One Fan's Opinion

Fri, January 18th, 2008 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

So...

"Amazing Spider-Man" #544
"One More Day" Chapter 1
Here's what happens with me.

As you might expect -- after writing a few of these things -- people tend to drop me an e-mail and shoot the breeze or pick up a discussion started here at some convention and run with it.

A lot of things that get started here get finished elsewhere or morph into other topics altogether.

And as a former Spider-Man scribe, the topic of "One More Day" and "Brand New Day" have been making the rounds. Everybody wants to know what I thought of each.

But I haven't really been keeping up with the book, so, I'm not sure I'm the best one to ask about all that. I haven't been there every step of the way.

I'd heard rumors of a big undoing-of-everything-that-had-been-Spider-Man's-life story in the works, but, honestly, I wasn't part of that discussion. Nobody consulted me.

The truth of the matter is that when John Romita Jr. stopped drawing Spider-Man, I left with him.

Sure, I'd glance over an issue or two from time to time, but as much as I liked J. Michael Straczynski's creator-owned stuff, I wasn't floored by his take on Spider-Man (although I was less-floored by what had preceded his run).

I'm as anal a continuity geek as they come and bits and pieces of things tend to stick in my craw when they start revisiting the past. I wasn't thrilled with the tampering with Spider-Man's origin -- I wasn't thrilled with that whole Gwen slept with Norm Osborn insert. I knew that Peter as a teacher was a realistic logical progression for the character, but I found it led to Peter taking more of a father role in the series and that aged him even more than marrying him off did.

But I was back for the big finale (such as it was).

I skipped the extended intro and went straight to the photo finish.

And what a photo finish it was.

The thing is, the folks at Marvel have been trying to find a way to break up Peter and MJ for years -- the whole "Clone Saga" was an attempt to undo their marriage and make Peter single and Howard Mackie and John Byrne were attempting to pull a similar stunt as well when they blew up a plane with MJ in it during their run on the book. Nobody seemed to know how to make their marriage interesting and every time their marriage wasn't portrayed as an idyllic staring glassy-eyed into each others' faces for pages on end relationship, the writer would get pitched grief by the readers for "trying to break them up" and villanized for his efforts.

The powers that be didn't want them getting divorced because that puts a cloud over the whole thing and it ages the characters that much more -- but, realistically they really didn't have a lot of options if ending that marriage was the goal.

"Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" #24
"One More Day" Chapter 2
I thought the actual story that saw print was incredibly stupid. There were occasional nice lines in there, but the basis of the Devil stepping in and monkeying with this marriage was just ridiculous. Peter and MJ did not have this perfect ideal marriage that was so different and special and noteworthy from everybody else that it stood out as something idyllic and ideal. That part of it just rang untrue. The two had all kinds of problems and that made Mephisto's rationale just nonsensical. When he coughed up that line of dialogue about their perfect relationship, I nearly fell out of my chair.

The whole thing was so incredibly ridiculous.

The issue itself was a jumble. Joe Quesada seemed to go from tracing photographs of ugly people or apple dolls to trying to draw characters "on model" and the end result was like stringing together a bunch of scenes from various 007 movies and trying to pretend all of the actors that portrayed Bond were the same guy, ignoring all of the physical changes that were only too apparent. It was often over-rendered or poorly lit or simply uninteresting and the story was all over the place. How sad it must have been when J. Michael Straczynski realized that his last official act was to undo everything he'd contributed over the previous six years.

But in the end, Peter and MJ are again unmarried and all sorts of other things are undone and writers and artists that follow can write and draw a Spider-Man the way the guys in charge think he ought to be written and drawn: as a single, freewheeling swinger and luckless loser.

Still, I can't help but think that readers aren't going to be quite as willing to believe that the "next big event" won't be similarly written out of existence when the wind changes.

I'm sure DC will be watching how this goes so they can restore Lois and Clark to their original state -- regardless of the fact that there was never any romantic tension or real question that Lois would inevitably be Superman's girl.

The big problem is that fans grow up and creative people grow up and there's a strong desire to have these fictional characters grow up with us and that simply is not a viable option.

Like it or not, Archie Andrews can never settle down with Betty or Veronica without it destroying everything that makes Archie Andrews the character we know and love.

I can remember hearing about a conversation a group of editors over at DC had about what they would do if they were in charge of Archie, and in every case, those brilliant ideas would have ruined everything.

And that's what has happened with Superman -- with Lois in the know about the Clark and Superman and married to him -- the dynamic has changed and the new dynamic simply isn't as interesting as the old dynamic. The old dynamic worked -- the new one doesn't.

So, what would I have done if I were running the show at Marvel, in regard to Spider-Man -- if it was determined that the Peter/MJ relationship marriage absolutely had to be terminated? How would I have done it?

