A fresh outbreak of “Spidey is single!” stories hit the world yesterday, and what title the news outlet chose is quite interesting. WaPo went with Spider-Man’s Marriage Spins Apart

Spideysplit
Fox highlighted the devil angle, above. (Click for larger image.)

The LA Times, however, bombed out with: Spider-Man divorces. BZZT! WRONG!

We hear Joe Quesada will be on the CBS morning show today, so the mainstream press attention keeps rolling on. Has it meant higher sales? The anecdotal evidence from retailers is conflicting. Some do report lots of walk-ins; others say regulars are taking the book off their pull lists. We were in one of the local shops yesterday, and the manager said he had over ordered. Is the civilian audience tiring of these big events as much as the fans are?

Johanna had a couple of comments on One More Day we though were interesting. This part is smart:

Marvel has just announced that this issue sold out (which doesn’t mean much if they won’t say how many they printed). They’re going to print a new issue with a variant cover (of course). So my first question is: when are comic customers going to learn that all that counts is sales? If you don’t like the concept or think it’s a dumb choice, don’t buy it. Whatever you say gets ignored if Marvel sells comics.


But we find this part not so persuasive:

Second question: This all came about because head honcho Joe Quesada doesn’t like the idea of his supposedly young hero being married. He thinks there are stories you can only tell about a single superhero. (Which shows a distinct failure of imagination.) He wants to do cheap-and-easy romance stories. Oh, no! How will Peter get a date with Girl X when he has to leave the coffee shop in the middle to fight Doc Ock? Should Peter kiss the girl superhero or the girl next door? (Are there any left?)


Actually the motivation is a little more nuanced than that, we feel. In his CBR interview, Quesada goes on at length about core character traits:

At the heart of every great character and character universe, there are certain metaphors, iconography and trappings that play a significant part in what makes those characters great. You can deviate from time to time and move away from those things in order to keep the characters and their world’s interesting, but you have to be careful how far you deviate. There is a point where you can go one step too far, to the point where you can’t take it back easily without tearing everything up.


In other words, bringing the comics Spidey back in line with other media Spidey’s was the main factor. To be honest, there’s a lot to be said for this “core concept.” It wasn’t until we were researching an earlier post that we remembered that Superman and Lois are STILL married. It seems such an added on part of the Superman mythos at this point. Significantly, in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, Morrison reverts to the unmarried state of Clark and Lois. It’s hard talking about the “true” version of any character whose been around 40-60 years, but there are certain aspects of the mythos that end up standing the test of time.

Johanna wonders why Spidey didn’t just get a divorce, but that would have been a licensing nightmare. Face it, Tiger. The Spider-man in the comic book is the same one as on your gloves and bedsheets, and that one is single and always has been.

1 COMMENT

  1. While the execution leaves a lot to be desired, what Joe Quesada has done remains a smart move in terms of basic storytelling. Yes, Johanna is right that with a bit of imagination stories can be generated that puts Spidey’s marriage at the heart of a tale.

    But as writer, you always look for conflict because that’s what creates drama. A marriage is a settled situation – unless you want to make it unsettled, which is just unpleasant to watch on a regular basis. A single Spidey is inherently unsettled, with opportunities for new characters, situations and dramas, and all the pressures that single people face in that quest for a settled situation. That just makes for better more dramatic storytelling. And it’s at the heart of Spider-Man – a character who is unsettled in the world and trying to find his place in it.

  2. I totally understand what Quesada was doing. I just thought the execution was silly. Spider-man shouldn’t really be making deals with the devil. That said I have to laugh at the people who are so outraged by the reset itself.

    Not for nothing but a married Spider-man has been around for twenty years! Isn’t that long enough? I like my Spidey as the hard-luck sap not someone married to a supermodel and whose most recent former address was in Avengers tower.

    The best thing I read was someone post something along the lines of “so I guess the twenty plus years of continuity is out the window…what a slap in the face.” It makes me wonder if that person is a) strictly reading for the continuity and not the story and b) are they like most of the people who are up in arms and is in the 35-40 year old range who grew up with the character and identify with him more now because they are, in fact, married themselves.

    I commend Quesada for thumbing his nose at the Temple of Continuity. I just wish DC would do the samething so we don’t have to endure another Crisis of Something.

