Infinite Spider-Man 9.1: The Sausage Factory

Posted by Mister Mets 20 January 2012

A common complaint regarding One More Day, or any way Marvel could have come up with to end Spider-Man's marriage, is that as a result of the transparent nature of that retcon, many fans will have a greater awareness about which stories can’t be done. One serious problem with the illusion of change approach is that once readers become aware of it, the illusion shatters. They'll understand why some things can happen (IE‑ break ups, Peter getting fired) and some things won’t (marriage, kids). But I think that this was going to happen anyway.

The cover on the right is an example of this. I suspect most readers were pretty sure that Spider-Man was not going to die in that issue. And they had good reason to be cynical about any future "deaths" for Doc Ock.

It has to be said that the readers who analyze comics (and develop an understanding of the various motivations for the creative teams) do lose their ignorance about things that can and can’t happen, which will affect their enjoyment of stories. That occurs whenever you develop an understanding of storytelling structure and production in any medium. Once you realize that a Spider‑Man in danger cliffhanger is never going to end with his death, you've got to learn to appreciate the stories in a different way, or move on to books which aren't so editorially driven.

Because of what happened in One More Day, some readers will come to certain conclusions about ongoing storylines. They would say that it's obvious that every relationship Peter has is doomed to fail, though I'm not sure that's true (more on this point, later). At the same time, such readers were already aware that writers were limited in how they could depict the marriage. It wasn’t going to change in any significant way without a retcon, due to the various reasons the writers couldn't kill MJ, give her and Peter children or have them divorce.

The only readers who "know" that all of Peter Parker's relationships are destined to fail are those knowledgeable about the behind the scenes politics at Marvel. When that happens and becomes an insurmountable problem, you have to move on to comics that won't be affected by your knowledge of the creators and editors. If you stop speculating on what’s going to happen next on the internet and learn to ignore solicitations and previews, this will be less of a concern, as you become less familiar with the inner workings of the industry.

If you choose to read interviews with writers, and become aware of the economic reasons for storytelling decisions, you have to learn to appreciate the Marvel Universe comics on a different level than before. The alternative is to leave the books and characters for the next generation of the readers and move exclusively to series that don’t have these restrictions. It's not something you're going to find in the main Spider-Man title.

Unfortunately, once you become aware of how those stories are constructed, you’ll have the same problem with many other series. I don't see any viable alternative, and consider this to be the cost of becoming knowledgeable regarding the mechanics of any storytelling industry. Such compromises have to be made, as the companies can not cater to the minority of readers who understand that the Batman can’t kill the Joker, not because of any moral code, but because the villain has to be kept alive for later arcs.

As comic book readers, we have tremendous access to the professionals, and to information about storytelling decisions. I enjoy reading scripts, or following Dan Slott's formspring. But access to information means that I'm less likely to be surprised, and more likely to consider the various meta reasons for something. If you don't want to do this, you don't have to. There's no reason to check out previews, read interviews, or participate in message board discussions about why certain storytelling decisions were made. You don't have to keep going to the sausage factory.

Granted, you should still be able to enjoy a well‑written battle between Spider‑Man and the Vulture, even if you know Spider‑Man's not going to die. Though this brings up the question of what exactly readers "know."


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