Saturday, January 12, 2008

Comics Rambling: Can You Feel A Brand New Day

I may be the last blogger on the Internet to comment about this, but it’s taken me a while to compose my thoughts. For the non-comics-readers on my blog, what’s happened is this: during the course of “One More Day”, a story arc spanning the major SPIDER-MAN titles, Peter Parker’s beloved Aunt May was at death’s door. Apparently spent for options, Peter sought out Mephisto, the Marvel Universe’s Satan-analogue (rather one of them), who offered a deal- Aunt May’s life in exchange for Peter’s marriage to Mary-Jane Parker. Peter agonized about this, until MJ persuaded him that their love would survive somehow, and the two of them agreed. Mephisto worked some kind of reality-altering mojo, and now he and MJ were never married- in fact they don’t seem to know each other yet. This leads us to “Brand New Day”, the first arc of the now thrice-monthly AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comic, and the first issue of this story arrived in comics shops Wednesday. And I decided to give it a look.

First, let me point out one thing: I did not actually read “One More Day” beyond its first issue. I consider myself a fan of John Michael Straczynski’s run on AMS, even the much-criticized “Sins Past” storyline, but this particular plot twist had been long-telegraphed, especially in interviews where Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada would not shut up about how he hated Spider-man being married and how it apparently cut off so many storytelling opportunities. I’ll get to that later- the point is, I knew this was coming in some form or another, and I felt they were really dragging their feet on it. If you’re gonna piss off readers, do it quickly. Tom Petty was a liar; we do not want it done nice and slow. Anyways, I waited.

Now, I personally feel that this was a bad decision. I never felt there was any problem with Peter and Mary-Jane being married, in fact it was kind of sweet. Their relationship works. Moreover, the idea that their marriage cuts off story ideas is not entirely true; it’s true in that you can’t have Peter Parker having dating troubles or wondering which girl is right for him, but it’s also true that him not being married means you can’t have stories focusing on the trials of married life, which admittedly are harder to fit into the superhero genre. At worst it seems like a minor net loss against the multitude of stories that can be told involving the other sources of drama in the life of our favorite web-slinger, so why Quesada was so intent on changing this, I have no idea. On top of which, the method by which the marriage was removed is bizarre; I’ll give them credit for not killing Mary-Jane or causing some kind of bitter separation that would make it difficult to reunite them, but from a plot perspective the “Satan did it” angle causes many problems. Not only has the marriage been retconned out of existence, but apparently so has Spider-Man’s unmasking in the pages of CIVIL WAR and the death of Harry Osborn, among other things. It causes a lot of weird continuity wrinkles in relation to other books and events, which means that the writers of non-Spidey books are going to have their hands full.

That said, I gladly gave BRAND NEW DAY a try. For starters, I’m a fan of Dan Slott’s writing, and I didn’t feel like punishing him for Joe Quesada’s sins. For another, there is the character of “Jackpot”, New York City’s newest and most official superheroine, who is almost certainly our MJ benefitting from some weird side-effect of the deal. The character first was previewed in one of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings, also starring Spidey and written by Slott, and the concept is, for lack of a better word, adorable. MJ’s sparkling personality makes her a surprisingly good fit for the superhero role, and the couple’s inevitable (if also inevitably far-off) reunion should be nicely spiced up by her new role.

So, AMAZING SPIDER MAN #546. I was supposed to talk about that, wasn’t I? It’s good. Quite good. It’s bright, fun, and decidedly old-fashioned, the sort of thing Slott knows how to write well and which helps cleanse the palate of a long string of grim Spidey stories. Granted, our hero still has the fabled Parker bad luck, but here it translates to money troubles and girl troubles and the sort of thing that leans more to humor than melodrama. Peter Parker has been unemployed for a while and also not Spider-Man for some time either- he had hoped that putting his hero career on hold would let him make a normal life, but with that not working out, and with a mugger in a Spider-Man mask ruining his reputation, Parker gets pulled back in as he tries to find an apartment and a job. In the meantime his dear Aunt May has been working at a soup kitchen, and J. Jonah Jameson has his hands full trying to prevent a buyout of the Daily Bugle. It’s a good dense start, and a few back-up stories help justify the extra dollar on the price.

Is it worth the frankly-mind-boggling lengths that Marvel has gone to in order to set up this new status quo? Probably not. But what’s done is done, and it’s almost certain that the next EIC to come along, whenever that is, will push Spidey and MJ back together. And if not him/her, then the one after. In the meantime, the title’s making the best of a bad situation, and I’m viewing the whole event with a certain zen detachment. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion, this entire entry proves otherwise. But this too shall pass. Really, that’s the only way you can handle this sort of thing.

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