It’s very easy to pick on the controversial storyline, “One More Day,” but as I indicated in the half-hearted defense I wrote about the arc before I kicked off my top Peter/Mary Jane storylines list, I don’t think “OMD” is the worst Spider-Man story every published. It’s sequel, “One Moment in Time” on the other hand — is the epitome of low-hanging fruit when it comes to scorn-worthy Spidey tales.
For the uninitiated, after nearly three years of non-stop kvetching from Spidey fans after the publication of “One More Day,” “One Moment in Time” (Amazing Spider-Man #638-641) was Marvel’s attempt to “explain” exactly how and why continuity changed once Peter and MJ made that infamous deal with Mephisto to annul their marriage in exchange for the prolonging of Aunt May’s life. Similar to “OMD,” “OMIT” involved Marvel’s then-editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada stepping back from behind the curtain at the House of Ideas and providing creative input. However, unlike “OMD,” which suffered more for its execution than its premise, “OMIT” was just a terrible idea from the onset and was implemented in the most pig-headed, insensitive way possible.
I’m sure Marvel and Joe Q. had good intentions — or at the very least felt the need to defend their editorial decisions from a few years earlier in storybook form. But the first strike that should be cast against “One Moment in Time” is the fact that it’s total unnecessary story as a story. As someone who stuck with Marvel for “OMD’s” aftermath and actually liked quite a number of stories that were published during the “Brand New Day” and “Gauntlet” runs, I never got the sense that there were people clamoring to learn all about the convoluted machinations that went into the major retcon of Peter/MJ Parker. Basically, people either demanded that the annulment be reversed (and probably dropped the book out of protest), or soldiered on in reading and accepting (reluctantly or otherwise) that Marvel’s editors now had the version of Spider-Man/Peter that THEY wanted to work with going forward.
But I definitely didn’t need a detailed blow-by-blow of how Marvel rewrote Peter and MJ’s shared history (they weren’t married, but they were essentially living together in a romantic relationship). Nor did I care all that much about the mystically-created “blind spot” that wiped the world’s collective memories of Peter’s secret identity. Basically, if you’re going to do a controversial retcon that ticks off a contingent of your fan base, just do it and move on and live with the fallout. “One Moment in Time” reads like the equivalent of the ramblings of a jerk boss who knows that everybody who works for him hates him, but he still feels the need to justify his demoralizing behavior to his staff once a month.
Still, as some of us unfortunately know, the world is filled with powerful people who feel the need to justify how important they are to their perceived underlings. So with that in mind, let’s talk about why “OMIT” was such a profound disaster from an execution standpoint.
The arc kicks off in ASM #638 with an alternative version of the famed Jim Shooter/David Michelinie/Paul Ryan “The Wedding” issue which features new pages of the story crafted by Quesada and Paolo Rivera interspersed between actual (unaltered) pages from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. So the issue marks the “tipping point” moment where Spidey is knocked out during a fight (rather than subduing them) and thus misses his wedding ceremony with MJ.
I can see the logic in Marvel thinking it would be a fun idea in mixing old and new content to create this issue, but I still think it’s misguided and inappropriate idea. As hyperbolic as this might sound, by inserting original pages from ASM Annual #21 into a new comic that changes the events of those pages, Quesada and Rivera are essentially vandalizing one of the most historic Spider-Man issues of the modern era. More insidiously, it feels like Quesada is thumbing his nose at his predecessor, Shooter, who was the confirmed architect for the Peter/MJ comic book marriage in the first place. It also smacks of laziness — Marvel was able to pull from a large team of creators to craft “OMIT” but couldn’t just recreate sections of “The Wedding” in a style that’s consistent with the rest of the issue/arc? Ultimately, the creative decision reads like it’s supposed to punch the reader in the gut — here’s what happened EXACTLY AS YOU REMEMBERED IT, but now we’re going to change it because we think what Shooter did was a mistake.
While ASM #638 could be construed as a slap in the face of fans who cherish the history and continuity of Spider-Man comics, ASM #639 is when Quesada and the creative team kick off three issues worth of character assassination that many of the victims are still recovering from five years later.
Peter and MJ finally catch up with each other after the cancelled wedding ceremony and Mary Jane gives Peter a clichéd speech about her husband-to-be’s secret life as a costumed superhero causing so many problems for their romantic futures. It’s a lazy and inattentive way for Marvel to officially call off the wedding because, of course MJ is going to be ticked/scared that Peter’s life as Spider-Man is going to be a distraction — or worse get him killed. It’s also ignorant of the fact that this was a concern MJ deliberated about in the original comics before coming to the conclusion that she was strong enough to rise above that and be the partner Peter wanted/needed. Instead, in ASM #639, MJ hits us with “I didn’t think it through” excuse as to why she was now having second thoughts about being in a committed relationship with Peter.
