One More Day
The End of Life as we Know it?

Let us sit on the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings. On December 28, 2007, the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson came to an end. And there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But not from me.

Long time readers of my site may not believe it, but I am not upset about the events of "One More Day." Nor am I angry.

Why? Because a Spider-Man comic book story can not and will not merit that kind of emotion from me at this stage in my life. The last 20 years have been a painful lesson in priorities.

Frankly, all the emotion I can muster at this point is merely a frustrated sigh. Well, maybe some disgust which I’ll get to later. Why? Because Joe Quesada has slain a dragon that become his personal boogeyman to win the hearts and minds of an audience that may not even exist, and he did so completely convinced of the utter correctness of his crusade. But he did it with quite possibly the worst story in Spider-Man’s history because of the how stupid and pathetic the title character was portrayed. But then, Peter Parker has been portrayed as stupid and pathetic for the last year, and no one at Marvel clearly notices or cares, or we wouldn’t have had “The War at Home,” “Back in Black,” or “One More Day.”

But it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Joe Q has long made known his distaste for the marriage, and with all of the oblique references about getting “genies” back into the bottle, it was obvious that if he happened upon an idea to dissolve it – he would do it. At the time of some of his earlier comments, however, he just hadn’t thought of a way. He has also made clear his frustration about Marvel Comics by and large appealing to an older and older crowd, and his belief that younger people are disenfranchised because they “can’t relate” to older, married characters. Since he has always been upfront about it - he cannot be accused of deception, misdirection, or betrayal, so really, anger is not an appropriate emotion (from my perspective). And personal insults are uncalled for. Reading interviews with him can be frustrating, because I think there are some things in which he is being disingenuous. While it would be arrogant presumption, and also untrue, to believe that he has done this for the purpose of flicking his middle finger at us, I believe that that is a pleasing by-product. And Marvel is no doubt ecstatic about the internet uproar because of the sheer volume of publicity this is bringing to Spider-Man and the upcoming “Brand New Day.” People who have been silent on the net before are seeking out Spider-Man web sites and boards to vent their frustrations and opinions.

But - we are proving nothing by long, anxiety-ridden posts on the internet - no matter how well thought out or rational. That is one reason I was hesitant to write this article. After reading uncounted posts on several boards – there is no argument I could make for or against this story that has not already been made by someone somewhere, making my comments ultimately superfluous. Another reason is that no matter how much passion we put into recording our thoughts, Joe Q (and by extension, Marvel) will not care, nor likely read them. However, Brad Douglas over at The Spider-Man Crawlspace said “you know, dude, you should really strike while the iron is hot on this thing.” So, here it is. But still, I can imagine the following taking place:

INTERVIEWER: In his essay on “One More Day,” the MadGoblin of Spidey Kicks Butt said….

QUESADA: Wait a minute. The Mad -what? Who the hell is that? I never heard of him - assuming "it" really is a "him." And the name of his website is (chortles incredulously) Spidey Kicks Butt? Are you kidding me? Of all of the names out there THAT's the one he's using for his site? That's almost as bad as the Venom 65437 character who sat at his computer for five days typing in Venom1, Venom 2, until he found a name. The “Goblin” needs to turn off his computer, take a shower, shave, lose 50 pounds, move out of his mother's basement, get some sun to improve his ghostly pallor, and get a life. Hell, he might even stumble across a real live girl or two if he’s lucky.

INTERVIEWER: Uh - well, he did all that a long time ago. He's 44 years old with a wife, two kids, a full time regular job, and lives in his own house.

QUESADA: 44? A wife and two kids? Then what the hell is he even doing reading Spider-Man comic books - let alone writing stupid essays? Tell him to spend all that time he wastes writing about Spider-Man and go learn his kids' first names, take them on a trip or something, and buy his wife something nice. Poor woman probably deserves at least that for marrying such a fruitcake, let alone helping him perpetuate his gene pool. Oy vey, the ugly image of fanboy coupling is not something I need to have in my mind. And why am I speaking Yiddish? I'm not even Jewish…

Frankly, I'd have a hard time arguing with him.

Believe it or not, I can accept the fact that at 44 (interestingly enough, less than one year younger than Quesada himself), I am not necessarily too old to be reading Spider-Man, but I am too old for Marvel to care about what I think or cater to what I want. I’m serious. Spider-Man should not be written to please me or retain me as a reader. Even though I don’t know exactly what the age distribution of readership for Marvel Comics is (and sadly, I am not convinced that Marvel knows or has really tried to find out), I think it is pretty well guaranteed that I am at the extreme end of the bell curve. I could really cry and complain, but somehow “Middle Aged Man Cries That Spider-Man Comic Books no Longer Written for him,” would probably evoke even less sympathy for me than the sympathy Britney Spears is getting in her custody battle.

But for whom is Joe worried about Peter being unrelatable? Who is his target audience? Where is this next generation of comic fans that he wants to please coming from? Does he know? Does he have the research? I can see the obvious concern at Marvel –who replaces me as a reader of Spider-Man when I die, or at least finally give the hobby up? That’s a very good question, and Marvel is 100% correct to be worried about that answer. But – who replaces me as a reader of Spider-Man comics if I simply quit out of frustration? I have two children who would never have read a comic book if they didn’t have a crazy old man who had them in a dozen long boxes prominently displayed in the basement next to his computer, or if they hadn’t been with him when he was out scouring for comic books. Without similarly crazy parents, and with the current distribution system the way it is – how are “the kids” going to find comic books? And why the hell would they buy them over video games and other entertainment when for their $3 they get at most 15-30 minutes of entertainment?

