mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Spider-Man: One More Day

I originally hadn't planned to discuss my thoughts on the "One Day More" story line that just concluded in Amazing Spider-Man 545 a few weeks ago, for two reasons. First of all, I didn't think anyone would be interested in my opinion. And secondly, I presumed that there would be so much discussion in the blogosphere that any of the points I might make would have been made already.

As it happens, though, I've actually been asked for my opinion, since I'm not just a reader of Spider-Man, but someone who grew up in Forest Hills, just like Peter did (cf. my essay "The Friendly Neighborhood of Peter Parker" in the book Webslinger). And as I ruminated over the story, I realized that my thoughts on the story go deeper and further than just this one story itself, into the realm of general thoughts on serialized fiction.

So even if you don't read comic books, or don't care about the adventures of Spider-Man, I think you might find something interesting in here about the writing of franchised characters and the writing of fiction in general. Because I also bring into the discussion Stephen King, William Goldman, and the TV shows Lost and Gilmore Girls. Read on, or just cut to the end, which is a good bit and has Marvin in it. (Well, to be honest, Marvin doesn't appear at the end. But I do reveal if I plan to keep reading Spider-Man.)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with what's been going on in Spider-Man comics, a brief recap. Peter Parker's Aunt May lies dying in a hospital bed, because an assassin's bullet meant for him hit her instead. Aunt May ended up in the line of fire because Peter unmasked during the events of Marvel's recent Civil War, so every villain in the world now knows the secret identity of Spider-Man. Peter refuses to let Aunt May die, but a long search for help proves fruitless.

Until he is approached by Mephisto (the devil, essentially), who offers Peter a choice. He can save Aunt May from dying, but at the cost of his marriage to Mary Jane. Mephisto will perform his magic, and it will be as if Peter and Mary Jane never got married in the first place. (And while he's at it, he'll make Peter's secret identity a secret again.) Peter and Mary Jane agree to his terms, and as the issue of Amazing Spider-Man 545 comes to an end, it seems as if the years have been wiped away, and that Peter is once again living with his aunt in Forest Hills, and partying with the same friends he knew in high school and college.

(For a slightly longer recap with some more detail, you might want to check out Adam-Troy Castro discussing "One More Day".)

So how do I feel about this development? To answer the question directly and succinctly, I'm disappointed but hopeful. My main concern is that for the past eight years, we've been treated to some real, well, kick-ass stories about the adult Peter Parker and what it means for him to be Spider-Man. We've seen Peter learn that his powers weren't an accident, that in a mystical way the spider chose him to be the carrier of such power, because it knew that Peter would use them for good. We've seen Peter struggle with so much, as he found his life changing in drastic ways. Peter himself died and was reborn, and he revealed his secret identity to the world during the Civil War.

(Not to mention, that he was the hero chosen to tell the story of 9/11 in the Marvel Universe.)

But suddenly, through what is a basic deal with the devil cliché, all that is wiped out. Or maybe it isn't. We just don't know, because comic book continuity has always been a fluid thing. Did Peter still live through some of those pivotal events, only just not while married to Mary Jane? There's no way yet to know.

So why I am hopeful? Well, for two reasons. First of all, in some ways Peter's decision is logical – for him, if not for us. Because it is in character for Peter to refuse to accept the death of his Aunt May. His decision illustrates a major and important character flaw in Peter Parker: he wouldn't be who he is without the tremendous guilt he carries, and this decision poignantly shows that.

The second reason I am hopeful is because, as I said above, in the world of comic books things are always fluid. It is entirely possible that the whole reason for the resolution of "One More Day" is to set up a background story that takes place over a long period of time – possibly for a few years – in which Peter discovers what he did and confronts Mephisto about it. Maybe the whole reason for this story resolution is to set things up for later.

I know it's a straw, but I'm clinging to it.

Which leads me to my next thought. Allow me a slight digression here.

In his book Which Lie Did I Tell? More Adventures in the Screen Trade, writer William Goldman discusses (among other things) his experiences writing the screenplay for a movie he very much cared about, The Ghost and the Darkness. There came a point in the writing when the producer (who was also co-starring in the movie) asked Goldman for some changes in the story that he thought would improve the presentation of his character. Goldman disagreed vehemently, but he went ahead and wrote the new scenes, hoping that the producer would see how wrong those scenes would be for the film.

Instead, those scenes stayed in the film, and Goldman tends to feel that they contributed to the ruining of the picture. So why did he do it? Well, on page 92 of the book, he asks a fascinating question that explains why he did it:

"What does a screenwriter do when he is asked to damage his own screenplay?"

Because had Goldman said no, he won't make the changes....well, despite the fact that the first version of the screenplay was his, and that he was the one who wanted to bring the story to the screen...the producer could have simply fired him and hired another writer to make the changes that Goldman wouldn't.

You can probably see where I'm going with this, but let me share another example.

A few years ago, in one of his Entertainment Weekly columns, Stephen King suggested to the writers of Lost that they end the show after a set number of seasons, and let the story come to a natural end. Now, as we know today, ABC has actually agreed to such a scheme, but before that happened, EW published another article by Stephen King, in which he talks to the writers of Lost, and it's clear that at some point between the two articles they had spoken to King about his suggestion. Apparently, they had gently explained to him that writing a TV show was different from writing a book, and that they couldn't just decide to conclude the story whenever they wanted.

Suppose you're a creator of a serial work of fiction like a TV show, which is technically owned by the network. Suppose you want to bring the story to an end after (let's say) five seasons, but the network is making a ton of money off the show and insists on renewing it for another year. They approach you, the show's creator, and ask you to resume your role as show runner for that new season. You're reluctant to do so, obviously, and you tell them. And then they remind you that if you decline their offer, they'd be more than happy to hand the show off to someone else.

What do you do?

You basically have two choices. Either you can continue writing and guiding the show, doing your best to give the fans of the show the storytelling experience that they have come to expect; or you can walk away, and watch in horror as someone else puts your characters through story lines and plots that you would never have allowed. But either way, your show is in danger of "jumping the shark."

We saw something similar to this happen to the TV show Gilmore Girls as it ended last season. Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show's creator, moved on after the sixth season, but left the show in the hands of David S. Rosenthal, who had been a staff writer on the show. And even though Rosenthal had notes from Sherman-Palladino on what she envisioned for the season, and even though Rosenthal knew the show intimately and had a deep love for the characters, most fans agree that the show became weaker in its final season.

Imagine what would happen to a show if the network or studio handed it over to someone who didn't care about it at all. Nothing would be salvaged.

So, bringing this back to "One More Day"...

A lot of fans have looked at writer Joe Straczynski's public comment in the Usenet newsgroup devoted to Marvel Comics. (You can find it at JMS News: OMD Irony.) He notes that he himself disagrees with how the story went, but he acknowledges pretty much everything I said above. The Spider-Man character isn't owned by only one creator. Every writer and artist on Spider-Man is simply a steward, trying to tell the best possible stories they can. And when they disagree, something has to give. In the end, I think JMS wanted to make sure that even if the final story wasn't one he would have written, that he would still do as right by the character of Peter Parker as he could.

But the most significant part of this whole story line, which brings JMS's run on Amazing Spider-Man to an end, is the story credit. The story credit for Straczynski's final issue is shared with Joe Quesada.

That says it all.

Finally, for those of you who didn't read through all my pondering, the answer to your question is yes, I will continue to read Amazing Spider-Man for the foreseeable future. I may not be happy about this current development, but I still want to keep up with the life of Peter Parker.
Tags: comics, movies, science-fiction, television, writing

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