Monday, December 03, 2007

Sensational Spider-Man #41


Probably the worst kept secret/ most telegraphed play in comics of late has been Marvel's long pondered method of ending Peter Parker's 20-year marriage to Mary Jane Watson.

How does one end a marriage and manage to keep everyone smelling like roses? How does one split up two characters incredibly popular across all of comic fandom? Especially after all the craziness Peter Parker and Mary Jane have supposedly endured together and always come up totally pleased as punch with one another?

Fortunately, superhero universes, especially SHARED superhero universes, tend to be littered with all-powerful mystical whatzits and whatnots. And while Spider-Man is mostly famous for containing his adventures to the sky-scraper canyons of the Big Apple, fighting a string of animal-themed cretins, he does live in the same fictional vision of NYC that contains the Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange and the Avengers.

It's probably worth noting: at the conclusion of Civil War (like, a year ago...), dear old Aunt May took a bullet meant for Peter. She was just standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. In order to save Aunt May's life, Peter and MJ have been given an opportunity for a possible deal, literally with the devil. In order to save May's life, Mephisto wants... (wait for it...) THEIR MARRIAGE.

Because Peter and MJ are supposed to be all-around good folk, we know that they'll make the deal and Joe Quesada will have his swingin' bachelor Peter Parker he's been wanting since taking over as EIC a few years back. We know that neither Peter nor MJ would allow May to die. I'm not disputing this point as some bloggers have done. I'll accept it as a believable character decision.

Supposedly the Devil Mephisto gets something out of the knowledge that Peter was happy, and now he will be less-so. EXCEPT that Peter won't remember that he was ever married, so its some teeny-tiny part of his brain that can remember, but, really... no. Neither Peter nor MJ will remember. So... Really, Mephisto seems much more interested in confusing 20+ years of comics continuity.

Here's what's bugging me, Leaguers: Rather than writing a story that reflects the grim realities that a tense time can put on a marriage and end it in the ugly, not-terribly-fun way that marriages actually end, they've created a Magical Divorce Machine.

To this reader, the method of dissolving the marriage is editorial cowardice.

Comics readers are big boys and girls, and as much as we don't like it when Mommy and Daddy fight, having the devil steal Spider-Man's marriage makes no sense. This sort of plot doesn't seem true to forty years of comics. It isn't in keeping with the street-level tone Spider-man has maintained for the vast, vast duration of its run. It's not true to the Spider-Man we've seen lift up a 100 ton undersea machine. It's not Spider-Man. It's a deus ex machina plot point and a fairly lazy one at that.

If he was any sort of devil, wouldn't Mephisto ask Peter to kill a random person and remember it? Or do something else hopelessly heinous? Maybe turn the past twenty years of Parker's life into one in which Spider-Man is a horrible criminal? Not that forgetting your marriage is a bad thing, but if neither of you remember it... I dunno.

I guess I'm just casting aspersions on Mephisto's ability to be actually evil and not just a nuisance.

It's interesting to note that Marvel has apparently come to an executive decision that, despite fans responses of "don't do it!" and "meh" when asked about a bachelor Peter Parker... they've resorted to a plot contrivance like Mephisto in order to make it work. This path, I guess, keeps Parker's nose clean as a face to put on lunchpails, etc... and I can appreciate the business necessity of such a decision. After all, some editors have tried to find a path to divorce Superman and Lois, but nobody could come up with anything not involving a Crisis Wave. Plus, really, the Magical Divorce Machine is going to give editorial a "get out of Jail" card if the fans do revolt. After all, writers can turn to that greatest of Spider Wish Granters, Dr. Strange, and make it all go away.

It is interesting that comics will show, in detail, all sorts of physical hurts and injuries that most readers will never experience. What they will not show, however, are the fairly mundane aspects of everyday life. And that's just weird. I know, I know... escapism. Whatever.

Perhaps the readership can't actually handle their Spider-Hero getting a divorce, but can handle grim destruction and violence as the idea of a building coming down around one's ears. Unlike divorce, the Scorpion coming at you with his deadly tail is so foreign an idea, its nothing but an abstraction. Perhaps the image of Mommy and Daddy agreeing that they'd be happier apart than together hits a little too close to home. But it's certainly not the sign of mature storytelling to avoid such a common topic as divorce and believe only the devil can make two good people go their separate ways.

As I said. Editorial cowardice.

I'm not sure if I'll actually drop Spider-Man. I'm not outraged. And I've seen plenty worse. I'm mostly just disappointed that Marvel couldn't continue down the organic path of the story of Peter Parker and, if they felt the need to dissolve the marriage, simply do so in a way that would make sense in context of the past forty years of comics.

The next and final issue of "One More Day" is coming out soon, and we'll find out if Petey and MJ give up a life of wedded bliss for a nice old lady to have a few more years. So far the decision isn't made. Marvel has a chance to actually do something interesting here. And, in the hands of the right writers and editors, anything could happen.


Michael Corley said...

I think there a many, many ways they could have dealt with this in a non plot device way that would have kept Peter's nose clean, as you put it.

Ah well, who needs to try when you have magic? I don't look foward any Harry Potter comic books if this is the sort of thing I should expect.

Anonymous said...

That is definitely a very lame plot device.

BTW, what was Spidey doing when Hulk ramapaging New York this past year?

The League said...

He was in the background in some panels.

T.S.T. said...

Where the heck was my Magical Divorce Machine when I could have used it a few years ago?

Unfortunately, it's this sort of cop-out--shying away from exploring deeper, trickier psychological & interpersonal complexity--that often drives me to read an Ivan Brunetti comic instead of the traditional super-hero fare. And that's a real shame, I think, because (a) I love the classic super-hero mythologies, and (b) I think that, in so many ways, those classic mythologies hold the potential to do even more interesting psychological stuff than the non-super-hero, navel-gazing comics do. Clearly, the instance you describe here with Spidey just ain't actualizing that potential, though.

The League said...

It's funny, because when you get the right creative team, the readers will go right along with you. It's when the creative team fumbles that readers can't get over their perceptions of "how things should be" in that oddly static way superhero fans want to enjoy their stories.

You mention a creator I'm not familiar with (but never fear... I recently subscribed to The Comics Journal). But many adult indie comics use the drama of human life as their bread and butter rather than running from it.

I do think, had Marvel simply tried to write a divorce with a writer like Brubaker or Bendis, it could have worked. And it would have been heartbreaking.

Sadly, editorial seems as immature about bringing their audience into nuanced situations as some of their loudest and silliest detractors.

Anonymous said...

Aaaarrrggggh. Spiderman not about lovey dovey heart brakey!! Spiderman about jumpy jumpy smash smash!!
Old people wreck comics!!!

The League said...

Sadly, I can't tell if Hulk here is kidding or not. There are plenty of comic fans out there who feel threatened by anything beyond a first grade level of sex and violence.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Hulk destroy NYC because his alien wife died?

The League said...

Well, NYC was a casualty of the Hulk's return to Earth. Yes. It's all very complicated. Read "World War Hulk".

Anonymous said...

I'm not adgainst anything that has or will happen in One More Day, and what has happened from 2001 in the spider-man series, especially since Civil War and onward, but what I don't like is that they're putting the life of Aunt May at stake for Peter and MJ's marriage, instead of focusing on something more groundbreaking, I mean come on, they're gonna end they're marriage so that the old hag can live two or three more years and then die, so that everything that's happened, was undone just so she could live a couple more years, personally I like the idea of going back to the bachelor Spidey, without the ties of marriage and that his identity was still a secret to everyone, but Marvel should've done for something more important, May's not even taht important, well that's just my personal opinion.