Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why Spider-Man Should be Married

The recent announcement that the Spider-Man newspaper strip had gone back to Spider-Man being married (pictured below) and my reading three trades worth of J Michael Straczynski’s run on Spider-Man has drawn me back into this discussion.

Number one, whether I am a fan of Spider-Man in his current books certainly has no impact whatsoever on Marvel’s bottom line, but facts are facts and the fan base for comics seems to be eroding. The continual decline in the print market with the depression that we are in continuing to deepen all add up to a need for comics to do something truly dramatic to make an impact and maybe, just maybe bring in some new fans. The way to do that is to allow their characters to change and grow.

Constantly hitting the reset button is just goosing the franchise, but not really doing anything other then that.

When comics first come out with super heroes continuity was almost an unheard of idea. From issue to issue some things might change, but they were episodic adventures of characters and the idea of truly advancing the character was not even a passing thought. The audience was young boys and in a couple of years they were onto other things. Before the idea of continuity and character development took hold we had the Comics Code Authority. Comics were sanitized and we had episodic adventures of squeaky clean characters that gave us a Batman who walked in the sunshine all the time. These books are great fodder for blogs that want to poke fun at old comics because they were hokey and written for six to eight year olds.

Then the sixties came along and DC restarted their other heroes and modernized them as they realized times had changed and the heroes needed to change with them. Again it was all episodic adventures and the idea of true continuity was not reflected, plus everyone knew their fan base of 8-12 year old boys turned over every four years so who cared. Elements of continuity crept into the books as Barry Allen got married and Hal changed jobs, but nothing too heavy.

Marvel came on the scene and by design or not Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko re-wrote the rule book. Comics were not written down as much, actual continuity was a huge element and boy did things change. Spider-Man started out in high school and by issue #28 he was graduating from high school. What happened before matter to what happened next. Spider-Man could not be beaten to a pulp at the end of last issue and show up fine and dandy next issue. If Spider-Man had a broken arm in his comic, he would have one when he made a guest appearance in another comic. It was awesome and it made me a comics fan for life.

So in the sixties DC knew enough to update and modernize their heroes and Marvel was daring enough to allow true growth and change in their characters.

Then the story goes Marvel become the number one company and Stan Lee said no more change, just the illusion of change. So ended the great experiment of Marvel.

I never understand why it is once you have success you just stop being what made you successful. I mean why not keep on being bold and daring, but change stopped and illusion became the king.

Even with that dictate the weight of the years and number of stories pushed their characters forward and Peter graduated from college after many years, got married and became an actual living breathing adult character from the teen-age boy he had been.

Then Marvel decided that what really made Spider-Man popular was that he was a single guy and they did One More Day and just retro-conned half of Spider-Man’s life. For me they ruined the character and I read one issue since then and no longer care about Spider-Man.

Now truth be told I had not been a huge fan of the character for awhile, but I checked in on him every once in while and would enjoy a story here and there. In fact the “Back in Black” story line after Aunt May was shot was a very good story, but then Marvel wrecked it.

I’m not sure what the sales numbers are anymore, but I read that Spider-Man sales, even with the stunt of running three issues a month of Amazing are flat or less then when they were running separate monthly titles. When was the last time we saw sales on a book grow and sustain that growth? I think the answer is almost never, because we have the same fan base as we always have had and goosing sales by a stunt only works for a period of time. Then the thrill is gone and so are we.

Now in re-reading JMS’ run on Spider-Man I saw a lot of growth and change. Not all of it was great, but we had Peter and Mary Jane get back together after hitting a rough patch in their marriage, Aunt May finding out the Peter was Spider-Man, Peter as a teacher back in his old high school and other elements. It is a very good read and some of the better Spider-Man stuff I have read in years. It was still the illusion of change, but JMS was sneaking in some significant adjustments. In that run it was a huge deal that Aunt May found out who Spider-Man was, now it is used in every other issue of his book and Avengers.