The demographics in this country are certainly not in favor of “Youth! Youth! Youth!” because that’s not where the population growth for the next couple of decades is going to be. For example, Nintendo is now showing up at AARP conferences and has donated Wii game consoles to retirement community recreation rooms across the country - and not just because old people want to have something to pull out for the grandkids to play when they visit.

Now, this isn't even remotely saying that Peter Parker should become middle-aged with a pot belly, a receding hairline, his teeth sitting in a jar next to his bed, and a couple of grandchildren just to appeal to old people. That's as stupid as, oh, suggesting that fans want the character to inevitably age and die. Who would suggest that (sarcasm intended)? But it does suggest that other circumstances have to be in play rather than just trying to get 10 year olds to read comic books again – but I’ll delve into that a bit later.

Am I unbiased in this debate? Of course not, and I have never claimed to be unbiased. I like Peter Parker’s marriage to Mary Jane – I always have. Now, I don’t want to revisit all of my arguments on the subject because that is what my Why did it Have to be you, Mary Jane? series is for. And as far as the question of Spider-Man’s aging, my Spider-Man 101 article Aging and Continuity addresses that. Now, both series are getting a little dated because they need to be updated for recent events, but the core of my arguments is all there.

But in summary, I have been reading Spider-Man comics for over 30 years, and the LEAST interesting part of the Spider-Man mythos to me, (and yes, I realize I may be singular in this opinion), even before I was a teenager, was Peter Parker’s trials with women. Maybe I am unique in that situation, but I found the typical “Parker luck” with women to be as boring as Aunt May’s recurring heart attacks.

First of all, let me address some misconceptions about this perspective that Marvel (and others) seem to have about those of us who support the marriage:

First of all, the whole “hot red headed supermodel” character of Mary Jane was a writer and artist creation, not a fan character demand. Marvel may not want Peter to marry a hot woman, but they sure as hell want to continually surround him with them. Artists in particular do not want to seem to draw average looking women or simply attractive women. They want to exaggerate their “features.” Being emotionally stunted like most heterosexual men, even in middle age, I’m fond of many aspects of the feminine form. But when some of those features can literally be registered as lethal weapons, or the only thing attaching monstrously large fronts and behinds is a three inch waist, we’re no longer talking about a woman. We’re talking about something that escaped from Frankenstein’s laboratory.

And it’s not that Peter “deserves” Mary Jane, but, I for one am simply not interested in stories where Peter tries and fails in a relationship, over and over and over. I never was, not even when I was in the target demographic because it’s BORING. The second time that Peter misses a date with a girl because he has to become Spider-Man is one time past that particular cliche’s expiration point. Stories, or subplots with failure as its main driver are not interesting. For example, one reason I never got into the Star Trek Voyager series, is that anytime during the show’s run until the final season where they actively pursued getting back to the Alpha Quadrant you knew they would fail –because otherwise the series would be over. And no, it’s not the same as knowing that the hero is always going to win in the end. In the Mary Jane series, I called it the “Doomed to Fail” scenario. And Peter Parker has always been portrayed as the type of man who isn’t just interested in this Friday’s one night stand, but wanting that steady partner. To compare him with other heroes, Batman is different. Bruce Wayne is too emotionally dysfunctional to have a mature relationship with a woman unless she’s dressed in tight leather, wears cat ears, and is as psychologically screwed up as he is. I would never expect Bruce Wayne to marry. Clark Kent, on the other hand, has always loved one woman – Lois Lane (yes, I know about Lana and Lori). He has since 1938. Why shouldn’t he marry her? Who else is there – or will there ever be for him? And the “love triangle” between Superman, Clark, and Lois is even more science fiction than the fact that the hero can fly and comes from another planet. No matter what gimmicks they come up with to try to explain it away – Lois should have figured the whole thing out in about a week.

The point about the wedding being a 1987 publicity stunt is largely true. However, it’s not like this was a woman that Peter had only known for 12 issues. Mary Jane had been in the titles for 20 years, and for the last four or so prior to the wedding, had clearly been Peter Parker’s best friend. He was the last one to realize that she was “the one,” for him, because he was coming down from his latest failed fling with Felicia Hardy before figuring out that the best thing that ever happened to him was “always standing in his doorway.” It may have been “a stunt” but at least it was a stunt that made sense – unlike some of the more recent ones.

Finally, one persistent argument of Joe Quesada’s is that is there are no good Spider-Man stories that focus on the marriage, or that would be told better with a married Spider-Man than a single Spider-Man. Actually, I can think of a couple of examples in the last couple of years (Web of Romance and the 2007 Sensational Annual), but that’s an argument for another time. But then, if you look at my Top 10 Spider-Man Stories , only two actually requires a single Spider-Man – one was the original Black Cat story arcs, the other which featured the battle between Doc Ock and the Owl for control of New York's crime scene, which also prominently featured the Cat. In the other eight, whether or not he is married is irrelevant.

There’s no reason that “the wife” has to be in every story. She is a supporting character – she is not the lead. The “mythology” is about Peter Parker/Spider-Man, not his marriage. Mary Jane has a job, has relatives in other locations, likes to go shopping and partying – she has plenty of other things to do but hang around the apartment and go “oh, Peter – where are you Peter?” And I am referring to Peter Parker, not something with a battery that she has misplaced and is looking for. So, basically, what it comes down to is that Joe Q and Marvel want to write stories about Peter trying to get laid.

