You may have heard that Marvel is going to kill Spider-Man. Except that they aren’t. We know that by now, right? Its all a sham, a way to boost sales. Things will return to the status quo eventually, everybody will have a good laugh and they’ll forget all about it. So why do they keep doing things like this? And why do we keep buying them?
I’ve actually wanted to do an article like this for a while. I have a lot of big problems with the state of the mainstream super hero comic book right now. This seems like as good an opportunity to vent those frustrations as any. So please excuse me if a lot of this article seems a bit self indulgent and long winded. I need this little bit of therapy lest I start chewing on the walls while wearing my underwear on the outside.
So lets dig into the headline issue first. Spider-Man is gonna die. Marvel is promoting this event. They have a big poster and everything. Except, like I said before, they’re not gonna kill him. This is because of the biggest problem of super hero comics. Nothing can ever change. Ever. No, not even, then. Put your hand down. You’re wrong. The status quo is God. Spider-Man must always be Peter Parker, a nerd with the world’s worst luck who can never find a good job or girlfriend and has his personal problems effect him when he is web slinging as Spider-Man. Now you may remember that for 20 years or so Peter had a little bit of good luck. He had a wife, he joined the Avengers, he even revealed his secret identity to the world. Okay, maybe that last part bit him in the ass, but it was at least character progress. Man, think of all the new stories that they could tell in a world where Spider-Man is known to be Peter Parker! He wouldn’t have to hide anymore. He could work for S.H.I.E.L.D. and develop spider gadgets and finally utilize his intelligence to its fullest and work alongside Tony Stark and Reed Richards and Hank Pym.
And of course, Marvel had to get rid of all that right quick. Marvel, you see, seems to be under the completely wrong assumption that change in characters is a very, very bad thing. It is horrible to have these comic book characters grow and evolve as the years go by. Like I said, the status quo is God. However, its not just that they got rid of the stuff they didn’t like that is the problem in this instance. Its not even that it feels completely inorganic to the story that was being told up until that point to just erase all the progress that had happened. Its that they did it in the most ass backwards, intelligence insulting way they possibly could. Quesada had Peter Parker make a deal with the Devil. I mean…hot damn, is there a more horrible idea for a retcon than that? I’ve heard some stupid shit in comics. I thought Superboy-Prime punching the walls of reality as an explanation for all the sloppy continuity in the DC universe during the 90s was the worst idea ever. And then we get this. All because Marvel is utterly terrified of letting these characters change and grow. In fact, let’s look at what Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada said when asked why Spider-Man works better as a single slinger.
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.
Look at that last part. “The point where you can’t take it back easily without tearing everything up.” You know what? I want more heroes to get to that point. I yearn for it. Because that means things are happening.
Let’s go back to Spider-Man dying again. We know he won’t actually die. This is just another comic book death. He’ll be gone a few months, a year at most, and we’ll get him back somehow. He wasn’t really dead, he was cloned, the Devil did it…seriously, I hate One More Day so God damn much…but either way, Peter Parker will be back. Just like Superman, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Jean Grey, Professor X, Barry Allen, Hal Jordan and pretty much every other comic book character ever. The status quo is God. We know they won’t be gone. So there is zero tension in any of these stories. Any time a character dies now we just play the waiting game until they’re brought back.
But one of the things I keep thinking of is: what if the deaths actually did mean something? What if the status quo wasn’t God? What if we really were at risk of losing Peter Parker forever? Sacrilegious? Good. Would some fans flip out over it? Absolutely. Would they get over it? If the stories were good, yes. Plus, it would send a major shockwave through the fandom with a big ol’ message on it saying “THESE STORIES MATTER!” Nothing matters in a world where death is obsolete, where things will turn back to just how they were a few years ago eventually and you just have to wait it out. Why keep reading, then, if nothing you read matters one single bit? This isn’t an open ended question I’m evoking here. I really want to know. Why do you keep reading these things? Do you really like the same old same old over and over and over again? The way I look at it, fans should demand change. They should want these characters to evolve, not just to spin their wheels and fight the Joker as he escapes from Arkham for the 12,348th time. Why don’t you people want better than that?
And you know, speaking of the fans, I have to lay some of the blame at their feet. They’re part of the reason these comic writers and editors are so afraid of change. Internet fans flip shit at the slightest provocation. Let’s look at Batman for a second, give Spidey a break. In the comics right now, Bruce Wayne has just come back from the dead. You’d think that means a return to the status quo, right? Well, not so much. Massive spoilers for the latest Batman storyarcs follow if you’re the type that care. Bruce has just held a massive press conference where he admitted to funding Batman since the beginning and that he is about to expand the Batman brand. As Batsignals flood the Gotham skyline, he announces that Batman Inc. will be going worldwide, establishing new Batmen in cities across the world. That point of no return that Quesada was talking about? This is it. This is what I want. Will Batman Inc. be any good? Will a series of new Batmen dilute the concept? Will a world that is aware of the Bruce/Batman connection be one I want to keep reading? I dunno. I have no idea. That is exciting to me. Finally, I feel excitement about something again. This is new. I don’t know if it will be good or bad, and I’m glad.
But boy oh boy, are some fans upset. I’ve heard things about how they’re dropping the book until its only about one Batman again, about how Batman is Bruce Wayne and just Bruce Wayne, about how it should only be based in Gotham City, about how a world that knows about Bruce is a completely stupid idea. People, may I ask what the hell? Because what the hell? I used the word only a lot. My friends, this is the exact kind of thinking that got us One More Day. Peter Parker can only be a single young guy with problems. Spider-Man can only be Peter Parker. Really? Because I used to think Batman could only be Bruce Wayne until Dick Grayson stepped in and was completely awesome as the Dark Knight. People used to think that Barry Allen could only be the Flash until he died and Wally West took up the mantle. Same with Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. That had an even bigger status quo change when the entire Green Lantern Corps. dissolved and all that power was transferred into Kyle Rayner. Wasn’t that entertaining? And, to give some credit to Marvel, they did replace Steve Rogers as Captain America with his WWII sidekick Bucky. That, so far, has not been retconned. I say so far because I don’t trust Quesada one bit after BONG no more marriage.
So why can’t you guys accept new takes on old stories? Why can’t characters get old? Why can’t they get married? Why can’t they die? Is change really that scary? Yes, sometimes the change will suck. I don’t promise you that it won’t. But why must some of us, why must some editors and writers shoot down change before it even happens? Why must they make it so that any change that does happen just feels temporary? Instead of thinking of new ways to tell old stories, why not think of new ways to tell new stories? That’s a lot of open ended questions, I know. But I just don’t have the answers. It feels like I’m swimming upstream on this one. I just know how I feel. I think comic book writers are trying to keep these characters the same so that they’re the same for new readers as they were for the older readers. That’s all well and good, but in curing one problem, in trying to make them timeless, you create an entirely new problem. Irrelevancy.