Saturday, December 8, 2007

Looking To The Stars: One More Column On One More Day

In all the hustle and bustle of the Holidays, I somehow neglected to pick up any of the issues containing J. Michael Straczynski’s final story arc for One More Day.

Why bother? I stopped reading Spider-Man comics on a regular basis about the time Peter was recruited into The New Avengers and the book pretty much became a second Avengers title. I flipped through a few of the Back in Black issues simply because I heard Kingpin was in it and I’m a sucker for a good Wilson Fisk story. And the premise of One More Day left me cold.

There’s also the little matter of a promise I made a few months ago to see this thing through to the bloody end.

What can I say? I slow down to look at traffic accidents just to see how bad it is, too.


Now, for those of you wiser than me who have had the good sense not to keep up on the last few years of Amazing Spider-Man, let me give you the quick run-down.

After impressing Tony Stark with some major techno-wizardry under duress, Peter, Mary Jane and Aunt May are allowed to move into Stark Towers following the destruction of the Parker Home by a super-villain. At the same time, Peter is recruited to join the New Avengers.

Following an incident that increases public anger at superheroes in general, Tony Stark begins working with the United States Government on a program that sanctions vigilantes. In a misguided effort to help win support for the program among the heroes reluctant to sign on, Peter outs his secret identity at a press conference.

Shortly thereafter, Peter finds out about some of the more extreme measures Tony Stark has taken to deal with the heroes who won’t sign on (i.e. a secret prison in the Negative Zone) and that super-villains are being given amnesty for past misdeeds if they agree to join a government-sponsored super-team. Unable to talk reason into Tony, Peter joins the resistance against Tony Stark and his associates being organized by Captain America.

Still in hiding with his family after Captain America is arrested, Peter’s whereabouts are tracked by an imprisoned Wilson Fisk –a.k.a. The Kingpin. Kingpin orders that the entire Parker family be wiped out, but only Aunt May is wounded.

Peter and MJ grab what savings they can and get May into a hospital. In the course of covering their tracks, Peter commits numerous felonies - breaking in and entering, impersonating an EMT and forging medical documents among them. Peter goes to Tony asking for help to save his aunt; help which Tony initially refuses, but then provides indirectly.

This brings us to the start of One More Day where we find that even the best medical care money can buy is not enough to save May. The doctor’s prognosis is that she is destabilizing steadily and that nothing short of a miracle will save her.

Peter goes off looking for a miracle, first going to Doctor Strange. The good doctor says there is nothing he can do but he does agree to help Peter question others who might help. Traveling through time and space, consulting with both friends and enemies, Peter receives the same answer – there is nothing you can do to save her. Even Peter’s attempts to try and stop the shooting while traveling astrally come to naught.

As Peter leaves, he is confronted by a various people – an older businessman, an overweight geek and a little girl - all of whom tell Peter the story of their lives. It is then that everyone’s favorite devil Mephisto shows up. He tells Peter that the people he just saw were versions of him who might have come to be had it not been for a key event in his life and that he can arrange for reality to be rewritten so that Aunt May will survive.

Peter is naturally reluctant to sell his soul, even for Aunt May but Mephisto scoffs at this offer, saying that Peter will likely wind up in Hell on his current path anyway and that there are few things less amusing to him than a noble soul, trapped in Hell for a higher purpose. But to destroy something noble and pure – that is a deal that interests him.

And so the offer is made – Aunt May will be saved but at the cost of Peter’s love for Mary Jane. Reality will be rewritten so that the two never met, never fell in love and never married. Nobody will remember anything, save for a small part of the soul that remembers all and will weep at what has been lost.

Peter insists on discussing it with Mary Jane first. Mephisto readily agrees and Peter goes to her, only to find that Mephisto has been there the whole time, making Mary Jane the same offer. He warns them that the only have until the end of the day tomorrow to make their decision – and one more day together if they say yes.


In the four months, since I first wrote about this story-line, the fan community has become even more outraged, if the message boards can be believed.

As I noted in that earlier article, a Newsarama poll showed that 2 out of 3 fans were opposed to ending the Spider-Marriage through any means. I suspect the percentage would be higher than 67% if one were to quantify the question; “Are you opposed to ending the Spider-Marriage through magic?” JMS’s run on Amazing Spider-Man has been controversial and the biggest reason for this was his including magic and spiritual concerns in a comic that has always been – for the most part- science based.

From his very first story, Coming Home, JMS was not shy about putting Peter in the unfamiliar territories offered by the magic realms. Coming Home put forth the idea that Peter’s powers, rather than being caused by a radioactive spider-bite, came instead from a totemistic bond to spiders and that a higher power had chosen Peter – one who knew what it was to be prey – to be a predator that would bring down other, more dangerous predators.

While this idea irked many long-time Spider-Fans, it is worth noting that at no time did JMS ever say that the idea was a definitive origin. Indeed, there was just as much evidence introduced to suggest that the theory was hokum (the methods Peter uses to fight totem-vampire Morlun in Coming Home, for instance) and that while totem-empowered characters existed, Peter was not one of them.

Many fans have put the blame for One More Day on JMS, saying this is just more of the same inappropriate magic mucking up the relatively simpler world of Peter Parker. Given the evidence it is not hard to fault their conclusions, save for one reason – JMS hates the idea of One Day More even more than the fans did.

This shouldn’t be any surprise, really. When JMS took over Amazing Spider-Man, Peter and Mary Jane were separated – the result, ironically enough, of the last failed attempt by Marvel Editorial to break-up the Spider-Marriage. JMS spent the first few years of his run trying to reestablish and strengthen the bond between MJ and Peter. For what one man’s opinion is worth, I think he succeeded and the issues leading up to their reunion in Amazing Spider-Man #50 were truly touching and among some of JMS’s best work in any medium. Given all the hard work he put into reinvigorating the character of Mary Jane and her relationship with Peter, I can’t imagine he would willingly scrap all of that now unless he were being forced to.