And, it comes down to opinion. You can read Comic Book Resources’ Joe Quesada “One More Day” interview for his perspective, which is detailed fully. Although, I warn you, it’s such a cream puff interview that you could get sugar diabetes if you read it too often, as the interviewer, obviously not a die hard Spidey fan, challenges Quesada very little. For more of that viewpoint, a “Mr. Mets” penned several essays cumulatively called Spider-Man Forever that take an anti-marriage position in a reasonable and non-descending manner. Of course, you know where to find mine. The reason it comes down to opinion is because I find the anti-marriage side unconvincing, and apparently, they find my side unconvincing as well.

So where do we go from here?

What About the Story Itself?
Let's forget for a moment the controversial subject matter of the story and take an objective look at its quality, much like I tried to do with "Sins Past" in my essay Sins Past and the Cult of Gwen . In that essay, I submitted that the first four parts of that six-part tale were actually compelling before it fell apart. Many of those who were disgusted by the revelation that Gwen had Goblin babies with Norman still felt the story was strong up until that revelation.

And since Spider-Man can be soap opera, and Joe Q refers to the soap opera aspect more than once, it’s a common theme of soap operas to separate the lovers, and put them through hell until they find one another again. Hey, I can accept that as a storytelling device. But the story that separates a couple that has been together through 20 years (our time), and through the worst circumstances imaginable (the Clone Saga, the Stalker, I could go on), has to be a great one – and here’s a great opportunity for Marvel and for a writer.

They had the chance to tell the heartbreaker of all heartbreakers - that of two people who desperately love each other having to sacrifice that love for something greater than themselves. It could have been a tearfully wonderful story, like the death of Aunt May in Amazing Spider-Man #400 (before she got better), or profoundly sad, like the death of Harry Osborn in Spectacular Spider-Man #200 (before he got better as well). Considering its controversial nature, you could have pulled out all of the stops and told a great story, one that would even have people who are pro-marriage state “I didn’t care for the outcome, but that was a damn good story.” We have a recent example with the return of Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier in the pages of Captain America. Bucky was one of those scared dead characters, like Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy who were supposedly never coming back. And when he did, fandom was ready to be enraged – but there was only one problem. Apparently (and I don’t read Cap), Ed Brubaker told the story in such a compelling, believable fashion, that which people would once have considered blasphemous was praiseworthy.

But we Spider-Man fans don’t get “The Winter Soldier.” We get “One More Day.”

This story is bad from beginning to end, with no redeeming qualities. It is the worst story of 2007, and ultimately, the newly installed Worst Spider-Man Story of all Time on my worst ten list - but NOT simply because the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson is dissolved. No, the story itself has rightly earned that distinction.

The Story
As you may know, Aunt May was shot by a sniper on orders from the Kingpin. Although Peter Parker was the primary target, the sniper had orders to take May and MJ out as well. “Back in Black” centered on Peter agonizing about May’s condition and doing everything possible to avoid detection. The first part of “One More Day” feels like “Back in Black Part 6,” with more agonizing and worrying over May’s status. By this time, May is essentially brain dead, and everyone, including Mary Jane, is willing to face reality except for Peter Parker. Unfortunately, the way he is acting, we don’t cheer him on, we don’t admire his fortitude and convictions. We want to shake the hell out of him and tell him to shape up. He storms into Stark Tower, and after a bref battle with Iron Man, demands that Stark help May in some way. He tells Tony that this happened because he (Peter) trusted Tony, and unmasked, believing Stark’s assurances that his family would be safe. He conveniently ignores the fact that they would have been safe if they had never left Stark Tower because he got his knickers in a wad about the Negative Zone Gulag. At first, Tony refuses, stating that he would be aiding and abetting a fugitive, but rather than arrest Peter, he lets him go so that he can be by May’s side when she dies. When Peter gets back to the hospital, he starts talking more nonsense, including an implication that he will go out and start stealing money for May’s care. When MJ objects, Peter decides that he’s going to beat us over the head with foreshadowing by saying “I’d sell my soul of I thought it would help her.” However, before he pulls the trigger on this act of stupidity (the stealing, not the soul selling part – yet), Stark’s butler Jarvis shows up at the hospital with a $2 million check to cover “his cousin’s” medical expenses. The doctor tells Peter the money will make her last days comfortable, but Peter refuses to accept this, even though the doctor tells him there May is not coming back and that he has to face facts. The only positive aspects of this whole story were the brief characterizations of the doctor and Jarvis. The doctor recognizes Peter, but has already made up his mind to assist as much as humanly possible in gratitude for Spider-Man saving a family member years ago. Poor Jarvis’ heart is broken as he sees May on her death bed, and confesses to Peter that he did love her.

Now, a brief diversion. I have had to watch a parent die – and I know how much it sucks and how painful it is to let go. But I also don’t want to see them suffer. However, my heart bled for the parents of Terry Schiavo – because even though they were deluding themselves to the breaking point (and the autopsy reports indeed proved that they were deluding themselves) – to pull the plug on a child, no matter how old, particularly when it is at its most vulnerable….God may I never be faced with that. So no – I am not just saying - “let the old bat die.”

Well, Part 2 begins with an all too familiar occurrence in Amazing Spider-Man under JMS – Spider-Man going to see Dr. Strange, who calmly and objectively tells Peter that it may just be his aunt’s time to go and that he should accept it, and what’s so different about if she goes now – or dies from natural causes later? Acting like a baby, Peter cries out “at least it won’t be my fault!” And this is at the core of the problem with “One More Day.” One of the qualities that us fanboys have always admired (and admittedly, sometimes chided as naïve) about Peter Parker is his selflessness – putting the health and safety of innocent people above his own. However, Peter’s behavior is this story is all about him and his pain and his feelings – no one else’s. That he would consider doing anything and everything just to keep Aunt May from dying, regardless of the quality of life that she may lead, particularly at her age and the physical trauma she has suffered- is almost sickening.

