Infinite Spider-Man Updates

Posted by Mister Mets 28 June 2012

Occasionally, I'll update previous entries in the Infinite Spider-Man essay for whatever reason. For anyone interested, here's an inventory of those updates.

I added sections on Spider-Man joining the Avengers, and the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon to the post about whether or not certain decisions of Marvel's went against their reasoning for One More Day.
Spider-Man the Avenger
For many readers, part of Spider-Man's appeal was that he was a hero who acted alone. Some older comics pros have suggested that launching Marvel Team-Up back in 1972 was a bad idea, because it forced Spider-Man to interact with other Marvel superheroes and become familiar with those guys. So for these readers, a big mistake occurred under Quesada's tenure, when Spider-Man joined the Avengers. 
If there's a constant in the Avengers membership, it's change. Spider-Man won't always be an Avenger, and while he may be more familiar with his former teammates, any writer who wants to tell a story about Spider-Man teaming up with an unfriendly superhero can do so, with one of the many Marvel characters who hasn't been on the Avengers or the Future Foundation with Spider-Man. 

The New Spider-Man Cartoon
In a later edition of the Crawl Space podcast, 43 minutes into the 174th episode, J.R. Fettinger criticized the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon by this criteria.
J.R. Fettinger: I don't want to rag on a cartoon meant for ten year olds, but one of the reasons Spider-Man has always been popular is he kinda has a youthful rebellion about him. He didn't fit in with the other superheroes because he was young and hot-tempered, and he wasn't a glamour boy. Captain America is the high school quarterback; Spider-Man is not. For Spider-Man to kinda join the system, it just doesn't seem right. This is not a knock on the cartoon, this is just a knock on Marvel's disingenuousness. We have to hear about Tom Brevoort and Joe Quesada saying that Spider-Man can't be married because that takes away from his core base, his core popularity, the core of what makes Spider-Man. But having him join the Avengers and in the cartoon, having him join Nick Fury's program and call Nick Fury "Sir" with the super-buddies and having SHIELD provide him with high-tech toys, well, that's not Spider-Man either, you know?
BD: Yeah.
J.R. Fettinger: So it's that disingenuousness that I absolutely loathe. 
The Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon is a departure from what we're used to with Spider-Man. And JR is correct to note the financial incentives for featuring other heroes in supporting roles (it makes it much easier to sell action figures.) It almost seems like a Harry Potter version of Spider-Man, with the young orphan hero hero joining a school for those with super-powers. By duplicating some of the things that are appealing about that sales juggernaut, it's possible that Marvel will lose what worked with their successful franchise. 
It's worth noting that this is the eighth Spider-Man cartoon to date, which does allow Marvel and Disney more license to deviate from the norm. There will be other animated series in the future, some of which will be closer to what we would normally associate with the character. But what goes on in this series isn't as important in the long-term as decisions made in Amazing Spider-Man. Plus, if you think that the cartoon's direction was a bad idea, as is the case with Mr. Fettinger, that hardly presents an argument for further deviations from the core of the series. 
Alpha

I wrote an entry about the news that Spider-Man would have a sidekick named Alpha. Recently, I finished a section on the Illusion of Change VS the marriage, and had started a new section about the ideal schedule for the Spider-Man comics. The Alpha announcement seemed to be a better fit for the Illusion of Change section, so it became another chapter for that part, which was otherwise previously finished. I wasn't in the mood to wait until I was done with the portion on schedules and could find a more appropriate new section to discuss whether or not Spider-Man should have a sidekick, so the piece on Alpha became Chapter 10.14, even though I had already posted Chapter 11.1.


What are Mary Jane's Defining Characteristics?

To the post "They Neutered Mary Jane" I added a section about what defined the character.

Defining Mary Jane 

A few years ago, a youtube critic named Mike from Milwaukee got some attention systematically pointing out the flaws of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. One of his arguments against the lesser movie was that it was difficult to describe the characters without talking about their appearance, their profession, their clothing, or their role in the movie. 
 On CBR, I asked the same question about Mary Jane. The problem with the Star Wars prequel characters is that they're bland, which isn't true of MJ. However, she doesn't really have a consistent "identity" in the comics or other media.  

The Lee/ Romita Mary Jane was the outgoing center of attention, which worked in a more localized context, when she wasn't the center of attention amongst movie stars and celebrities. This was a little bit at odds with the emotionally damaged celebrity (supermodel/ soap opera star) we usually saw as Peter Parker's loving and supportive wife. 

Ultimate Mary Jane (or Brainy Jane) was a younger version of Peter's supportive wife (minus the celebrity) but didn't have much in common with the Lee/ Romita Mary Jane. And the movie Mary Jane seemed to be an amalgamation of several love interests in the Spider-Man comics. Like Liz Allen, she was the most popular girl in Midtown High. Like Gwen Stacy, she kept getting thrown off bridges. 

This is not to suggest that one portrayal of Mary Jane is weaker because others have a different take, but this leaves me to wonder about what's at the core of Mary Jane's character. And that's important when considering what she brings to the franchise. This is an issue with most characters in these types of serials, figuring out how to balance progression with maintaining the core appeal of a character. 