  3. Actually, the Spider-Man on my gloves and bedsheets is neither single nor married. He has time for neither for he is always Spider-Man, always the hero. For many of us, entry into the world of Spider-merchandise (and indeed all superhero merchandise) occurred long before entry into the character mythos.

    I had Spider-Man gear long before I realized there was a Peter Parker. I thought Ghost Rider was Awesome maybe a decade before I realized there was even a storyline behind that flaming skull. Even the DC heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) had no real lives or background despite the fact that it was only a couple years after my introduction to them that I discovered stories involving their universe – because those stories were all from the Superfriends cartoons which, to my memory, never dealt with alter egos.

    For me then (and probably for uncountable others) it’s all well and good to speak of “core concepts,” but the concepts touted as essential are really just as tacked on as Pete and MJ being married. In fact, the moment any story is introduced, the characters begin to evolve beyond their core concepts. And that’s not bad – especially for a storytelling industry. Because core concepts are little more than foundations, hollow shells, to be built on and out of – hopefully to the point where the core is obscured by the wonderful aesthetic that surrounds it. The core will always be there because one cannot get to any later states without reference to the core, but we don’t need to see it to know it’s there.

  4. Spider-Man was different than Superman in that he had real world problems. Superman never got hurt in any real way, his cast never were in any danger and the same bad guys would do the same schemes over and over.
    Spider-Man’s cast could be killed. His girlfriend could die, his main bad guy could die (in the same issue). It made him more grounded and exciting.
    As silly as some of the big changes made recently were (organic webbing, spikes, unmasking) they had impact. Spider-Man didn’t have magic elves popping in and making changes.
    The Spider Totem thing didn’t really work because Spider-Man is grounded in science (Marvel science but science).
    Now it’s all been devil dealt away with. To me this gets rid of a much more important part of Spider-Man, the grounded superhero who had one foot in the real world.
    He’s not a lovable loser, he’s a guy cheating on his wife because he’s lost his memory while part of his soul screams forever. That’s not Spider-Man.

  5. Heidi is right. There’s a reason Spidey isn’t married in the movies. And he will NEVER be married in the movies.

    In my experience, the whiny internet fanbodys are almost always wrong. That’s the real reason a drop in sales never correlates with their rantings.

  6. “It wasn’t until we were researching an earlier post that we remembered that Superman and Lois are STILL married. It seems such an added on part of the Superman mythos at this point.”

    Having that said, I’ve always thought that one of the greatest moments in comics, was when Lana Lang explained to Superman just why Lois will never love him like she loves him. “Now things are getting good.” I thought. But, then all the core fans complained and that writer was pulled. I’d never been into Superman comics before then (save for what Alan Moore wrote) and that story would have sold me on them, if only DC would have stuck to their guns on it.

  7. Heidi, I’m not sure that the OMD/BND change brings the MU Spider-Man any closer to the “other media” which, at this point, is just the movies (there’s a new cartoon right around the corner though, isn’t there?).

    In all three, the love story between MJ and Peter is central, with hardly any other real dating shenanigans going on (She dates two other dudes, but they’re just narrative conflicts to be smoothed over on the way to the happy ending. He dates Gwen and comes on to Betty, but only while in his crazy finger-gun phase).

    The whole last movie revolved around him preparing to marry her, after all.

  8. “b) are they like most of the people who are up in arms and is in the 35-40 year old range who grew up with the character and identify with him more now because they are, in fact, married themselves.”

    This is very strange … I’ve noticed lately that whenever a comics fans disagrees on a comic-related topic, they are accused of being in the 35-40 year old range. How exactly is this bad? And the argument goes both ways … You want MJ and Peter married? You must be over 40! You want Pete single again? You must be over 40!

    I am 39 … but I pay the same price for comics as everyone else. And while I was never thrilled with Peter and MJ marrying (I always thought we got a raw deal regarding Gwen), I thought he could have done worse. The marriage worked, Spider-Man fans seemed to like it — but the Marvel writers claim they don’t know how to write stories about a married superhero. Worse, they couldn’t figure out a dramatic way to separate them — which could have led to many interesting stories of separation, adjustment and then ultimately divorce or reconciliation.

