Or – “Mary Jane Who?”

This month marks the two-year anniversary of the “Brand New Day” storyline that changed the life of the Amazing Spider-Man forever (and this time they MEAN it!)  In those 24 months, much vitriol has been thrown at the editorial process that created the new storyline and the HUGE changes for Peter Parker’s status quo, and many people have opined that the whole thing is a terrible sham of a farce.  But as we finally find out the full story of what happened, a thought has occurred to me:

Marvel Editorial’s belief that changes were necessary for Spider-Man were absolutely correct.

Joe Quesada Was Right!

Before I’m branded as a heretic and run out of town on a rail, allow me to take a moment to explain my thought process.  The greatest failing of any fictional character isn’t going to be alienating old fans, nor is it going to be in changing beyond the parameters of their original incarnation.  Hell, characters that last for decades do both on a regular basis, and that very flexibility is key in their longevity.  No, Faithful Spoilerite, the worst thing that a fictional character can be is BORING.  Predictable.  Dull.  Spider-Man as a married pseudo-father (remember that Mary Jane disappeared while pregnant, and the child was delivered and then spirited off-panel to be forgotten) IS a less malleable character than Spider-Man as a free-swinging single man with money problems and practically no surviving family.  I make the argument regularly on our Major Spoilers podcast that, while unmasking Spider-Man allowed for storytelling possibilities that had never been done, these avenues were much more limited than the story possibilities open to a masked mysterious Spider-Man.  The decision to change Peter Parker’s past and backstory was made to try and give the character that sense of unpredictability, to return to a time where he could be hunted by the police, pilloried by JJJ, trapped in a villain’s lair for three days without a shell-shocked wifey waiting at home in fear.  Take, for example, the classic “Kraven’s Last Hunt” storyline.  If we supplant the phrase “Spider-Man’s wife Mary Jane Watson-Parker” with, say, “Spider-Man’s lover/roomate Michelle Gonzalez,” what does this do to the original story?  NOT.  A.  THING.  Indeed, while the wedding itself was a nice stunt (and make no mistake, it WAS a ratings stunt), it opened up avenues of storytelling that were inherently more limited than Spider-Man’s original story premises.  Thus, by taking the opportunity to change the status quo, thus opening avenues that were closed by the marriage (and by the unmasking and the organic webshoter and half a dozen other things that were undone by the Mephisto Retcon) and improving the character’s long-term viability.

What Do We Want?  Patriotic Swimwear!
When Do We Want It?  NOW!

A more recent controversy involving one of DC Comics central characters has led to a similar outrage on the part of many people, most of whom identify themselves as long-term Wonder Woman fans.  Of course, the majority of the fans with whom I’ve spoken recall the Superfriends or the Lynda Carter television show rather than any recent interactions with Wonder Woman as a character.  (Of course, this is the same thing that happened when Spider-Man unmasked, when Captain America was assassinated, when the Hulk movie premiered and people didn’t see a friendly musclebound Frenchman with a horrible green afro, etc…)  Once again, though, I have to argue that the costume change stunt is a positive thing for the Wonder Woman character in the long run.  First, it put Wonder Woman on the pages of the New York Times, as well as on CNN and major news outlets, reminding people that she still EXISTED.  The sales on the Wonder Woman title have already spiked at my comic store (Gatekeeper Comics and Hobbies, Huntoon & Gage, Topeka!  Ask me about our back issues of the last three times that Wonder Woman did this same thing!) and the “drive-by” factor is unequivocally going to increase sales of the character’s book.  The cynics in the audience (indeed, the cynic writing this column) is certain that it’s only a short-term change and will lead to a trimphant return to spangled panties and striped stripper shoes just in time for the Wonder Woman movie, and perhaps they’re right.  But we’re looking at a character who has been in circulation for over SEVENTY YEARS.  That’s more than James Bond, more than The Doctor, more than Marlena Evans, all of whom have gone through much more drastic changes in shorter timeframes, and whose legends are stronger for it.  There can be no lasting harm to Wonder Woman in terms of nerd rage and venom aimed at J. Mike Straczinski or the editorial staff, and the benefits of reminding people that Wonder Woman is still extant (and, indeed, capable of change) are going to come in additional press, additional readers, and theoretically a nice “resting period” for the classic costume which will make it’s return an event.

