Monday, April 11, 2011

Nerd Rage #6a: Road to One More Day

It's Finally Time...

Look, we all knew this was coming sooner or later.  All those snide remarks about Spider-Man and his (lack of) marriage for the past year; I was going to talk about Spider-Man: One More Day eventually and since it’s such a hot topic even today I figured why not do so when the blog reaches 100 posts.  Of course this isn’t anything new as practically everyone with internet access has voiced an opinion about the comic since it hit stands in 2007 but even so if I went on a rant about Cassandra Cain and no one screamed at me one would think I’d be okay here.  We’ll see.  So later this week (Hopefully) I’ll be posting a review of the graphic novel that collects the infamous four issue storyline.  I can’t claim I won’t be biased , of course, but I’ll at least try to give the book a fair shake .
But there’s a problem.  Superhero comic books are tricky in that non-fans who may be interested in checking them out are often confused by the content due to the fact that there’s decades’ worth of continuity to them.  So what’s common knowledge for me and my buddies won’t necessarily be common knowledge for, let’s say, an anime fan who usually just comes to the blog for anime reviews.  So before we can talk about One More Day we need to talk about what led to it and why it happened.  And, because I know that the review is going to be long as hell, I decided to “pre-blog” here so that you won’t have to read a giant novel worth of text next time.  We’re swimming in pretty nerdy waters, folks, and I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to avoid the site for the next week.
More after the jump, if you dare.
Well she has a high opinion of herself
So the way I see it, there’s two points we need to go over to understand the events of One More Day; the how and why of the Spider-Marriage and the direct results leading the storyline (Specifically the stuff in Civil War onward).  Let’s see how compact I can make this…
Spider-Man’s Marriage Ruins the Character (So I’m Told)
In case you know every little about the Spider-Man mythos Mary Jane Watson is Peter Parker’s longest standing romantic partner having been dating on and off again from 1966 and getting married in 1987 (Which ended up lasting twenty years, an eternity in comic book years).  Many, many fans tend to think of her when the conversation topic of Spider-Man comes up.  As a result she has made appearances as Peter’s love interest in countless cartoons, movies and other spin-offs over last few decades.  The only superhero relationship I can think of that seems more iconic is Superman and Lois Lane.   This is especially true for Spider-Man fans in my age group (Mid-twenties, early thirties I assume) since we were pretty much raised on the marriage (Obviously this isn’t universal as there are plenty of people my age who hate Mary Jane).  I am a Mary Jane fan, always have been always will be…well, so long as Kirsten Dunst isn’t involved.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.  The first mention of Mary Jane came in 1965 as Peter’s Aunt May suggested that he go out on a blind date with the niece of her friend.  Now since Aunt May is about 92 years young and Pete isn’t a moron he wisely dodges the mysterious girl because, seriously, elderly relatives will totally marry you off to the first weirdo Melvin that comes their way given the chance.  So after a year of ducking her he’s finally forced to meet the girl and, low and behold, she’s a goddamn fox!  So the lesson is that the next time granny tells you she’d like you to meet this nice young man she knows you better take her up on it.
Whoops.  Sorry ladies; you gambled and you lost
But before we get all warm and fuzzy over this it wasn’t all lovey-dovey back then.  For one thing MJ was portrayed as a fun loving and kind of flighty party girl who didn’t seem all that interested in staying with one dude.  Plus, and more importantly, there was Gwen Stacy hanging around.  For all intent and purposes Gwen was Peter’s “One True Love” back in the sixties.  She’s an important part of Spider-Man history but not that important for this blog right this second.  For now all we need to know is that at the time the writers had a Betty & Veronica situation between the three of them but ultimately Peter wound up with Gwen and MJ wound up with Pete’s best friend Harry Osborn.  The problem was that Gwen sort of stopped being interesting after they started seriously dating.  Hell, in every single issue of Amazing Spider-Man I’ve ever read with her in it all she did was openly weep about how she was missing Peter (Because he was off being Spider-Man, naturally).  Not the most empowering of characters.  I’m guessing that the writer at the time, Gerry Conway, didn’t have any new stores he could think of for her because he ended up having her get murdered at the hands of Spider-Man’s archenemy the Green Goblin (Who himself was killed the following issue and stayed that way for twenty-five years).  Afterwards MJ chose to stay by Peter’s side in his grief which would create a strong bond of friendship and eventually love between the two. Blah blah blah.
