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Monday, February 04, 2008

Life of Reilly Returns -- Comic Book Galaxy was the first home of Life of Reilly, a 35-part look at the 1990s Spider-Man Clone Saga by Andrew Goletz and Glenn Greenberg. Andrew revives the column here with his thoughts on the recent controversial storyline One More Day, and has an exclusive interview with Marvel Editor-in-Chief and OMD architect Joe Quesada.

By Andrew Goletz

Spider-Man: One More Day

Since word of undoing the marriage and the means to how it would happen first occurred, people have been making comparisons to the Clone Saga. More than a few people even suggested if I would do a Life of Reilly-style look at "One More Day." There are a few comparisons but the two storylines are pretty much completely different beasts. The biggest difference being that (for better or worse), "One More Day" was contained to just JMS and Joe Quesada with some help from other Marvel writers and editors. It wasn’t this huge sprawling storyline that underwent massive rewrites through several different creative teams and editors. And while the main reason I wrote Life of Reilly was to show the behind the scenes goings on with the Clone Saga, those involved with "One More Day" have been pretty good about lifting the curtain and letting readers into the storytelling process.

Joe Quesada has gone through a series of in-depth interviews with Jonah Weiland of Comic Book Resources where was very open about the reasons for wanting the marriage undone and the methods on how to accomplish it. It may have unexpectedly opened up a can of worms with the JMS since Straczynski went on to Newsarama and gave his side of the story on how he wanted "One More Day" to end and the flaws he found with Quesada/editorial’s version.

So as I review "One More Day," let me briefly go over the major events in the Spider-Man books over the past couple of years so you have some perspective on my point of view. I’m not just about the clones, you know?

I think JMS is one of the best writers to ever take on Spider-Man. Regardless of the totem aspects or Gwen and Norman hookup, he wrote Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Mary Jane extremely well. His storyline focusing on May learning about Peter’s alter ego almost made me forgive the powers that be for undoing Amazing Spider-Man #400. And that’s really the point. For whatever retcons, revamps, clones, life model decoys or magic tinkering that makes a story go bye bye, the reverse is that a new wealth of storytelling opportunities occur. I’ll use Amazing #400 again as an example. I rank that issue as one of the best single issues of Spider-Man, period. But if it stayed in continuity, we wouldn’t have gotten to explore May’s relationship with Peter after she learned about his identity in JMS’s run, which was my favorite part of the JMS era. And if the deal with Mephisto means that May has forgotten those events, it still doesn’t undo the story. The arc happened. Just like Amazing Spider-Man #400 is still out there.

The Spider-totem saga which began JMS run was interesting and provided a new spin on the character without really changing anything about the origin…really. It was never firmly established that the totem was anything more than Ezekiel’s theory and neither Peter nor the readers ever fully accepted it. It was a neat wrinkle added into the mythos, though. He brought Mary Jane back into the picture and made her likable for the first time in quite awhile.

There were a couple of misses (‘Digger’ and ‘Skin Deep’) and then we headed into the event era where it seemed like every other arc was a mini-event: ‘Sins Past’ then moving in with the Avengers, ‘The Other’, The Iron Spider, ‘Civil War’ and the Unmasking, Back in the Black Costume and then finally ‘One More Day’.

I’m sort of on both sides of the fence when it comes to stories like those where it seems like they were written just for trade paperback. On one hand, it makes it seem as if there is a cap on how far the story can go, thought that may not necessarily be a bad thing if you weren’t a fan of the ‘Clone Saga’ or ‘Trial of Barry Allen (a story dealing with the arrest and trial of the Flash that lasted several years). As much as I’d like trade paperbacks collecting the entire ‘Clone Saga’ (and still believe that it will one day happen) I can see how much of a nightmare the project would be to produce. Where do you draw the line between issues? How do you package the books together in a way that leaves a definite conclusion at the end of every TPB?

