Nathan Kiehn is the author of over 100 blog posts on his family website Keenlinks and "The Gray Guard" ebook fantasy trilogy on Amazon.
At The End of His Rope, Er, Webline
Aunt May’s been shot. Peter Parker and his wife are fugitives. The Civil War may be over, but the struggle is not quite finished. With Aunt May in a second hospital that is cheaper but still eating away at their money, Peter Parker feels like there are very few options left for him, as a hero, as a nephew, and as a fugitive. He’s desperate, willing to do anything to see his beloved aunt, a figure who has always been a mother to him, saved from the gates of death. And, major spoiler, he does.
He makes a deal with the devil. Literally.
For reasons that will soon be disclosed, there’s a lot of hate for this story, a lot of controversy surrounding it. Apparently, the idea belonged to editor Joe Quesada, who pulled Marvel from the brink of bankruptcy earlier in the decade, and I guess it had to do with severing certain ties and making Spider-Man more free to be himself instead of tethered down. Right. Because the one thing Spidey always throws away is responsibility. Sure, that’s not completely contrary to the character’s fifty years history at all, Joe. Now, I don’t loathe this story as much as others do. I may have hated it when the idea was first announced or published, but I’ve come to live with the fallout we’ve had for years since. However, as it will be shown, what I dislike about these events is what they ruin. You’ll see. Like the previous volume, One More Day contains the last issues of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and Sensational Spider-Man, but unlike the previous volume, I will be mentioning these stories since they are essential to Straczynski’s plot.
Spider-Man: One More Day
Iron and Magic
As established, Peter’s desperate, for money, for a miracle, for something to bring his Aunt May from the brink of death. Other non-ASM tales deal with this, as Peter tries various tactics, including a séance with Madame Web, in order to wake her up. Nothing works. So continuing from Back in Black, One More Day starts with Peter (not Spidey, Peter) confronting Iron Man, his pre-Civil War boss and probably the one guy who Peter should definitely stay away from. The fight is pretty good and ends with Peter completely encasing Stark in his webbing. Stark does break out, but he lets Spidey go because I guess it wouldn’t be a story if Peter was imprisoned. See things starting to break down a bit?
Plus, we, unfortunately, get this image:
As well as being the genius behind this storyline, Joe Quesada was the artist to Straczynski’s words. He’s not bad—I actually have an Ultimate Spider-Man poster based on one of his images hanging in my room, and I enjoy it a lot—but I can’t stand this image. Yes, the idea is awesome. Peter is PUNCHING Iron Man IN THE FACE. It’s great. But look at Peter, look at that expression. I hate his face. It’s like Quesada always wanted to draw the Joker and finally thought, heck, he’d turn Peter crazy for a second and try to pass it off as him gritting his teeth or looking confident or whatever. It doesn’t work. Peter looks like a crazed lunatic—which, as previous actions of his indicate, might be truer than he’d admit—willing to bloody his knuckles on the Armored Avenger. While it may represent his feelings, it just looks strange, and I don’t like it. Anyway, that’s tangential to all this, so let me get back on track.
While the fight does secure some much-needed cash from a troubled Tony, Peter knows it won’t save his aunt and thus seeks help from more mystical means. Thus comes a really great sequence where Spidey seeks the help of Dr. Strange, who does everything from time travel to allowing Peter to inhabit multiple places in space at a time to seek out knowledge. It’s a fun issue because it shows Spidey at his most desperate, but unlike his black-clad self in Back in Black, this is a Spider-Man who can’t get answers by punching or intimidating thugs. As a seeming last resort, Spidey seeks magic. Again, nothing works. No one can save Aunt May, and Peter can’t prevent the act from happening. Straczynski’s concept of magic is pretty cool, and I wish it kinda ended there. Cause with the magic option off the table, Peter is approached by the demon Mephisto and, long story short, trades his marriage for the life of his aunt.
This is the part that had fans in an angry uproar the likes of which can only be seen in the world of enraged comic nerds when their favorite characters are seemingly unjustifiably altered. The anger seems directed towards the fact that, out of all things, Peter had to dissolve his marriage to MJ to save his aunt. Their marriage had lasted since the 80s, and Aunt May was an old woman who would probably be at death’s door again at some time in the future. Also, he made a deal with a demon. A red-skinned, pointy-teethed, “I-want-your-soul” demon from hell. But instead of Peter’s soul, he strips away his happiness. To me, it feels arbitrary, like Straczynski or Quesada or whoever decided to involve Mephisto was like, “Hey, we’ve got this Satanic supervillain who likes to make deals with superheroes. That seems like an easy way to wrap this up.” It’s a like deus ex machina, except that “deus” is Latin for “god,” so I guess it’s really a daemonium ex machina, since we’re dealing with a devil. It’s just too contrived and random to make sense, especially when considering how little Spidey’s world is generally affected by magic.
Yeah, I think it’s dumb. Not to the level that other fans think it is, but it’s silly. 30 years of marriage in the real world erased. Perhaps my least favorite part of it is that Peter and MJ’s marriage was a huge, huge part of Straczynski’s run. He had stories centered on their relationship—how it flagged, how it built back up, how it found some stability in the midst of superhero craziness. It’s not so much that I don’t like the fact that the marriage was dissolved, which essentially retconned a large element of Spidey stories from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s; it’s that Straczynski ran with Quesada’s idea and, in doing so, ruined a huge chunk of his own run on the mag. For a guy who was relatively reasonable when it came to his writing and tended to stay away from massively stupid ideas—save for the whole “Peter’s powers are from a spider-god” and the “Gwen’s kids” debacle—Straczynski shot himself in the foot by ending his run with such a stinker of a twist. I just wish he’d either left sooner or hadn’t written himself into a corner as he did. Maybe the entire thing was mandated by the powers that be. I don’t know. However, character development is very fickle when it comes to the medium of comics, and suddenly tearing Spider-Man away from his marriage was not the way to have “growth” or change in his character. Have the years of single Spidey been fun? Heck, yes, as you will see. But something tells me MJ’s continued presence would have made it better.
Webbing isn't the Only Thing that Dissolves...
© 2017 Nathan Kiehn