Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nerd Rage #6b: Review of Spider-Man - One More Day (100th Blog)

This is a little late than I wanted but nevertheless we’ve reached the 100th blog of Beta is Dead.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever actually reach that many blogs but thankfully things have remained fun for me.  In any case I wanted to do something big for this occasion, thus Spider-Man: One More Day.  What better way to celebrate the current longevity of my blog than to review one of the most controversial comic book storylines this past decade?

If you haven’t done so already make sure you check out the Nerd Rage #6a from earlier this week where I went into detail about the back-story of the comic.  In 2007 Marvel Comics decided to run a storyline in the pages of their three current ongoing Spider-Man titles Amazing Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.  Based on where the comic are now I assume that there were three main goals attached to this storyline: 1) Undo or otherwise downplay all the various and controversial changes to Spider-Man’s nature over the past few years (Including his organic web-shooters and several extra powers he gained).  2) Set up the comics for a new direction and new status quo (i.e. Brand New Day, which also saw the cancellation of the two extra Spider-Man titles while Amazing started running three times a month rather than just monthly). 3) To finally, FINALLY rid the world of that annoying Spider-Marriage that has plagued readers for two decades thus raising the quality of the stories for current and future readers.  How would it do that?  HELL IF I KNOW IT’S MAGIC OR SOMETHING!!!!!!

One More Day was written by J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 and a familiar face if you’re a regular visitor of this blog, and boy oh boy is that man not a stranger to controversial Spider-Man storylines having written Amazing for the last few years (See: “The Other”, “Sins Past”).  However this comic is the baby of artist and then-Editor-in-chief Joe “We Don’t Have to Explain It” Quesada, a vocal opponent of the marriage who has seemingly made an enemy out of many fans due to some choice words before, during and after One More Day was running.

Anyway its important to remember that this article is not about whether ending the marriage was a good move or not, nor is it about whether the marriage needed to end in the first place.  This article is a review of the comic itself to determine if it was any good not, which is the most important part anyway.  That sad I want to point out that Mary Jane Watson is one of the better female characters in superhero comics and certainly one of my personal favorites but she’s constantly a victim of bad characterization from writers who don’t “get her” and often used as a scapegoat for their own limitations (It’s easier to say “Mary Jane is a bad character” than to admit you can’t properly write women).  Her exile from the comic books, and eventual demotion, means Spider-Man has lost his most important supporting character and hasn’t really offered a decent replacement.   We’re all slightly worse off now.

Anyway enough of that crap.  Its reviewing time!  Click below for the full review.

[WARNING: There’s pretty much nothing but spoilers after the jump.  So if you haven’t read One More Day and would like to you’ll pretty much have everything ruined for you if you click below.  READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!]

 
When last we left our hero Spider-Man/Peter Parker his Aunt May had been shot because he is the stupidest superhero ever. 

The answers within were worthy of M. Night Syamalan
You know, the dude who directed such gems as The Last Airbender
Part One (Amazing Spider-Man #544): Having checked a dying May into the hospital under a false name Peter and Mary Jane are told that unless they are able to cough up cash she’ll b moved to a charity ward.  Distraught Peter leaves to confront his former friend Iron Man/Tony Stark.  The two fight with Spider-Man somehow defeating Stark.  He demands that Tony pay for May’s medical bills, blaming him for her current state but Iron Man refuses on the basis of Peter being a criminal now.  He allows Peter to leave to go be with his aunt but secretly pays for her treatment anyway through his butler Jarvis.  However Peter is still told May WILL NOT survive her wounds regardless.  He races off to find someone who can help.

Part Two (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #24): Spider-Man seeks out the Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Strange and asks for his help but Strange says he can’t/won’t and that it may just be May’s time.  Instead he allows Peter to speak with many, many other people simultaneously (Through magic) to ask for their help but none of them are willing.  Distraught Peter hijacks Strange’s magical devices (…somehow) and tries to go back in time to save May from being shot (Because he somehow can do this) but he fails.  Strange allows Peter to leave to go be with his aunt (Again) but before he does a mysterious little redheaded girl appears telling him she can help him.  Gee, I wonder who that could be?!

