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Controversial Stories: A Half-Hearted Defense of “One More Day”

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Opinions on the 2007 storyline “One More Day,” are typically split into camps: those who believe it is the worst Spider-Man story ever, and those who find it to be an unforgivable crime against humanity.

I’m about to tell you that I think it’s neither of these two things.

One More Day 05Now that you’ve effectively picked your jaws up off the floor, please remove your fingers from your ears and let me just clarify my position a bit by saying this post is not going to be some overwrought defense of what very well may be the most controversial editorial decision not involving a clone or the death of a blonde in Spider-Man history. But with the recent release of The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1, and that story’s very obvious reference/re-imagining of “One More Day,” I thought it would only be fair to dust off the mothballs on this moment in history and determine if nearly eight years is enough time to view “OMD” in a new light.

It’s worth prefacing this post a bit by mentioning that I’m among the minority of Spider-Man fans who believes the dissolution of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson’s was a justifiable editorial decision. Yes, the actual execution of the Peter/MJ annulment is categorically flawed and nearly inexplicable, but even with some very excellent married Spider-Man stories to choose from (many of which will be discussed on this site in the coming weeks as part of a list I’m assembling, so stay tuned), I never firmly believed in my heart of hearts that Peter, as a fictional character in a superhero comic book had to be married, and that the woman he had to be married to was Mary Jane.

And before you start, let me be clear that I’ve heard all the retorts — Peter/MJ’s union demonstrated character growth, maturity, relateability, etc. — so you can save it. The marriage also aged a character whose initial hook in the world of comic books was that he was the first average teenager to star in his own superhero title, while also setting him down a slippery slope in terms of making some of his problems a tad too realistic for a medium that was designed to be fantastical escapism.

I’m also of the mindset that comic book creators have no obligation to readers other than trying to come up with new and entertaining stories that put their characters in unique situations. So if the higher-ups at Marvel believed the best way to do that with Spider-Man was to eliminate his marriage to MJ, I was more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and see where these stories took me. And in the case of “One More Day,” and the succeeding “Brand New Day,” I believe the Marvel braintrust crafted a very worthwhile comic book series that I enjoyed reading three times a month. There were definitely some bad stories, but I never found myself saying, “what would make everything better is a married Peter.”

One More Day 01The sins of “One More Day” can almost be exclusively found in the arc’s final chapter in Amazing Spider-Man #545, an issue that features writer J. Michael Straczynski’s name on the masthead, but as numerous interviews have informed us, was basically the brainchild of then Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. ASM #545 lacks any of the grace and nuance of the preceding three issues of the arc — that’s right, I actually implied that there are moments of grace and nuance in “One More Day.” That’s probably because even though JMS was reportedly dead set against writing this story, remnants of his distinctive voice can still be found in the preceding three issues, whether he owns up to writing them or not.

There’s actually something quite familiar about the kind of tragedy that is unfolding for Peter when “One More Day” kicks off in Amazing Spider-Man #544. After Aunt May is mistakenly shot by a hired goon of the Kingpin’s in the “Back in Black” arc, Peter and MJ are faced with the matriarch’s inevitable passing. Peter refuses to accept May’s likely death, not because he thinks she still has a long, full life ahead of her, but because he is directly responsible for her fatal injury. If he never revealed his secret identity in front of the world as part of Civil War, he would have never made his family, namely, his elderly aunt, a potential target.

It’s your standard “with great power, there must also come great responsibility” Peter Parker tale of woe. There’s nothing remotely out-of-character with Peter’s overwhelming guilt clouding his judgement and his ability to reason. And the creative team even delivers a vintage “Parker Luck” moment when Peter takes a huge risk and confronts Tony Stark — who wants Peter arrested for turning his back on the federal government and the Superhuman Registration Act during Civil War — in order to guilt him into taking responsibility for May’s dire condition. Tony initially appears unmoved, but let’s his own conscience get the better of him and has his butler Jarvis write a check for $2 million to pay May’s medical bills. When it appears that the day is saved, Peter gets a gut-punch when the doctor reveals that Stark’s generosity will now allow May’s last days to be “comfortable” —not save her, mind you.

One More Day 02This whole subplot demonstrates just how low Spider-Man is on the Marvel Universe food chain at this juncture. In this post-registration world, Peter has no allies but MJ and May, and one-half of those friends is on the verge of death. Captain America, the leader of the anti-registration team is dead, while Tony, a father figure-turned adversary, wants him behind bars. Given how Spider-Man has almost always been portrayed as an outcast and a loner, the post-Civil War era really could have led to some outrageously good Spidey stories if Marvel had just stuck to that status quo and wasn’t so fixated on using the event to ultimately negate the marriage.

Peter’s lack of acceptance tour takes him to the Sanctum Sanctorum to see Doctor Strange in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #24, a story that has “middle chapter designed to keep the narrative running in place” written all over it. Watching Peter try and bargain with someone with mystical powers is an obvious precursor to “OMD’s” final chapter, but when taken in isolation, its actual themes and morals mirror ASM #544. After refusing to go to unspeakable lengths to help him revive May, Strange’s parting advice to Peter is that the woman has lived a long good life and that he should cherish those final moments with her. The issue could be viewed as an unproductive disappointment if not for the crazy cliffhanger that JMS and Quesada leave us with — the visual of a little girl that looks a lot like Peter and MJ, telling Spidey that she can offer him something to save May.