Strange does offer to provide assistance in a spell that allows him to be in multiple locations at once – which he uses to simultaneously request assistance from virtually the entire earth bound Marvel Universe, including Reed Richards, the Night Nurse, the Beast, Hank Pym, and even foes such as Doc Ock, Doctor Doom, and Morbius the Living Vampire. But, of course no one can help him. Then, behind Strange’s back, and really taking leave of his senses, Spidey casts his own spell using his knowledge of Latin (it would take too much time for me to explain this WTF moment) that allows his astral form to travel back into time to the moment of the shooting, but due to his incorporeal self (as well as the fact that his trying to tamper with time unleashes monsters called Nightwalkers) he is unable to affect events, and May is still mortally wounded. However, if you look at the panel, the astral form of Spider-Man can clearly see that by shoving Mary Jane to the floor, Peter may very well have saved her life, even at the cost of May’s. And it would have been a sacrifice that May would have willingly made – but none of that matters the way this story is heading. After more pages of mystical mumbo jumbo, Strange finally appears to have gotten through to Peter that it is simply May’s time – and as he heads back to the hospital – that’s when he runs into the little red headed girl who offers to help.

And after perhaps accepting the inevitable and making his way back to May’s side, the issue concludes with the little red headed girl saying that she can help. More people were surprised that Anakin Skywalker turned into Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars Episode Three than the number surprised by where this story was clearly going.

And events continue to roll downhill. For one, it takes two issues and another $8 for Mephisto to reveal himself, and make his offer to Peter and Mary Jane, who by now has been looped into this, since wiping out the marriage will require her concurrence as well. Mephisto will heal Aunt May if they give up their marriage and all knowledge of it. And why does Mephisto, locked in an eternal struggle with the forces of good, want to step down and hang out a shingle that reads “Mephisto, Divorce Attorney, esq”? Because Peter and Mary Jane’s love is pure, rare love that comes along once in a millennia, and by taking it away from them takes it away from God.

You know, if I wanted to read "Inspirational Fiction," featuring forelorn looking people wearing pastel colors on the covers, I'd hang out in that section. Bleh.

Part 4 is the only time one of the Parkers has what I would consider a normal human reaction to just having a conversation with the devil (or a devil, considering how many of them there are in the Marvel Universe if you read the Mephisto profile that you paid an extra buck for) that could impact your eternal destiny – Mary Jane throws up in the toilet. Now, yes, it is true that in Part 3, Mary Jane, taking leave of her own senses, suggests to Peter that they hear Mephisto out after he is ready to tell the devil to shove his offer. However, Peter just came back from fighting Nightwalkers when he tried to change destiny. He’s hung out with Ghost Rider – he knows the forces he playing with – what forces can be unleashed – things that he ultimately has no control over. Maybe Mary Jane is a little naïve at this moment, but Peter? Never. Well, he shouldn’t be.

In Part 4 she asks Peter the same questions that Dr. Strange did – what if it is just May’s time? Peter reiterates that he just can’t live with the guilt – which then puts Mary Jane in a terrible position that she recognizes – if she doesn’t go along with it – then it’ll be her fault that Peter will be miserable and guilt ridden over this. Even though Peter claims he isn’t putting her in that position – that is exactly what he is doing! Mary Jane has sacrificed quite a bit to stay at Peter’s side. She has paid a heavy price to be Spider-Man’s wife. And he does this to her? I was disgusted with the story by this time (not angry, mind you, just disgusted). This would have been the point where if he were a man he would have turned to say to Mephisto – “I love my aunt more than life itself – I would willingly give mine up to save hers - but as you said – with Mary Jane, I have the love of a millennia – I have a woman who has continued to love me regardless of the hell that it has put her through – and I AM NOT GIVING THAT UP! And you know what, Aunt May would not want me to give it up either. So crawl back into your palace of fire and brimstone and taunt some other pathetic soul with your so-called offer!”

But that’s not what happens. They take the offer, and MJ even improves on the bargain – by getting Mephisto to undo Spider-Man’s public unmasking! And then she makes a side deal with Mephisto that neither we nor Peter overhear. Finally, just before the change takes affect, as if to show them just what a fool’s bargain they made, Mephisto reveals that the little red-headed girl was Peter and MJ’s daughter that would have been – but since they opted to save Aunt May – never will be. And folks, that is Joe Q’s final answer as to whether or not Baby May is still alive or not. She never was. Ha ha – he sure stuck it to us, eh?

The final pages zap us into a brave new world, where the marriage never happened, where Peter is living with Aunt May eating wheatcakes, and he goes to a party celebrating HARRY OSBORN’S return from rehab. Flash is there, commenting about how “frosty” things seem to be between Peter and MJ and Peter suggesting he’ll never forgive her for something unspecified. The look on MJ’s face, however, suggests something far deeper – perhaps her side deal with Mephisto was that she remembers everything? Because ultimately, that will cause her far more pain than the “small part of their souls that would still remember what they had lost and would scream throughout eternity” as Mephisto indicated wiping the marriage from history would do to them. And Mephisto, along with Sting and the Police is indeed the King of Pain.

So, we have single Peter, hot babes who will become new supporting characters, Aunt May and Harry Osborn back in action – and one giant, steaming turd of a story.

