The Infinite Spider-Man Part 1.4: The Sacred Cow

Posted by Mister Mets 01 May 2011

While arguing over how important others consider an aspect of a fictional character to be, it's possible to go to extremes. Spider-Man's the best character in comics, and the material should reflect that, but it was ridiculous when some of the detractors of One More Day suggested that unless the book was unambiguously more successful in the Brand New Day period than it was during the JMS era, the decision to retcon away the marriage was a failure.

No one at Marvel suggested that this one change promised a sudden level of sustained greatness, in quality or in sales. But this seems to be the implicit understanding of many commentors in various sales discussions.

Before One More Day, sales of Amazing Spider-Man were higher than they had been in a long time. There were two major reasons for that. Writer J. Michael Straczynski was an A-lister, one of the biggest names in comics. And for the previous two years, every issue of the the book was part of a highly promoted Event. The five issues of Back in Black followed ten issues of Civil War tie-ins, which followed “The Other” crossover.

These were not reasonable baseline figures for Spider-Man comics, even before factoring the added cost of buying several copies a month when the satellite titles were folded into Amazing Spider-Man, an approach I'll analyze in more detail later. Implying that these numbers were the norm suggests that one either took the marriage too seriously, or expected others to have inflated expectations regarding the significance of One More Day.

I could understand that some readers couldn't imagine the book without the marriage. The first Spider-Man comics I had read featured Peter Parker happily married to Mary Jane Watson, in the newspaper strip published in the Daily News. I graduated to the comics right before the Clone Saga. When I was able to buy the book regularly, the Clone Saga had just ended and Peter Parker was married to MJ again. While the Fox animated cartoon and various reprints showed the character as a bachelor, it seemed natural that all stories would lead to these two crazy kids happily married to one another.

So I understand why for some people the marriage was a sacred cow: something that had become close to a permanent fixture in the titles. When Mary Jane’s plane exploded in Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #13, the readers knew she wasn’t on it. When JMS teased a reunion between the two, we also “knew” how it would end.

It was part of the comics for two decades, and it was just taken for granted.

And then things changed.


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