To start with, you'd need to make a list of goals, things that want to be accomplished. Clearly, going into " Brand New Day," the powers-that-be wanted a few things:

  1. They wanted Peter Parker to be single again so that he could play the "loser" beats that they used to play.

  2. They wanted to ditch the organic web-shooters because -- let's face it -- they only introduced them because of the movie and who wants to have it look like they're taking direction from the movie? The movie is supposed to be an adaptation of the comic book not the other way around.

  3. They wanted Spider-Man to have a secret identity again.

  4. They wanted Harry Osborn back on the scene.

"Sensational Spider-Man" #41
"One More Day" Chapter 3
These are all reasonable things to want. There's nothing there that's unreasonable. They want the book to be more accessible -- they feel having the hero be married to a model takes too much away from the basic concept of "Charlie Brown in tights" and they want to attract newer readers.

The marriage worked early on because it wasn't treated like a real marriage. There was no baggage, no chores, no turmoil -- MJ was "Spidey's girl" and they were young and in love. But the honeymoon couldn't last and years later they had money troubles and heartbreaks and they didn't seem young and in love -- they seemed like an old married couple, set in their routine -- and when MJ went from struggling actress on a daytime soap to supermodel, the dynamic changed too much. With Aunt May dead, the dynamic changed even more.

But that's in the past.

Here are real solutions that don't involve Mephisto:

1: Have Peter and MJ get divorced. She can't take the pressure any more -- living with Peter is giving her nightmares, he's always in danger, always getting hurt, Peter's always late for stuff because of Spider-Man and every time she can't help feel that this will be the time that he never comes back -- and she just can't stand it. It's all too much. She files for the divorce. She leaves him. He becomes that much more of a loser. He could try to make things right -- promise to give up the tights and all that -- but great power and great responsibility and all the rest and he has to save somebody and she goes through with filing for a divorce.

And this would not have to be an extended fight-for-every-last-item in the apartment kind of divorce -- the idea here is to have the two stay friends. They still love each other, but can't live with each other.

And Spider-Man getting a divorce would be big news -- in the real world -- but Marvel has always prided itself on realism and a divorce is a realistic solution, not a "comic booky" solution. Marvel would get a lot more mileage out of a tastefully handled divorce than a hastily executed mind-wipe.

If the powers that be had mandated that within three months time, nobody in the comics will refer to Peter Parker being divorced and will instead simply refer to him as being "single" or "on the market again," the net result really could essentially be the same -- the same stories could have been told, only the back-story would have been a lot less confusing.

And let's not forget, people call an ex-girlfriend an "ex" and they call an "ex-wife" an "ex." If the guys in charge don't want the divorced stigma, it can be written around in a way that doesn't spell it out clearly and, as far as the public is concerned, he's a single man. They don't have to say it didn't happen, but they don't have to say it did over and over again either. Marriages "split" and couples "split" and if you remember that they were married "split" means something different to you than it does to a reader that never knew they were married. Peter could still miss MJ -- she could still miss him -- they could still talk about "getting back together," they could even question if "this might lead somewhere" if they did.

Handling this would mean being clever -- and being smart -- and it's not at all impossible to do.

2: Who the hell cares? Spider-Man gets hit by a beam of radiation or some such nonsense and the blasted things dry up and he goes back to his old web-shooters until his organic ones kick back in and they never kick back in. End of story.

3: All it would take is a big news story about the reveal having had been a hoax (as they did 30 some odd years earlier with Captain America). This could have been similarly put to rest. Spider-Man could be seen publicly saving Peter Parker -- maybe somebody pretends to be Spider-Man for a time and that confuses the matter -- maybe he gets Daredevil to play the role, but the Genie can certainly be put back in the bottle. And any time it was brought up all it would take is for some character to say, "Yeah, I'll bet you still believe Milli-Vanilli sang their own music and Iraq was responsible for the attack on 9-11, too." and that would make it clear that everybody thought it was a hoax. Peter could even be "that jerk that was trying to make everybody think he was a superhero" a couple times to ease out of it and have some fun and gradually, it goes away.

"Amazing Spider-Man" #545
"One More Day" Chapter 4
If having MJ not know is important, Peter could "ease her pain" and have a Dr. Strange or somebody mess with her head and that could plague him for years, but that makes it magic on a limited scale and there could be real feelings, guilt and consequences involved.

The trick would be to convince the few people that really did know (ie: other superheroes) that Peter no longer has the powers and somebody else is behind the mask now. And that people thinking, "Peter is still Spider-Man" puts him in danger -- and for them to accept the cover up and hoax as either "real" or "necessary."

