So, Spiderman is a big topic around the internet these days. And approximately seventy-three million bloggers have already detailed the reasons why the recent events in the series have been so terrible, and about twice that number have simply ranted and raved and proclaimed the inevitable doom that would come from all this. And so it may well seem like there is little more to be said on the matter… but somehow, I can’t resist throwing out a few thoughts of my own.
First off, just for those who have managed to avoid being confronted with the entire ordeal, here is a summary of the situation: The Editor-In-Chief of Marvel comics, on Joe Quesada, dislikes the idea of a married Spiderman. He believes it makes Peter Parker too old for the role, and unrelatable to readers. He wishes to return Spiderman back to the character he was some twenty-odd years back – a swinging bachelor with plenty of hip new stories to tell.
To bring this about, the recent storyline in Spiderman went as follows: A year or so ago, during a recent Big Event, Spiderman revealed his identity to the public as Peter Parker. (With many promises from Mr. Quesada that this was a Genuine Permanent Change.) Not long thereafter, a hitman comes after him – and while Peter is fine, Aunt May is shot. The hospital is keeping her alive, but her health is failing rapidly, and none of Peter’s superpowered friends can do anything to save her – not the greatest scientists, nor the magics of Dr. Strange.
Desperate, and consumed with guilt, he and Mary Jane (his wife) are approached by Mephisto – the Marvel equivalent to the devil. Mephisto offers them a deal – he will save Aunt May in return for… their marriage, a love so pure and true that its loss will be a great triumph for him against the big guy upstairs. Peter and Mary Jane agree, and Mephisto does some hocus pocus that erases everyone’s memory of the marriage – and as a bonus, makes people forget that Spiderman revealed his identity. (At least one person is also brought back from the dead, and a variety of other minor changes in memories seem to be made as well.)
So – that is the long and short of the situation. And, well, there are certainly numerous problems with it, from the very concept to the relatively flawed execution… but such problems have been discussed by others at length. (And if there is one highlight to the entire situation, it lies in some of the completely brilliant commentary it has inspired – such as the usual comedic stylings of David Willis, or a genius Watchmen parody from one chipzdarsky.)
What I find really interesting about the entire matter is the resolution itself – or more specifically, the lack thereof.
See, Marvel doesn’t actually like retcons. That has always been one of the elements that has stood between them in DC – every few years DC tries to tidy up continuity, fix up the past, and in the process wipe the slate clean of various stories that have come before. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
But Marvel likes to stay true to its pre-existing stories. Which leaves Joe Q in a bit of a bind – he wants to render Spidey’s marriage null and void, but without actually arbitrarily changing the past continuity. This was, in fact, a subject of some debate between him and the writer on the series, J. Michael Straczynski.
JMS wanted to have Mephisto perform one simple act – render it so that the marriage had never occured. From there, various fall-out would occur, the usual inevitable ripples that come from a single change in the course of history. I am sure there would have been various problems with this plan as well, and the fall-out from the fans would have been the same – but it would have also resulted in a very different story than the one Joe Q insisted upon.
See, making it so the marriage didn’t happen was exactly the sort of retcon Marvel tries and avoid. So Joe Q devised a way to come up with the same essential result without actually changing the past – he’ll just have Mephisto change everyone’s memories of the past.
Now, this results in a number of key differences. For one, it is actually more disruptive than JMS’s plan – Mephisto has to alter the memories of an entire world, fiddle with physical evidence, etc. And even doing as perfect a job as he can, there are going to be discrepancies – events will have occured that seem illogical and unexplainable, and someone is inevitably bound to notice.
It also, in many ways, ramps Mephisto up to a rather more substantial amount of power – changing the past is pretty potent, certainly, but also a very precise act. (And one that is much more easily bound in ritual, requiring the consent of the two individuals involved in that past occasion being changed.) Altering the memories of an entire universe – well, one would think there would be someone out there immune to such direct manipulation, especially given how far-reaching some of the memory alterations were. With all the cosmic entities out there, the ability to freely rewrite their minds seems a far larger event than simply triggering a ripple through time.
Perhaps the biggest difference, however, is that it renders the change much easier to fix. Just one person regaining their memory or finding out the truth could be enough to start setting things right.
Which brings us to the realization I had about the storyline, and what seems the largest flaw in how it was carried out. Joe Q’s desire was to reset the Spiderman mythos and create a new status quo in which for him to operate. But Joe wasn’t actually willing to go the distance required to do so. He couldn’t create a clean break – it would have been a challenge to do so no matter what, given the weight of the history between the characters, but he had a particularly sloppy attempt to do so, with some very interesting results.
