Infinite Spider-Man 10.11: Love is a BFD

Posted by Mister Mets 23 June 2012

At this point, I've spent a lot of time discussing Spider-Man's relationship with Mary Jane, so it's fair to consider once again whether this is even an significant part of an action/adventure series. In a response to an earlier entry, bulletproofsponge suggested love wasn't very important in the Spider-Man comics.

Most of these stories mentioned all have to do with love. Technically Spider-Man is more about action and adventure, to most kids at least. These love stories of a single Spider-Man will probably not matter to a young boy ( or teen ) and will most likely not influence his buying decision. 
When I was teenager, I remember seeing the issue in which Ultimate Spider-Man gets hooked with Kitty Pryde. At that point I lost interest in USM as I preferred to read about Peter's relationship with his wife MJ, as opposed to complicated love stories in USM. Food for thought
I would disagree here. I think love is astoundingly important in fiction. It's important to us as individuals, and it's important to fictional characters. To use the Vice-President's vocabulary, in fiction, as in life, romance is a big fucking deal.

Peter's bad luck with the girls was mentioned in the second page of Amazing Fantasy #15. In Supergods, Grant Morrison argued that Peter's problems with girls were one of the aspects which distinguished him from the other Silver-Age superheroes. Two of the contenders for best Spider-Man story ever included the ends of his romantic relationships: Betty Brant in Amazing Spider-Man #31 and Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #122. The first Spider-Man movie broke box office records by turning the series into a romance in which the guy didn't get the girl.
The continuation of the current continuity into the next generation and beyond depends on many factors, some of which are tied into whether or not Peter Parker being married to Mary Jane is the appropriate situation for “Brand New Day”. Which status quo will keep future readers hooked? Which status quo allows for the most great stories? Are the writers mindful of the probability that the story will continue for at least another decade, and should be as interesting and accessible then as it has been at any other point?

Because Joe Quesada said that Spider-Man works best as a soap opera, some have seized on the phrasing to suggest that he wants to cheapen the franchise by emulating perhaps the least respected form of low culture. However, in this context “soap opera” refers to something which is found most forms of fiction: the private lives of the characters. The guy trying to get the girl, and encountering tremendous obstacles, is at the heart of many of the most acclaimed stories of all time in novels, film and theater.

Most films are composed of at least two often intertwined story arcs: one in the public sphere and another in the private sphere. The public plot is about how the protagonist affects the world. The private plot is about his/ her social life. This includes mediocre films and great films too, and everything in between. In Casablanca, viewers want to know if Rick will aid the resistance (the public plot) and if he can win back Isla (the private plot.) In Avatar, the suspense comes from whether Jake can save the Na'vi and find happiness with Neytiri. It’s not unusual that the focus on Peter's private life has been a major part of Spider-Man’s appeal.

There could still be conflicts in Peter's private sphere if he were married, and there are notable works in which there really aren't romantic subplots. But it's still a tremendous source of storytelling potential, and the alternatives just aren't as compelling.

An argument is that while many finite works do have romances, the illusion of change doesn't allow the story to come to a satisfying conclusion. A legitimate question if where the story can go if the main character can never get married and have children. He could date the Black Cat. When that doesn't work out, he might begin a relationship with Marvel Girl. When that doesn't work out, there may be a period when he doesn't see any women. Aunt May sets him up on a blind date that's a failure on every level, the opposite of Amazing Spider Man #42. After six or so months of that, he may get back together with Mary Jane. During this period you could do pretty much any story that you could do with a married Peter & MJ, with the exception of pregnancy scares and anything about the legality of marriage.

Eventually they may break up. He may fall for a girl, who chooses someone else. He may then fall for a girl, who breaks off the relationship upon learning his secret identity, because she doesn't want to take the risk that Venom will endanger her nephews to get to Spidey. Pondering whether it's immoral for him to have an ordinary social life, Spider Man might start dating Sabra, the Israeli superhero injured during the "Ends of the Earrg" saga. Word of their relationship gets out and Spider Man finds himself the focus of a new type of media attention. Meanwhile, Middle Eastern supervillains (Sabra's rogues gallery) target Spider Man to send a message to her. I think that'll cover about five years worth of conflicts (180 issues plus five annuals) in this aspect of Peter Parker's life.

The Illusion of Change applies to fiction, but not to the real world. So current debates may be settled by changes in social norms. I'm not sure Spider-Man's love life will be one of those. Many of the reasons against the marriage will still be applicable, as will reasons for the marriage, regardless of what happens in the real world.

For example, unless open marriages become a lot more socially acceptable, many stories involving other romantic interests for Peter and MJ will be closed for the writers if they're married to one another. Likewise, if Mary Jane is Peter's wife, this cements her as Spider-Man's primary romantic interest, establishing her as a major character within the Marvel Universe. Amongst other things, it would allow writers of other titles to reference the character and expect most readers to know who she is and what her relationship to Spider-Man is, which sometimes has storytelling benefits. This reason in favor of the marriage would remain applicable twenty years from now. 

Most of the current objections will remain twenty years from now, although there might be a few new ones. Most of the reasons to restore the marriage will remain twenty years from now, although there may be a few new ones.

It's quite different to any developments in other aspects of Peter Parker's private life, such as his educational progress. For dramatic purposes, high school is roughly equivalent to college, which is roughly equivalent to grad school. His relationship status is more consequential, considering the myriad possibilities. So, it's problematic to have a development which cements a major part of the private life. That may be why the writers were so eager to overturn it.


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