Part Three (Sensational Spider-Man #41): Um, so I guess Spider-Man talks to the little girl who is OBVIOUSLY a representation of his and MJ’s child, and a fat nerd and a rich old guy who are clearly supposed to be “Road Not Taken” versions of himself.  Eventually Mephisto, the closet thing the Marvel universe has to SATAN reveals to be behind all of this issue's "mysterious" figures…for some reason.  He brings both Peter and MJ into shadowy realm and taunts that he can save May’s life but only in exchange for their eternal souls their marriage…for some reason.

Part Four (Amazing Spider-Man #545): Mephisto tells the couple that he’ll erase their marriage, making so it never happened (In suspiciously specific details), because God likes true love and he hates God or some  bullshit but in return he’ll make sure Peter’s 204 years young aunt doesn’t die and also erase everyone’s knowledge of Peter’s secret identity.  They eventually agree (Though MJ makes a side deal that we don’t hear) but right before he does the deed he reveals that the little redhead girl is the “daughter they’ll never have” to the SHOCK OF EVERYONE IN THE WORLD EXCEPT PEOPLE WHO AREN’T GODDAMN MORONS.  The next day Peter wakes up in May’s house, goes to a party for the suddenly not dead Harry Osborn (*Groan*) where it’s made clear he and MJ have not only never been married but have also just broken up for good.

And if you thought that was boring try reading the actual story.

So yeah…Quesada’s art is good.  I’m not a big art guy but his work is solid.  I actually really like the way he draws Mephisto as I normally find the guy pretty goofy looking but here he looks cool and diabolic.

So what went wrong with the comic?  EVERYTHING ELSE!

MJ: "I know in my heart of hearts we were meant to be together"
Quesada : "Haha, my goodness no."
First of all the trade paperback, the format in which I read this book, is mind bogglingly expensive!  The cover price is $19.99 is strangely more pricey than a typical trade which runs between about $12 and $17 but usually involves at least six issues compared to this one’s four.  There’s some bullshit interview and a cover gallery but that’s still feel like a rip-off.  Luckily I got my copy at a very good reduced price.  To add insult to injury the individual covers bold state “Still Only $3.99!” in mocking tone (Average DC comics are current $2.99). Had I bough the individual issues it would have been cheaper, which pisses me off to no end!

The above just makes what comes next that much more annoying.  The major problem with this book is that the story is both incredibly boring AND incredibly stupid.  The dullness of this book is most apparent in Part Three which consist mostly of talking and Spider-Man looking sad.  Seriously it’s like the writers wanted to come off as deep and philosophical when Peter converses with his alternative counterparts but it actually just comes off as being predictably pedestrian (Perfectly!).  You can spot the “twists” coming a mile away so long as your half-awake and sober; the one exception being Mephisto’s appearance and that’s not because it’s a clever plot point but because "what the f**k is Mephisto doing in a Spider-Man comic?"  Spider-Man usually fights muggers, not satanic embodiments of pure evil.  It’s a little out of his league, isn’t it?  Anyway there is no action in this comic save for the very brief and shockingly one-sided fight between Spider-Man and Iron Man in Part One which somehow ends in Stark’s defeat despite that being a very unlikely outcome for such a thing.   If we compare to this to the trade collecting the issues of Amazing that focus on the original wedding between Peter and MJ that story has a shit ton more super heroism going on despite the backdrop being a romantic storyline (He fights a Spider-Slayer for something like three issues and Electro in the Wedding issue).   I don’t read SUPERHERO comics to watch people sitting around talking.

Aside from being insultingly dull the story also doesn’t make any damn sense. It’s as if they were so concerned with ending the marriage as cleanly and thoroughly as possible they just made up some contrived crap and called it a day.  First of all do you really mean to tell me that no one in the entire superhero community can help someone with a bullet wound?  Yeah I know Aunt May is 803 years young by this point but with all the super geniuses and whatnot that Spider-Man has on speed dial you’d think that someone would be able to do something!  Sure, Reed Richards is freaking useless but I know I saw Hank McCoy aka The Beast of the X-Men on that list and even if he couldn’t personally help I know for a fact that his team have multiple people with healing powers that should be able to easily help May out.  Peter had been pretty good buddies with the X-Men in the past, especially the original five (Which included the Beast) so why wouldn’t they help him out?  Because the writer says they don’t, of course; STOP ASKING QUESTIONS!!!!  I know this may be me reacting as a comic book fan and not as a “casual reader” but that’s what you get when you have a complex continuity like Marvel’s.  In fact it’s not like the X-Men thing is something that happened years and years ago; it was going on concurrently (See: Elixir).   Also he goes to Black Panther for aide who is just as helpful as everyone else which probably means that he just plain doesn’t like Spider-Man because you know that Wakanda can heal a bullet wound if they have a cure for cancer (Which they do, the jerks).