And sure enough, according to a recent web-posting by JMS, he pretty much was being forced to.

In the current storyline, there's a lot that I don't agree with, and I
made this very clear to everybody within shouting distance at Marvel,
especially Joe (Quesada). I'll be honest: there was a point where I made the
decision, and told Joe (Quesada), that I was going to take my name off the last
two issues of the OMD arc. Eventually Joe(Quesada) talked me out of that
decision because at the end of the day, I don't want to sabotage Joe
or Marvel, and I have a lot of respect for both of those.

As an executive producer as well as a writer, I've sometimes had to insist
that my writers make changes that they did not want to make, often
loudly so. They were sure I was wrong. Mostly I was right.
Sometimes I was wrong. But whoever sits in the editor's chair, or the
executive producer's chair, wears the pointy hat of authority, and as
Dave Sim once noted, you can't argue with a pointy hat.

J. Michael Straczynski has found himself in the ultimate no-win situation. Refusing to write the story apparently wasn’t an option, since Joe Quesada was so insistent on ending JMS’s “legendary” run on Amazing Spider-Man with a big bang. Pulling an Alan Smithe and taking his name off of the book wasn’t an option since the Marvel Hype Machine has been plugging this issue as JMS’s final story for months and, as JMS noted, he respects Marvel Comics and the chain of command too much to risk hurting it over bad feelings. And raising a big stink about the whole thing would do little save hurt his career and give his critics more ammunition against him.

Not that it matters. The trolls will do what they will and not let the facts stand in the way and these people hound with a relentlessness that would make J. Jonah Jameson proud.

Some accused JMS of cowardice for deciding the company is more important than his own opinions. Others have accused him of greed, wanting nothing more than to take the money and run. Still others have taken his comments as signs of insubordination and have demanded he be fired from Marvel Comics.

I don’t think that any of this is likely. Because whatever your opinions of the man and his talent as a writer, J. Michael Straczynski has been a professional writer for nearly three decades. He created, executive-produced and wrote most of the scripts for one of the most ground-breaking science-fiction shows of all time. He has written scripts for numerous animated series and television shows and continued to find work.

As such, I trust that he knows the business and the rules of decorum better than nearly anyone I am likely to meet on a comic book forum. And even though I’m an amateur writer, I know that the first rule of working anywhere is that you don’t bad-mouth your boss no matter how much of an idiot they are. I know that the pay for comic book writing compared to Hollywood writing is chicken-feed, so any idea that JMS is trying to milk the Mighty Marvel Money Machine when he could probably make more money doing more direct-to-video Babylon 5 movies is laughable.

And as for JMS’s comments being disrespectful for Joe Quesada…

Well, personally I didn’t see anything disrespectful in JMS’s comments. He didn’t even bad-mouth Marvel Comics or say anything other than that he has disagreed with many of Joe Quesada’s decisions but that he wants to be a good soldier, whatever his disagreements with The Powers That Be.

That, to my mind, is not disrespectful.

Saying that Joe Quesada is an idiot with a god-complex, so blinded by his own gargantuan ego that he’ll ignore the instincts of one of his best employees and the will of the people is disrespectful. It is also, from where this fanboy sits, a lot more accurate than a tenth-part of what others have said of JMS.

There is only one thing I’m sure of in all of this – I won’t be reading Part Four of this story. Even though I thought the first three books were written well, I don’t think I can bare to see just how well JMS can write something he really didn’t want to. I’ll give him full credit for bravery under fire and honoring his commitments but just because he doesn’t want to see Marvel’s sales hurt by his opinions doesn’t mean I have to further encourage a company that is apparently run exclusively by editorial-mandate.


  1. The Gwen Stacy kids being Osborn's and not Peter's was also an EiC forced on JMS. I don't know if you've seen it but JMS has an older book full of advice on how to write sellable scripts for everything from radio plays to television to movies. Can't recall the title, but I got it from the library once when someone asked me to try and write them a screenplay. Good book, even if slightly out of date...

  2. Actually, I was aware that "Sins Past" was pretty much ruined by editorial mandate, because Quesada had some wacky idea that there was no way Peter should have gotten laid before he got married. Never mind that his "good personal friend" Kevin Smith made it pretty clear in his "Spider-Man/Black Cat" mini that Felicia and Peter definitely had indeed done the dirty deed.
    The only reason I didn't mention that fact is because JMS himself rehashed the basics in the message-board comment I linked to.
    And I had heard of that book, but I have not read it. I want to now, though.

  3. It's actually a very good book, or, at least, I thought so the last time I read it. The copy I have had a Babylon Five script in it. It would be worth checking out just for that.

  4. There is nothing I hate more than that kind of thing..really an entire magic undo of something.. is utter shit.
    I bet if they asked Aunt May what she'd wanted I bet she would tell them 'I've lived a long full life and the two of you need each other..' and probably something along the lines of 'I want to see ben..'

  5. Well, being as how Aunt May is a in a coma, they can't actually ask her.
    I'm pretty sure that would be what she'd say though.
    Hell, given the way Peter and MJ have been written elsewhere, I'm amazed that JMS was allowed to have Peter insist that he talk with his wife before making a decision like this or that Mephisto would take MJ seriously enough to extend her the same courtesy as Peter.
    The big, deep irony of all this?
    Joe Quesada - editor-in-chief of Marvel who plotted this whole thing - has done nothing but hammer DC Comics about how cheap it is they reboot the universe and their continuity every decade.
    And Mister Pot looked at Mister Kettle and commented upon his nice sable coloring...