4: Norman came back -- and Harry could, too. After Norman, I think accepting the resurrection of Harry isn't that much of a stretch -- the

Goblin serum has been shown to have certain properties – and it's not hard to buy Norman having spirited his son away and working to bring him back to life. Certainly plenty of other characters have been in "death-like-states" for years on end and Norman does love his son, after all. It would not be unlike him to try and bring him back.

So...what should Marvel do now? Hasn't the dye been cast?

Honestly?

My first thought was that Marvel should stick with it -- what's done is done. They backed off from the Clone Saga and the cure was worse than the disease and that they should simply tough it out.

But...

I really do think it should become undone -- I think Mephisto's scheme should unravel and bits and pieces get discovered and the word should get out.

And I think they should do this for several reasons. First, I think it's unfair purely in a storytelling sense to have the Devil just "make things right" and vanish forever. That's not the way Mephisto has been established -- and it's not playing fair. Second, it throws far too many stories into a murky semi-limbo. It's very vague what really happened over the course of the last 200+ issues of the "Amazing Spider-Man." Too many issues hinged on the marriage or MJ's knowledge of Peter's dual identity. It's simply asking too much to expect readers to reconcile all of that themselves. It would work better and some exciting stories could come out of it.

The "Spider-Man is Peter Parker hoax" can still be played out -- and I think Peter can break up for real with MJ -- because of all this. I think stubbornly sticking with the new reality leaves too much of a bad taste in readers' mouths and it makes the characters' history and back-story, ultimately, too convoluted. I think they can still get to the same place -- and I'd even argue that they should get to that same place -- but "as is" this thing is a mess.

The biggest problem -- in the future -- would be that it would be hard to play some of these same notes again; that "Aunt May is too fragile to handle the truth about Peter being Spider-Man" or that "Peter needs to protect his secret identity in order to protect his loved ones" when we've seen both of those played out in print. In the latest issue -- out this week -- there's a bad guy who is on the trail of figuring out who Spider-Man is. How much suspense is there when, just two weeks ago, Spider-Man's identity being public knowledge was the status quo? After the marriage and the efforts made to undo it, why should we, as readers, believe any relationship he has in the future will ever lead to him getting married again? They're pretty much told the readers that Peter's life is never going to progress past a certain point.

And don't get me started on the '80s-style, red-haired, super-heroine "Jackpot." Her name is taken straight out of MJ's first on-panel appearance and her voice over throws the word "Tiger" in there just in case you didn't figured it out. She's either MJ or the least-subtle ruse ever put into play -- either way, it's pretty goddamned stupid.

What is the thought process at work here?

Four of Larsen's earliest "Amazing Spider-Man" comics.

Now, some folks may wonder why I'm bringing this up at all -- why would I suggest ways to try and help Marvel fix the mess? Why not let readers walk off in disgust or let them get confused and frustrated to the point where they seek out other forms of contemporary pictorial literature? I'm the publisher of another company, after all, and I haven't worked for Marvel in years.

Yeah -- I've had a few folks ask me about the Spider-Man stories that I wrote and drew and how I feel about them being "written out of continuity," but that really doesn't affect me in the least. These stories weren't actively being referred to before this latest episode and they're unlikely to be referred to after this latest episode so it really doesn't change much. The back issues are still out there and readers can still read them if that's what they want to do. The suits in charge at Marvel aren't breaking into people's houses and throwing out issues of Spider-Man that don't jibe with the new reality yet so, for the time being, very little has changed as far as it has to do with my meager efforts.

But that's not why I'm speaking up.

You see, first and foremost, I'm a comic book fan and at one time a lot of these characters meant a lot to me. Spider-man was, at one point, a big part of my life and I had a ball contributing to his story. Those days are long gone, but I still go to the comic book store every Wednesday to buy new books. I don't follow everything I used to follow and a lot of the characters I loved are strangers to me now, but I care -- I really do -- about comic books and about all of this stuff.

And, any event which has readers vowing to never set foot in a comic book store again or leaving in disgust impacts all of us.

I don't want that.

You don't want that.

And Marvel sure as hell doesn't want that.

In the end, it is in Marvel's best interest not to alienate their readership and drive away their paying customers. It's in their best interest not to have stores selling fewer comics and struggling to make ends meet. It's in their best interest not to have stores close and avenues of distribution closed.

And it's in my best interest is well.

In any case, it is my hope that Marvel does see the light and does get their act together.

And barring that -- if you must walk away, shaking your head in disgust -- may I recommend you try some other books on the stand? Like, say, "Savage Dragon" or any of the other fine Image Comics now on sale?

Just a thought.

One Fan's Opinion Home | One Fan's Opinion Archives

 
One Fan's Opinion

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.