Friday, June 16, 2006

You Ain't Never Had A Friend Like Me.

One of my favorite, and one of the strangest, reactions to this whole Spider-Outing thing is the one where fans get all paranoid about the idea that this is just taking the long way around to fixing Joe Quesada’s infamous “Second Genie” at Marvel, Spider-Man’s marriage. For those who have somehow, luckily, managed to escape this whole discussion, it goes something like this: Joe Quesada, editor in chief at Marvel, had long spoken about two Genies at the company that he wanted to “put back in the bottle”, without ever explaining what they were. After last summer’s House Of M mini-series ended with the illusion of cutting down on the number of mutant characters within the Marvel Universe (while doing the opposite to the number of mutant books, launching four spin-off mini-series and one one-shot special), Quesada announced that the high number of mutant characters – as opposed, again, to the high number of mutant books – was the first of his Genies, and one that had been successfully rebottled. The second, he went onto explain, was the fact that Spider-Man was married.

That’s around the part that I get lost.

I don’t get the hostility towards the idea that Spider-Man is married. Quesada isn’t the first one to have such a problem with it, either; part of the impetus behind the Clone Saga in the ‘90s was to have a Spider-Man that was swingingly single again without the mess of killing or divorcing Peter Parker, after all, so it’s fair to say that there have been Powers That Be trying to undo the wedding for the last decade or so, and the character’s not even been married for 20 years yet (It was, I think, 1987 when he got married; I remember my sister, of all people, being the one who picked up the Annual where it happened. She was in the middle of one of her periods of reading comics, although she was more fascinated by the fake forced Americana of books like Archie and Betty and Veronica than superheroes at the time. We were Scottish, you see, and there was something reassuringly exotic about those books to us). The common complaint – certainly the one that message board posters the internet over are using as their main talking point now that they think that they should be upset about this – is that it somehow breaks the character, and destroys his status as a young guy whose secret identity is all about bad luck and things going wrong.

These people either have never been married, or have impossibly good lives.

Marriage, at least in my first- and secondhand experience, does not solve every problem in your life. Yes, it solves the romantic problems (well, unless your romantic problem is “I must sleep with everyone in existance, how do I do that?” in which case marriage may not have the best option for you), but really, that’s about it. It’s still up to you and your spouse to deal with money worries, job worries, family pressures, and everything else that life throws at you. If Joe Quesada is really of the opinion that being married somehow frees Peter Parker from all of his problems, then the solution is much, much simpler than trying to work out how to get rid of Mary Jane without pissing off the fans too much: Just get better writers. Oh, okay, for those who moan, “But Mary Jane is a rich supermodel-slash-actress, she takes Peter out of the street-level world he’s supposed to be in, and fixes all their money problems,” then the solution is this: Just get better writers. Make Mary Jane’s celebrity star fall somewhat and show how she deals with that, and you create problems for the couple that don’t resolve around soap opera “Do they love each other? They’re fighting!” antics, but the more realistic – and more relatable for the majority of Spider-Man readers these days – problems of how a young couple manage to make ends meet in tough situations without tearing their own, or each other’s, hair out.

(The idea that being married makes Spider-Man old is much weirder to me – Do only old people get married? Maybe I’ve missed something here, because I’ve known people who have been married since their early twenties, and considering Peter Parker’s out of school and, you know, has jobs and stuff, doesn’t that mean he’s probably in his early twenties, at least?)

What’s amusing about this latest rash of people who are upset about the Spider-Marriage is that, well, where were they the last time it was “dealt with”? Mary Jane was killed, after all, a few years ago, and I seem to remember the fan reaction was much more along the lines of “She’s not really dead, is she? Get them back together!” than “Well, it was contrived but thank God we’ve finally put that problem to rest. Wow, that Spider-Marriage idea sucked.”

Anyway, now we have a Spider-Man who’s just revealed his identity to the world, and I’m wondering if Joe Quesada has some kind of psychological condition that blinds him to all of the Genies that get created under his own watch. I won’t go into a massive rant about why I think that the idea of a Spider-Man who has no secret identity kind of misses the point of the concept that Peter Parker represented an everyman who was shat upon in his normal life but found the ability to deal with this and be more true to himself in his second identity, because it removes the “everyman” and “second identity” parts of the character altogether, because – hey – you’ve probably heard that a lot this week. But nonetheless, this is only the latest in a long line of moves that Marvel have made while Joe Quesada has been in control that have taken Spider-Man further and further away from the traditional concept. Consider the following:

It was no longer an accident that a radioactive spider bit Peter Parker; Parker was fated to receive his powers from a magical Spider Totem source thingy.

Uncle Ben came back from the dead to tell Peter that he should not feel guilty over his death. For that matter, Aunt May had already told Peter that she was the one responsible, because it was her fault that he was wherever he was when he was killed.