Because no matter what – no matter if this just proves to be an “alternate universe” for a year or two, or is ultimately undone – nothing changes how bad this story is. Let’s tick off a few more things:

Spider-Man Looks Very Unheroic, Pathetic, and Stupid
I’m not going to spend any time on the “he picked an old lady over a smokin’ hot wife” debate because it’s a non-starter and it’s just too obvious. But I’m trying to remember a time that Peter Parker has been written so poorly, and am coming up short:

It’s a Deus Ex Machina of the Worst Kind
Well, we can’t say we thought it would last. Spider-Man’s unmasking was a major change to the status quo of both his own titles and the Marvel Universe. It was a bold, controversial step and promised many new possibilities for stories. But it was all just a stunt. Of course, in the back of our minds we knew this would happen. Whether Marvel painted itself into a corner and needed a quick out, or whether it had planned this all along is immaterial. They cheated the audience and turned the last year’s worth of stories into one giant and expensive “What If?”

For all of Marvel’s bullshit about how everything will change after Civil War, they sure seem to be quickly backpedaling to put everything back the way it was. Who wants to take bets that as a result of the Skrull Invasion that the superheroes are forgiven their transgressions and things are back to normal?

This is the equivalent of waving a magic wand and undoing all difficult and unpleasant plot complications. “Poof!” Problems solved! If this were turned in as a class creative writing project, what grade do you think the instructor would have assigned?

Now, I mention that the last year’s worth of stories were turned into “What If?” – but what about the last 20 years worth of stories? What about poor old Normie Osborn? Does Harry’s showing up with two girls in tow indicate that he never married Liz – and therefore his son was wiped out of existence? Now, the implications of bringing Harry back are beyond what I want to do in this article – and is more fitted to a future edition of my Goblin Prince series, which certainly is going to have a different ending than I planned!

As far as a quick summary - Joe is totally correct that killing off Harry Osborn in Spectacular Spider-Man #200 was a mistake. However, it was partially corrected by resurrecting Norman Osborn. Yet – what does this do to the relationship between Peter and Norman? The death (or alleged death) of one Osborn has served to fuel the hatred and mania of the other. And god knows what bringing Gwen back, which Joe Q wanted to do, would have done.

We Were Blatantly Ripped off
Marvel decided to charge us $3.99 for each issue as opposed to the regular $2.99. Oh, but we got more story, right?

Not until the last issue. In Part 1 – what did we get for our extra dollar? A multi-page profile of Spider-Man and description of costumes that we could have gotten for free off the internet! And then we got two pages detailing how a page in the story went from sketch to finish! Who the hell cares?

At the end of Part 2, we got a profile of Mary Jane (again, something we could have gotten off the internet for free), a reprint of part of Amazing Spider-Man #258 where Mary Jane tells Peter the story of her childhood and then not two, but this time four full pages of how Joe Quesada draws!

Part 3 is even better because we get a profile of that long established bane of Spider-Man’s existence – Mephisto. Screw Norman Osborn or Doc Ock – Mephisto is now #1 on Spidey’s Hit Parade. And to make the event even more special we get a reprint of a Mephisto story – oh – not the one in which he actually did bedevil (pun intended) poor Spidey – but his first appearance, in Silver Surfer #3 from 1968. Gee, thanks, Marvel.

Let’s look at some of the other questions that the Mephisto Waltz has raised:

Why is Marvel Trying to get rid of MJ Again - After it’s Failed Twice?
Because the third time’s the charm?

The two previous attempts, the Clone Saga, and then the Reboot of 1999, were indeed failures to get rid of the marriage, but there were so many other extenuating circumstances at work that it’s apparent Marvel feels that THIS TIME will be different.

The Clone Saga itself, where Marvel thought it could call the Peter Parker of the last 20 years a clone, and send him off to the West Coast to be forgotten, is a textbook case of stupidity and mismanagement. The comic book market was in meltdown, and Marvel certainly did more than its fair share to cause that to happen by overproduction of titles, poor quality stories, persistent price increases, and its misguided purchase of its own distributor. While the dispatch of Mary Jane was a part of fans’ dissatisfaction, there were so many other factors that it would be impossible to blame X% decline on that. Marvel capitulated, but didn’t so much restore the marriage as restore the status quo – Peter as Spider-Man and Mary Jane as his wife. And still, the market didn’t show any signs of recovery until years later, and even at that, is still a shadow of what it once was.

The second time, in issue #13 of volume 2 of Amazing Spider-Man, where Mary Jane appeared to be killed in a plane crash, happened when sales were tanking again because the storytelling was horrible, and I believe this is universally considered to be one of the worst eras in Spidey’s history. For all of the talk about Marvel not revisiting the Clone Saga, even in flashback, think how many times the pre-JMS period when Howard Mackie was writing both titles is referenced. The explosion that gave both Spider-Man and Doc Ock a similar origin? Those great new villains such as the Ranger, Senator Ward, Shadrac and Evil Spider-Woman? The Stacy family? Mattie Franklin (Bendis using her in Alias doesn’t count)? I don’t think Marvel really wants to claim that period, either – it went into oblivion with former EIC Bob Harras. Plus, even most proponents of a single Peter Parker did not want Mary Jane killed off, because killing off a second serious Parker love interest was dramatically lazy, particular after what happened to Gwen Stacy, and threw the titles into a depressing tail spin. Plus, it was just a further evisceration of a supporting cast which had seen so many other deaths, and if Joe Quesada can be taken at his word, he doesn’t approve of killing off such characters.

