CUP O'M.I.T.: Cold Feet Continuity

Tue, September 28th, 2010 at 3:59pm PDT | Updated: September 28th, 2010 at 4:38pm

Comic Books
Joe Quesada, Columnist

Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada knows how to get fans attention, for better or for worse. From his regular stops at conventions and here on CBR to take fan Q&A as part of his signature Cup 'O Joe spotlight to the many stories he's written, drawn and greenlit over his time as Marvel's top editor, Quesada has learned what can drive Marvel die-hards up the wall in the short term and sometimes how to win them back with the long game.

All of those skills have come to bear in recent years on Marvel's signature web-slinger as the life and times of the Spectacular Spider-Man have seen drastic amounts of upheaval and public reaction. But now that the full story of how Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson went from married to unmarried, the story behind the story can come to light.

So this week, CBR News is happy to present an in depth commentary on one of the most controversial Spider-Man stories ever told…something we like to call "Cup O'M.I.T." All week-long, we'll go inside the "One Moment In Time" arc by Quesada and artist Paolo Rivera. Running in "Amazing Spider-Man" #638 – 641, "O.M.I.T." made drastic changes to the Spider-Man continuity and the modern life of Peter Parker in the wake of the equally shocking "One More Day" story. In part two of our talk (first installment here), Quesada focuses in on what part of "One More Day" couldn't be forgotten in his latest retcon maneuver, how the classic Spidey Wedding Annual informed his take on the Peter/MJ relationship and whether or not Mephisto still has a foothold in Spider-Man history.

Kiel Phegley: Joe, we left off yesterday with you quite possibly breaking the Internet again?

Joe Quesada: We might have – well if not the Internet, we probably lit up the boards here on CBR. [Laughs] Wow, we’re doing a whole week of this? Sheesh! Okay, so you’re stuck with me again for another installment. By the way, before we go any further, I do need to make a correction. After our first conversation, I went back and checked and realized I got my math wrong. It was the forth issue of "OMD" that was heavily reworked. The third issue was left pretty much as written, up until the last batch of pages that had some dialog reworking and restaging of the scene. And it was also between issues 3 and 4 that we learned after much e-mailing and back and forth discussion amongst everyone involved that we had a disconnect with respect to what was going to change in continuity.

Also, let me be clear, because I know there are some that look to place blame, yes, there were hiccups with "OMD." Was it miscommunication, creative differences, editorial interference? Probably all of the above on all ends. But as E-i-C, I’m ultimately the guy responsible and the buck stops here. Look, you guys know me, I don’t shy away from controversy and I tend to be more open and upfront than I probably should be about stuff. I’ve always been that way and I doubt I’m going to be changing any time soon. We all knew, every one of us involved, that "OMD" was going to be a poison chalice. We all knew it was going to be rough going for a while with the fans and we were prepared for that. What we weren’t prepared for was all the internal stuff that happened amongst us during the process. So, to be completely honest with you, that whole "OMD" period was incredibly tough for everyone involved with the project. Personally speaking, it was arguably one of the toughest periods of my time in comics. I lost sleep, probably weeks off my life and a dear friend in the process. Could I sit here and blame this person or that person? Sure, but ultimately I blame myself. All in all, while the story accomplished it’s goal and did what it was supposed to do, the overall experience just sucked.

Kiel Phegley: Would you do it again?

Joe Quesada: Without question because the goal is still the right one and the outcome has been a success.

Kiel Phegley: Cool. Okay, getting back to it. We ended yesterday with you stating that "OMD" has been wiped from continuity?

Joe Quesada: Did I say that? Come on, that’s just silly – if course "OMD" happened. [Laughs] Buuuuuut, if you really start to think about it there are some odd things that have changed. I mean in issue 2, as Peter recounts visiting Doctor Strange to MJ, as he sits on Strange’s stoop, the red pigeon that Peter follows into an alley in OMD, only to be confronted by aspects of his life from different time lines, never shows up in "OMIT." It doesn’t fly over in this new continuity, thus Peter just heads straight back to the hospital. And then, in issue 4, when we reprieve the scene in the hotel from "OMD," Mephisto himself never shows up like he’s supposed to and there is no bargain to be struck. Wow, it’s like he’s been OMITed.

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I guess if we’re looking at a linear timeline, Mephisto has had the door shut on him and is locked out by MJ saying just the right thing thus denying him of taking their love? I don’t know, you tell me?

Kiel Phegley: I don’t know if our message boards will be able to handle this.

Joe Quesada: Let the games begin.

Kiel Phegley: You enjoy doing this, don’t you?

Joe Quesada: What makes you think that? [Laughs]

Kiel Phegley: And with that, back to our questions. So when exactly did the idea of the whisper come to you?