Don't let this fool you.  Beast actually secretly hates Spidey
Now that I think about it if Peter is so worried about May and yet convinced that Iron Man could help her why doesn’t he, I don’t know, turn himself in to the government in exchange for the help?!  I have to believe that Tony Stark, being a goddamn super hero, would likely agree to that situation.  He’d probably pardon him and ship him off to the Initiative Program as he did with tons of rogue superheroes.  This just makes Spider-Man look even more out of wits; he’s desperate enough to trust a goddamn demon but not so desperate that he’s willing to play ball with Stark?  Dude, priorities!

The characterization of Spider-Man here is atrocious.  Now I understand that Peter is a wreck over May, and I’ll say right here that I have no idea what that’s like to lose a parent, but his actions during this book are extraordinarily questionable and probably pretty out of character.   Despite everyone telling him there’s nothing he can do continues to enact increasingly dangerous courses of action, bartering with super villains, and messing with the space time continuum.  He‘s desperate to save her, I get it, but he makes it pretty clear (Specifically in Part Two) that he’s going through all this because if May dies it’ll be his fault and he can’t take the guilt (I guess if Iron Man had gotten her killed he’d be all like “Oh well.  Who wants to grab some ice cream before the store closes?”).  So basically he sounds like he’s really just trying to do what will appease his conscience as opposed to what’s best.  Not the most heroic sounding thing, but whatever.  Then he is presented with the deal from Mephisto.  What’s weird is that he doesn’t technically really accept the deal but rather kind of guilt trips MJ into agreeing to it in Part Four.  It’s really bizarre.  But anyway at the end of the day Peter made a deal with Satan (Or Marvel’s store brand equivalent) to make what is ultimately a selfish wish and he wasn’t tricked or misled into doing it.  You know there’s a reason we’re not supposed to negotiate with terrorists.

I’m sorry but I don’t want to read that my favorite superhero, and he was up until this comic, strike bargains with the devil knowingly!  It’d be different if he was fooled into doing it; like at the last second it turned out the guy who said he could help him was Mephisto in disguise or if he made the deal for greater stakes, like the fate of the world or whatever, but basically he hangs off the devil’s dick because he can’t live with the guilt of May dying due to his own stupidity (As covered in Part A).  I expect this kind of crap from Incompetent Scientist Supreme Hank Pym, not Peter F**king Parker.  It’s fairly agreed upon in comic fandom that Superman represents Hope, Wonder Woman represents Truth, and Batman represents Justice and I have said, for a Marvel equivalent, Captain America represents Freedom, Iron Man represents (American) Ingenuity and Spider-Man should represent Responsibility.  But here he fails to fulfill that role and I don’t know why.  Of all the ways they could have had this gone down I don’t know why they chose to have Peter portrayed like such an asshole rather than a tragic hero.  There’s nothing tragic about this at all.
Speaking of Mephisto why the hell is he even here? (And now that I think about how can he control the forces of space and time?)  Spider-Man fights a crazy business man who dresses like Halloween, a glorified thug with electric powers, and a fat nerd with a bowl cut who thinks he’s an octopus.  Is it really within the scope of a Spider-Man comics to have the biggest storyline in years involve such an alien and supernatural presence when just about every other Spidey comic involves him stopping jewel thieves?  Mephisto usually fights guys like Ghost Rider and Silver Surfer, two people much more powerful than Peter; it’s just plain odd to see this pairing.
Spider-Man tried to make a deal with him too
But Doctor Octopus is too classy for that
 Plus why would Mephisto give a damn about Spider-Man’s marriage?  He really doesn’t have better things to do?  And even if he is interested in Parker at all one would think that the soul of one Earth’s greatest champions, and member of the fabled Avengers even, would be a hell of a lot more valuable than his marriage!  He makes an extremely thinly veiled reference to his hatred of God as his sole motivation for his actions (Though he doesn’t call him as such) which only confuses me more.  Fun Fact: One of the proposed ways to end the infamous Clone Saga was to have Mephisto show up and “fix” everything but it was vetoed since the general feeling was that the character didn’t belong in a Spider-Man comic.