‘Sins Past’ looked like it could be leading towards a very interesting story with Gwen Stacy possibly have given birth (in secret) to her and Peter’s twins years ago. But as intrigued as I was early on, I figured that if Marvel didn’t want Peter Parker to be married, and they didn’t want to reference the baby they ‘lost’ during the Clone Saga, they sure as hell weren’t going to make him a father now. And of course, they didn’t. The father turned out to be Norman Osborn. Norman Osborn.

I liked the unmasking and thought that it opened up a wealth of storytelling opportunities. Peter David did an outstanding job handling a lot of this in his book, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. He included the much anticipated face off with J Jonah Jameson. I don’t think that unmasking was a wise decision on Peter’s part, and it would probably have been reversed eventually, but some interesting avenues could have been explored for at least a little while longer before putting things back to normal.

I did not care for ‘The Other’ or any of Spider-Man’s new powers. Spider-Man’s knock down, drag out fight against Morlun was intense, but for the most part the storyline fell flat. There didn’t seem to be any tension as to whether Peter would be really dead, only speculation on how he would return. And his return and subsequent powers seemed to be even more out of whack than anything that could be presented in ‘One More Day’. Whether this was a result of too many creative people working on it or just because it was a silly idea remains to be seen.

I didn’t believe that there was any seriousness to the story. In comic books, people can come back from the dead through a ‘super punch’. Heroes come and go and switch sides almost as much as they change costumes. I just never thought that any of the changes in ‘The Other’ would stick. It was like the Ben Reilly switch during the Clone Saga. Even as a less cynical reader, I couldn’t quite believe that they were making Reilly the real Peter Parker because they didn’t do it in an issue number divisible by 50 or make it double sized. The issue came out and after the reveal, I thought to myself, ‘why aren’t there any bells or whistles for a revelation of this scope’.

The Iron Spider suit was another idea that fans railed against when they first saw the images of the costume. Now it’s become one of the favorites and the design is being used in the Avengers: Initiative book where a hero named MVP has been cloned and his three duplicates wear the suit calling themselves the Scarlet Spiders. I thought the suit was cool, but of course it wouldn’t be here forever. I just wish that more of the technological elements of the costume could have been used before it was dumped. There were flashes of what the suit could do in the first issue, but it was pretty much treated like any other costume change until Peter and Tony Stark’s final fight.

Back in Black had Peter wearing his old black costume. I liked the black costume and it always brings back nostalgic memories of the late '80s when he first got it (although it was an alien symbiote then, not cloth) so I didn’t mind the coincidence that Peter was back in black around the time that Spider-Man 3 (featuring the black costume) was in theaters.

This storyline showed the dire consequences that came from Peter’s identity being public. I was glad that the Kingpin was brought back to the Spider-Man books to put him through hell by putting a hit out on Peter and his family. The Kingpin was introduced in the Spider-Man books, but he became better known as a Daredevil villain. The Kingpin is one of the most sinister villains in comics and would stop at nothing to destroy his enemy, even if he had to strike at his opponent’s personal life. Having Kingpin as the one to send a hit man after Peter seemed appropriate and put a greater sense of tension in the books. If it was some no name bad guy taking a shot, it wouldn’t have the same impact. The Kingpin has a history of being someone who will stop at nothing until his opponent is completely destroyed either physically or emotionally. His involvement upped the stakes.

It was this story that provided the lead in for ‘One More Day’. The hit man tries to shoot at Peter and his family. Peter’s spider-sense warns him of the danger and he instinctively acts, pushing Mary Jane out of the way only to soon discover that his Aunt was shot instead. The subsequent issues of Peter tracking down the shooter and the person that gave the order were a bit overdone. It’s always fun to see Spider-Man get a little bad ass and show off his powers, but the story went on for a couple of issues too long.

This brings us to ‘One More Day’.

I’ll start off with biggest highlight for me: the art. Quesada always puts an amazing amount of detail into his work and he seemed to raise the bar, here. I found myself going back over panels just to catch little clues here and there of what he might have put it whether it was to tip his hat toward the resolution towards the series or do homage.

