Infinite Spider-Man 9.11: Was Joe Quesada a hypocrite?

Posted by Mister Mets 14 March 2012

A common argument against using One More Day to “fix” Spider‑Man was that it was hypocritical for Joe Quesada to complain about how the twenty‑first Century Spider‑Man was so different from the core of the character, when the franchise has changed under his watch. Stuff that happened in the series prior to One More Day included Straczynci’s revisions to the origin, Peter quitting the Daily Bugle to become a teacher, Aunt May learning that her nephew is Spider‑Man, Sins Past, Spider‑Man joining the Avengers, Eddie Brock giving up the Venom symbiote, Peter’s family moving into the Avengers tower, organic webbing, the new powers which resulted from “The Other” rebirth, the “Iron Spider” Armor, Peter’s partnership with Tony Stark, his decision to reveal his identity to the world, and his status as a wanted fugitive. However, an analysis of these developments reveals that for the most part, Spider‑Man hadn’t radically and irreversibly changed under Quesada.

Any overview of the Spider‑Man books while Quesada’s been EIC should also consider the state of affairs of the Spider‑Man becomes pre‑Quesada, where there were events such as Mary Jane’s death, her success as a supermodel, the period where Peter was Spider‑Man without telling Mary Jane, Spider‑Man: Chapter One (which was meant to replace some of the most significant Spider-Man comics ever) and the other aspects of the unsuccessful 1999 relaunch. As Quesada inherited Mackie’s Spider‑Man, the stories written while he was Editor in Chief represent a marked improvement, if only in terms of basic craft. This is one reason it was difficult to blame Quesada for the problems plaguing the books. In addition, the most significant change he has wanted to reverse is the marriage and he couldn’t be blamed for anything to do with that, unless he gave an edict to the writers that they can not write the marriage in an interesting way. Rich Johnson would have a field day with that one, and I suspect JMS would have happily leaked it.

But let's look at stuff that happened in the Spider-Man comics from 2001-2007.

Aunt May Knowing Spider‑Man’s Identity

While Aunt May knowing Spider‑Man’s identity did restrict some stories, you could always do the stories that required her not to know about Peter’s hobby (IE‑ the old woman who loves Peter and fears Spider‑Man, the old woman getting worried about Peter when he disappears at the same time a supervillain is sighted, etcetera) with another character, although it will lose some of the tension. Aunt May knowing allows for new stories, and as far as I'm concerned, doesn’t resolve the confidentiality problems, as there’s stuff that Peter will not be able or willing to tell the elderly woman who raised him.

As a result, I wouldn’t mind her learning his identity again, as that was a good step for the characters, Peter knows that she can handle the shock and there’s still good drama in Peter trying to keep the extent of the dangers associated with his hobby secret from her. I wouldn’t see Peter being able to confide in her about the secret Skrull invasion. However, when Aunt May doesn't know, there's a greater opportunity for dramatic irony.

The New Physics Teacher

Peter quitting the Daily Bugle to teach high school struck me as an “illusion of change” development. It didn’t make Peter’s life easier, and gave him all sorts of new problems, such as the possibility he would be fired or just disappoint students if he’s late to school because of a fight with a new supervillain. While the faculty of Midtown High could have become a more vital part of the supporting cast, the staff of the Bugle was still around, should any writers have chosen to do something with them. While it had the disadvantage of limiting Spider-Man’s exposure to superhero incidents (unless an ungodly amount of his students were tied to this sort of stuff) at any point, Peter could have returned to the Daily Bugle or left his job as a teacher, which is pretty much what ended up happening.

The Spider‑Totem

The mystical connection to the origin (the spider‑totem stuff) hadn’t altered the character of Spider‑Man. Instead, it permitted new types of stories, should any future writers choose to follow up on this. Otherwise they’re free to ignore and never reference the developments, as these did not create a transformation in the relationship between Spider‑Man and any pre‑existing villains or supporting cast members. No one had explored the ramifications of the radiation which gave Spider‑Man his powers as well as Straczynski, aside from the time the blood transfusion gave May radiation poisoning.

Sins Past

Sins Past, while despised by many hasn’t created a significant change to Spider‑Man or any of the major characters. Gwen Stacy's been dead for more than a generation, so she wasn’t going to be a source of many major new stories and any attempt to resurrect her would be a tremendous mistake. There were complaints about Mary Jane’s actions in keeping Gwen and Norman’s one night stand (and the aftermath) a secret, although in this case, there really was no appropriate time or place for her to reveal this stuff to Peter. Norman Osborn has done many worse things than a teenager, so this hasn’t hurt his character.

“Sins Past” did change elements of “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” including Osborn’s reasons for targeting Gwen, but that story still exists unaltered in comic book readers’ libraries. It was probably a bad move for Marvel and is one reason Amazing Spider‑Man sales slipped after Romita Jr left although JMS got the readers back with “The Other” and the Civil War tie‑ins), but the impact was limited. The fallout has been restricted to one six issue story, a four issue follow‑up, and scattered lines in a handful of comics, even if Gabriel Stacy returned in the American Son mini-series.

