Retrospecticus: One More Day 10 Years Later

So here we are. 10 years (minus two days) out from One More Day. The story that erased the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson from canon. The story where Spider-Man made a deal with a character who was Satan in every way but officially. The story that cemented once and for all Peter Parker’s status as a failure.

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When I first read OMD, I thought it was the worst story I’d ever read in comics. It broke me. It especially broke my heart. I loved the marriage and I didn’t want to see it end. I was so mad I started reading Amazing Spider-Man hoping for a fix, only quitting when I quit weekly comics last year due to, this is true, my daughter being born. That fix has never come. Why do I hate it so much? Let’s first look at my review from 2009:

I don’t hate another comic book story as much as I hate this story.

There. That’s a great summary of how I feel. I’m out. See you later. (someone informs me this is a full review) Well, I have to keep going for a while so here I go. Universally despised, this is an editorial mandate in print, specifically “break-up the marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson”. This was a mandate from Joe Quesada, a man who I generally feel has done a good job. He felt the marriage aged Spider-Man, it made him unrelatable. So he set out to end the marriage. And conceived the single worst, most twisted option short of Marvel Zombies’ relationship ender. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the marriage, the route he (and forced along for the ride writer J. Michael Stracyznski) chose is stunningly dreadful.

The story begins after the much disliked Civil War (which I loved) and the unneeded Back in Black movie tie-in. Aunt May lies dying in a hospital bed under an assumed name. The Kingpin, out of revenge on Spider-Man, tried to have Aunt May and Mary Jane killed. So Spider-Man once again got out the black costume and went out for revenge, warning he would kill the Kingpin if she died. Several felonies were committed in order to move his aunt who as I said, is dying.

Parker goes to Tony Stark asking for financial help only to be turned down. He then hits up Doctor Strange for help only to learn there is nothing he can do, only to encounter a mysterious little girl. These two sentences, btw, are the first half of the story. Yeah. So, Spider-Man follows the girl through a series of visions before taking on their true form of Mephisto who makes an offer: he can save Aunt May, make it so none of this happened. But he wants a sacrifice: the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Will they accept the offer? Obviously, or I’m not reviewing this. So the marriage has never happened. Nobody knows who Spider-Man is. For some bizarre reason Harry Osborn is back. (Were I reviewing the aftermath, I’d praise this. He’s been great.) And Spider-Man’s status quo is reset to before I was born.

Where to start… This story made me angry. How angry? Crazy angry. Insulting to fans and profoundly confusing in its implications (which still haven’t been played out), this story is one long expression of an editor’s view over such things as story and logic. I’m leaving Straczynski out of this to be clear. For agreeing to write it, there’s blood on his hands but he tried to pull his name off the last two issues. He’s guilty but pales next to the mastermind/artist. And I admit, the art by Quesada is well done. Nice use of color, very kinetic and fluid. But that’s as nice as I can be on this. Quesada’s a great penciller and deserves credit as such. But this does not work on any other level.

So let’s begin with the absurd method by which the marriage is undone. I said above I can’t imagine a worse one, short of an undead Spider-Man devouring his wife. That’s sad. I know Mephisto isn’t technically Satan, but look, he’s a demon who rules an extra-dimensional land of the dead. He can bend space and time. He makes pacts. If it walks like the symbolic incarnation of evil and talks like the symbolic incarnation of evil, it’s the symbolic incarnation of all evil. And the story asks us to accept this. Spider-Man, an undisputed hero, made a deal with a character who is, at the bare minimum an incredibly dangerous villain. Lovely.

Then, I descend to the second major issue with the story, really the biggest. In this story, a choice is made between past and present. The precise wrong choice is made, if you’re an adult. Parker chooses to save the life of his aunt rather than the marriage he has built. His aunt is not going to realistically live much longer. His marriage though, that’s going to go on. He sacrifices the thing that makes him an adult for the purposes of clinging to his maternal figure. If I made such a choice, I’d be disowned. Life is about progress, an idea which scares Quesada and comic book writers in general. Peter Parker, and to be clear, the equally complicit Mary Jane Watson, are hopelessly retarded in their maturity. By proxy, Quesada expresses a repellently arrogant view of young people. The character reverts to a status quo which is supposedly more relatable, yet multiple people I know are in committed relationships including several marriages. Not all will last, but oh well. Being young and committed isn’t THAT far out.

And that brings me to the idea of the marriage. In the real world, Peter Parker would be married. He’s a traditional guy who thrives on close relationships, who fights for those he cares about. And in the real world, he’d marry someone like MJ who balances out his self doubt and more introverted tendencies. My own parents, who have been married for roughly 30 years, are that mix. It’s common. Am I saying I’m in favor of the “spider-marriage”? You’re damned right I am. Mary Jane Watson has, for years, been the ONLY benefit to being Peter Parker. His world will collapse, but she was there. And in a realistic sense, nobody’s life is that perpetually awful. I get it, the need to keep the “Parker luck” up, but come on. Yes, I suppose growing up in the married stories has impacted my view, but dammit, it worked.