Obama later appointed this guy head of American superheroes
So they were together for a while but when Mark Wolfman took over writing duties he ended up writing her out of the book after series of unfortunate events including a rejected marriage proposal.  MJ wouldn’t reemerge for something like four years.  During that time Peter dated a few ladies, most (in)famously of whom being Selina Kyle Felicia Hardy aka The Black Cat (Its 2011 so no one gives a shit about Deb Whitman anymore, right?  Right).  Eventually Mary Jane did indeed return and it looked like the plan was to once again use the retarded tried and true Betty & Veronica plot device but this time using Felicia instead of Gwen.   Luckily another change in writers scrapped that plan.  Instead Peter and MJ resumed their friendship and again wound up romantically linked.
This is where it starts getting real.  As I understand it an editorial mandate (*Groan*) from then-Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter called for Peter and MJ to be married to coincide with the goddamn Spider-Man comic strip.  Why?  Hell if I know; maybe he didn’t want the old people reading the strip to be confused if they ever heard Spider-Man wasn’t married in the main comic (A similar thing happened with Superman in the nineties in regard to the Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman TV show which due to tomfoolery led to Big Blue’s death in the “Doomsday” storyline.  Comic books don’t make any sense).   Now I tend to side against mandates laid down by the editors but in this case I think that it was a mandate that made sense with the direction of character development at the time.   Plus it opened up tons of new storylines possibilities.  A married Spider-Man?  No matter how it happened that’s a really interesting evolution of the character who has been in publication for so many years.  As a fan who started reading comics regularly in 1994 I assure you that there were plenty of fun plots even nearly ten years after the fact.
The number of non-sexually exploitative pics of MJ on the net: Shockingly small
Not everyone agrees with this.  Many fans, and creators, were unhappy about this for various reasons.  Some people thought that the mandate was wrong, some people had hated MJ as a character for various reasons (Some because they were pro-Gwen), and some people said that being married aged Peter too much and he was now un-relatable.  Did I mention that I was ten years old in 1994?  Ten year old Beta never once said “This Spider-Man comic would be awesome if Peter wasn’t so goddamn old.  If only he were single…”  That thing about Peter being aged and suddenly doesn’t connect as well to the audience MAKES NO SENSE and no one has successfully been able to make me understand why it is somehow a valid argument against the Spider-Marriage.   Regardless a lot of people hated the marriage and wanted it gone and a lot of those people were writers and artist coming into Marvel Comics in the 90s.
Being very vocal about their desire to get rid of the marriage the writers had a hard time figuring out how to do it without aging Peter even more.  Divorce was out of the question because human drama is stupid apparently he’d look really old then.  So the eggheads at the “House of Ideas” eventually tried several unconventional plots to get Mary Jane out of the picture.  One attempt was the infamous Clone Saga storyline that was supposed to have the ending effect of Spider-Man, the real Spider-Man, having never been married to Mary Jane but that idea went horribly array (The Clone Saga is an extremely long topic that I won’t go into today, for your sanity’s sake and mine).  Later in the year 2000 she was killed off in an airplane crash and Peter was awkwardly thrust into the dating scene embarrassingly soon after but fan rage led to MJ’s quick return thankfully.  That leads us to the 2000s and the reign of Joe Quesada who, as editor-in-chief at the time, was responsible for many, many controversial decisions (Including the ban on cigarettes and tobacco product in the comics.  GODDAMN IT I WANT TO SEE BEN GRIMM SMOKING CIGARS!!!!).  A vocal opponent of the Spider-Marriage he eventually decided that strong decisive action was needed to end the marriage once and for all and proposed a bold storyline that would not only make Peter single again but also revitalize the books in general with a new direction; One More Day which would lead into Brand New Day.  We will talk about the former story in my next review.
Pictured: Mary Jane being written out to the comics
Not Pictured: Anything resembling logic
Long story short Peter and MJ’s relationship was awesome and made sense, despite the mandates along the way, but not everyone liked it and among those who didn't were key personnel working at Marvel.  Ironically just as they were alienated by the marriage in the first place so have they alienated a ton of potential future comic writers.  Ten or fifteen years from now will we see some younger EiC come along and retcon the retcon?  And in doing so will he himself anger a new generation of fans?
Meh.  Probably.
MadGoblin, an older long time Spider-Man fan, has a long and informative write-up about Peter's relationship with Mary Jane Watson over the years.  If you don’t understand something about the Spider-Marriage you’ll likely have it answered by reading the articles (Also check out the rest of his essays since they’re all pretty damn awesome).
Trusting Tony Stark Will Get You Herpes Your Aunt Shot
One is a drunk, the other is a nerd
That's a recipe for poor decision making
So we know what led to the marriage and we know that Marvel was aching to end it for a while.  Now we look at what led to the storyline events.