Why not Just Divorce Them?
Some people have suggested divorce as a more realistic solution, than making a deal with the devil. I agree, it is a much more realistic solution, and the two would have plenty of logical reasons to divorce – however, I must confess that I actually agree with Joe on this one, although not for the same reasons. In my view, divorce would be even more final than death, particularly in the Marvel Universe.

Say what? Let me explain. And yes, I do know that some divorced couples do get remarried and make it work better the second time. But I do not believe that such could not be the case for Peter and Mary Jane. For example, I know that personally, if my wife and I divorced – that would be the end – there would be no resurrecting the relationship – because everything would have been tried and failed, and considering how long we’ve been married, we are who we are and if we haven’t changed our ways by now, we aren’t going to. If Peter and Mary Jane divorced, they could never get back together, because the circumstances that drove them apart in the first place, which would logically be connected to Spider-Man, could never be resolved as long as Peter is Spider-Man. There would be just way too much pain for them ever to reconnect. You could argue that the only reasons that Peter and MJ are still happily married in the Spider-Girl Universe is that Peter suffered a disabling injury that forcibly ended his superhero career. In this case, I think Quesada is indeed leaving that back door open – just in case…

Also, to have them divorce would defeat the purpose of dissolving the marriage in the first place, so that Spider-Man could be turned into a variation of “Porky’s” with Peter trying (and often failing ) to get laid. If he divorced, I honestly think it would simply be too emotionally devastating for him to be able to pick himself off the floor and try again. Because as I indicated in my Mary Jane series, it was a love that was built over time, tested, thwarted, and finally blossomed again when it was ready. After what the two of them have been through, there can be no other love for Peter Parker. They will all pale next to what he had in Mary Jane, and we will know that. No matter who he dates in the future, who he screws, they will all come in a distant second to her. It’s one thing to read a series about trouble, ups and downs, etc. – but what’s the point of reading about futility?

But then again, Peter sure hasn’t acted consistently or with a whole lot of sense these past couple of years – has he?

What About Ultimate Spider-Man? That’s a frequent argument that we pro-marriage fans have been making for sometime. Why worry about the regular Spider-Man’s marital status when he has a thriving single alternative? In the past, the strong sales of Ultimate Spider-Man seemed to prove that both sides of the debate were satiated. However, the Ultimate line as a whole is beginning to fade. I can't speak for the other Ultimate titles because I don't read them, but the alternative they provided, younger, hipper versions of the old heroes without being bogged down by decades of continuity is no longer as relevant as it was when they were first introduced, largely because they are now selling no better, and in some cases worse, than their regular Marvel Universe counterparts. The latest miniseries, Ultimate Vision went nowhere on the sales charts. The Ultimates sells well when it comes out - emphasis on "when it comes out." Ultimate Spidey, while it had been dropping, seemed pretty steady at 70,000 copies, but after the departure of Mark Bagley, who gave it a unique look and distinction, numbers have dropped sharply. Formerly a consistent top 10 book, Ultimate Spider-Man is struggling to stay in the top 25, although the bloated figures from overblown "events" in the regular universe titles for the last three years is also responsible for its fall down the charts. And in today’s market, the Ultimate numbers aren’t bad at all – but they certainly have to be disappointing to Marvel because rather than the crown jewel and unmitigated success they once were – they’re actually becoming rather ordinary – or worse.

Of course, Marvel isn't going to tip its hand, and in his Comic Book Resources interviews Quesada addresses that question, but I just think there’s more going on. I suspect that the existence of the Ultimate Universe is under serious re-evaluation, and it is in for a serious reboot of its own. But then again, I never thought it would last this long in its present form – so take my predictions for what they are worth.

Is Single Life is More Dramatic Than Being Married?
Without a doubt, it can be, and for many people, I’m sure it is. Joe Quesada discussed how his married life was not as “story worthy” as his single life, and that no one gets married because they want more drama in their life. Well, that is true. You don’t want the drama – but sometimes you just get it. Joe says that Peter’s marriage cut him off from social situations that put him at conflict with people. He must have done some wild and crazy things when he was single that being married and a father, well, just can’t be done. I’ve got a few of those stories, too, not nearly as many, I’m sure, but let me tell you my perspective. I’ll promise I’ll be brief.

I was a nerd and something of a social misfit. Oh, THAT’s a surprise you say sarcastically? Why you little…Anyway, I still am, I suppose. For most of my first 24 years, “family” was just my mother, father, brother, and maternal grandmother. I knew other family members, but both my parents came along late at least one of their parents’ lives, so by the time I developed any sort of sense of the world around me, many of them were already dead. Others lived far away, and there was minimal contact. And I won’t even mention the paltry number of friends that I had or relationships with – gasp –girls!

So, later, after a few years into my career, I met this woman at work that swept me off my feet and pussywhipped me into marrying her when I was close to 26 years old, later conning me into having two kids. By the time I met her, my maternal grandmother had died, and my contact with my brother was very limited as he pursued fame and fortune elsewhere in rock and roll. But then I met her family, which I could probably base a sitcom around. In my original draft of this article, I had included more detail about their mishaps, but then I thought, my wife and mother-in-law might not appreciate me airing out their family quirks – so I’ll just leave you with one tidbit. I once got in a fight with my wife’s 84 year old great aunt – and almost lost.

My wife also dragged me to numerous weddings of her college friends and class reunions (I survived them the only way I knew how – I got completely hammered), badgered me until I started going to church again (though that didn’t last), forced me to attend various other functions – and those are the only things I can tell you that won’t put me in divorce court. In other words – when I got married, the drama in my life exponentially increased as I was confronted with numerous situations and social contacts that would NEVER have occurred had I remained single.