Two Men With Four First Names

Comics used to engage in this sort of ratings grab every single month, whether it be a cover with a gorilla, an inexplicable riddle or the sudden appearance of a more popular character in a floundering sister title, the comic publishers of old had no compunction about this sort of thing.  Indeed, if we look at the fallout from the twin deaths and resurrections of Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers, we see a renewed interest in relatively moribund characters.  Don’t forget that it was a mere four or five years ago that we were knee-deep in the third or fourth round of post-9/11 imagery and 15-minutes-to-plan scenarios that made the characters tiresome in the first place.  With Steve abdicating the role of star-spangled Avenger and Bruce playing Rip Hunter, their respective second bananas are keeping the franchise alive in new ways.  Much as with Spider-Man, there is some resistance to the “supernatural” or “magic gun” elements of their deaths and resurrections, but these elements have been part of the characters from nigh-on day one.  (One of Batman’s first real cases was a battle against a vampire in Transylvania, while Captain America’s villainous roster of magical mystery Nazis who cannot die is longer than Rodrigo’s TPK list.) 

If and when Steve returns to the role of Cap, it will more than likely spike coverage and interest in the Captain America character again, just as his death did, just as his resurrection did.  They’ve already proven this with Bruce Wayne as his return miniseries is completely a completely impenetrable read, but anyone who dares speak against it faces the kind of ostracization usually reserved for those who are not “One with Landru.”  And as with Spider-Man, if we’re troubled or offended by the “magic guns” that led to these characters’ return from the timestream, we can blow off that particular piece of story and just focus on that which works for us.  (But they better give Cap back his corsair boots!  I’m just sayin’, some things are sacred…) 

Forget About Mayday!  Pete And MJ Did!

It wasn’t all that long ago that I took up my bully pulpit to argue that event-based storytelling is a volatile sort of thing, and I stand by that conclusion, but when I look at the Spider-Man titles in 2005-2007 compared to today’s output, I see three main differences: 

1.  Aside from the umbrella “Brand New Day” and the just-ended “Gauntlet” arcs, there has been less focus on Big Events to sell Spider-Man’s book.

2.  There has been more excitement and more general discussion of Spider-Man since the revamp than any time going back to the time where he grew bone claws and ate a guy’s face.  (And let’s be frank, “stealing Wolverine’s script” doesn’t make the character any deeper, either.)

3.  The stories being told feel more accessible to me as a casual reader, and the character DOES feel younger without additional entanglements of wife and spectre-of-missing-child.

Marvel’s coup de grace in this whole affair was the rebranding of ALL Spider-books as “Amazing Spider-Man,” a canny move that has it’s basis in one simple fact of life:  Amazing sells better.  When Spidey had three monthly titles (Amazing, Sensational and Friendly Neighborhood) the hold lists for SS-M and FNS-M combined numbered less than the holds for ASM.  Not only that, by putting out the same NUMBER of books in a month but rotating story arcs, the Web-Heads at Marvel have made it much simpler to catch a continuing storyline, with no chance that he’ll be teaching in Queens in one book, trapped in the Microverse in another, and fighting his ex-girlfriend’s clone on a bridge in Paris in a third. Much as many fanboys like myself would hate to admit it, the changes have made Spider-Man more accessible, made his continuity more streamlined, and opened up avenues of story that have been closed since 1987, a literal lifetime ago.  As someone who enjoys Spider-Man, you have to admit that what’s good for the character’s long-term viability, even if the plot device used is as ridiculous as a literal deal with the devil, has to be seen as a positive move. 

