Why do bad things happen to good fans? Whether it’s atrocious art, ridiculous writing, or something else entirely – some crimes against fandom cannot go unanswered. When that happens, it’s time to say “BLAARGH!”
For anyone not in the know, a few years back, after Peter Parker’s Aunt May was fatally wounded by an assassin’s bullet meant for Peter, the Webhead went on a quest to find a way to save his aunt’s life. Science was out. Sorcery couldn’t do it. Time travel wouldn’t work, because suddenly there were forces to prevent that sort of manipulation of the time stream (I assume Bishop, Cable, the Richards family, Doctor Doom, Iron Man, and – well, roughly half the Marvel universe – had some sort of temporal hall pass). Ultimately, Spider-Man was left making a deal with the Devil to save his aunt’s life, and in exchange, Mephisto claimed not Parker’s soul, but his marriage. Other godawful elements of retconny goodness came from this deal as well, but editorial’s main drive was erasing the Spider-marriage from existence, and it was that decision – and specifically how they went about doing that – which I want to talk about here.
You see, Joe Quesada had apparently grown tired of getting his weasel wacked by the same woman every night, and wanted Spidey to be able to enjoy some swinging not of the webbed variety; the kind that married men like Joe and Peter just can’t get away with. So, the mystical whammy retcon was decided upon. But why? Why not just go the route of divorce?
Well, divorce is evil. More evil than making a deal with the Devil. At least, it seems that was the decision made over at the House of Ideas. Hence this BLAARGH!
I’m currently going through a divorce ::pause for “awwws”:: and the fact of the matter is, even as the one who ultimately made the decision, it isn’t easy. Now, I’m not the type of guy to draw parallels between my life and that of a comic book character, but the simple fact is this: like Spidey, I was in a marriage that just wasn’t the right place for me or my wife to be. No, I wasn’t putting myself and her in danger every night by going out dressed as a costumed vigilante. But in insisting upon continuing his costumed career, Peter was lying to himself about his priorities, his commitment to his wife, and the long term sustainability of their relationship. That was something I could relate to.
Now, I’ve made in my life two very huge decisions: first, I chose to marry a woman I loved in the hopes that our union would strengthen our relationship and somehow “make it work;” second, I chose to end that marriage because it had become clear that making it work wasn’t going to be possible – or at best, that even if we did make it work, I’d always be waiting for it to all fall back apart. This was a horrendously difficult decision to make. It hurt me, and worse, it hurt the woman I loved. But I knew in my heart it was what was best for the both of us in the long run. Since reaching the decision, I have been through a rollercoaster of events and emotions. I find myself pressed with seemingly Herculean tasks – divorce is not easy.
What’s my point? In choosing to avoid divorce like the plague, Marvel has done two things:
First, they’ve managed to vilify the very concept of divorce. Not that it was being lauded prior, but… let’s face it, when you’re unwilling to attach the stigma of divorce to your flagship character and instead have him inking deals with your substitute Devil… that says something. Whether you intend it to or not. This wasn’t Loki. This wasn’t the Beyonder. This was Mephisto – Marvel’s surrogate fallen angel. If that is okay, but divorce isn’t? Well, message received, loud and clear. Personally, I’m more than a little offended by this. I’m not saying that I’m a hero for getting a divorce, but I certainly don’t think it makes me a villain, either. This was a necessary evil, and a decision I had to struggle with long and hard before making it.
That brings me to point number two – Marvel missed the boat! There is AT LEAST a year’s worth of subplot to be had in a character like Peter Parker going through a divorce. You let Aunt May die and you leave Peter feeling responsible for it, and we all know how Peter feels about responsibility. Over the next four issues, Spidey contemplates the possibilities before him, and eventually decides upon what must be done. Then, for the next year, you tell the story of the Parkers dealing with their separation, filing, etc. all while Peter’s trying to juggle his career and costume. The paperwork, court dates, division of property… it could all have served as a vehicle for showcasing Peter and MJ’s character and the strength of their bond despite being faced with such an untenable situation. Toss in a cameo from Nelson and Murdock as Pete foolishly seeks their help with the legal side of things and if you ask me, you’d have had one hell of a story that would have changed the face of Marvel Comics and their flagship character, while still allowing everyone to remain in character.
No messy continuity. No deal with the Devil retcon. Any of the new characters you’ve introduced still could’ve been brought on, and after the first arc, you could explore the idea of Peter returning to the dating scene. This time, in fact, with a different spin from his first time out, as now he’d be the reluctant divorcé trying to create a semblance of a normal life while still trying to hold his supporting cast at bay for their own good. Missed opportunities all around, if you ask me, Marvel. But hey, why tell a relatable story wrought with pathos when you can just wipe off the dry erase board and start again? I wish I’d had that option. Hell, it worked so well for the Distinguished Competition, they’ve done it more than once! Oh, wait… maybe that’s a bad sign…