    Marvel is getting publicity, which is what it wants. But imagine the publicity it would have gotten with a mature, dramatic storyline about a couple’s failing marriage. A young kid, caught in the middle of a messy divorce, might even relate to that …

    As for “core concept” … Why is Peter kissing a supermodel “skank” on the first page of BND? Wouldn’t the core concept call for her to spurn him while “dreamboats like Flash Thompson are around?”

    “She’s kissing him so she can get close to Harry Osborn, you … you … you 35-40 year old!”

    Oh, right.

  9. The reason fanboy rants never seem to coincide with a drop in sales is because, despite their complaining, fanboys are still going to buy the book they’re complaining about. They have to know what happens and find more things to complain about.

    I personally hated OMD and I’m not buying or even reading BND. I’m not going to reward Marvel for telling an awful story and wrecking the Spidey I’ve always known, all for the sake of telling stories with the bonus “but which girl is he going to SLEEP with?!” element.

  10. I like the idea suggested on Johanna’s column: a celebrity divorce. Pile a heap of troubles on Peter. Maybe bring back some old flames, or a few new faces. Explore Mary Jane’s past. Maybe give her some temporary powers.
    Then, after they reconcile, send them out of the country to avoid SHIELD. Include a pregnancy, with the uncertainty of Peter’s genetics. In other words, take themes explored in Fantastic Four and Hulk and rework them.
    The biggest theme, the core of Peter Parker, is that of great power and great responsibility. He ducked that responsibility in One More Day.

  11. Next Quesada wants to break up the marriages of Dagwood and Blondie, Andy Capp and the Missus, and Darren and Samantha Stevens.

    No conflict in marriages=ignorant writers.

  12. What I don’t get is why they couldn’t just write a single Spiderman without the stupid OMD crap. I mean, you pointed out that Morrison just wrote a single Superman (out of continuity to be fair, but still). I don’t get why they can’t just DO something without explaining it. Well, I do get it. Continuity. But we’ve already seen that the fans will buy everything no matter what they say or think. So why not just say, “its a flexible continuity, choose what you like” and do it. That way you get to write/edit the stories you want without a big, poorly written hullabaloo. Plus it gives the readers the illusion of power that they seem to desperately want, since if they don’t like a story, they get to perform their own personal retcon and ignore it happened in their personal continuity. Hell, thats pretty much how I read comics now anyways, which is why Xorn was always Magneto. And if the writers/editers don’t have to worry about first setting up and explaining every minute change they can spend more time on what they actually care about. Everyone wins.

  13. What got me first interested in comics in the first place was the mystique that their stories were AHEAD of what was being shown in the other media versions. Comic book version of my favorite cartoons seemed like they could push things further continuity wise, and with more nuance or complexity. Cartoons and movies always had to wrap things up at the end of an episode but with comics the stories felt like they were progressing forward (now I realize this is a myth).

    So I imagine if I saw the Spider Man movie and learned about Peter and Mary Jane…then saw that in the comics they were married I would become MORE Interested in reading not only the current series but the back issues to find out how they got to that point! But when I learn that writers just keep revising history and the characters don’t actually evolve then I completely lose interest in comics and go read manga instead because the best series tell complete stories with easy to follow volume numbers.

    And besides how can everything really synch up? Most kids in the 80’s were introduced to Spiderman and His Amazing Friends. Do they refuse to read the comics because he didn’t have a secret lab in his apartment that flipped out when he pressed the statue?
    Why didn’t Aunt May’s poodle appear in the movie?? When is Kirsten Dunst character going to finally turn into Firestar??

  14. That’s one of the real problems:

    Quesada essentially bowed down to Hollywood, and is letting them mandate where things should go. “If the movies say it, then so should we.”

    Cause you know, those movie patrons are the mythical new readers he’s been talking bout for YEARS that will be walking through the comic doors any second now to start a sub list.

    As for the person who used the Lana Lang/Superman refrefence, the writer of that story (Chuck Austen) went out and promoted the story proclaiming “Lois Lane is a bitch and I’ve always thought she was” and thought it was a great idea to bring back the concept of the rivalry.

    And yes, it was shot down because everyone was clearly way out of character (just reading it proves that) and we’ve moved on from that concept. (Notice Morrisson hasn’t even tried that one in All Star that I’m aware of…haven’t read latest issue yet).

