Comic Fodder

Marvel hits the reset button on Spider-Man

Amazing Spider-Man 545

by J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada

After all of the buildup and struggles that Peter Parker has gone through in the past few years, almost all of them have now been rendered null and void, as a deus ex machina wipes out all of the "bad" choices that Peter has made, and he gets to live his old life consequence-free, with the rest of the universe obligingly reshaped around him so there is no inconvenient person to mention, "Hey, weren't you supposed to be married and outed as a superhero?"

The setup for the story was bad enough, in that Aunt May was dying, and the only entity that could save her from such a mundane thing as a bullet wound turns out to be Mephisto. Yes, the cosmic entity who has tried to swallow the Silver Surfer's soul has nothing better to do than offer Spider-Man a way out of his troubles. Doctor Strange? Helpless when it comes to a gunshot (maybe he’s a Skrull). Iron Man? Can't do spit. The only hope a gunshot victim has is Marvel's answer to the devil. Would it kill them to let a higher power come out on the side of good every once in a while and offer a hand? Why is there no counterpart for the devil that can also help? Nope, sorry, the only one who can “help” you… is the devil.

Setting the extreme artificiality of the setup aside, we have a story that was building up to an emotional, mournful dirge, with Peter a hounded criminal, on the run with his wife, and his beloved aunt about to die. However, instead of allowing a simple story to proceed to its natural conclusion, and build on it for the future (which is what Brubaker did with Daredevil after taking over the reins from Bendis), here we get a mulligan. Mary Jane decides that in order for Aunt May to be safe, she not only has to be healed, but everyone has to undergo a memory wipe so that nobody remembers that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Excuse me, but since when does Peter striking a deal give Mephisto the power to wipe the memory of every human being on earth? If I were part of that universe, wouldn’t I also have to agree to give Mephisto power over me? I mean, otherwise, my memory is about as reliable as an Etch-A-Sketch board, for all that who knows how many deals Mephisto has already done with other people that involve mind-wiping. My brain could be Swiss cheese by now. Move over Zatanna, you’ve got some new competition!

Here’s another minor problem with the way the story unfolds. The previous part of the story showed us a young girl that Peter unquestioningly followed around, giving her the greatest authority, and now she does not even enter his thoughts through the entire ordeal. She turns out to be the daughter that Peter would have had with Mary Jane, and now will never be. Way to introduce a story concept and have it dropped on its head. The empirically-trained scientist Peter Parker just tosses out this magically-appearing person, and after a lifetime of considering everybody else’s wants and desires, placing them before his own, he can’t even be bothered to question the significance of this person he felt drawn towards only a few minutes prior. Sloppy.

What’s the next problem? Selfishness. In a lifetime of Spider-Man stories, he has had only a few times where he has been fed up and decided to look out for only himself, but he started feeling guilty almost immediately afterwards each time. Now that old Catholic guilt is thrown out the window, even as Mephisto’s agenda is revealed. The whole reason he is making this offer is to rub it in God’s eye. To thwart such a powerful love is like crack to him, but this doesn’t make either Peter or Mary Jane blink. They are told that their agreement to this bargain would be painful in a way to God(!), and they do not stop to ask if, just maybe, they should consider rejecting the offer because God might want them to reject it. God is not mentioned again. When you consider the actions of Peter over the last, oh, forty-five years of comic stories, he is very gracious and considerate of a large number of people’s feelings and agendas. Oh, but God? Forget about Him, we’re talking about my aunt’s life! Who cares if the devil wants to use me as a pawn in his war against God! This just does not match what we know about Peter Parker.

Hey, what about having to live with consequences? You’re trying to write a grim and gritty, realistic story these days, right, not those cheerful candy stories of the Golden Age. Peter has broken the law, he has endangered his loved ones, his life is a crumbling ruin. Let’s hear it for realism! Never mind, we have decided to have a do-over, so every choice that we think was wrong will now be erased. Let’s hear it for magic trumping life choices!

Okay, let’s ignore the fakeness of Mephisto-is-their-only-hope, let’s ignore that Peter has turned into a dunce over the significance of the daughter-that-never-was, and let’s set aside their amazing, spectacular bouts of selfishness and considering only what they want things to be, AND the ease with which they can erase their poor choices in life. Let’s forget about the great effort Straczynksi made to reunite Peter and Mary Jane in the first place, when he began writing this title. Let’s now talk about Marvel comics and what they are thinking with this reset move, and why they did things exactly backwards.

The marriage of Peter to Mary Jane has long been a point of contention within the halls of Marvel. Peter was originally the awkward, trouble-filled teenager that we could relate to because hey, we all have problems, and here was a hero who had some of the same problems, not the supremely-powered, trouble-free Superman that were the usual heroes shown to us. Having him married gets rid of a ton of plot devices, because it’s a lot harder to introduce a new love interest. It also changes him from a character that kids can relate to into an old, married cad, with all of those 30-something problems that teenagers get enough of at home, and presumable would not be interested in reading.