Of course the real reason Mephisto wants their marriage is that Marvel literally could not think of a simpler explanation for how Peter and Mary Jane wouldn’t be married anymore.  Seriously!  The best explanation anyone at the company could think of for Spider-Man suddenly being single was a magic deal with SATAN!!  Never mind that Peter now looks like a selfish and un-heroic chump.  Here’s some alternate storylines they could have used that would have been less stupid:

Spider-Divorce: After the events of Civil War and the subsequent life on the run Mary Jane decides that this is the final straw and , after years of an uneven marriage that comes with being married to superhero, tell Peter she’s leaving him.  This isn’t the whole plot though as Spider-Man is so busy trying to save New York City from [Insert Spider-Man Villain Here] that he isn’t able to even try to salvage things.  Boom, marriage over.  But oh no, somehow this would make Spider-Man look even older and the whole point was to make him younger despite the fact I personally know multiple divorcees who left or got left by their spouses before the age of twenty-two for God’s sake.  I myself was engaged years ago and that ended up going really south so it’s pretty clear to me that had I gotten marriedwhen I planned I’d have an ex-wife today and I’m only twenty-six.

Fighting a Losing Battle: Or if you have to have Mephisto involved at least set the story up so that Spider-Man goes down swinging.  How about Mephisto holds the world, or even just New York City, ransom of something and the only way to stop him would have the side effect of retconing his marriage to Mary Jane.  At least this way when Spider-Man ends the marriage he’s saving the lives of a lot of people thus making it seem bittersweet as opposed to just stupid and no character murdering deals with evil entities are made.

The dialogue is crap as everything sounds wooden and unrealistic, especially everything Spider-Man says.  Considering Marvel is obsessed with Peter being “relatable” you’d think they’d be a bit better with the words they choose for him, but I guess that’s too much work.  Normally I blame the writer in this situation since if the dialogue is bad and the story is bad you angrily stare at the guy who typed it out, but in this case its hard to know for sure just how much Straczynski actually had to do with the final product.  It now well known that he was so unhappy with how the comic was coming out he wanted has name removed from book (He was convinced otherwise).  It sounds like Quesada was the architect of this little train wreck which is probably a good example as to why comics book writers should be allowed to actually write.

Careful MJ; don't forget that time he hit you when you were pregnant
(Who am I kidding; of course you will)
This comics suuuuucks.  It’s incredibly boring, its poorly written, its full of plot holes, its insanely contrived, and worse of all it makes Spider-Man, the greatest superhero ever created, look like a whinny asshole who when the chips are down WILL THROW IN WITH THE DEVIL which implies he’s in fact not a very good superhero at all.  And yeah I don’t mind stories where the protagonist has a human everyday reaction to extraordinary events but in a superhero comic where the hero regularly fights a guy dressed like a green scorpion I expect things to work a little less realistic and a lot more fun.  And this comic is anything but “fun”.  This is easily one of the worst comics I’ve ever read and it’s the first time I’ve actually wanted to destroy a comic I paid for.

Spider-Man: One More Day gets 1 Adorable Panda out of 5 and if I could score it any lower I would.

  
Pros

-The art is pretty good

Cons

-The trade paperback is expensive for a four issue collection

-The dialogue is stiff and clunky

-The plot is boring as shit

-The plot was also contrived to the point that it just didn’t make any sense

-The main character is incredibly unlikable, which is weird because its freaking Spider-Man

-The villain of the story’s motivation basically doesn’t exist

I should point out that despite this awful comic the follow-up story Brand New Day, the one this piece of shit was suppose to set up for, was well received both critically and commercially (For the most part).  So yes, many fans hate this comic and many fans hated that the Spider-Marriage ended but they were clearly outnumbered by the folk who didn’t mind either enough to stop reading the comics therefore I can assure you that Marvel Comics doesn’t really care how guys like me received it since their sales are currently good. There’s a lesson inhere somewhere.
"Souls? No thanks. I'm full up on souls.  How about your marriage instead?"
Anyway thanks for reading my (Upsettingly long, sorry about that) 100th post!  Hopefully we’ll all still be here for a 200th post!

(Extra insult to injury came in the form of the sequel to this comic, Spider-Man: One Moment in Time, but that’s a story for another day)

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