The Unlikeable Spider-Man?

I always told myself not to become one of “those” fans, you know the type who kvetch and gripe everytime their fantasy comic book world is change in any slight way, but, as much as it pains me to say this, I have lately been finding Spider-Man to be a difficult to like and often infuriating franchise. Spider-Man is a character I want desperately to like too. When I was in my tween years, he was it for me. I would set aside lunch money just to buy the newest issues. Then I lost interest in comics for a few years, and when I finally decided to see what Uncle Spidey was up to, I found out something horrible had happened… Brand New Day.

In the 90s, Spider-Man comics were dominated by the relationship of Peter and Mary Jane, to the point where often battles with super-villains were just incidental to the story. You’d think when the characters married it would be an end to the strife, but then every few months they would go on a break–they were the Ross and Rachel of the Marvel Universe. I really hate to admit this, but I was engrossed with every marital squabble, large or small. When the whole clone epic ended with the Green Goblin poisoning MJ, causing her unborn child to die, I was shocked and knew that I would have to keep reading this series to see if these two were ever somehow okay.

J. M. Straczynski eventually took over Spider-Man and crafted some of the most engaging stories the franchise had ever known, greatly altering the accepted status quo, having Peter become a teacher instead of a photographer (having Peter work at a newspaper company was too blatantly lifted from Superman). Then, at the end of Straczynski’s run, Marvel’s editor in chief Joe Quesada went and undid everything, not only the changes Straczynski implemented but basically scrapping more than a decade of Peter and MJ stories in one schmaltzy story arc: Brand New Day.

Brand New Day came in at the end of Civil War, where Peter had made the obvious mistake of revealing his secret identity to the world, resulting in his beloved Aunt May getting shot by the Kingpin. Spider-Man then rounds up his three brothers and they all go to get revenge on the mob… Oh wait, that’s the plot of Four Brothers. Really what happens is, Peter decides to save Aunt May’s life by first contacting Doctor Strange, who then has the brilliant idea of patching Peter through to Mephisto, who’s basically the Devil of the Marvel Universe. Mephisto then says that he will save May if Peter and MJ not only end their marriage, but also lose all memory of the years they spent together as man and wife.

Did anyone else think Brand New Day was schlocked together? Why would Mephisto want to end their marriage? What was really in it for him?

Afterwards Peter was magically back in his bachelor life, where he works for the Daily Bugle again and is just friends with MJ. Whenever I bothered to read the series, Peter was with a different woman, going from nerdlinger to heartbreaker pretty quickly.

Recently, for Marvel Month, I decided to give my old favorite superhero another shot. I read the 4 part story The Grim Hunt and was impressed by it. I couldn’t put it down. I kicked myself for giving up on Spidey… Then I read the next storyline, One Moment in Time.

UGH! One Moment in Time was advertised as an end to Brand New Day, so at first I was ecstatic, thinking Marvel was possibly retconning the retcon, or rebooting the reboot. Somehow I really thought the comic would end with Peter and MJ regaining their memory, and the story picking up where it left off at Civil War. Nope. Instead, One Moment in Time was a long and, frankly, boring story where Peter and MJ get together to rehash why they didn’t get married, concluding with (spoiler) MJ telling Peter she wasn’t strong enough to be his girlfriend, and he needed to find someone who was.

WHAT? One of the great things about MJ was that she was a strong female character. Superhero books are dominated by damsels in distress and femme fatales, but MJ stood out as a character who had a will power just as strong as her husband. When he was at his weakest, she was there to provide moral and emotional support. Now she’s explicitly saying she’s weak? Then Peter goes swinging out the window, carefree, thinking “She set me free…” To do what? Keep playing out adolescent fantasies with the Black Cat?

Am I through with Spider-Man? Of course not. I have too much invested in him to stop reading about his adventures. Plus, I enjoy his role in New Avengers and FF. His Fear Itself tie-in was also noteworthy. I just can’t picture myself going out of my way to read Spider-Man again. If only Mephisto could erase my memory of Brand New Day.

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If you’d like to read some fun older Spider-Man issues, check out Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume 1.

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3 thoughts on “The Unlikeable Spider-Man?

  1. I think you hit it right on the nose. I can see why the creative team at Marvel decided to retcon Peter and MJ’s marriage. They thought it would let them solve the issue of his public identity while also giving them the “freedom” to use one of their most popular characters in romantically diverse ways. Not saying I agree with the decision, because I always loved Peter and MJ together. In fact I always enjoyed seeing them in the M2 Universe Spider Girl series as an old married couple that had stuck it out through thick and thin. One of Spidey’s defining characteristics is that in some way he’s always fighting for the people that he loves (Uncle Ben, Aunt May, MJ etc), taking MJ out of that equation and in the way they did it was just a mistake. If they wanted a single Spidey they should have just brought Ben Reilly back for awhile. I know Ben is a divisive figure in the fan base, but I always liked him. He had the potential to be a much darker Spidey too.

      • I’ve taken many breaks from comic books. I came back into them in the midst of Onslaught and Ben Reilly was Spider Man at the time. I didn’t slog through the entire Clone Saga like everyone who was reading it from month to month from the start. At the time, I was partly sold on Ben Reilly just because he had what I thought was an awesome new costume, I also really enjoyed the weird brotherly relationship that Peter and him had developed at that time. Now, being much older, I often still wish Ben was around because in some ways I found him more interesting then Pete.

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