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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Spider-Man: More Lost Than Ever -- Being the guy who approved the original idea for a column (Life of Reilly) about the 1990s Spider-Man clone storyline, I have more than a passing familiarity with analysis of disastrous decisions involving Spider-Man.

When Comic Book Galaxy launched Life of Reilly, written by Andrew Goletz and former Spidey editor Glenn Greenberg, there was a mini-quake of nerd outrage. Why would a reputable comic book website devote over half a year of coverage to one of the worst, most mishandled story lines in superhero history?

As it turned out, the column was extremely popular; if you click the link above, you'll find out why. In addition to summarizing every event of the misbegotten saga of Ben Reilly (a character I retain an inordinate fondness for, despite or perhaps because of the fan reaction to his existence), Andrew and Glenn provided extensive interviews with the people who carried out the story, providing, perhaps for the first time, a journalistic behind-the-scenes view of one of the most controversial stories ever to occur in the pages of North American superhero comics.

And now, even those who cheered when Marvel killed off Ben Reilly and tried to return Peter Parker to his previous status quo must be longing for the days of The Scarlet Spider.

Comic Book Resources this week has been rolling out a five-part interview with Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3), wherein Quesada explains the reasons for, and creation of, the most recent Spider-Man storyline "One More Day," which dismantles (despite Quesada's claims) decades of Spider-Man stories and sets Peter Parker down in a new universe in which he never married, and Harry Osborn is just returning after months (decades, in real-world time) in rehab following his freak-out on "the drugs" back in the Stan Lee days.

Among the many interesting details in this train wreck Quesada has created is the fact that Amazing Spider-Man writer J. Michael Straczynski apparently wrote his own story contrary to what the committee that generated this miserable narrative had intended. Straczynski's story would have reset the clock on every event in Spider-Man history back to those Stan Lee/Gil Kane days, meaning among other things, Gwen Stacy would still be alive. Obviously this would have been a bad idea.

But you know what? The outcome of the rewrite that Quesada inflicted on One More Day (a bad story to begin with, let there be no doubt) is even worse. Quesada claims in the CBR interview that only three things are changed by One More Day: the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane is wiped out by the story (in which Peter and MJ make a deal with Mephisto (AKA Satan for those of you not into Marvel continuity), Harry Osborn is back and in Peter's social circle, and the unmasking of Peter Parker from Civil War is forgotten and his identity once more a secret. Quesada believes these are good fixes that allow the character to move on in a positive direction.

But it's virtually impossible to imagine a Spider-Man reader who won't be alienated by the utter lack of regard this story has for the characters and their history. I'm not saying Spider-Man doesn't need to be fixed -- clearly he's been lost in the woods since well before the clone story of the 1990s -- but this doesn't fix anything, and creates only more problems. Primary among those is the fact that if MJ and Pete never married, if Harry Osborn is alive and well and freshly home from rehab, and if Civil War (a vomit-worthy story in and of itself) never happened in quite the way readers remember, then the floodgates are wide open for the next wave of fan fiction stories within the pages of Marvel Comics, filling in all the gaps and mysteries that must now exist as a result of these, sorry Joe, monumental alterations to decades of stories -- some of them actually good stories.

And look, I am not a continuity porn kind of guy. I stopped reading Amazing Spider-Man regularly years ago, when it became obvious (sometime around the Norman/Gwen fuck flashback) that JMS's Spider-Man was firmly entrenched in the Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics, and was not, as it was sold, an attempt to just tell good superhero stories.

Alan Moore once famously said that he worked to give readers not what they want, but what they need. When a superhero storyline fails as spectacularly as One More Day has failed, it can almost always be traced to that brilliant axiom. In this case, though, reading the CBR interviews with Quesada (and I recommend you do), keep in mind one thing: In this case, the fan being given what he wants is just one person, named Joe Quesada. And that his need to make this cruddy story a reality was so strong that he overrode the (forgive me, God) artistic vision of a better writer (Straczynski), and wrote and drew Spider-Man into the worst narrative corner he has ever been forced into.

For those of us who enjoy good comics, for those of us not addicted to superheroes but rather fond of them when they are used to create good stories, Spider-Man is lost to us. More lost than ever.



Blogger Frank Santoro said...

wait, so does that mean my Spider-Man #149 is worth more now, or less?

03 January, 2008 13:10  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Hard to say, since it's between the retcon of Harry Osborn's overdose and Mary Jane's first time getting freaky with Petey.*

* (Great letters page title!)

03 January, 2008 13:33  
Blogger Glenn Ingersoll said...

Couldn't they have just gotten a divorce?

13 January, 2008 01:35  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Apparently a Spider-Man who has formed an alliance with Satan and deceived the entire world about its real history is more acceptable to Joe Quesada than one who follows a legal procedure to end a binding contract.

13 January, 2008 05:50  
Blogger Steve said...

The whole thing just stinks!!
Peter would have been better off listening to the advice of the wise mystic Dr. Strange. Let Aunt May go and get on with your life!!!
In response to Glenn ingersoll, how about this..couldn't they just stay married? Their marriage was one of comicdoms staples..how about finding creative ways to make it work?
I feel like the character has regressed in his emotional development, fact is that A.D.D is right...I no longer recognize the character I grew up with, he's been lost in a sea of crappy story lines and poor plot and character development. I'm sick of the gimmicks!!! clones, symbiotes, villains who die and don't stay dead, alternate realites, senseless identity reveals, deals with the devil,and finally civil wars ( this gimmick effectively jacked up the entire marvel universe.. what a waste!!!)
Just get back to the basics, a story that involves a coherent chronological development of a superhero who ages and matures.. now THAT is a novel idea. It's what Spiderman's allure is really all about.
I just can't take having my intelligence insulted over and over again, comic book or not,the whole thing has just become to ridiculous to follow anymore!
I'm done!

26 January, 2008 16:42  

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