I’m not one for needless nerd-ranting. I’ve seen nerds do it, and it’s not a pretty thing. No one wants to see a grown man get himself charged up over pretend people in spandex not acting the way he expects them to. When a superhero story doesn’t pan out the way I want it to, I accept that the writers had the right to do what they wanted with the character. in the next story line, they’ll have a chance to redeem themselves, and, most of the time, they eventually do.
When a beloved character dies, I cherish the memories I had with them (and anticipate their eventual return). Comic books are a wonderful storytelling medium, unique in that so many different writers get their own chance at writing an old character in a new way. When a writer makes a choice I don’t like, I don’t get angry; I take the opportunity to see that character in a light I might not have seen them in before, through the eyes of someone else.
But sometimes, a nerd-rant is not only justified, but necessary. Sometimes, the sensible fanboy must lose his restraints and unleash his rage upon those that have befouled his hero. In 2008, Marvel befouled my hero. They nearly told the greatest Spider-Man story ever, and completely mucked it up within inches of the goal line. Then on the next play, they purposely threw an interception and blocked their own teammates giving a clear path all the way to their own endzone.
Then they exposed themselves to their home crowd, flipped everyone off, threw up in the mascot’s uniform, and punched their team’s owner in the face. Then they somehow killed the entire sport itself. That’s how much they sullied Spider-Man’s good name.
...I’m getting ahead of myself.
Growing up, my hero was Spider-Man. He was the first superhero I was ever aware of, and I was hooked from the moment I met him. Even today, as my interests grow, evolve, and mature, and my tolerance for the cyclical capes and tights tomfoolery wanes, I still find myself beholden to his adventures. When he's good, when he's great, and when he's at his absolute worst, I still find myself coming back to Peter Parker's web-slinging adventures.
My case for Spidey loyalty isn't one that hasn't been made before. I was a kid who was picked on for being different while growing up. I was...well, I was a bit of a late-blooming social butterfly. Looking back, I realize that a lot of the perceived bullying was only because two tendencies that still haunt me to this day: 1) my subconscious’s insistence on making me look like the biggest idiot possible in any given situation, and 2) a compulsion to over-think social interactions to such an alarmingly high degree that it's probably medically classifiable.
Regardless, I believed myself to be a picked on kid when I was growing up, and from the minute I saw Spider-Man, I saw a hero who was picked on in every aspect of his life, but never let it keep him down. At school, on the job, and in his tights, people more powerful than him tried to knock him down to further their own goals, but he never let it stop him. And even with all his radioactive powers -- super strength, the ability to cling to walls, spider sense -- it was his perseverance that always won the day. He abjectly refused to back down and never compromised, and in the end, he simply found ways to outlast and outthink his foes, both socially and superhero...ly. That inspired me, along with countless other nerds, to keep at it, in a way that foreshadowed the modern It Gets Better movement. Stick it out, young nerd. You'll get through it if you just last longer than them.
You need to understand all this about me to understand why this article is a big deal for me. This article's personal. This article cuts deep for me, both as a writer and as a Spider-Fan.
I'm going to talk about Brand New Day.
My last Thought Bubble post was about Marvel's big summer events. You may remember my mentioning of Civil War, which was -- and is, in my opinion -- the best that mainstream superhero comics have been in the past 20 years. [ALERT: From here on in, things get pretty spoilery for Civil War, Back in Black, One More Day/Brand New Day, and One Moment In Time. Thou hast been warned.] It cut right to a central theme of the superhero mythos: the alter ego. The federal government wanted heroes to turn over their most powerful protection against those that would stand in the way of justice, their secret identities, and no superhero in the Marvel universe took that issue more seriously than Spider-Man.
Peter Parker has always held that card extremely close to his chest, refusing to reveal it to allies, friends, lovers, and even, for decades, the woman who raised him as her own son, his Aunt May. It was the only way to ensure the protection of those he loved against those who wanted to hurt him. If Venom, Doctor Octopus, the Scorpion, or any of Spidey's vast rogues gallery didn't know who his family was, they could never come for them to get at him. Peter didn't have Tony Stark's, the X-Men's, or the Fantastic Four's highly advanced security systems, or the Hulk's distance from loved ones, or Thor's godlike family tree. His family's only line of defense was their anonymity. So when Tony Stark convinced Spider-Man not only unmask, but to do it on live television, it was a huge symbolic gesture for the entire hero community. If Spider-Man can do it, so can you! Trust your government!
While under the auspices of Tony Stark and the federal government, Spider-Man and his family enjoyed top-notch, government-level security -- not to mention insurance, pensions, and a paycheck. He began to see the benefits of the government payroll until his moral compass started flaring up. He soon found himself wholly opposed to everything the government was doing regarding the Superhuman Registration Act, and switched sides to Captain America's underground rebellion. While his code of ethics was upheld, his family's safety was not, and he was forced to go underground himself to protect them -- donning disguises, dying his hair, paying with cash at seedy motels under fake names.
His enemies soon caught up with him, however, and one night, a sniper's bullet intended for him ended up in Aunt May. She almost instantly fell into a coma, and Peter's hero-ing duties were immediately put on hold as he did everything he could to save her. Peter and Mary Jane switched hospitals as waiting periods ran out, used a littany of fake identities, stole ambulances, and broke any laws they had to in their efforts to keep May alive and anonymous, lest the shooter come back to finish the job. Peter found himself donning his old black Spider-Man suit as he tore through the criminal underworld looking for whoever put out the hit.
The story was tragic. It was emotional, compelling, and terribly sad. But damn was it good.