Joe Quesada: It was a few months after "OMD" was done. Thankfully, I had a buffer of time that allowed me to walk away from it for a bit as Tom and Steve wanted me to wait before doing a sequel that answered all the unanswered questions from "OMD." They felt, and rightfully so, that going back to "OMD" so soon would distract from what we were trying to build with Brand New Day. So it was somewhere in that period of time that the idea for the whisper hit me, followed by the implications and the inevitable twist of fate that was like a slap to the forehead.

By the way, let me add, that Dan Slott was also unbelievably helpful during this period as he helped me formulate some of the ideas that eventually be used in "OMIT." Dan is a champ and an idea machine and I just wanted to give him a big shout out and thanks.

Kiel Phegley: So, you went from not being able to figure out what the “whisper” was going to be to now opening the book with it?

Joe Quesada: Truth be told, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not to have the whisper sequence in "OMIT." Admittedly, "One Moment in Time" was a story mired deep in continuity. It’s not the kind of story that I usually advocate or look to write and draw myself. Truth be told, there was a part of me that didn’t want to pull on that bandage again, but I did make a promise to fandom that I would give them the answers they wanted. So my goal was two fold when I started writing – I needed to answer the unanswered questions and I wanted to do it in a way that the story would read well if you hadn’t read "One More Day." One of the story devices that helped with this was the incorporation of actual pages from the wedding annual. They were used as a story device but also served as a recap. However, the one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb were those first three “black” pages. If you hadn’t read "One More Day," they would be at best meaningless and, at worst, totally confusing. Tom Brevoort was very concerned about this opening and not without good cause. The compromise we came to was that I would go ahead and construct the first issue with those pages and when it was all done and lettered, we’d decide then and see how it worked with the story flow before going to press.

Ultimately, when it was all put together, I wanted it in. My argument was that the reason I was writing this story was to fill in the blanks fans were asking for. That’s the animal we were creating, so I was okay with biting the bullet and accepted that there might be some initial confusion from a newbie. There was also the fact that by removing the whisper, fans wouldn’t know how Mephisto’s omission was MJ’s doing. I’m sorry – did I state that as fact? Steve also agreed with me, and that was that. The whisper made it in. Looking back, I think it was the right thing to do. I promised fans that they would get all the answers and to have left this one out would have bugged me for a long time and felt like a glaring hole of unfinished business. And while it’s often fun to ignore Tom and see him get red underneath the beard, we did try to address his concern by giving some context on the recap page to set up the moment for readers who may not have understood what was going on during those first three disconnected pages. Also, some day if they ever put "OMD" and "OMIT" into a collection, the whole experience will hopefully feel more seamless.

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Kiel Phegley: Like you said this story is about continuity and the past. At the same time, you frame the whole story with Peter and MJ in the modern day. How much did you have to think to yourself, "I'm also responsible for Spider-Man's future with Mary Jane by the end of this story"?

Joe Quesada: The story had to be grounded in the present, that’s another one of the reasons why it took so long to get to. One of the things that had to happen was that MJ had to rejoin the cast in a significant way in order for her and Peter to finally have “the conversation.” We knew that it would eventually happen, but we didn’t know exactly when. We also knew that their relationship within the new Brand New Day world had to reach a certain point. This also put a hazy clock on things.

Because of that, the story was written modularly and evergreen. I wrote the opening scenes with Peter and Mary Jane well over a year before the books came out, but they were written in such a way that I could insert little bits of dialogue that would fit into current continuity.

Dan Slott and the rest of the web-heads working on Amazing were also incredibly helpful in setting up "OMIT" and making sure it fit in to the run seamlessly. For example, you can see a quick scene with MJ and Harry in "Grim Hunt" where she sets up the idea of needing to have “the talk” with Pete. So once again a big shout out to the group and thanks for the teamwork!

Kiel Phegley: Now lets play "Wayne's World" and go "Diddly Doot" back to the wedding annual. I've never read that story beginning to end, so there are things here that really jumped out at me, but the one thing that hit hardest was the whole cold feet plot thread that was a part of it then. Did it take reading the comic again for you to realize "THIS is what I want to use"?

Joe Quesada: You know, I re-read that issue back when we were still only just discussing the unmarrying, and it's one of those things that really makes me shake my head – especially when thinking about how “perfect for each other” we seem to recall Peter and MJ being. When you re-read the annual and the years of books depicting their relationship prior to that, it wasn’t like that at all.