During the “OMD” promotional tour in 2007, JMS surprisingly told fans and reporters that he had asked to have his name removed from the masthead on the final two issues and that they were both solely Quesada productions. I’m still skeptical that he had absolutely NOTHING to do with at least one of those comics because Sensational Spider-Man #41 is the true standout of the arc, featuring some vintage character breakdowns that mirrored Straczynski’s previous work on the book.

One More Day 03Sensational #41 introduces the idea of alternative timelines that could have potentially changed the outcome of Peter and Spider-Man’s life. It defines the “one moment” in “One Moment in Time.” Considering all of the mystical, spider-totem philosophy JMS worked into his ASM run, Sensational #41 feels thematically congruous with the likes of Ezekiel, Morlun and “the Other.”

The comic also features a devastatingly honest deconstruction of Peter’s character — with a keen focus on the negative parts that most fans tend to overlook either out of naiveté or stubbornness. At one point, the little girl tells Peter, “you’re selfish and you’re self-involved and you always put your pain at the center of the universe.”

This is not an entirely untrue statement. Granted, it’s hard to call a character who consistently sacrifices his physical well-being and the stability of most of his social relationships in order to save random strangers from the likes of the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus “selfish.” And yet, Spider-Man’s near-obsession with the idea of honoring his the great responsibility that accompanies his great power can sometimes make the character appear tunnel-visioned and self-absorbed. Looking at this characteristic presents an interesting litmus test for the reader: do you view the character’s defining trait as an altruistic vibe or a cynical personal quest that attempts to validate the guilt he feels for one big moment of selfishness?

In presenting two alternative versions of Peter, we learn of potential outcomes for Peter if he never acquired powers (which means he wouldn’t be responsible for Uncle Ben’s death). Yet, in both instances — including one where Peter achieves a tremendous amount of success and wealth — he ends up alone.

One More Day 04Granted, this plot twist seems like some blatant posturing by Quesada in making his case that Peter HAS to be single. And in many ways, it is. All the same, when the world is first introduced to Peter in Amazing Fantasy #15, he is a shy outcast with no friends, and certainly no romantic prospects. Peter’s life doesn’t turn around on the love-front until he becomes Spider-Man and is instilled with more confidence. Still, until his marriage to MJ — which, regardless of what you ultimately thought of the union, was a decision that was undeniably railroaded down the reader’s throats by former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter in the 1980s — Peter was never able to achieve true love due to his double life as Spider-Man. So, in using some of Straczynski’s patented totemic philosophy, even if you removed Spider-Man from the equation, would Peter be capable of finding love?

And that leads directly to the presence of Mephisto in “One More Day.” He appears at the end of Sensational #41 with the infamous proposition, your Aunt’s life for your marriage. I can understand why so many fans likely tuned out right after this plot point was unveiled, but Mephisto does say something interesting that helps sell the stakes of Peter’s tragedy. Mephisto doesn’t want Peter’s soul but rather “that which gives you joy, that which sustains you in your moments of greatest despair.” Quesada might have hated the Peter/MJ marriage, but he certainly makes its dissolution sound like one of the most harrowing things that Peter could ever encounter.

Of course, from here, “OMD” flies off the rails. ASM #545 is a rushed mess of a comic book that basically has Mary Jane uncharacteristically bully Peter into accepting Mephisto’s terms, only before Quesada could rub a bag of salt further into the wound by revealing the little girl to be Peter and MJ’s daughter from another timeline. As if Mayday’s mysterious death/disappearance at the hands of a resurrected Norman Osborn at the end of the “Clone Saga” wasn’t a sore enough topic, Marvel had the gall to suggest, “Hey, maybe we could have done something with a child even though we chickened out of that idea more than 10 years earlier.”

Having Mephisto clumsily prattle about Peter and MJ having some kind of unique breed of love (hence his desire to take it) is another example of just poor writing and storytelling from Quesada. I think many would argue that what made Peter and MJ’s marriage so beloved was how absolutely real and normal it was — for better or worse — not because it was some kind of star-crossed love that rivaled the likes of Romeo and Juliet.

One More Day 06And the final image of Peter/MJ followed by a revival of the famed “Face it Tiger” line. It’s emotionally manipulative and just another low blow to anyone who actually valued the Peter/MJ union.

Does any of my aforementioned analysis and praise make me reconsider “OMD” as one of the better Spider-Man stories of all time? Absolutely not. Where “One More Day” is bad, it’s very bad, and having Peter agree to a deal with the devil, regardless of the outcome, is still one of the most puzzling editorial decisions Marvel has ever put out there. But, that doesn’t change the fact that there are some elements and morsels of interesting ideas and themes throughout the narrative, especially in the first three chapters. Perhaps in another seven or eight years, my opinion will evolve further when it comes to “One More Day.” 

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