I couldn't wait to pick up the next issue. Marvel followed up Civil War, the best their main continuity has been in 20 years, with Back in Black, the best Spider-Man story they've had in nearly the same amount of time. There was no greater example of how important superheroes' civilian identities were, and how terribly shattered their lives could become if they lost their ability to keep that part of their lives secret. Spider-Man, a character who had fell into stagnancy and whose writers had been accused of complacency, got a shot of adrenaline that, if it had been allowed to run its course, would have actually changed everything about the character. Who knows how he'd react to his mother figure dying because he did something he promised he never would? What other rules would he break? What would become of his unshakable, uncompromising moral code?
I was tearing through issues as fast as I could, limited only by the slow rate at which my stupid human brain could process them. Peter had reached the end. There was nothing more to do. He called in every favor, he tried every procedure. He even transfused his own spider-blood into her aged body to no effect. Aunt May was going to die, and Peter Parker's world was going to be shattered. Finally, mainstream comics were doing something HUGE! They were taking a risk no one ever would have expected them to make. I was impressed, but more importantly, I was proud.
Then Marvel comics crushed my fledgling pride. They were the popular quarterback who asked me, the nerdy math girl with a face resembling a pizza, to the prom, then spent it making out with the head cheerleader in their car while forcing me to watch from the backseat. It was emotionally scarring, so much so that I haven’t really talked that much about it until today.
What did Marvel comics do when faced with forcing one of their flagship characters to accept death and loss? How did they deal with their most popular title discussing mortality and all the moral gray areas that come with it?
They had the devil come in and make it all go back the way it was.
I swear to god, that’s what they did. The devil, represented in this story by a demon character named Mephisto, came and offered the Parkers a bargain: annul Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, erase it from time itself, and he’ll save May Parker’s life. After about four panels of lip-biting and staring into each other’s eyes, they went for it. Two young people in love with each other and with a long, fruitful history ahead of them decided to delete their marriage so an 80+ year old woman could survive a sniper bullet to the chest.
I literally threw my comic book against the nearest wall in disgust. Then I picked it up and did it again. This whole time, they were trying to get rid of his wife! But rather than just have this married couple file for divorce, which married couples do every day, or have her die, which people do every day, they had the devil wish her away. Which makes more sense than divorce or death, I guess.
So May Parker lived to see one more day, Mary Jane and Peter were unmarried, and everything went back to normal, save for that other unfortunate ramification of Spider-Man’s immense lapse in self-preservational logic. Thanks to his extremely public unmasking, everyone on Earth still knew he was Peter Parker. What was to stop another hit from being put on May’s life, thus making his marital sacrifice irrelevant?
If you think Marvel already screwed the pooch with this story, don’t worry, we’re just getting started. Everyone just...forgot. The next issue had Peter Parker back in New York, snapping Spidey photos freelance for the Daily Bugle, and no one had any idea that he and him were the same. This continued for two and a half years without any mention of how or why every human on the face of the Earth had forgotten this person’s face. It wasn’t until the One Moment In Time storyline that Marvel decided to explain it.
Folks, if you’re standing for some reason while you’re reading this, I want you to sit down, because something’s about to happen for one of two reasons. You’re either a comics nerd, or you’re not. (If you’re not a comics nerd and you’re still reading this, well damn, thanks!) If you are a comics nerd, this next bit is going to anger you to the point where you’ll lose control of your basic motor functions, thus necessitating a seated position. If you’re not, then this next bit is either going to strain the limits of your cognitive dissonance to the point where you’ll either have to sit down anyway to comprehend how a major storytelling company thought this was a good idea, or you’ll have an aneurysm and collapse into a spasming, drooling mess.
Spider-Man unmasked himself on live national television. The image of Peter Parker’s face had been seared into the brains and internet of the nation and the globe. To fix this, Peter went to Doctor Strange and called in a favor. After explaining his big, stupid situation, Dr. Strange agreed to help (presumably after saying, “Well, what the hell did you expect to happen, numb nuts?”), but admitted that the omission of one specific piece of information from the mind of every sentient being on the planet without causing an international outbreak of brain tumors was a bit beyond his reach.
So Strange called up some friends, Tony Stark and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. After these big brains conferred, they figured out a way to combine Richards’ science and Strange’s magic to safely omit the incriminating information. How did they do this? Well, (and again, I swear to god I am not making this up) Dr. Strange shot a bunch of magic into Tony Stark, and Reed Richards shot a bunch of science into Tony Stark, and Tony Stark used his Iron Man suit to combine it all and shoot it at the world. That’s it. Spider-Man and Mary Jane were encased in a magic protective shell, so they were the only ones who remembered.
The devil wished the old lady’s coma away, and the magic guy and the science guy shot magic and science into the robot guy and he shot it at the planet and everyone forgot all about it. THAT is how the number one comic book company on the market today deals with the possibility of divorce or death.
So this isn’t your typical nerd-rant. This is the justified outrage of a betrayed lover, or a kid who finds out that his favorite baseball player has been hopped up on steroids for the past 15 years. This is necessary. This is righteous. This is retribution! They did this to my Spider-Man!
...OK, maybe it is a nerd-rant. But it’s one I’ve been needing to get off my chest for three years now. Unfortunately for me, the devil doesn’t exist, I don’t have a marriage to annul, and I don’t have any wizard friends to shoot magic at me. The only way for us human beings to deal with a role model from our childhood being torn away from us by uncaring, nefarious hands is by yelling about it on our own corners of the internet.