The fight scene between Peter and Iron Man was great, especially when Peter unloads on Iron Man with his webs, exhausting himself but still winning the match. Quesada’s version of Mephisto is quite scary. I never thought the character was intimidating or interesting at all in previous appearances. He always looked like a warped clown in a red (usually looking slightly pink) jumpsuit before, but here he was frightening.

Quesada’s renditions of Peter and MJ seemed a bit ‘off’ at first glance. I couldn’t figure it out at first but after looking at some of the other characters in the books; I noticed that Peter and MJ appeared to be drawn older than they usually are. Not older like middle aged, but a hard-looking thirtysomething. I joked with someone that it was Quesada’s way of showing how old a married Peter Parker looked. This hypothesis was somewhat confirmed in Joe Quesada’s interview with CBR. And true enough, in the ‘post marriage’ sequences in the book, Peter looks more energetic and youthful than ever.

It’s a great looking book. Quesada’s art and the heavy inks and dark colors all add to this sense of foreboding going on. The book seems to progressively get darker and darker as the storyline progresses until Peter and MJ vanish into the darkness as their ultimate fate is sealed. Moments later, Peter awakens to a new day and the colors are bright and there is energy to the panels. It’s not the most subtle thing in the world, but it works from an artistic standpoint.

It was Peter’s fault that his Aunt is dying. He unmasked. He made his identity public and placed his loved ones in constant danger. And after he switched sides and became a fugitive, he took his family from the safe confines of the Avengers’ headquarters and made them go on the run. His best place to hide them was in a rundown motel and he wasn’t even around them at all times to protect them. He was out when the hit man arrived at the motel and the only reason May and Mary Jane weren’t killed in his absence was because he was the primary target. When his spider-sense goes off warning him of danger, he gets Mary Jane out of harm’s way but May is left to be hit by the bullet.

As ‘One More Day’ begins, Peter is exhausting all of his options. He forces Tony Stark to help him and ends up getting the money for the medical attention that May needs, but the doctor’s tell him May’s condition is beyond their help. With time running out, Peter goes to Doctor Strange to seek out any spells that may be able to save May’s life. Strange can’t help, so Peter uses his knowledge of Latin (a great touch) to cast a spell himself that ends up being useless in the long run. Peter has sought out allies and enemies in an attempt to save his aunt’s life but no one can help him and time is about to run out.

Then Mephisto appears.

Would Mephisto, a devil-like being, take so much of an interest in Peter Parker? Peter may have unwittingly brought attention from Mephisto upon himself while seeking out salvation for Aunt May with Doctor Strange’s methods. Having tangled with Peter before, perhaps this was Mephisto’s chance to even the score and make Peter suffer along with ‘winning one’ against the Man Upstairs. In the Bible, the devil tempts Jesus with promises of nourishment and power while he’s in the dessert for 40 days and 40 nights, just to get one over on God. Stealing a marriage just for bragging rights doesn’t seem that far removed.

This isn’t a choice that Peter has time to evaluate. He and Mary Jane are given one day to decide. Their emotions are already at a breaking point due to the recent events in their lives and Mephisto’s deal is the capper. The dialogue in the first part of the fourth issue is especially powerful. Mary Jane and Peter are written as believable as a couple would be in this situation, to the point where they (at least Mary Jane) are actually getting sick over the reality of it. Mary Jane accepts the deal first and as time comes to an end, Peter screams in agony with the weight of the decision and reluctantly agrees to the terms of Mephisto’s deal.

The characters aren’t sitting on their living room couch having a casual conversation with Mephisto when all this is happening. It’s not done in any cavalier manner. The reader had several months between issues to ponder and analyze the offer. Peter and Mary Jane are visibly suffering with the choices they have to make and they have to do it in only a day. Peter, feeling guilty for causing the events that put the woman who was like a mother to him at death’s door, holds out as long as he can, even after his wife accepts the deal. Erase a marriage to save the life of his aunt? Mr. Power and Responsibility probably would have made the deal to save the life of a stranger, let alone his loving aunt.

