Friday, January 04, 2008

The Devil's in the Lack of Details

Sometimes we regret what is... and sometimes we regret what might have been but isn't...

Marvel had a genuine opportunity to do something significant and meaningful with J. Michael Straczynski's "One More Day" storyline in the various Spider-Man comics. The story itself was forced and contrived (for those of you who aren't up to speed, it existed for only one reason: by editorial fiat, EIC Joe Quesada had declared that the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane had to be undone, and the story was constructed for that purpose), but JMS found a way to turn it into something big... only to have his plans negated at the last moment by Quesada himself.

In his earlier miniseries Bullet Points, Straczynski offered glimpses of the direction in which he hoped to take "One More Day." Bullet Points postulated on how much the Marvel Universe might be changed if one significant event was altered--in this case, the event was the shooting of the scientist who administered the formula that transformed Steve Rogers into Captain America. From there, everything rippled into new patterns, and the Marvel Universe was reshaped in myriad ways.

In "One More Day," Straczynski had constructed a plan that would have the same effect on the Marvel Universe. (If you haven't read the storyline and don't want details revealed to you, then I'd quit reading right now. Still there? Don't say I didn't warn you...) Mephisto, the necromantic Marvel version of Satan, offers Peter Parker a way to save his nearly-dead Aunt May: he will restore her, but in exchange Peter Parker must give up his marriage to Mary Jane. It never happened. Why? To be honest, it doesn't make any sense--the "why" is gibberish constructed because an editor decreed that this must be the result of the story.

(I'm reminded of the story of the Beatles' recording of "A Day in the Life." At one point, they wanted a huge orchestra to make a great deal of unfocused, disorganized noise for a preset period of time before they all came together on a single note; many in the orchestra had problems doing this, because they weren't accustomed to working without a logical musical "plan," or score. Likewise, Straczynski was told to make a lot of storytelling noise without purpose to get to a final note--but Straczynski, being a storyteller, tried to create his own "score.")

What Straczynski wanted to do, as I was told when I first learned about this story more than a year ago, was toss in a universe-reshaping twist at the end: in the final pages, he would have the unmarried Peter show up at a party, where several changes would have been revealed, culminating in the most significant of all: Gwen Stacy, the woman whose death in Spider-Man's arms paved the way for all sorts of changes (including his eventual romance with Mary Jane), would show up at the party, alive and well.

This was an interesting and provocative twist. The storyline held the promise of all sorts of changes; from this event, all sorts of things would ripple differently. It would be possible to construct realities from there in which the New Avengers were never formed, in which the Civil War never took place, in which Captain America never died... in which the Marvel Universe was closer to the inviting place it had been for its first twenty-five or thirty years. Suddenly, there'd be a reason to read every Marvel book again, just to see what new reality Mephisto had initiated.

A couple of years ago, DC had a major event called Infinite Crisis, followed by the addition of a "One Year Later" tag to all of their DC Universe titles. The premise was that the universe post-Crisis would be significantly different, and all these books would pick up one year after the end of that series; another series, 52, would reveal how those bold changes came about. Problem is, the potential of "One Year Later" was absolutely squandered, with bold changes reduced to insignificance or totally abandoned within months as the universe fell into humdrum. Here, though, Marvel had a chance to go even further, challenging the imaginations of its writers and its readers as they reshaped the Marvel Universe, discarding pointless storylines like House of M and reimagining poorly-conceived events like the tawdry affair between Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn.

And Quesada, whose only desire was to end a comic book marriage, said "no." He threw out the Gwen Stacy appearance (the pointless appearance of an attractive blonde character near the end of Amazing Spider-Man #545 is the instance at which Gwen Stacy should have appeared) and reduced the ripple effect to near-nothingness. The changes are minimal: Peter isn't married, Mary Jane is a costumed character (apparently--that hasn't been established yet, but I suspect it will be in the near future), Harry Osborn is still alive, no one knows Peter is Spider-Man, Aunt May is still around, and the old status quo is restored for no reason at all.

There's no motivation for what Mephisto does; even his explanation seems contrived and pointless, because the man putting the words into his mouth couldn't understand why Mephisto would want to do such a thing. Straczynski even requested that his name be taken off the story, but Marvel insisted it remain; after having read the neutered version of his story, I can see why he'd want to be disassociated.

What a shame that something that could have been a major Marvel turning-point has been reduced to nonsensical noise-making that exists only to reach one closing note...


Lanny said...

"nad reimagining poorly-conceived events like the tawdry affair between Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn."


I skimmed Spider-Man #545 just a few hours ago. I noticed the blonde woman at the party. I was amazed to find it wasn't Gwen.

I knew there couldn't be a Spider-Man without a secret identity, but all this jockying around with things gets tiresome. It seems gimmicks have take the place of stories.

Jason said...

Reminds me of the fantastic "Suicide Run" story line of the Punisher a long while back... a perfect opportunity to make changes to the character or even end him, squandered to have Frank fight his way back into New York and resume "comics as usual".

Doug said...

'One More Day' was atrocious. Like a lot of Spidey fans, I've grown up with a married Peter and Mary Jane and never felt robbed of a thing. Sure, the wedding itself was a stunt, but it was an endearing one.

If a writer couldn't tell a convincing story with a married Spider-Man, then he's probably either not married or not a good writer (or both).

That said, I'll be in tomorrow to buy the first issue of 'Brand New Day.' I've never quit Spidey to this point - why quit now?