The only reason there is no “drama” in Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage is because the writers never really bothered to look for any. The sister with the kids never visited and started breaking into Pete’s “stuff,” the jailbird father only showed up once after the wedding, and then only as a broken and repentant man. The ex-brother in law never made an appearance. Other than Aunt Anna, whose best moments came when she suspected that Peter’s frequent absences meant that he was cheating on Mary Jane, and anorexic cousin Kristy who stayed with the Parkers briefly, MJ’s family was a no-show. Seldom did she drag him anywhere he didn’t want to go, which every wife is required by law to do to her husband. There were plenty of opportunities for conflict in the marriage that didn’t require one spouse to be unfaithful to the other, or them to be nasty and hateful to each other, and for conflict in all kinds of social situations. But the writers didn’t find them. Peter and Mary Jane became insolated due to lazy writing.

So What is Really Going on Here?
Joe persistently insists that all of this is to make Spidey “more relatable,” and bring back the classic feel, but sales figures, which actually have been pretty good under JMS and of course, have been propped up by the persistent events, haven’t exactly been screaming for “Change! Change!” The fact that Joe is trying to push through such a major upheaval in the titles seems to indicate either (1) he’s even more narrow minded than us fanboys – and wants the Spider-Man that he grew up with or (2) there’s probably more here than meets the eye. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and say it’s more (2) than (1). I believe that a lot of this is bigger than just Spider-Man or Mary Jane, for both creative and business reasons. Let’s look at the creative first.

Artistic people are just that – artistic, which is really only one letter removed from “autistic” and I don’t mean that as negatively as it sounds. Many creative people tend to loathe order and conformity with a passion, which oftentimes puts them at loggerheads with pointy-headed people like me who analyze things for a living and want, no, need to fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together. I’m a continuity freak in my fiction because I’m a continuity freak in life. That doesn’t make either side good or evil – that’s the disparate ways we put bread on the table.

And artists hate to have their creative choices dictated, by studios, by galleries, by publishing houses, and even by the fans for whom they write their stories. I think that many people at Marvel resent being held to the restrictive continuity that has grown up around the characters. And that resentment is then focused on the fans. Of course, many fans do nothing to help the situation by screeching unprofessionally at creators for violations of continuity, whether intended or not. I have always believed that the reason the Black Cat was turned into a total ditz in Spectacular Spider-Man many years ago was because her popularity literally forced the writers to make her a recurring character. Therefore, rather than writing her in a realistic manner, they spitefully turned her into someone that we detested and wanted to see gone. Look how Felicia has been written lately, a lot better, compared to how she was written during that period of time. And Mary Jane in many ways represents one of the ultimates (no pun intended) in creative restrictive choices. It’s not that writers can’t write for her, or stories that use her properly, they don’t want to. The reasons are varied, and this is not to suggest that every writer that does not want to write a story with Mary Jane in it feels this way for malicious reasons. Some genuinely feel the marriage doesn’t work for the character of Spider-Man. Others, I genuinely believe, are pining for a nostalgic period – to bring back the Spider-Man of their youth. Whenever it is hinted that Mary Jane may go by the wayside, the fans revolt, which then makes the decision makers at Marvel hunker down even further in their convictions.

Joe Q and his compatriots are not dumb, idiots, or evil. Well, Brian Bendis might be evil, but that’s because bald people are just plain dag nasty evil to begin with. I’m not sure he really Joe Q believes all of what he says, but maybe that's more palatable than outright saying what (I think) he really thinks needs to happen with the Marvel Universe. I believe Marvel is using Spider-Man as some shock therapy, testing the waters for a Crisis-like upheaval in the Marvel Universe, even though Quesada has supposedly renounced the use of such a thing. I honestly believe that for some time, Marvel, not necessarily just Joe Quesada, has wanted to scrap the whole continuous continuity dating back to Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. Joe knows that he can't change Spider-Man's world in a vacuum. He knows that this "reboot" results in questions being asked about the fact of other characters and situations. And so do his writers. And I'm sure they will address some of those. Am I “worried” about wiping out 20 years of continuity? Well – again – I don’t worry about this stuff. But that said – so far we don’t know that it is all “wiped out.” I suspect for example, that Venom is still out there and he’s probably still Mac Gargan now – but Marvel may take this opportunity to clean up the Eddie Brock’s original screwed up origin story (no, I don’t know how). Maybe Harry did marry Liz, but she divorced him and took little Normie away because he couldn’t stay off drugs. We just don’t know. Plus, we know how these time altering events play out in fiction. Maybe they change things, maybe they don’t. I just don’t feel comfortable commenting on it now.

Plus, I think that there are pure and simple corporate considerations here. After all, as EIC, Joe Quesada is not just an artist, he is a businessman. He is in charge of a large part of Marvel Publishing.

Corporate financial statements can be as fictional as any comic book, regardless of the transparency the Securities and Exchange Commission tries to force on publicly held companies. It truly is difficult to determine how much a company makes, particularly one in which the income is primarily derived from intellectual properties, such as Marvel. Hollywood accounting, for example, is famous for being a fiction, because everything is geared toward not paying anyone what they are really owed, which is how movies that cost $55 million to make, but domestically gross over $300 million still never make a profit (I’m using Forrest Gump as my example here). Excluding film production, which is still in its infancy at Marvel, there are three main income streams – Publishing, Licensing, and Toys. And Publishing is by far the least profitable of the three. The other two are relatively low cost revenue generators, but publishing is a very expensive thing to do. Marvel gets the least bang for its buck on publishing.