Mephisto’s goal in all of this – at least as far as we have seen – was to destroy this spark of happiness in Spiderman’s life. It seems a bit silly to have expended such colossal power on such a simple task, but there is at least some small bit of logic in it. But you know what would render it completely ludicrous? If it utterly failed to do so. If Spiderman manages to move on with his life and find any degree of happiness in his Brand New Day, the new status quo… well, doesn’t that defeat the entire point of Mephisto’s plan?
The very nature of Mephisto’s plot means that Spiderman can’t move forward in his life without directly invalidating the event that led to it. If Spiderman finds a new love and new happiness, if he isn’t held back by the spectre of his missing life with Mary Jane, then Mephisto’s plan was meaningless. Which means the only way for Peter Parker to move on in life is to find a way to undo what has been done.
Taking that a step forward – the entire universe being currently under the effect of a mind-altering spell is not, can not, be part of any status quo. It is not a conclusion or a resolution – it is an obstacle to be overcome.
That is what is so very bizarre about the method Joe Q chose to use to end this marriage. He didn’t do so with a plot device that was actually complete, but instead essentially chose a story that stopped in the middle. A deal with the devil was made, and Spiderman is now stuck under the devil’s spell, incomplete and unable to move forward. At some point that needs to be resolved. That isn’t an event that can simply be left open-ended or swept under the rug – it is a challenge being set up for him to overcome.
I’m almost tempted to assume Joe Q intended this – but from what I’ve seen of his attitude about the entire project, I’m not exactly inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
All in all, I’m amused by the fact that not only is this a poorly conceived idea, badly executed and presented to the fans in an almost insulting manner… but it is also a story whose own narrative results in it being self-defeating. And perhaps that is why that it seemed almost inevitable that the entire incident will be wiped away not far down the road, and as such my reaction to the story isn’t anger, or frustration, or despair… but simply a sad sort of amusement, and a vague sense that this is so inherently meaningless that it isn’t even worth becoming upset about.
I can only hope Joe Q. sees that explanation and goes “oh, yeah that’s what I meant to do. All fixed!” And undoes it. Reeking bad storytelling is the kindest thing I can say about the whole mess.
It definitely feels like they have certainly left ways out of the problem – I suspect Joe Q is hoping that once the new stories start up, people will be won over by them… but he is prepared to undo things if they do not. The backlash of online criticism doesn’t seem to have fazed him, but if the effect is definitely felt on their sales, that may prove a different story.
I don’t read Spiderman but I’m confused about one thing.
Wasn’t Aunt May really rather old and it’s getting kind of later on in her life to the point where she’ll be living in a nursing home within the next ten years anyway?
Is she really that important to bring back from the dead, no matter what the cost? I mean, for some reason I can’t picture Spidey making a deal with the devil for any reason. Isn’t he supposed to be the upstanding beacon of light in the hour of darkness the world has found itself in after Civil War?
Death exists for a reason and by making this deal it’s like Spidey sees him and his own above death. Yes, I’m sure they could reference Uncle Ben and how much it’s affected him but also look at how much he’s grown since then.
Why didn’t he make this kind of deal to bring Captain America back?
Stupid spoiled brat superheros. :p
Not only is Aunt May rather old, but, when Spidey used magic to contact her soul and try and convince her to fight on, she actively told him that her time was over and she was ready to rest!
The explanation they kept trying to give was that, since she was shot by a bullet meant for Peter, it was *his fault*, and he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if she died.
Which… is a reason, yeah. Not a good one, but it seems to be the best the have.
But yes, the entire concept is rather flawed from the beginning – and in some way actively contrary to the character of Spiderman and his growth as a hero. Oh well. >_>
So on top of all that he went against her wishes? If I was her, I would get myself shot again just to spite him..
see, the way you’ve phrased it I’m expecting a sort of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where Peter and Emm Jay get back together, but it triggers their repressed memories. Realising that they sacrificed their marriage makes them question whether their relationship is that strong… and maybe they go seperate ways, until possible dramatic get back together at some point.
The major point is, as you say, this is reversable, and it also means that Mephisto has WON, which is a status quo that surely can’t last…..
Or, for a creepy ending, 20 years from now they could have exactly the same thing happen, and reveal that Mephisto has been doing this all along, because Peter can’t let his Aunt go.
If Mephisto had really wanted to torment Spiderman, he should have done the “change the past thing”, but made it so that Peter Parker remembered how things Could Have Been, and no one else does. They could have even had Mary Jane married to someone else. Then, depending on how things were working out, they could have either had the It’s a Wonderful Life ending where Peter realizes that without MJ he wasn’t as good a superhero YADDA YADDA and he has to go on a big quest to Make Things Right, or alternatively have him angst when he figured out that she had made a happy life without him and then eventually move on.
I just like the “Boffo!” …