The problem is it has all become a crock of crap. Ultimate Spider-Man was the young Spider-Man who Bendis swore to never allow him to get too old because it ruins him. Marvel thought that was not good enough so decided to magically alter Spider-Man and wipe out Mary Jane and his marriage.

Why is this wrong?

First off comics need to bold and daring again and do what Marvel started out doing. Letting their characters change, grow old, die, what ever. They are all imaginary stories, but how much more exciting if we actually do not know what will happen again. Will we lose some fans? Maybe, but if these fans have hung on through some of the really horrible stories of before why leave now.

Next the fan base is not turning over every four years, so the fan base is getting bored. Once you have read the same story ten to twenty times, you get jaded and move on or jump more into independent books and their ilk or write a blog complaining about this stuff. We need new fans, not the same fans, the direct market is dying and we need to excite the potential fan also. So much of the entertainment medium plays it safe that you get bored of it, be bold and daring and the stories will be better and the creators may have more stories to tell. JSA is better than JLA because we have new characters to tell stories about.

Stop the convoluted histories. Cyclops went from being an orphan to having more siblings then the Osmonds. Over 40 years of building on the back of a character will do that. No one ever thought this stuff would go on forever, but it won’t if we don’t try to change.

So Spider-Man should have stayed married and the writers can deal with it, honestly. Mary Jane tries to get powers, Mary Jane gets pregnant, Peter appears to be dead and Mary Jane has to deal with it, Aunt May dies and Peter mourns and grieves and moves on like we all have to do in life. Instead of opening up possibilities by having nothing happen the stories generate a sameness, the fan base erodes and the industry comes closer to dying or being so small as to hardly matter.

I have read that some creators think that leaving Peter the same is a good thing. The rationale is that new readers get to discover what he is and they become fans and older fans can go along or move on. This way each new generation gets to discover what we discovered. To this I say “bullsh*t”. I came into the middle of many stories and picked up what I needed to know and what new generations are they talking about? No kids are coming into stores for the latest GL or Fantastic Four as they are too adult for young children anymore.

The only constant is change, so it has been said, and without change it becomes stagnant, fetid, old and worn out. I have also read and believe you love something more for its impermanence. A plastic rose is not the same as a real rose and we cherish people in our lives because it will not last forever.

So Marvel and DC be bold, be daring, be innovative, take a chance and go forward and let’s stop trying to reset the world and instead build on the world we have. Connor instead of Ollie, Bart instead of Wally or Barry, let Jean Grey stay dead, Spider-Man stays married, the Human Torch grows up, Dick remains as Batman and see what happens.


  1. I picked up the "New ways to die" issues since I dig JRJR and Slott was doing most of the writing. But other than that, pretty much nothing.

    I agree with you totally. Unfortunately, money drives everything and they make their decisions based on that and not how the fans feel. I don't recall a lot of fans being upset about his marriage, but boy howdy were they pissed (including me) about the "one more day" story.

  2. That's why I only follow the Spider-Girl universe!!! Aunt May is dead, MJ has given birth twice, Peter has a steady job (a police scientist like Barry Allen). They do tend to recycle old Spider-man villains, but May is her own character, yet the stories have the feel and fun of the "old" Spidey books. One of the most emotional moments in ASM was in issue #400 when Aunt May dies and Ben Reilly is weeping on the rooftop. Even though he's the clone, the loss is just as real to him. Before the Maximum Cloneage meltdown, I actually liked that storyline. I would have been fine with the Spidey-Clone taking center stage (as long as he wasn't the "real" Peter).

    If someone wants to rediscover what we all did "once upon a time" then read the Essentials, Masterworks, and/or Omnibuses. Titles like the highly underrated Untold Tales of Spider-man enhanced the old stories without retcons. The lack of continuity and retcons have actually made it easier to walk away from titles that I bought for years!!!

    I never followed USM, because I was afraid he was going to replace the "real" Spider-man and after Heroes Reborn it seemed possible. Too bad...as I think alternate realities rule now. (Ron read my Readers Respond post on ccx).

    Bart should be Flash and Barry should have stayed dead.