The irony for me in all of this is that the Mephisto angle was one of the endings that was suggested for The Clone Saga by my pal, Glenn Greenberg. At the time, the story was rejected because it was too mystical for the more grounded Spider-Man line. Again, when you’re dealing with a character that got his powers from a radioactive spider, was cloned, had many friends become super villains or die at the hands of super villains and more recently found out his powers may be tied to a mystical spider totem and teamed up with Loki, the god of mischief, I don’t know what storylines are out of character anymore.

I was also surprised at how many readers were appalled that Peter or Mary Jane would consider taking the deal (not taking into account how fast things were progressing within the timeline of the story or the clock ticking on May’s life) but no one really said ‘boo’ about Peter ready to kill the Kingpin.

Would I have preferred a different ending? Yes. But I haven’t read any ideas out there (or could think of anything on my own) that would be better than what we got. Some of the fan fiction that’s popped up online (offering different endings) has given even an even worse name to fan fiction. Marvel wasn’t going to allow the character to become divorced or widowed. They already went the clone route and probably couldn’t go back to that well. The only other possible option that I could think of would to have revealed Mary Jane to be a Skrull, but then she would have had to have been a Skrull since the marriage and that would have been as complicated as anything else. Hell that would mean they still had a half Skrull baby out there.

Mephisto and Joe Quesada stated that the deal would only alter certain threads in time. The marriage would be gone, but everything else still happened the way we all remember it…for the most part. I have no idea why or how Harry Osborn is back, but I do think his return opens up some more story possibilities in the future, especially if Norman is still around, too. I do feel bad for JM DeMatteis, though. Not only was his excellent Amazing Spider-Man #400 retconned out of existence, but now his equally classic death of Harry Osborn is gone, too. And what of Aunt May? Apparently she doesn’t remember that Peter is Spider-Man, as per the new ‘status quo’ teaser that’s been shown. Her discovering Peter’s secret and their relationship afterwards was one of my favorite aspects of the JMS run. As I mentioned about 70 paragraphs earlier, even if it’s been ‘erased’ it doesn’t really matter. All those stories still exist and just because they may not fit perfectly into some continuity puzzle doesn’t mean that they are any less enjoyable.

We’ll soon find out how ‘One More Day’ impacts the world of Spider-Man from here on out and the Marvel Universe as a whole. I think it would be a great disservice to the incredible creative teams that are lined up for Amazing Spider-Man if fans simply stopped reading the book because they’re upset with how ‘One More Day’ was resolved. The book could be more enjoyable for you now. Or it could be a lot worse. True fans of Spider-Man should at least give the new creative teams a shot and if you’re honestly so outraged at the erasing of the marriage, I hope you go out and turn Spider-Girl into a top five book because Tom DeFalco is telling those classic type of Spider-Man stories in the continuity that you want and it’s a book that deserves some more attention/sales.

There has been a lot of chatter on the ‘net regarding this latest development with Spider-Man and a great deal of it has been negative. What strikes me is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus as to why those folks hate the storyline so much. Some people are upset that Peter is single. Some people are upset that he didn’t get divorced or that MJ wasn’t killed. Some are upset that Peter’s identity is back to being a secret again. Still others have mentioned that they would rather have Gwen back than Harry. It’s obvious that there wasn’t going to be a resolution to this that appealed to everyone. Almost every fan has their OWN idea of what Spider-Man is supposed to be and it’s in the best interest of the publisher to try and make their property viable for the future.

If you’re a Spider-Man fan that isn’t just upset with how things turned out, but outraged at how Marvel has destroyed your childhood…or if you’re idea of making a statement is tearing up comics (that you paid for) and sending them to Marvel as a sign of you’re indignation…or if you’re making videos of yourself using the books as toilet paper…well then I think you’ve long outgrown the appeal and enjoyment of what mainstream comics can offer. For these folks, I’d suggest a book like Cerebus, where the same creator wrote and drew his comics for 300 consecutive issues, or any other creator-owned work. The fans may not agree with the twists and turns in a creator-owned character’s life, but at least they’ll get the illusion of change and growth that they crave.