The First New Venom

I thought Mac Gargan gaining the powers of the Venom symbiote was one of the smartest developments in the Spider-Man comics in the last decade. It cemented Venom as one of the top three Spider‑Man villains since Eddie Brock’s motivations for what he does were always rather inadequate and the character just seems more monumental when a Lee/ Ditko creation is the host. It must have been a bit of a disappointment in Amazing Spider‑Man #300 when Venom unmasked, and turned out to be some guy the readers had never met before (this is probably why every other version of the story featured Eddie Brock before he became Venom.

If Mac becoming Venom was a permanent change, it fulfills my requirements for appropriate progress: it makes Peter’s life more difficult, doesn’t counter what the characters would do and encourages new types of stories. There would be a trained supervillain in the Venom suit (and he hated Spider‑Man just as much Brock did, while he’s a little bit more dangerous due to the additional experience), someone else could have the Scorpion suit and Eddie Brock would still on the loose. Leaving Eddie Brock alive at the end of Millar’s Spider‑Man run was a purely editorial decision, but an intelligent one, as it allowed future writers to have Eddie Brock regain the symbiote (essentially making Mac gaining the symbiote an example of the “Illusion of Change.”) or do something different with the character. Now that the readers are familiar with him, if some imposing new villain unmasks and reveals himself as Eddie Brock, it’s going to be a cool moment. Or he could just stay Anti-Venom.

The New Avengers

Many comic book fans expect changes to the status quo to last forever, or until the books end (which they seem to want to happen at the time their interest in the title starts waning.) Every now and then, I see polls asking how long Spider‑Man and Wolverine will remain on the Avengers, often with the implication that once they leave, Bendis’s decision to introduce them to the series (and his entire run on the title) will be a failure. Reading the first Essential Avengers volume is a reminder that the only constant for the Avengers is change. The Avengers team at the end of the first issue couldn’t even last until the end of the second. All of the founding Avengers left in the sixteenth issue, replaced by three B‑grade (and that's being charitable) former villains.

Of course Spider‑Man and Wolverine will eventually leave the Avengers! It was never meant to be a permanent development, as there never has been a permanent member of the Avengers. The reason Bendis’s New Avengers is so influential (and will remain that way after Spider‑Man and Wolverine leave) was because of the way it permits future writers to put anyone they want onto the Avengers, restoring the series to what it was meant to be: a team book with a diverse array of Marvel heroes.

At the same time, Spider‑Man developed new connections with his fellow Avengers. He has an easygoing camaraderie with Luke Cage, which allows for fun team‑ups. Putting him on the same team as Wolverine strengthens the relationship between Marvel’s two most popular characters. The protege and mentor bond with Tony provided a unique connection between two of the most popular Marvel heroes. While it ended badly (which meant that it made things more difficult for Peter), it was never boring. Thanks to Civil War, while Spider‑Man’s familiarity with some heroes has increased (which leads to less tense encounters with his fellow New Avengers) he has a more adversarial relationship with others to say nothing of darker vigilantes and younger heroes, who may never have trusted him to begin with.

Life was briefly easier for Peter, when Spider‑Man was on the New Avengers, while his family lived in the Avengers Mansion. Marvel featured stories that wouldn’t otherwise be available, along with unique complications (Wolverine hitting on Mary Jane, a scuzzy tabloid reporting that Mary Jane was cheating on Peter with Tony, etc.) Because things briefly turned out so well, it became all the more dramatic when it ended badly. It’s now going to take a long time before May and Mary Jane can comfortably interact with the Avengers. That brief period of joy ain’t coming back any time soon.

When the Mask Came Off

The unmasking allowed for an year of new stories which could otherwise not be done, although it did coincide with declining sales for both Friendly Neighborhood Spider‑Man and Sensational Spider‑Man. The only reason “Spider‑Man Unmasked” happened was that the people at Marvel were planning a giant retcon anyway and understood that this provided an opportunity to see what type of material they could do if the world knew that Peter was Spider‑Man. Some of it was really good, especially Peter David’s Vulture storyline and Matt Fraction’s Sensational Spider‑Man Annual.

There was some objection to ending the “Unmasked” status quo while there were stories left to tell, though it’s preferable to end it too early than to end it too late, especially given the declines in sales, and the way it was obvious the unmasking wasn’t going to last forever, which may be the reason readers have left the side titles.

Organic Webbing

One fairly controversial change last decade involved giving the comic book Spider‑Man organic webbing, like his movie counterpart. With this, there weren’t many arguments that good writers could make it work. It doesn’t really allow for many new stories, and actually just makes things a bit easier for Spider‑Man.

Good drama is about making things as difficult as possible for the protagonist, and organic webbing denies that, by removing a source of conflict and pressure. The only story the comic books haven't really told that requires organic webbing would be Spider‑Man's reaction if his webbing starts malfunctioning (although that was pretty much covered in the first two movies.) Well, you could also do a story where Electro zaps Spider‑Man’s webbing, and he’s internally barbecued. But that’s pretty much it.

While the Brand New Day guys went a bit overboard in the first few months, it was preferable to the alternative. While Bendis never gave Ultimate Peter Parker malfunctioning webshooters, this shouldn’t be used as a reason to limit Dan Slott.

The flipside of the duplicity question is whether Quesada and Marvel have been hypocritical in their reasoning behind One More Day to allow certain recent developments in Amazing Spider-Man.


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