As I mentioned before Spider-Man, after forty years of being an obvious loner, was finally asked to join the Avengers (But since Wolverine also joined a few issues later it wasn’t that big of an honor, apparently).  While he was on the team he got a lot of the benefits that came with the job including he and his family being allowed to live in the posh Avenger Tower.  However probably the most important part of this was his relationship with Iron Man.  A lot of people tend to forget that Peter was on his way to becoming  scientist prior to getting his powers and is himself extremely intelligent.  It’s not impossible that he could have become a super scientist/industrialist like Tony Stark/Iron Man if he managed to play his cards right but instead he chose to dedicate his life to fighting crime.  So once he joined the Avengers he looked up to Stark like a hero and Old Shellhead in turn took him under his wing.  This could have led to a really cool storyline where Peter, working with an unlimited Stark budget, finally got to embrace his inner mad scientist but that sure as shit wasn’t the direction they went.
Marvel decided to run with a new company crossover called Civil War, which is a comic bad enough to deserves its own milestone review but for now what you need to know is that the government decided, after a tragedy, that superheroes needed to register their identities in order to be allowed to fight crime.  When asked to lead this new initiative Captain America responded to that noise by screaming “FREEDOM!!!!” and formed a coalition of likeminded heroes to fight crime without the permission of Big Brother.  However Iron Man, fearing what registration would do if not being spearheaded by a responsible (Ha!) Avenger, agrees to be put in charge and forms his own team army of heroes to put a stop to Cap and his Secret Avengers.  Thus Civil War.
And then he got shot and died
Initially Spider-Man took Iron Man’s side and fairly soon in Tony convinces him that in order to show support for the pre-registration side he should publically unmask and reveal his identity to the world (Stark would reveal his identi as well for the eight people on Earth who hadn’t figured it out yet).  Let’s ignore the fact that Spidey is usually extremely unwilling to divulge that information to his most precious loved ones (Wondering why Peter Parker didn’t make your anniversary date?  It’s certainly not because he was rescuing a little girl from a fiery building as Spider-Man); he talks it out with Mary Jane and Aunt May and agrees to do it.  So OF COURSE all his super villains are super pissed about the reveal and the Kingpin actually puts a hit out on Parker but the point is fairly mot since Pete lives in the safety of Avenger Tower.  This will be important later.
See, right here is where he makes the error that cost him the ball game
As the superhero civil war rages on Peter begins realizing that Iron Man’s methods are less than noble as the armored hero starts locking captured heroes away in inter-dimensional gulag without trial, is making shady deals with known super criminals and murderers to use them as "heroes hunters", and creates a clone/cyborg of Thor that promptly malfunctions and murders Black Goliath (Black dude dies first; thanks for nothing Marvel).  Increasingly concerned Peter decides to sneak MJ and May out of the tower in the cover of darkness and join Captain America’s side.  Or more specifically he tells his wife and elderly aunt “Remember when I told the world I was Spider-Man?  Well I’m going to put your lives in serious danger by taking you out and becoming fugitives form the law while I bite the hand that fed us for the last few months.”  Now I realize that what Iron Man was doing was messed up but I argue that this course of action was still extremely stupid and borderline insane .  Spider-Man is legally registered at this point.  He’s a law abiding citizen and if he has a problem with the way Tony is running the show the correct strategy would have been to politely but sternly explain that he wants no part of fighting other heroes and calmly exit the Civil War comic until things wrap up, much like Ben Grimm/The Thing did earlier in the book.  Instead he does the illogical thing, gives Tony the finger, and joins the LOSING side of the conflict all the while putting his family at great risk since all his enemies know who he is now on top of being hunted down by the government!  Gee Spider-Man, you’re the best hero ever!
So yeah, that hit the Kingpin put out on him?  Well the hit man tries to take him out at some point while he, May and Mary Jane are hiding out somewhere and, like a good husband, saves his wife from the bullet….which instead hits 110 years young Aunt May.  Oops.  So now May is dying and seeing as she’s an elderly lady at the tender age of 175 she is not likely in the slightest to recover from a gunshot wound.
Cue foghorn
So here we are: Spider-Man is a wanted criminal (Although I’m not sure why he is if he’s registered with the government), his former mentor is looking to arrest him, every single one of his enemies knows what he looks like and his cunning strategy of “stash May in a motel room where no one will ever accidentally shoot her” has failed spectacularly.  Thus the stage is set.
That was really long, but at least you can stop reading now as opposed of also having to read a review on the same page.  Plus now we don’t have to talk about this shit in the review.  When it goes up can just concentrate on the comic.  Next time will be my 100th post and I’ll be reviewing Spider-Man: One More Day so make sure you check back in a few days and help me celebrate this great milestone.  Or don’t, it’s up to you really.  Bottom line is as nerdy as this was we’ve only just begun!

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