I remember being a pretty much lone voice of insanity with how much I enjoyed the Clone Saga at the time. People at the time criticized the book and after it was finished it took on this (undeserved) legendary status as seemingly the worst story ever told. Now fans are outraged at ‘One More Day’ and long for the days of the Clone Saga.

The good news is, that with Mephisto’s ‘spell’, Ben Reilly is probably still alive, wandering the country and waiting for a chance to come back into Peter’s life.
I think Joe Quesada has been on the net more than I can ever remember, discussing One More Day’ and ‘Brand New Day’. He managed to pry open a little space in that schedule to answer a few more questions about the whole subject.

Andrew Goletz: Taking us inside the process a bit...when did you come up with the idea for 'One More Day' and the resolution to the marriage?

Joe Quesada: I know it happened right around the time that we started coming up with the idea for Civil War, but it was definitely before we did all the hard planning on the event because we had the idea in our pocket and that’s how the unmasking of Spider-Man came to be. It wouldn’t have even have been a suggestion without that in place.

You've been talking about why the marriage hurts the character of Peter Parker since you became EIC, so what took so long to actually do away with it?

We just lacked the right way to do it. It would have been very easy to just kill MJ off or divorce them, but we didn’t want to go that route. Killing her off or divorcing them was certainly an option that was available to previous EICs but I suspect that for the very same reasons, they felt that pulling the trigger on those kinds of stories weren’t the right thing to do.

When a decision is made to do something this drastic with the company's biggest character, do you need to get approval for it from higher ups or does the final decision rest with you in these matters?

Any decision, whether within publishing or our studio division, licensing or what have you, that is a big decision with any of our icons absolutely gets discussed up and down the food chain. You can’t make a decision like this in a vacuum and you need to get the best and brightest people in a room to discuss all the possibilities, pros and cons.

Obviously you can't worry too much about what the voices on the net say regarding decisions you and Marvel make but is there any part of you that gets 'disappointed' when something you're responsible for is met with less than enthusiasm?

No, it doesn’t disappoint me because in so many cases it’s expected. I’ve spoken to Stan Lee about this at length on many occasions and it’s just something that comes with the job. We could do a million things right here at Marvel, we can double our sales, have fans on the edge of their seats, bring in the best creators anywhere, and then next thing we do, we’ll get flack for. But it’s completely understandable in a way because it’s just the way of the world. For me the satisfaction comes in looking back at what Marvel was like right after bankruptcy and placing it against what we’ve accomplished and where we are, it’s been a pretty cool journey so far and a lot of fun. We’ve managed some pretty cool stories, we’ve loaded ourselves with amazing talent and we’ve done some fun things with our universe. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters to me.

What's been your favorite 'outrageous' fan reaction to this storyline?

I think my favorite so far was from a comic shop that sent in an e-mail to our sales department. I’m paraphrasing here, but they were appalled that Peter Parker would make a deal with the devil, it was a morally wrong. The name of the shop was Nickel bag Comics. You just can’t make this stuff up ;-)

What's the most important end result, in your eyes, of the Mephisto deal?

Read Brand New Day, I think it’s pretty evident that the outcome of One More Day is the new injection of energy into the world of Peter Parker. We just had a Spider-Man writer’s conference last week and when we were done we posted up on the walls of the conference room sheets and sheets of story beats for the next two years. It was pretty amazing to see what could be done with Spidey now that we had this new status quo.


Does the Mephisto deal altering points of history allow for the idea that some elements of the Clone Saga were changed and that Ben Reilly could return to the supporting cast? Or rather, are the chances better now for Ben (or Kaine) to come back to the books than they were several years ago?

Keep reading Amazing Spider-Man, we have a lot of stories to tell.

My thanks to Andrew for all his work putting this piece together, and for letting me post it here. -- ADD


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