    Its still cycling back to one main conceit from both Marvel and DC – The people there want the concepts back that they were reading when they were younger. What they seem to forget is, thanks to the ways writers tell stories now, most of today’s fans see how rudimentary childish, ktschy, and stupid Silver Age stories were and don’t want to see that particular type of storytelling brought back.

    Granted I thought Meltzer’s reasoning behind the Silver Age in Identity Crisis was brilliant – “Mindwiped into being stupid”. Gave it a reason to exist as well as obvious one time only idea.

  15. “As for the person who used the Lana Lang/Superman refrefence, the writer of that story (Chuck Austen) went out and promoted the story proclaiming “Lois Lane is a bitch and I’ve always thought she was” and thought it was a great idea to bring back the concept of the rivalry.”

    Actually, Evan, if you read the early Superman comics and especially the first 2 years of the radio show, Lois Lane was a super-annoying bitch. She was constantly nagging and upstagin Clark to get her story, so much so in some shows that I wished he’d superpunched her to shut her up. Austen’s approach to his short stint on Supes was to add aspects of the character from the early years. That was one of the reasons I liked the Austen run since he was doign a throw back…till DC got some nimrod to write the ending of the storyline instead of using Chuck’s original story.

  16. I haven’t seen online discussions re the artistic aspects of Quesada’s decision to do Spider-Man stories explicitly as formula fiction, with implicit and explicit limits on the plot content, characterizations, themes, etc. If a person considers the implications–Parker engaging in romances simply for appearance’s sake, Aunt May hanging around in the background (and foreground) forever as a convenient and hackneyed source of periodic angst, repeated and repetitive confrontations with J. Jonah Jameson, etc.– is there any reason for a person wanting adult entertainment to spend the money for the comics? What is there about Spider-Man, the character, that makes him interesting in spite of the formulaic stories?

    Over at the Byrne Robotics Web site, Byrne and others were lecturing on how bad it was for Spider-Man to be married, that the basic Spider-Man was a teenager with problems, etc. and that his status should never change.

    That’s fine for someone who produces formula fiction to say; as long as he gets paid for what he’s doing, he can grind out stories like sausage links with little concern about originality in plotting, and no concern about character growth. Repetition of themes is a non-issue. The work is easy for the writer, but if the readers don’t know they’re getting formula fiction, they’ll be waiting for development and changes that will never come. Eventually, if they’re sensible, they’ll quit reading “Spider-Man” stories entirely.

    The #1 reason for doing Spider-Man and other prominent characters as formula fiction is the unspoken assumption that they’re irreplaceable corporate assets. If they’re allowed to age and change, Marvel won’t be able to replace them with characters of equal value. That doesn’t say much for the creative potential Marvel’s execs see in anyone working there, including themselves. Perhaps the reason Quesada kept referring to “kids” as the audience for Spider-Man stories in the CBR interviews is that he and other execs are aware that the company’s been unsuccessful in attracting kids as customers in large numbers, that they still rely on teens and older readers for the superhero titles, and that it‘s better P.R. to talk publicly about “kids“ being the audience, but still superficially aim the stories at older readers, because the older readers‘ affection for the character will keep them reading regardless.

    I‘ve never bought a “Spider-Man“ title regularly because I viewed the potential for creative stories as severely limited, well before Quesada. And now–? Marvel will be producing, according to their own definition, throwaway entertainment, but fairly expensive throwaway entertainment. There’s no reason for anyone unfamiliar with Spider-Man to start reading, unless he’s unaware of what he’s getting.

    Formula fiction isn’t automatically and always garbage. A publisher can offer the reader different characters and settings, formulas can be tweaked–but, as readers of the old Harlequin romances could tell you, the stories aren’t something to hang onto and treasure. It’s “read ‘em and forget about ‘em.” Marvel’s public positioning re Spider-Man could be interpreted as telling adults to forget about him.

    SRS

  17. “And yes, it was shot down because everyone was clearly way out of character (just reading it proves that) and we’ve moved on from that concept.”