Spider-Man, for example, is much more valuable as a license than as a comic book character. If we look at Marvel’s operating income for the first 9 months of 2007, we see the operating income/net sales ratios for the three major divisions are Licensing 76% ($163 million in operating income to $214 million in net sales), Toys 59% ($40 million in operating income to $67 million in net sales), and Publishing 43% ($41 million in operating income to $95 million in net sales). Of course, this is a pretty simplistic look at things, since Licensing and Toys areas are probably more volatile than the Publishing

Ever wonder why there so many reality shows on TV, when they are by and large junk? Reality shows turn more profit per dollars expended than most other programming. Damn quality. Recruiting top writers and artists isn’t cheap, and some definitely come more expensive than others. How much money do you really think Marvel can make on a comic book? I’ve never seen it broken down, but I’ll be it isn’t much, which is why the suckers are written for the trade (and why the story arcs are so long and tedious), and then put in trades under various formats (softcover, hardcover, special editions, directors cuts, signed in blood, etc.).

I’m not suggesting that the Marvel Universe will go to the level of say, Marvel Adventures, simplistic one-shot stories – but I do think Marvel would like to put its characters, and not just Spider-Man into a “loop” where story concepts can be recycled, and they don’t have to constantly come up with new ideas and stories because, well, that costs more money. Why else would they even consider bringing back Gwen Stacy – whose death is one of the pivotal moments in Spider-Man’s history, his relationship with his greatest enemy, and perhaps even in comic book history? Because by bringing her back, the “college era,” all of the players of the so-called “Golden Age” of Spider-Man has been recreated and can run in perpetuity. Marvel probably looks at characters such as the Simpsons, the Peanuts Gang, the Disney Group and wonders – “why can’t we do that?” – i.e. having characters than can run on autopilot and be put into virtually any situation without trying too hard to stay within a narrowly confined continuity and timeline, with no one worrying about whether or not they are realistically aging or progressing.

Say that Spider-Man fans really do stick to their guns and 30% say “we’re through” because Mary Jane is gone. Frankly, I don’t believe that will happen. But say sales go from 100,000 per issue to 70,000 per issue (let’s ignore for a moment that ASM is coming out 3 times a month – only to keep things simple and keep me from engaging in any complex math). However, maybe Marvel has already calculated that the 70,000 level is sustainable and makes more profit than really stoking the fires and acquiring the talent and doing the marketing necessary to push sales to 100,000. It’s much like when business decides to cut loose its older workers because after many years of seniority, they realize that they can probably get a younger pup who while they may generate only 70% as much productive work as the older worker, costs only 50%, which still increases the spread. At some point, the lesser productivity is worth more.

So, for all of your protests, Marvel is essentially saying to us “Do your worst. We can afford to lose X% of you. We are willing to piss X% of you off. In fact, we want X% of you to leave. That’s more money for us.” So, it’s not just that we’re “old” but being older, we are more demanding. We don’t want to see recycles or retreads. It costs more to please us than a 10-15 year old who won’t know the difference or care - supposedly. That’s the theory and it makes sense – but here’s the real rub as I mentioned before – where is the 10-15 year old going to come from to replace me if I quit?

I tend to wonder if Joe Quesada, or Dan Buckley, or the Marvel Entertainment Board, for example, has looked beyond what happens to comics sales when the big events that are propping up the numbers finally burn themselves out. Maybe Joe knows that all of this talk about “making Spidey relatable” and “reaching out to younger people” is a magician’s trick – making the audience watch the right hand that’s making the gestures while the left hand is doing the real, covert work. The sales numbers aren’t going to go up – no matter what – so the costs HAVE to come down – particularly if Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arad want to sell out to Sony or another concern.

As Michael Corleone said – “It isn’t personal. It’s just business.”

After I originally published this article, I heard from a fan of the site from the UK, Dave Moran, who had a totally new theory that I had not thought of, nor read elsewhere. As much as I would like to steal the idea for my own, I'll go ahead and present Dave's theory (with some minor editing):

Hadn't thought about that. Could this also be a plot to interest mainstream writers who aren't all that hip to the continuity - but would really be jazzed just to do a Spider-Man story?

In Conclusion
I used to religiously watch "New Year's Rockin' Eve" with Dick Clark for decades - yes literally decades – so take your shots. I found it sad that Clark had a stroke which meant he had to be replaced. His permanent replacement? Ryan Seacrest. Ryan Seacrest? If DICK CLARK is this, then this is ryan seacrest by comparison. He has none of Clark's gravitas, none of his presence (before the stroke that is). And to give Seacrest credit, since he has been remarkably self-effacing, and respectful to Clark in interviews, he'd probably be the first to admit it. But when I mentioned this to my wife – I said you just can’t replace Dick Clark, this generation’s Guy Lombardo, with a Ryan Seacrest – you have to have someone like (I rattled off some potential replacements) – someone with staying power – not the flavor of the month. She casually dismissed me like I was a moron (which happens quite frequently) saying "They're all too old, you have to have someone young and handsome for this."

I threw my hands up, hoping that when Fritz Weaver and his storm troopers come to haul her ass away because some young thing says she's too old and obsolete that she’ll remember that comment.

And so I leave you with this thought, my old friends and readers, is it possible that us long time Spider-Man fans are dinosaurs fighting against our own inevitable extinction? Has our hour come 'round at last?

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