And let’s be honest here:  Spider-Man hasn’t actually been a ‘realistic-street-level’ hero since about 1972, anyway…


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


    • After watching John Adams with my children (12 and 10), tarring-and-feathering just doesn’t sound that fun anymore. My younger one was so shocked, even though they both knew in the abstract what happened when you tar-and-feathered. Great mini-series, though, really powerful, compelling, and creates depth behind the figures in our currency.

      • I felt the same way after that season 2 episode of CARNIVALE after it happend to Jonesy, it’s nothing like the cartoons yeesh.

  1. “Take, for example, the classic “Kraven’s Last Hunt” storyline. If we supplant the phrase “Spider-Man’s wife Mary Jane Watson-Parker” with, say, “Spider-Man’s lover/roomate Michelle Gonzalez,” what does this do to the original story? NOT. A. THING. ”

    So in essence there was no problem with him being married, only a problem with bad storytelling. Very little in brand new day required an unmarried spiderman. And I would wager that all the positives you see in the current Brand New Day could have been achieved with the same writers and talent but without OMD.

    • So in essence there was no problem with him being married, only a problem with bad storytelling. Very little in brand new day required an unmarried spiderman. And I would wager that all the positives you see in the current Brand New Day could have been achieved with the same writers and talent but without OMD.

      Certainly possible… But having read Spider-Man off and on for 35 years, I can tell you that (for all it’s flaws) the post BND content has a lot of good in it. In fact, it’s as good as I can remember Spider-Man being SINCE the era of ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ and the Sin-Eater storyline. Mileage, as always, may vary.

  2. Doctor Sleepless on

    Couldn’t agree with you more Matthew on the overall. But I do think married Parker is not the same as un-masked Parker. Pete could have worked as a married man well and for a looong time if they wanted to. Let another character take his place as a bachelor. But overall you brought up every single important point and example relevant in this conversation, and your take on Wonderwoman’s costume and Steve Rogers death are spot on.

    You sir are a gentleman and a schol….Wait what did you say about The Return Of Bruce Wayne? We are not supposed to get all of the answers instantly surrounding the Omega Sanction and Bruce’s plan, and the main plots from issue to issue are easy enough to follow…bla bla, rant, rant. Now excuse me while I go take part in “The Red Hour”….

  3. “What do we want?
    Patriotic swimwear.
    When do we want it?
    I’m sorry. But that was just the best part of my entire online day!

    I hate that you’re right. I hate that characters don’t matter so much as selling comics. As an editorial decision, it makes perfect sense. I think that’s where all the rage comes from. It’s where all MY rage comes from. I love comics because I love the characters. I follow their stories as best as I can. I love the character of Peter Parker/Spiderman and I love his strength to find a way to smile and make funny even though he’s the punching bag of Marvel’s NY. I try to believe that somewhere in all the storylines, and the crossovers, and the events, and even the what-ifs(but sure as hell not the movies), there is a real character. A human.
    Radioactively altered human, yeah, but whatevs.

    The same for Superman/Clark Kent. And Bruce Wayne/Batman. And Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern IV. And I follow the other characters not because I love them, too, but because they’re an important part of the universe my heroes live in.

    Your article make me feel a cold horror inside. The heroes I love are just money making play things.
    I know characters can be real enough to teach you what it means to be human even though they’re fictitious. Characters that inspire. That you can sympathize with. Hate, disagree with, support to the death, but real. That’s what makes them heroes.

    Comic book characters, if they can be played with like this to boost sales… they’re just colours. They’re no more trustworthy or inspiring than the millions of drawings of them.

    As long as the basis behind comics is, “The more money we can make off this the better” and not “Let us inspire people with tales of heroism” – when the latter takes second place… all I was ever inspired by was someone else’s idea to make some money, and my own hope.

    • Your article make me feel a cold horror inside. The heroes I love are just money making play things.

      I don’t know that I would take it that far… In the long run, storylines like ‘Brand New Day’ or the current Return of Bruce Wayne clear the decks, so to speak, allowing the writers to do the “back to basics” stories that eventually lead to the innovative, to the heroic, to the inspiring.