    Yeah, but Superman (and Batman) haven’t had any character for a long time. Sure there are writers that can make a good story out of them from time to time, but what Chuck Austen did was make me want to know more about them, as people. It was like watching wooden puppets become real people. Besides, how many tens of thousands of Spider-Man/ Batman/ Superman stories can you tell, before you simply must reinvent them? What’s so hard about trying it a new way? It’s just comic books. Lighten up. Have some fun. Piece out!

  18. “So I imagine if I saw the Spider Man movie and learned about Peter and Mary Jane…then saw that in the comics they were married I would become MORE Interested in reading not only the current series but the back issues to find out how they got to that point! But when I learn that writers just keep revising history and the characters don’t actually evolve then I completely lose interest in comics”

    You just summed up exactly why the big DC characters’ books have never appealed to me in the same way as Marvel’s. The first book I got seriously hooked on was Uncanny X-Men. This was back in ’92 when the cartoon series came out, and I was hooked on that as a kid. So my parents, happening upon a comic shop, buy us three X-Men issues: Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Classic, and X-Men Adventures.

    “Adventures” was fun because it retold the cartoon series exactly, but as soon as I read “Uncanny” it was like “wow, this is the real thing…what they’re up to now. I recognize this and that person, but who’s this team member?” Then with “Classic,” I discovered that the team they have now isn’t the team they always had, and isn’t the team that probably will be a few years from now. Old people sometimes left, and new people sometimes joined. And they’re personalities changed and evolved, and they even dramatically changed their uniforms every once in awhile. This was exciting to me, that they had a history, and evolved like real people.

    Whereas on the other hand you have the DC icons, who aren’t allowed to change at all because they’ve become so iconic. Yeah, Superman and Batman’s chest emblems can evolve, but that’s about it. But who they are now is who they always were and always will be…they’re not really allowed to have character development, only their supporting cast are. How dull.

    Now they’re turning Spider-man into a DC-style icon, trying to impose limitations on “what makes a Spider-man story.” Face it, Tiger…Stan Lee kept Spider-man from becoming that by actually allowing him to age (something else DC icons can’t do), allowing Spidey to graduate high school and go to college. Furthering this, he eventually graduated college, and then one day came full circle by becoming a teacher. The fact that we can read about Spidey when he was high school age, and read about him now at 30-ish I think it’s really engaging. And anyways, didn’t Stan have Peter and MJ marry in the comic strips he wrote himself before they were married in the comic continuity?

    So now Spidey has to become a DC-style icon, barred from aging further or marrying, or apparently even living on his own. Why the insistence on telling the same old familiar stories? I’m surprised Joe Q didn’t also de-age him and send him back to college while he was at it.