I like stories others don’t. I love Identity Crisis. I dug Infinite Crisis, particularly the adaptations. I enjoyed parts of Chuck Austen’s X-Men. Oh, and most importantly, I love the book now. I’ve read every issue since. Only missed one special. So I’m not a knee-jerk hater. But I hated this book. I once referred to this story as “the worst Spider-Man story ever” in a comic book shop, only to be chastised by a friend for rudeness. I doubt the clerk would disagree though. The Clone Saga and Chapter One exist. So does The Other. But none were nearly as intelligence insulting as this. OK, The Other was worse. Barely. But I still really hate this story.

Those were my thoughts two years out from the story being printed. They neatly sum up my thoughts on the book which is why I didn’t rereview it. What I want to address instead is the legacy of the story.

In short, removing the marriage has left Peter Parker an unbearable character who is doomed to failure no matter how good things get for him. We know this is the case because OMD was a giant affirmation of former Marvel EIC and still powerful figure Joe Quesada’s love of it. Keep in mind we’ve seen Peter become an internationally powerful CEO and yet the marriage was removed because it made Peter unrelatable. But we know that won’t last (and indeed it’s collapsing in the comics) because it’s canon that Peter Parker is doomed.

Removing the marriage has also made Peter’s lovelife agony to read. There’s been a series of one night stands that weren’t fun to read about. We also got a few brief relationships here and there but the most notable interest Peter has been connected with was the blindingly boring Carlie Cooper, a character created post OMD as an obvious replacement. However even she hasn’t lasted much in the stories.

Instead we’ve had a weird phantom void where if you were to ask me who his love interest was, I’d still say Mary Jane. She haunts the book like a wraith despite not having been officially his partner in 10 years. She keeps showing up repeatedly, and it’s never been pleasant aside from her time in Spider-Island. When she’s there, it’s always to fight and be nasty, in no way the character we loved. (Oh god I’m not touching Jackpot. Leave it at this: she was a bait and switch and switch and switch but never switch to who we think character.)

What’s funny is she was supposed to be settled business after the vile One Moment in Time which showed how the timeline changed after the deal was made. That was the story that was intended to seal things up between them but it didn’t. Instead it simply said “this is what happened during the changed timeline” and it wasn’t satisfying at all. Nobody acted in character.

What’s funny is there are giant swaths of Brand New Day/The Gauntlet/Big Time that read like lost 80s comics. By and large Peter is at least recognizable as himself. The stories are vintage. Part of this is the presence of guys like Gerry Conway working on the book, getting the DNA of the classic stories in there. But more than that it is writing Peter Parker as a ground level hero with great villains. And none of this required a deal with Satan. Just good writing.

One More Day is the elephant perpetually in the room for Peter Parker. Doctor Octopus overwrote his brain? What does Mephisto think? Reality itself alters? Surely Mephisto has thoughts on that. He revealed his identity (albeit with a weird out) in Spider-Island? Come on that has to enrage him! This is the giant “but!” that can’t be addressed because the story is treated as unchangeable status quo.

And it must be eventually because everybody but Joe Quesada sees this as a mistake. But that doesn’t surprise me because of who he is. Not a satanist, come on!, but a guy with a really skewed view of right. He’s openly attacked his own customers recently, blaming them and not the epic mismanagement of the company on the failure of recent books. Quesdada thinks if he’s right then he must be right. And this story is one long study in “I’m right because I said so.”

The core of Peter Parker is responsibility. One More Day destroys that. Peter Parker does everything he can up to a Faustian bargain to avoid responsibility for the fact that his choice to recklessly go along with a plan that exposed his family to the world meant there were consequences. He doesn’t give up his marriage in this story. I truly think you could argue what Mephisto truly wanted was for him to give up his driving principle and ultimately his soul for an easy out. He’s now wandering the Earth, unable to know love, doomed to failure because of this action. Peter Parker is living in a Hell of his own choice.

I said in the article that this was the worst story I’ve ever read. It’s not. I’ve read The Crossing. I’ve read The Boys. This isn’t racist or incomprehensible. Hell there are panels worth framing in it. But it’s mean. It hates the characters. And the hard truth is it won’t be fixed. I started reading 10 years ago thinking it would get fixed. I’m no longer naive.

But I still hate this book.


FOOTNOTE: My thoughts on Renew Your Vows.

I can’t write this article without looking at the AU book Renew Your Vows where the Spider-family is intact complete with MJ and their daughter becoming spider-heroines thanks to tech. I don’t automatically love the book because it gives me what I want to see. I love it because it’s a well written, well drawn book from a talented crew of creators. Everybody is written in character. It feels like a real future. It’s just a blast of a book. Fittingly tomorrow I’m picking up a new trade in the series.


SECOND FOOTNOTE: The Atop the Fourth Wall Review

Yes obviously I’ve watched it like every other review he’s done. I love what Lewis Lovhaug does as a progressive critic, calling for comics to grow up. He’s awesome and I’m a fan.

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