      My point is more pragmatic: The occasional uber-change usually leads the writers to discover what the character really is at the core, rather than what it’s become after years of shared universe adventures. Spider-Man, being a core franchise, was a worse case than most, and needed a more extensive revamp in order to allow him to continue.

      I certainly didn’t mean to destroy your faith in heroic fiction. :)

    • Those changes that are made are sometimes very necessary, even if it infuriates some people. If Spider-man was the exact same character that he was when he was first created when I got into him back in the 90’s (I know bad time to get into comics) I probably wouldn’t have picked the books up. They just wouldn’t have appealed to me at that time. And I know Spider-man went through his own 90’s Dark Age (or would Clone Wars be more appropriate), but for a lot of these events and costume changes that happen to other characters, they are typically reversed within a year or two. Maybe that in and of itself may infuriate some people who see it as a waste of time since ultimately nothing happened, but what if during that time the changes actually caught some attention with people who started reading the tales of your favorite heroes. The more money brought in and interest garnered for any given character usually equates in more use of that character. We knew Cap wouldn’t stay dead, but I actually bought the issue where he died and a few after that one and then couldn’t justify it cause I’m mostly broke. I did start seeing Captain America as more of a big deal though when Civil War hit and the death and even Bucky Cap (which I still find pretty awesome).

      Basically if new readers are brought in and we can continue to pull our little hobby out of the basements and into the forefront of entertainment and other media forms then that benefits all of us. 10-15 years ago we had some Superman and some Batman and not a whole lot else hitting the theaters, but now we’re getting Scott Pilgrim and Kick Ass and Ghost World, production company’s may not have started giving titles like those a chance had certain movies not done well and/or any hype built from major events or deaths or whatever. All I’m saying or adding to this discussion is that while it can come across as all anyone cares about is the money, is that yes money is important but usually it all equals more for us the viewer/reader/listener/podcaster/website moderator. It’s actually probably good for sites like this one too, more people up in arms about different things might get them checking the site more to see the uh Three Amigo’s (I think I’d see Matthew as Chevy Chase, Stephen as Steve Martin and Rodrigo as Martin Short) points of view.

  4. I feel that any writer worth his salt could do good stories with with a married/father Spiderman. But that is me. Now he is the hip, swinging bachelor how almost walked down the aisle. It’s just retredding the tire, and sometimes that leads to a failure on a wet road, in the fog, on a deadly curve. It’s that same thing with the Barry Allen love over at DC, he died for something, had his place in the history books, but nope. He had to rise, and Jay had to kiss his ass. The OMD/BND, Flash: Rebirth, is like trying to catch a fart in a wind storm, it isn’t going to work.

    Regarding Wonder Woman I think it is just to revive her name, get it out their prime the character like a two stroke weed-eater. Then she’ll fall back to the classic garb. Though I read the first arc of the Heinberg and Simone run on her it never clicked. I even gave some of the Rucka trades a shot, and it fell short. I found intrest in Jimenez’s work, but to me I like the elements of the Golden Age Wonder Woman to be the most fascinating. But I think Grant Morrison is the only one who’d do her the justice, JUSTICE!!! she deserves.

    • I feel that any writer worth his salt could do good stories with with a married/father Spiderman. But that is me. Now he is the hip, swinging bachelor how almost walked down the aisle. It’s just retredding the tire, and sometimes that leads to a failure on a wet road, in the fog, on a deadly curve. It’s that same thing with the Barry Allen love over at DC, he died for something, had his place in the history books, but nope. He had to rise, and Jay had to kiss his ass. The OMD/BND, Flash: Rebirth, is like trying to catch a fart in a wind storm, it isn’t going to work.

      Yep, a good writer could and has done wonderful things. But just as with unmasked Spider-Man, there were fewer roads that could have been taken.