Look, the truth of the matter was that the actual marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane in the comics was a publicity stunt. If you were reading Spidey comics in those days, you would remember that they weren’t even dating around that time. MJ had split to go seek out her fame and fortune on the West Coast and then had come back, so she was around the fringes, but just as a supporting cast member, not as Peter's girlfriend or anything like that. As history recounts, Stan Lee was writing the newspaper strip, which had it’s own continuity separate from the comics. In the strip, MJ and Peter were an item and a fixture for years, and Stan had been building towards it for quite some time. As news of the marrying in the strip got to Marvel’s brass, this apparently caught them by surprise and they realized that this was going to be a huge press event, so they rushed MJ back into the books and, in a span of three short months, they were suddenly dating, engaged and getting married in the comics too.

So yeah, it is amazing in the annual how on the fence these two people are who are about to get married. Even more bizarre is that as MJ is trying to decide whether or not to go through with it as she’s being courted by a mysterious, millionaire, ex-boyfriend named Bruce. Bruce Wayne? You do the math – Bruce keeps trying to whisk MJ away to Paris and she doesn’t know what to do, she’s torn. Then, on the eve of their wedding, she goes off with Bruce! Cut to the wedding day and she’s nowhere to be found, an hour late, until Bruce drives her to the courthouse. Wait, what?!? She’s finally decided to go through with it after apparently spending the entire evening with Bruce. What happened that night, no one knows, I suspect they spent it talking, mmmmmaybe? [Laughs] Hey, don’t get angry at me, I didn’t write the story, I’m just recounting what happened. I mean, I don’t know about you, but if you found out that your future husband or wife spent the eve of their wedding with their ex, well, I think that could be a bit of a deal breaker. And lets not forget on Peter’s end, he’s still pining over his ex as well and she’s not even alive. On that same wedding eve, he goes out to the Brooklyn Bridge with her picture to ask her permission to marry MJ. By the way, I absolutely don’t have a problem with these types of stories – it makes for great drama and tension and it made the annual fun. It’s just funny how after time has past, the history of how certain characters have behaved gets lost or forgotten.

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Rereading these stories, it’s evident that it’s about two very different people in two very different head-spaces that were rushed together in order to sell a boatload of comics. So yeah, I was really taken by that – the awkwardness of the pair makes it clear that these are not the Peter Parker and Mary Jane we've grown to know and love in the movies and the cartoons and the rose colored lens of time. That’s why, when I hear people saying that Peter or MJ wouldn’t do certain things in certain stories, there’s almost always a story somewhere in our history that will point towards the contrary because at the heart of every Marvel character lies their imperfections.

Kiel Phegley: On some of these's kind of hard to tell but it looks like there are sequences where Paolo came in and drew some additional panels at the start or finish of a page to transition us in to that time and place. The pages we see aren't 100% from that annual, are they?

Joe Quesada: For the most part, they are. The only time you might see Paolo come in is at the end of a page, but all the dialogue comes straight out of the annual. Paolo drew a few transition scenes. The idea was not to change the annual in any way until the wedding ceremony, but to transition from the style of the annual to Paolo's style. What's difficult is that Paolo mimicked that style so well, it's harder to see the transition than even I imagined, but really there's virtually nothing changed from the annual. There's no dialogue changed and the only major physical alteration we did to the art was on page 1 where we added a caption to bring us into the scene and took the original credits out and placed them elsewhere. The wedding annual was a fun story, and the truth of the matter is that all we wanted to do was to use it as a locked and unchanging framework with room for scenes that could be added onto it without disrupting the locked whole. In other words, with the exception of what happens at the courthouse steps and the ceremony and party that happen afterwards, the annual happened as it was written and drawn.

From the mysterious red pigeon to Rivera's subtle transitions, much of "O.M.I.T." is left up to the read.

Kiel Phegley: The main through line for all four issues here is this criminal escaping at the beginning of the Annual and then coming back to mess up Peter's plans. And as with so many occurrences in "One More Day," you've got this red bird showing up in "OMIT" part 1 that just so happens to let the guy loose. To what extent can fans assume that even though he doesn't appear, these different "red herrings" are Mephisto's influence undoing what we know?

Joe Quesada: At the end of the day, I leave it up to the reader. One of the things that I did very deliberately in "One More Day" was leave certain Easter eggs – some I have talked about, some I haven’t. But, of the mentionable ones, there were things highlighted in red – whether people, animal, things or scenes that would play a role in future stories. These of course included the bird and the nurse playing solitaire at the end of first issue. I had a pretty good idea early on in the process of "OMD" that she would play a role in a story for another day as would that darn red pigeon. As it turned out, that story would be "OMIT."

Check back tomorrow on CBR for an inside look at "One Moment In Time" Part 2 including Quesada's take on a crucial moment that kept Peter and MJ together without being wed.

TAGS:  cup o joe, joe quesada, spider-man, one moment in time, one more day, paolo rivera

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