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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.

Comments

Thanks for this, Michael. And now I have to go read what Adam has to say...
So, opinion?
Full disclosure: I have not been reading Spider-man, so these thoughts are based solely on what I've read here, at Adam's newsgroup, and at the blogs I've been led to by my reading. This whole thing makes me want to go back and read all the Spider-man I've missed, I admit. (So which graphic novel collections should I read?)

I totally understand Straczinski's position that a writer is paid to write, and if he wants to continue good writing on a property he loves, then doing it himself is the way to ensure quality continues even if he disagrees with the story direction. I get that it's the way he keeps his job and remains professional, and I respect that. Looks like he's leaving now, with such a division of creative opinion, though.

It seems as though no one but Joe Quesada thinks that the Mephisto deal was a good idea. Myself, I'm with the majority. It seems as though he's taken Spider-man and Peter Parker out of the rest of Marvel continuity--which is just odd--undone years of apparently top-notch storytelling and character development, and left fans, Peter, and Mary Jane in a swamp, plotwise. Or in a time warp. I can see this change being made if it makes sense, if it's done in a way that squares with continuity. But based on Straczinski's telling, the basis upon which it's all built is magic that requires no logic. That seems like a bad choice to make if story development up to this point has relied on hard, logical, consistent storytelling. I'm not a fan of deus-ex-magica, which is what it sounds like we've got here.

Now, some would argue that in comics such developments are par for the course and one shouldn't expect logic. It seems to me, however, that that's old old skool thinking and laziness. I'll argue for strong storytelling choices every step of the way. For the sake of friends with a genuine investment in the Spider-man storyline, I hope that "A New Day" leads to something that's satisfying, something that makes sense and unites the universes again. My impression is that Quesada's taken the story in a direction that his writer objected to, fans object to, and has got to pull a heckuva bunny out of his hat to make it all work in a satisfying way again.
Actually I thought the final season of Gilmore Girls was much better than the prior season, in which ASP lost her mind. /random
I have to be honest here – we still haven't finished watching the last season of Gilmore Girls. We drifted off in the middle, and did make a point of watching the final episode, but we haven't seen most of the season.
Also in fairness, Sherman-Palladino certainly left Lorelai and Luke at least in a position where pretty much any writer would have a difficult time getting things back on track, let alone quickly, without resorting to a Dallas level "Luke comes out of the shower" retcon.

I didn't think Season 7 quite hit the peaks of previous sessons, but barring some of the convolutions needed to get Lorelei and Luke out of a place they never should have been in, it didn't hit the lows from the previous season or two (example of idiot plot; Luke not telling Lorelei about his daughter. Or Rory staying with Logan. In fact, my biggest gripe with GG is that Rory never managed to have a boyfriend who was all of at her level of smarts, type of personality and responsibility, and treated her well. Admittedly she's something of a young Mary Sue character in how she's practically worshiped by Stars Hollow, but she consistently had poor taste in boyfriends [not that, say, Dean, couldn't have been a friend, but no way that was lasting beyond high school romantically])
One thing about season seven I want to know --

ASP always said that she knew exactly what the last scene of the series would be. I wonder if Rosenthal used her scene.
I think I have two huge problems with this tale (which as I have noted, I haven't read) that will not go away easily.

The first is that the good guy made a deal with a devil. Even if everything is undone at some point - as I think it will be - Peter has crossed a line. It would take a very, very good story to clear Spidey of this dealing.

The second is that he is forever branded as a "mama's boy." I keep thinking of the scene in the third Pirates film where Bootstrap Bill tells Elizabeth that Will would choose her over him and adds "I wouldn't choose me." Aunt May would have told Peter the same thing, but he chooses to save his ancient aunt over his marriage. Better that they just divorce.

All that said, my anger at Marvel is smaller. Mainly because the new stories sound interesting and upbeat (even if I will wait for the TPB). And partly because DC has me more angry over Connor Hawke.
The "mama's boy" aspect was at least covered. It was implied that if May had been dying of a random heart attack, Peter and MJ wouldn't have made the deal.

But since she'd been shot only because Peter had revealed his ID, it activated Peter's guilt complexes, even more so than Uncle Ben (killed because Peter didn't do something, May dying because he'd done something). In addition to May living, Peter gets to be punished for his actions which led to her situation.
OK, that does make some sense. But it still bothers me. I still think May would have told him to cut himself some slack at the very least.

I will also add that I thought having the original May Parker know her nephew is Spidey was a brilliant move on JMS' part, and that taking that away from her is a small setback for a character who lurches from cartoon to fully realized even more often than JJJ.
I hadn't even thought of the implications of a hero making a deal with the devil until I noticed someone else on the blogosphere commenting on it. But you're right, it does mean that Peter Parker has made a deal with evil. That may very well taint the character for some readers forever.
Does a devil in the Marvel Universe imply a deity? It's one of the difficult questions that comic book universes have to deal with. For example, when Luthor made a deal with the demon Neron, he assumed that Neron was actually an alien with advanced technology. In Infinite Crisis, Mister Terrific, who is supposed to be the smartest man in the DCU, tells a character with mystical powers that he's an atheist.

Anyway, I'll be reading Spider-Man for a while yet, so I can keep you posted.
Well, this is Marvel, after all, and Marvel has no shame. I gave up reading them about a year earlier. I knew the entire M-storyline was going to result in a mess. But even before that they'd killed Jean Grey yet again, brought Colossus back from the dead, brought Psylocke back from the dead, were bring Magick back from the dead....

Comics were just becoming pointless as a literary medium. At least, the comics from the big companies. Supergirl is back, too. (At least that was generally well-done), and we know now that Barry Allen is -really- dead. Even Hal Jordan is wearing the ring again.

Which reminds me, I've been meaning to write and ask your thoughts on some current DC events... I may rant at you at Arisia, if there's time.
I'm actually on a few comics panels at Arisia...perhaps one of them might be on the topic you're interested in?

Edited at 2008-01-13 05:55 am (UTC)
I doubt it, unless that many people care about the dissonance between different parallel discriptions of what's happening on Themiscyra...
First off, I'd like to apologize for barging in to your LJ. I happened to follow a link that showed you were posting thoughts involving the "One More Day" storyline.

I truly dislike the direction that Marvel decided to go in with regards to Spider-man. JMS managed to bring me back into reading teh Spidey titles with some amazing story telling. When Ezekiel put the question to Spidey in regards to how he got his powers? That 1 question totally shook me up!! And i'm a comic book fan from years back (I'm 44 years old).

Not to mention that the idea of a deal with Mephisto was unnecessary. There was an incident in the JMS written books that had Spidey crossing paths with Loki. At the end of it all, Loki stated that he owed Spidey a debt. Granted, there has been the entire shake-up involving Thor and the Asgardians in the marvel universe...but that debt would still stand. If Peter had been grasping at straws, trying to find a means to save Aunt May, then one of the first things that would have come to his mind would have been the debt oath from Loki.
No need to apologize for commenting here; quite a lot of people are talking about "One More Day."

I would have preferred it had they not gone in the direction they did, but I'm trying to remain hopeful about the whole thing.

And I don't recall anything about Loki making a deal with Spider-Man. But you're right, in the Marvel Universe there must have been many others who really could have helped Spider-Man.
http://www.spiderfan.org/comics/reviews/spiderman_amazing/503.html
http://www.spiderfan.org/comics/reviews/spiderman_amazing/504.html

It took me a few minutes to run down a site online that had a synopsis of the story. At the end of the 2nd part, Loki gave a token to Spidey to cash in on the favor.
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