Monday, 11 January 2010
Spider-Man: One More Day was a controversial 2007 story in which Spider-Man and his wife Mary Jane make a deal with the demon Mephisto and sacrifice their marriage to save the life of Aunt May. Following this story Spidey was said to have never married and is once again depicted as a single man. The story sparked outrage from Spidey fans and is still regularly lambasted on comic related message boards all over the 'net.
I like it.
That's right! I liked One More Day! It's not a popular opinion, in fact I may well be the only comic fan in the world who feels this way. After all even J. Michael Straczynski, the guy who wrote the damn story disliked it so much he had to be talked out of taking his name off the thing. But I like it. I've kept quiet since the story was first published for fear of being ridiculed and abused, but last night I did a Google search to see if anybody else shared my opinion. Here's what I found.
So what is it that I like about the story? For one thing it's very satisfying to see Peter Parker and Iron Man have a bit of a mini showdown. While Peter rages at Stark we're reminded that as far as Tony Stark is concerned Peter betrayed him, and it really comes across that Stark is just as hurt as Peter. There are other cool moments too. When Jarvis acknowledges his love for May while delivering Stark's cash to the hospital it's genuinely touching. Another touching moment comes as the doctor looking after May agrees to delay kicking the penniless Parkers out of the ward until Pete finds the cash because Spider-Man once saved his uncle's life. In a story dealing with the horrible consequences of Pete's life as Spidey it's nice to see him get a little bit of good karma.
Another great OMD moment comes with the involvement of Dr. Strange. Since resurrections are so common in comics I've always wondered why bereaved heroes didn't ever seek out the nearest wizard, super-science lab or Lazarus Pit and try and ressurect their loved ones themselves. Here we see Pete doing just that. He tells May's doctor that while medicine can't do anything to save May, his super hero buddies might have a chance. Of course there's nothing they can do but there is a rather spooky payoff to a Dr. Strange moment set up by JMS much earlier in his Spidey run.
Then there's Pete's decision to enter into a deal with the devil, or Mephisto as he's known in the Marvel Universe. Many have argued that Pete's decision to trade his marriage for May's life is selfish, unheroic and out of character. Selfish? Yes. Unheroic? Certainly. Out of character? Perhaps not. We're not meant to see a heroic Peter Parker in this story, we're seeing a man at rock bottom. There have been loads of stories purporting to depict Spidey at his lowest point, especially in the '90s. This is the only story in my opinion that actually manages to get Spidey at his lowest possible point. Small wonder he's reached that point. During the events leading up to this story he died and came back to life, he revealed his identity to the world, he was forced to betray his country and his mentor, Tony Stark, he was forced to take his family on the run with him, and finally he witnessed his beloved Aunt get shot by a bullet meant for him. We're not getting Pete at his best here but he's still very much in character.
It's guilt that's finally pushed him down to his lowest point. The whole reason Peter Parker constantly risks his life as Spider-Man is his sense of responsibility and his guilt over what happened to Uncle Ben. Now he's facing additional guilt over what happened to May. Peter is well established as a man who holds the weight of the world on his shoulders. In many ways, guilt is Spider-Man's Kryptonite. Is it really such a stretch to believe that Peter would be utterly crushed by the thought of being responsible for May's death? As he says in the story "I'm responsible..and if that's what kills her... I'd break in two." If you take into account everything that's happened to Peter up to this story then it's perfectly logical and in keeping with his character that he would be at a point where he's the perfect victim for Mephisto. And that's Peter's role in this story, the victim not the hero. A victim of Mephisto, a victim of a horrible chain of events and a victim of his own sense responsibility. He's not meant to be the hero.
Mary Jane is the hero of this story.
Mary Jane knows that it doesn't make any sense to sacrifice their marriage to save an old coffin dodger like May. She tells Peter as much. But she also knows her husband. She knows that he's a broken man and having to live with the guilt over May's death on top of everything else that's happened to him, would destroy him. She also knows that he'll never make this decison without her. It's MJ who is the first to decide to accept Mephisto's offer. Peter only does so after she has accepted. It's MJ who keeps it together enough to ensure that Mephisto promises to make the world forget that Pete is Spidey. It's MJ who has enough faith in their love to know that they can find each other again, no matter what Mephisto does. MJ knows that letting May die and telling Mephisto to bugger off would be the sensible decision but she also knows that it's a decision that will prove to be the final nail in her husband's coffin. And so, she sacrifices her happiness to save her husband's sanity. You want heroism? There it is.
I admit that the inclusion of Mephisto into this story isn't particularly satisfying. For a start he's a magic based villain, something that seems very out of place in a Spidey comic. But what's the alternative? Cosmic Cube? Clones? I don't see any way to wipe out the marriage that would be completely satisfying. Which begs the question, why wipe it out at all?
Joe Quesada's reasons for wanting to wipe the marriage can be found here. Personally I feel that most of the writers just weren't enthused by a married Spidey. This is evident by the very same-y plots we got involving MJ over the past two decades. For example how many times has MJ had a stalker? How many times has Peter felt down but then felt better after a pep talk under a duvet in a dark room? How many times have we seen MJ standing by the bloody window waiting for Pete to come home? I've heard it said that if the writers were good then they'd be able to write decent married Spidey stories regardless of their feelings on the matter. But it stands to reason that a writer is going to produce better work if they're enthused about what they're writing about. That's not to say that I think every married Spidey story is crap. J. Michael Straczynski dealt with the relationship in a very enjoyable way. At the start of his run Pete and MJ were separated and seeing JMS getting them back together was a joy. Just before One More Day Matt Fraction wrote one of the greatest stories about Pete and MJ's relationship that I've ever read. It can be found in Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1 and I urge you to track it down and read it. But we did also get a lot of very similar, very cliched moments involving Pete and MJs relationship over the years, and if unmarrying Spidey is what it takes for the writers to produce their best work then I'm all for it.
Of course, this argument only holds water if you've been enjoying the past couple of years of stories featuring a single Spidey. Personally I've loved it. Seeing Pete worrying about girls and living a not too successful bachelor's lifestyle again has been a lot of fun. I've also loved seeing Pete's supporting cast getting a bit of the limelight. Characters like Betty Brant are getting more development than they've had in years. The Betty Brant story in Amazing Spider-Man #583 (the famous Obama issue) was brilliant and a perfect example of the kind of story that wouldn't have been as effective if Spidey was married. I love the fact that Harry Osborn has returned and I love the way stories like American Son are highlighting just why Harry and Pete are such close friends. Also, MJ is back and she's fun! She's a character in her own right and not just some mopey red head that Peter reads out his inner monologue to.
I just don't get it when I read comic fans lamenting the state of the Spidey books at the moment. I've read countless posts by people claiming they've read Spidey for twenty plus years and now they've dropped the book. C'mon is it really so bad? You're telling me that you stuck with Spidey through Maximum Carnage, the Clone Saga and Chapter One and NOW you're quitting? I can't help but feel that a lot of fans are cutting their nose off to spite their face.
Spidey and MJ will be reunited though. One of the best things about OMD is that the door wasn't closed on the marriage once the story ended, there are still plot threads to be picked up. For example, what exactly did MJ whisper to Mephisto? It may take a year or it may take twenty years but the Spider-Marriage will return. So let's quit our complaining and enjoy Spidey comics!