      I’m as much annoyed with Barry Allen as you (possibly more), and I unequivocally DO NOT include him in this discussion of “bad things that were kinda good for the character.” But from the perspective of the publisher, it already HAS worked! Thousands of copies of Flash: Rebirth were sold, thousands of copies of Final Crisis, Blackest Night, and the new Flash revival as well. There are a great many people reading the books, which to the people who make their livelihoods of the titles equals good thing.

  5. My biggest complaint with Spider-man recently is that he is two entirely different people when he is in Amazing and when he is with the avengers. Amazing = whiny loser, Avenger = wise cracking superhero. I know he is both (aren’t we all) but the difference is like night and day sometimes.

    I think I just need to stop reading them back to back.

  6. RE: Spider-man’s Brand New Day

    When I first discovered comic books as a kid in the early 90s and started reading Spider-man, he was married and was having all sorts of crazy adventures with symbiotes and clones (I still have all of those issues). Like many people of my generation, I grew up with a married Spider-man and never read any issues with an unmarried Spider-man.

    As a young reader, I liked Peter with Mary Jane. As I grew older, I admired that Peter was an example of a hero who could have a stable relationship, and I found him interesting that way. I’ve never felt that a married Spider-man was boring and limited because my whole fundamental view of Spider-man was that he was a married superhero.

    I think that Marvel wrote itself into a corner when Spider-man unmasked during Civil War. In my opinion, that was the only truly limiting moment in Spider-man’s history. An unmasked and hunted Spider-man does limit story possibilities because neither he nor his family could go anywhere or do anything. The unmasking definitely need undoing.

    I’ve always felt that absorbing the 2 ancillary books into Amazing, limiting crossovers, and rotating through top tier writers and artists were great ideas. However, did it have to happen by pretending the marriage never happened?

    It is true that undoing the marriage doesn’t affect most stories that have come before. However, how much would a married Spider-man affect the stories since One More Day?

    I’m a Marvel Zombie, always have been and always will be. My pull list is ~75% Marvel books and ~25% IDW and Boom Studios Books. However since One More Day, I have refused to buy a single issue of Spider-man ever again in protest.

    In the end, I vote with my dollar.

  7. If they really wanted to break up the Spiderman status quo, how about throwing away the tiresome trope that he’s always going to be a borderline loser in real life? It was mildly entertaining in the character’s early 1960’s conception to show character depth. But in 2010, it doesn’t improve the character and isn’t unique.

    • Thank you for agreeing with something I’ve been saying for 20 years! Nice to know I’m not just a crusty, skeptical old guy that’s jealous that now comic fans have celebrities and good looking women in skimpy cosplay costumes at comics conventions, as well as entertainment moguls working to get your hard earned comics/video/movie bucks. All I grew up with were wise-cracks from folks about “still reading funny books” and bad Charles Atlas ads.

      I mean you got chicks showing up in sexy Green Hornet costumes. The damn GREEN HORNET, a character that only old comic/pulp fans and Bruce Lee groupies knew anything about.

      (Snif…) I think I’ll go off in a dark corner now and read my old DC “Giant Sized Specials” from the 80’s.

  8. I agree a lot with Landle and Davek regarding the OMD debacle. Marrying a superhero doesn’t really limit him any more than a writer/artist is willing to let it. If anything, it makes Spidey more unique because there are so few married characters in comics.

    I wonder if some of this is due to the fact that the Spider titles have traditionally been written by men, and many of them seemed to have difficulty making MJ into an interesting character on her own. I mean, it is possible to do that. There are a lot of great books (graphic and otherwise) about people with no superpowers (really!). I also wonder if since superhero comics have a large degree of wish-fulfillment, if making Spidey into a young, swinging bachelor says more about the middle-aged, married creators than it does about what audiences will buy.