  19. Here is the thing though.
    Ultimately.
    Was the mass comic audience unhappy with married Spider-Man?
    If you look at sales numbers, you have to conclude the answer is no.
    ASM was selling in the 100k range (which is damn good for non-mega-event comics these days).
    ASM featured married Peter Parker.
    Ultimate Spider-Man featured unmarried Peter Parker (yeah, he is still a teenager there — but still, if you want a single Spider-Man, that is where you go). Ultimate SM doesn’t sell as much as ASM.
    ASM is a TOP SELLER for Marvel (with married Peter Parker).
    The forumla was not broken.
    And you had options. If you want married Spidey, you read the core Spidey books (ASM, FNSM, SSM). If you want unmarried Spidey you had Ultimate SM and even Spider-Man Loves MJ (if you’re ok with a more shojo-style book).
    MephistJoe took the options away though.
    Now all that is left is unmarried Peter Parker. There is NO married Peter Parker available ANYWHERE (except back issue and old trades).
    No more choice.
    And the worst part is … because he consolidated titles, even if readers jump ship, MephistJoe is still going to show a sales improvement.
    If you look at the pre-OMD numbers, Spidey was selling in the 190-200K range (ASM was 100K+ and the combined sales of FNSM and SSM were in the 90-100K range).
    By consolidating everything to a single ASM title that ships three times monthly, MephistJoe is guaranteeing the numbers will be better even if readers jump ship due to dis-satisfaction with the horribly bad OMD story-line.
    ASM readers are the core. They buy 100K+ an issue. Not all of those readers are buying FNSM and SSM (which is why those two titles combined fall into the 90-100K range).
    The ASM readers will continue to buy the title even though it ships three times a month. There may be some drop off, but it will mostly be inconsequential (assume 10%).
    Now say for argument’s sake that 20% of the ASM audience is ticked off enough with OMD that they drop the title (and 20% is not even close to conservative … it is an unreasonable number — I expect the drop percentage will be less). Overall that gives a 30% drop per issue of ASM.
    So you go from 100K to 70K.
    Now multiple that times 3.
    That gives you 210K a month. Which is more than ASM, FNSM, and SSM combined was doing. And that 210K is with estimated sales drops that are just not going to happen.
    At the absolute best I would figure there might be a 15% drop overall. So you go from 100K per issue to 85K. That figures to 255K per month, which is significantly more than Marvel was doing prior to consolidating the Spider-Man titles under the ASM banner.
    MephistJoe is going to show his bosses a sales increase on Spidey titles and will justify the decision to destroy the marriage (based on those numbers) even though the resulting numbers will have absolutely NOTHING to do with the change in strategem.
    Had the Spidey titles been consolidated with NO CHANGE to the Peter/MJ status quo, sales would have been higher than they are going to be following the ‘I Agreed To A Deal With The Devil’ storyline (because no one would be dropping it out of anger over the ridiculousness of that story — so the only loss in sales would have been the people who will drop it because they can’t/don’t want to buy three issues of Spider a month, and that number isn’t affected either way by storylines).
    Marvel stockholders should be unhappy. If the lost sales are somewhere in the range of about 40K a month (13% angry readers isn’t unreasonable) … that translates close to HALF A MILLION issues per year. Given that a lot of comics are lucky to see 50K issues per month, half a million comics over the course of a year is a large number. And those numbers propel futher. You lose near weekly sales (ASM published thrice monthly) and you also lose some trade sales.
    I’m still trying to find justification for taking a top 10 selling comic and changing the formula. How was a top 10 monthly selling comic broken?????

  20. I agree with everything Joffe says. The insistence on long-term continuity, while comforting to completists, really can’t be sustained in what’s considered an eternal franchise (or, at least as “eternal” as the current copyright laws will permit). Which is why Peter Parker will never become 30, apart from “what-if” scenarios like SPIDER-GIRL. Why not be flexible with it, or, if the need to reboot AMAZING is necessary to editorial, simply do it and start from scratch?

    That said, everything Marvel’s done so far to reboot their characters, from Heroes Reborn to the Ultimate Universe to the Mackie “MJ is dead” storyline, has failed to attract the young’ns from collecting, so the industry may be locked in a slow death spiral (at least as far as the publishing arm is concerned) that will end when the last hardcore completist fan dies of old age. We’re still relatively new in this age of corporate franchises, and it may be that simply, a franchise has difficulties in perpetuating fan interest past the generation it was created for. Does anyone still see Mickey Mouse viable as a character?

  21. This is why Spider-Man was never meant to be an infinite character, he’s a finite character in an unlimited universe. There’s virtually no other hero that has been as crudely exposed as not being limitless the way Spider-Man has proven to be

    Me? I’m more happy with the character than I’ve been with the uncertainty of how to handle him…because with titles like Ultimate Spider-Man proving reinterpretation will keep him infinite, .and Spider-Girl, the heir to the original canon showing an intelligent and credible Peter, MY Spider-Man, has his priorities straight…Spidey works better as a truer representation of who a human being with powers works in his own universe rather than anyone elses.

  22. “The best thing I read was someone post something along the lines of “so I guess the twenty plus years of continuity is out the window…what a slap in the face.” It makes me wonder if that person is a) strictly reading for the continuity and not the story and b) are they like most of the people who are up in arms and is in the 35-40 year old range who grew up with the character and identify with him more now because they are, in fact, married themselves.

    I commend Quesada for thumbing his nose at the Temple of Continuity. I just wish DC would do the samething so we don’t have to endure another Crisis of Something. ”

    Whoever said this is an idiot. DC spent the last 20 years “thumbing their noses” at the “Temple of Continuity” and it’s gotten them nothing but a colossal headache. Ask any Legion fan or anybody even vaguely fond of Hawkman how well reboots work. Superman’s worked out in the long run, but even there DC seems to be slowly working it back to the pre-crisis status quo. Will there be a “Brand New Day” for Superman in the next year or two?