wanted to read about a single Spider-Man, you could have just read Ultimate Spider-Man. Or Marvel Adventures Spider-Man. Or Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man Spider-Man. See how that works?


But what really grinds my gears about the whole thing is the way it completely subverts the entire moral of the Spider-Man story. At its core, Spider-Man has always been about one thing: the notion that with great power comes great responsibility. Peter learned this lesson the hard way, when he could have acted to prevent a robbery, but didn’t because it didn’t concern him, only to find out later that the same robber killed his Uncle Ben. This is powerful stuff, and beneath all the layers of every Spider-Man story this moral can be found in one form or another. One More Day, however, changes that moral to “with great power comes great responsibility…unless taking responsibility is just going to be too difficult. In that case, make a deal with the devil so you don't have to accept responsibility for your actions.” Not quite the same thing, is it? Aunt May was injured as a result of Peter’s actions: for good or bad, he revealed his identity, then broke ranks with the government (thus sacrificing the protection they may have provided his family). Instead of accepting responsibility for those actions, no matter how hard that would be, Peter found an out: trade his marriage to undo what he brought about. That’s not accepting responsibility for one’s actions, that’s weaseling out of them.
(I mean, yeesh, why not just ask Mephisto to go back in time and trip up the burglar on his way out of the studio so he never kills Uncle Ben? That way Peter goes on to live the life of a TV superstar. Sure, it wouldn't make much of a super hero story, but he'd be a swinging bachelor celebrity, able to have lots of sex with many beautiful women-that's what all the kids want anyway, right Mr. Quesada? Mission accomplished, right?)
So what really makes me mad about this whole story isn’t that the marriage is gone, or that Harry is alive (for some reason) or that Marvel resorted to a reboot (which it is, even if they won’t call it that) to straighten things out. All of those things I can deal with. It’s the way they did it that angers me, by destroying the entire foundation of Spider-Man. The Powers That Be decided this had to happen, that the marriage had to go away, and that Spider-Man couldn’t be a widower or divorcee, and that’s fine, but they picked the one way to do it that completely destroys the character. Better that Spider-Man is in cahoots with the devil than divorced, right? The Lee/Ditko Spidey, the Spider-Man who mourned Gwen Stacy, the Spider-Man who got married and had a clone and wondered what the deal was with those Spider Totems, the Spider-Man I want to read about, would never have taken this deal. He would have told Mephisto to shove off, mourned the death of Aunt May and accepted responsibility for his actions. The Brand New Day Spider-Man took the deal, so that’s why I won’t be reading Amazing Spider-Man anymore.
In the seventeen years I’ve been reading comics, I’ve never dropped a book for a reason like this. I’m a pretty easy going reader, known for turning off the inner critic when I read comics, and willing to put up with a lot of bad stories and editorial BS to keep following some of my favorite characters, characters I’ve grown up with in, some cases. I've collected every issue of Amazing Spider-Man since the late 90s, and along the way I've filled in a lot of back issues. But I just can’t bring myself to follow the adventures of this new, irresponsible, deal-with-the-devil-making Spider-Man (or to shell out $12 bucks a month to do it. Amazing Spider-Man is also now being published thrice monthly).
I will continue to read Ultimate Spider-Man for my Spidey fix (after all, that Peter Parker hasn’t made a deal with the devil) and I may just take Quesada’s suggestion and check out the Spider-Girl title; lord knows I hear nothing but good things about it. In the meantime, Amazing Spider-Man will go on, some people will love it, others will hate it, Joey Q can purr contentedly at night, having finally slain the demon that was the Spider Marriage, and eventually some new Editor in Chief will realize how much this story tainted the character, and come up with a way to rectify it, and bring back the real Spider-Man. And maybe then, I’ll check back in.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

i, too, am in the "spidey marriage isn't bad" boat, for the same reasons you are.
My bigger question is, isn't May like one-hundred and sixty seven years old? When the hell is she finally going to die?

-s

Teebore said...

Well, May died once before, in Amazing 400, an especially poignant issue where she tells Peter she's known all along he was Spider-Man and was proud him.

Of course, she was brought back to life a while later and it was revealed the May who died was an actress genetically altered to look like May by Norman Osborn, basically so he could eff with Peter's head...

...

Yeah, no one said One More Day was the FIRST ridiculous Spider-Man story. Just the most recent.