    • Well this is a weird analogy, but it’s not unlike what Sesame Street did with Elmo. I know, I know. I don’t like the character either, but ultimately I don’t need to. When I was in the Sesame Street age bracket, my affinity was for a different set of characters that were meant to represent my outlook as a child (Big Bird was intended as their avatar of the childhood experience.) As the population of that age bracket changed to newer generations, children’s perceptions turned toward Elmo as how they saw themselves. This didn’t make any of the other characters less important, but it did change how they marketed their characters. As a result, they shifted toward Elmo but maintained the other characters as part of their program. Did Big Bird go away? No. But now Elmo is one of their strongest tentpole commodities. (But I can still get my Cookie Monster retro shirt. As I should.)

      If Sesame Street can do it, surely Marvel or DC can do it. Instead, Marvel/DC would’ve reintroduced the characters in order to maintain a false “Freshness”, as an example. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having characters evolve organically, nor do I think it truly risks the overall franchise.

      And Jim is right, the problem isn’t Peter Parker being married. It’s that no one has truly tried to make Mary Jane interesting. And now that they’re no longer married, even less.

      • And Jim is right, the problem isn’t Peter Parker being married. It’s that no one has truly tried to make Mary Jane interesting. And now that they’re no longer married, even less.

        Peter David tried. And Tom DeFalco. And Roger Stern. And to some degree, each off them succeeded. Hell, even Todd “ADVANTAGEOUS” McFarlane tried hard to make Mary Jane integral to the legend, and many times, it worked. The characters were together for twenty years, our time, and many readers had never read a contemporary Spidey story without her…

        I’ll still argue that a few years of telling stories WITHOUT her will be a good thing for the character in the long run, and moreover, none of the retcons changes the fact that we all read and presumably enjoyed the stories from ’87 to ’08 and those stories will never go away.

        • But they *have* gone away, Matthew. That’s inherently the problem. Because of the method that Joe Quesada specifically decreed, he has *chosen* to invalidate every single story that we have enjoyed in one form or another by the method he personally decreed in order to retroactively eliminate the Gordian Knot of the Mary Jane marriage. It can’t be both ways – the very nature of invalidating the previous canon of what had occurred before, for no other reason than editor-in-chief mandate, is in itself a public statement that the company is invalidating what occurred previously. It’s similar in nature to what happened with the season of Dallas where it all proved to be a dream and Bobby Ewing still lived – the creators have told the audience it *did not happen* and thus, it diminishes these storylines in the overall enjoyment of the perception of a continued, long-term continuity.

          Now, the counter-argument would suggest that it shouldn’t be important in the grand scheme. I can agree with that, actually. I don’t feel Superman or Batman were ultimately diminished by the reboots that have occurred for the characters in order to maintain relevancy – I don’t think it diminishes Supes as an example whether or not he played varsity football in high school because the important elements have stayed the same for the character. But that isn’t what happened here. Instead, it was a ham-handed attempt to reboot character continuity without actually doing so. It didn’t serve overall story value because as an audience, we know it was done less as story-arc progression and more as editorial mandate. You might say it’s being insider to say so, but even the Marvel Staff have said that it was not done as a natural progression of the story they wanted to tell for Spiderman but rather it was an ends to a mean to *get* Spiderman to a specific consequence – being single. Never do they state (to my knowledge) have they stated “This is the story we wanted to tell.” And by doing that, it’s implicitly saying that the stories they’ve previously told don’t matter.

          Don’t misunderstand me, I see your viewpoint is that the story arc “ends” justify the means on how they got there. And I acknowledge the value of that ends is a subjective value – if you like it, you like it and that has value. But I personally value and read comics (or any literature for that matter) in how they get me from Point A to Point B to Point C in both character development and plotline. And I truly feel Joe Quesada “cheated” as a storyteller (by proxy) in how he got the character to Point C on his watch, because he utilized a deus ex machina that seemed out of character and forced for reasons that had little to do about natural story progression and more about editorial mandate.

          One other note I’d like to point out – I have yet to hear an pro-OMIT argument that suggests the storyline itself “worked”. I can respect the idea that the end result was more beneficial in some people’s eyes, but I don’t hear people suggest that the *way* it occurred was anything less than the execution of an editorial mandate.

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