But then Quesada and Co. make things more convoluted. They introduce a new wrinkle for MJ which I’m guessing they thought would make her more sympathetic to the reader, but instead made her feel more hackneyed and weak as a character. In the comic, Mary Jane explains to Peter that one of her reasons for hesitance is that she wants to one day have children and she doesn’t think she can do that if he’s Spider-Man. Again, it’s a lazy explanation for a character’s motivation, and it also ignores established continuity. Mary Jane’s yearning for children really didn’t come until after she had been in a committed relationship with Peter. And even then, the fact that she was never discouraged from starting a family with her husband who was endangering his life as a costumed hero, was a critical part of what made MJ so unique. Why is it so outrageous for a wife/girlfriend of a male hero to be a steeled and strong companion? Apparently, that’s only an approach publishers want to take when they don’t already feel painted into a corner by a certain storyline or character dynamic.
Just to make things more muddy and aimless, Peter and MJ pledge to stay together in the issue but not get married or have children (because I guess it’s physically impossible for two people to have children if they’re not legally bound by traditional marriage in the world of Marvel Comics). Of course, if Peter wants to give up being Spider-Man, then MJ would reconsider.
With everything I know about both of these characters — which, granted, I don’t consider myself a Spider-Man historian, but I’ve been following the character for nearly 30 years and have read A LOT of the comics he’s starred in over the years — I can’t imagine either of them agreeing to this flimsy arrangement of being together as live-in lovers but not actually engaging in any activities that would make them appear as being in a committed relationship. All apologies for repeating this word ad nausea, but it is lazy writing.
Peter’s characterization is also not spared in “OMIT.” At one point during the arc, Peter tells Mary Jane that unmasking and revealing his identity to the world was a mistake on the level of Gwen Stacy’s death. While that point is certainly debatable, the fact that “OMIT” makes such a point of Peter looking for a quick fix to “reverse” that decision is a troubling bit of character development. From his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter is a character whose inherent tragedy is based around the fact that he has to live with the mistake in judgement he made that led to the death of a loved one. It was from that decision he learns, “with great power, must also come, great responsibility” and he pledged to always honor that mantra.
Having Peter going around and trying to strike deals with Doctor Strange (or Mephisto) to undo the poor decision he made doesn’t mesh with the character who has spent his entire life trying to make up for Uncle Ben’s death. The Peter I know and love is a character that would accept his mistake and try and find a way to survive in spite of it. The fact that Peter compounded his mistake by attacking and humiliating Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk (thus earning his violent ire in “OMIT”) is yet another lesson that Peter needs to learn from.
Instead, “OMIT” changes the character as a means to eliminate Marvel’s mistake — unmasking Peter in the first place. This dramatic moment from Civil War is more reflexive of how maddening the event-driven philosophies of the “Big Two” in comics has become over the past decade. It’s not enough to feature a crossover with everybody in it, but the story needs to promise some kind seismic, world-changing status quo upheaval for a character or characters or the event is considered a bust from a public relations standpoint. Civil War was chock full of these shifts, many of them coming at the expense of decades-worth of characterization for iconic heroes and villains. And yet, this story is so popular, Marvel is making a movie adaptation of it next year. So what do I know?
All the same, “OMIT” makes it appear like undoing Peter’s identity reveal was as much of a priority for Marvel as it was for them to eliminate his marriage to MJ. What’s funny about that is how so many people say that there were still “stories to tell” with a married Peter, yet fail to acknowledge the wonderful narrative possibilities of an on-the-run Peter whose identity is known to the world. I’m actually far more interested in reading a story about the latter than the former (though I could love with both).
So, what readers are left with when it comes to “One Moment in Time” is an unnecessary story that opens all wounds and does it in a fashion that dishonors the characters. Sounds like a perfect storm of terrible if you ask me. It’s a story I find far more indefensible than “One More Day” or the “Clone Saga” or any of the other popular choices for “worst Spider-Man story” ever because it’s a story that fails the elevator pitch test – i.e. something that sounds interesting in a few short sentences of summary.
“What if Peter’s clone returned from the dead?” OK, I’ll bite.
“What if Peter had to sacrifice his marriage to Mary Jane to save his Aunt May?” Hmm… that could be a disaster, but I’ll read it and see for myself.
“What if we attempted to explain what actually happened when we retconned a bunch of history from 20 years ago.” Umm… if you already retconned it, why do you still need to explain it? “Trust us, it’ll be great. Quesada is writing it and Rivera will draw most of it.”
Yeah, but I still fail to see the point.