Hello, Marvel? Your teenage audience is a mere spec of what it used to be, and you’ve created a younger line of comics for them anyway, plus the Ultimates line, which reset Peter back to a single teenager already. Your average comic book reader IS a 30-something, and half of us are married or will be in the next few years. Half of those are already divorced! Since most of the new characters you have introduced have been teenagers (Ricochet, Runaways, Young Avengers, all of the New X-Men, etc.), how about letting a character who has been around forever actually grow and change for once? Heaven forbid (or Mephisto, as the case may be)! Instead, we have been reset to the beginning, where Peter is a free tiger, and his lovely Aunt May does not know (or has not admitted to knowing) that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. We’ll be lucky if they don’t repeat the Other and Spidey-Clone storylines, because for all we know, they were erased too, but will come around anew/again.

What about the Civil War? The public reveal of a secret identity was one of the biggest reasons that many heroes decided to register under the new law. Who knows how many people were watching the TV and thought, “Well, dang, if Spidey can live with this, then I can too!” With the past erased, will we be treated to a revisionist Civil War, in which Spider-Man always opposed registration? How would that have impacted each superhuman battle, if Peter was fighting next to Cap instead of against him in the beginning? Or will Marvel take the lazy way out, and just claim that everything else in the Civil War worked out exactly the same? If so, they’ll be missing a good chance to use this as a game-changer and bring Steve Rogers back now, rather than later. This is almost as bad as Scarlet Witch, and her “no-more mutants…” and by “no more,” I mean “198.” (The only thing worse than a reset is a reset with bad math.)

Marvel made media-bursting announcements about this change, with Peter coming out to the world. CNN was reporting that Spider-Man had revealed his identity! Those of us in the know yawned and tried not to count the days they would reverse things with a magical wave of their hand, while the young optimist hiding in all of us hoped beyond hope that they would not prove our worst expectations of them. Like we didn’t have to sit through all of this already when Superman died. The average person who does not read comics might have had his bubble poked with all of the announcements, and is now walking around thinking that the entire fictional world knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man. And of course, all of us comic fanboys won’t be able to resist correcting them when they bring it up, and having to tell them, “Uh, actually, they changed that. Nobody knows anymore.” You thought they would keep his identity public? Even though they said this was real and permanent? Suckers!

So do not keep the hope alive, fans. Character are not destined to live and grow and change, grow old and eventually die. There will be no true character development. This is the frozen wasteland of caricature, where things must stay exactly the same, until some marketing person or deluded creative type thinks he can “shake things up.” They will hype momentous changes, and nothing will ever be the same again!!!! Until six months later, when they hit the reset button, and everything is the same again. I’ll see you there. I’m not worried. You’ll be back. Where else are you going to go? Copyright and trademark law says you can’t get your Spidey stories anywhere else. Suckers!

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

Saw it coming a mile away. Not only won't they even try to finish their own stories, but they find the worst possible way to get rid of the marriage. Man, that's the worst thing I've ever seen a comic. It's up there with the Hindenburg disaster.

-- Posted by: Alex R at January 8, 2008 5:48 PM

I was a Marvel Comics junkie from the early '70s to the mid-80s and haven't really kept up with it since. Oh, I still enjoy reading the old mags and even some new comics that somehow happen to catch my interest. And through the magic of the web every so often I'd check in to see what's been happening to the various characters I once loved to read about over the last couple of decades. I was admittedly rather shocked to learn that not only had Norman Osborne been brought back, alive and well, but that retroactively he had had apparently consensual sex with Gwen and she'd gave birth to his twins. Aunt May's death and resurrection just struck me as amusing, but I found it touching taht after actually finally discovering that Peter is Spider-Man, rather than dying of shock she wound up having a heart-to-heart, adult discussion with Peter and stood by him. Maybe not exactly consistent with the Aunt May as characterized by Stan & Gerry and most of Spidey's chroniclers for most of his career but if she's gonna stick around why shouldn't she be able to grow and change? Which gets to the heart of why I originally so enjoyed Marvel Comics -- most of their characters were not static, cardboard cutouts. They had reasonably recognizable human personalities and frailties. They made mistakes that had serious consequences, but they also learned. Peter Parker's character had matured considerably between his introduction in 1962 and 1972, when I began reading his stories regularly, but in reading those reprints and what back issues I could get, the change in Peter's personality was depicted as a gradual process which all empathetic, intelligent people go through. That touch of realism amidst the pure fantasy aspects was what drew me to Spider-Man and the other Marvel characters.
With this latest development, however,it appears that old Spider-Man is really gone for good and has been replaced by a parody. Ah, well.
I'm struck by the thought that they should do a series depicting all the old heroes from the 60s as they would be if they had aged realisticly over the next 40 years and died or aged (as they did episodicly with many of the '40s characters, leaving out the 'big 3', during the 70s and 80s). Then they should just let that particular version of the Marvel Universe go and stick with one of the new versions they've created of late or even create yet another one, starting over yet again as if the world had not yet seen the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, etc.

-- Posted by: Fred at January 13, 2008 4:41 PM

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