Some readers think her background is compelling. I don't think it's particularly important, as this wasn't an concern for the first 200 issues since her first appearance. Mary Jane was popular when she was introduced, and details about her life growing up were more of a blank state. You can argue that the progress made with the character, as she made peace with her upbringing, took her away from her considerable initial appeal. At the very least, it had nothing to do with it. 
Why Mary Jane is Spider-Man's third-best supporting character (at best) 
A few years ago, there was an April Fools announcement that Aunt May would be a playable character in a Marvel video game. It struck me that this proved that she's an iconic character. The joke's only funny if you're familiar with the character and what makes her unique, and almost everyone (in the category of people interested in a Marvel video game) is familiar with the character and what makes her different. 
Mary Jane's probably more popular, but I'd argue that J Jonah Jameson is the best supporting character in comics. He's the definitive critic/ authority figure, the guy who just doesn't understand the everyman hero. The Simpsons essentially had JK Simmons guest-starr twice as Jonah, banking on viewers instantly recognizing the character. And other details make the character memorable: his stinginess, shamelessness, temper and occasional moral fiber. 
I like Mary Jane as a character (she's easily in my top ten of Spider-Man characters) but I think she pales in comparison to Aunt May and Jonah, who are more instantly recognizable, at least in terms of personality. To me, it seems that Mary Jane's defining attributes are that she's fun-loving, the center of attention and secretive. It's good for a supporting character, but it's not enough to elevate her to the all-time greats. 
Kraven's Last Hunt is probably the most acclaimed Mary Jane storyline. Her role in the "Night Gwen Stacy Died" is memorable, but it's not really her story in quite the same way. But in that story, you don't really see the first two attributes, although you definitely saw the third. One thing Dematteis did quite effectively was that he showed the effect that Peter's secrets have had on Mary Jane, ensuring that she still has to keep a facade for the rest of the world. 
The Anchor

I added the following to a piece about the advantages about having Mary Jane as Peter Parker's anchor.
Knowing that there's one element in Peter Parker's life that's relatively stable (you could also argue that it's at least two elements, as Mary Jane is his romantic partner and his room-mate) is a blessing for anyone who doesn't know when exactly their work is going to be published (someone writing evergreen fill-in work, an artist with a time-consuming approach, etc). 
The writer may not know whether his five part epic with Paolo Rivera is going to be published before or after Peter Parker gets a new job, Harry Osborn returns to New York City and Aunt May moves to Florida with Jonah Sr. But knowing who Peter Parker is certain to be living with makes it easier to set the story between other issues. And the guarantee of a confidante means there's someone for Peter to communicate to, and talk about events in earlier issues.
Another Way to Make Stephen Wacker's Life Miserable

To a piece about what I would do as an editor/ writer, I added the following about the "writing for the trade" trend.
More Writing For the Trade 
For all of the complaints against "Writing for the Trade" there's no indication that fans dislike those types of stories (see "New Ways to Die" and the success of titles like Brubaker's Captain America, Bendis's Avengers, Snyder's BatmanThe Ultimates, anything by Jeph Loeb and Green Lantern.) As a result, I would encourage three or more 5-8 part stories an year, and I'd try to make sure that at least two of those stories have a commercial concept which can appeal to readers who don't follow the title. "New Ways to Die," "American Son" "Ends of the Earth" and "Spider Island" would all count.  
These will likely be perennial sellers. A generation later, Marvel is making money from Return of the Sinister Six, Kraven's Last Hunt and Torment, self-contained TPB-length stories with a complete beginning, middle and end.  
With more pages, you could also have more substantial developments with Peter Parker in the course of a single story, the difference between what can happen to a character in an episode of a TV show and what can happen in the course of a movie. With more developments, the stories will seem more substantial, which should discourage readers from dropping the book, and bring back some of those who felt that "progress" was too slow.  
The main risk is that these tentpole stories may start to seem insignificant after a while. Or that they may make the rest of the issues seem unimportant. But it's the responsibility of the writers and the editor to avoid that. It's a cheap answer, but one way to avoid that is to make sure that the quality is good. Twenty years later, no one cares that Torment and Return of the Sinister Six came out at the same time.

Should Peter Parker remember One More Day? 

To a piece about whether Peter should know what happened in One More Day, I added the following about the question of whether One More Day should have involved Mephisto manipulating the memories of everyone on Earth, rather than time travel.

One question after One More Day was whether it had actually been a matter of memory rather than time travel. So I'll address the implications of that. It does seem a bit more satisfying to readers, as it means that everything in the earlier comics still happened, even if characters don't remember it. It's not a retcon, as the stuff actually happened just the way it was depicted as happening. Characters just remembered it differently. 
Although there is an uncomfortable subtext. If this Peter Parker and Mary Jane are actually married, and just don't know it, that raises some thorny questions about adultery in any future relationship. And it would be too easy to just reverse everything, and restore the earlier status quo.

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