Peter Parker is no longer living paycheck to paycheck, nor is he a photographer for the Daily Bugle. He’s now working for the Marvel Universe equivalent of Bill Gates. If Bill Gates fought crime, which for all we know, he actually does.

Spider-Man is no longer a public outcast, having been asked by the cool super-heroes to join their gang, and in fact, he and his family have moved into the cool super-hero clubhouse.

By this point, the Spider-Man world is lousy with Genies, if the concern is that people have strayed too far away from what the character was originally about – he’s literally been stripped of almost all the bad luck (and for that matter, responsibility; Gwen’s death had nothing to do with the fact that she was Peter Parker’s girlfriend anymore, because now we’ve been told via retcon that the Green Goblin was mad because he slept with her and then ran away to France to have his kids. So, those two deaths that defined the character? Neither of them are his fault anymore, apparently. “With great power comes great… eh, who cares?” Interesting to note, though, that if you go with Aunt May’s confession that she is responsible for Uncle Ben’s death, then both deaths are now the fault of the women in Peter Parker’s life) that was the character’s schtick. No longer was he the guy in the wrong place at the wrong time; now, he’s the guy who was magically chosen to be a super-hero, and who happens to be surrounded by people who make bad choices.

Fans fear that Peter Parker revealing his identity is going to result in a story where his wife gets killed by someone looking to piss off Spider-Man. I wouldn’t put it past the creators to go for that easy move, just as I fully expect the “shock revelation that makes comic history” to be swept away within a couple of years just like Superman’s death. Nothing’s really permanent in comics, after all. They’re all just Genies, waiting to be rebottled, and if you wait long enough, everything gets reset to the way it was when it first started.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Airport Angst, or Infinite Sadness revisited.

So I’m sitting in San Francisco International Airport, reading Scott Pilgrim and The Infinite Sadness, realizing that Scott Pilgrim in general and this book in particular is a romance book disguised by video game references and influences from all over the place and promising myself that I’ll try and cut down on the “Scott Pilgrim is the cool comic version of Harry Potter, soon fans will be turning out to stores on the days when the books are launched trying to dress up like Wallace and Stephen Stills” thoughts that go on in my mind every time I think of the series, and more than anything, I think about being in an airport in Aberdeen, in the north of Scotland, eight years ago.

I was waiting for my then-girlfriend to come back from three months in Germany, where she’d been studying abroad. I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book, although I don’t really remember which one because this was in the middle of my last big Vonnegut kick when I’d just devour novel after novel after novel of his – I’d read “Breakfast of Champions” around this time, and found myself almost throwing it across the room in despair a few times before his epiphany towards the end of the book, and once I reached that point, wondering if the whole thing had been written around that epiphany and was all some kind of strange literary hoax – but I remember that it was entirely the wrong book to be reading for that moment. It was full of “big ideas”, and my mind was already churning with all of the big thoughts that come to get you when it’s been months since you’ve seen your girlfriend and she’s been in Germany and giving increasingly distant telephone calls.

(In San Francisco Airport, I’m waiting for my dad. He’s visiting from Scotland for a couple of months, as he tends to do in the summer, and despite the lack of brain-churning big questions, I’m reading Scott Pilgrim at this point partially because I’d wanted something that I thought was going to be light and enjoyable, and not likely to fill me with any kind of existential dread about the nature of my plight as a human being on this essentially pain-filled planet.)

When I was waiting for my girlfriend to come through the doors, watching monitors that announced that her plane had already landed and that the people on said plane were in customs, I was the same age as Scott Pilgrim in the latest book, which is kind of strange to think about. Mostly, admittedly, because my life wasn’t as full of bands and robot arms and extra lives as his; nonetheless, that isn’t why I’m remembering all of this at this point. When my girlfriend appeared, she was very obviously wanting to tell me something – She was withdrawn, she was quiet, and by the time we’d gone back to her apartment and put all of her luggage down, she was breaking up with me.

This is the point where you can all feel sorry for me.

It wasn’t anything resembling a clean break-up, or even a particularly healthy one; there are some times in your life when you have to make mistake after mistake after mistake just because, well, you’re dumb and it’s the time in your life when you’re supposed to be dumb and fuck up a lot, and this was definitely that time for me. I’m not going to tell you why she broke up with me, apart from to say that those three months in Germany definitely didn’t help matters (Not that this means that I have anything against long distance relationships, I hasten to add, all readers who happen to be in long distance relationships right now. My wife Kate and I were in a very long distance relationship – across continents! – and everything worked out fine. It’s just that this wasn’t a particularly good example of a long distance relationship). There’s a scene pretty early on in the Scott Pilgrim book that I was reading where we flash back to Scott just after he’s been dumped by his girlfriend, and he’s lying on the ground, stunned, melodramatically saying “Oh God… I’m so alone…” That was me, back then. In a metaphorical sense, at least. The only differences were that I just had much worse hair, and far too much post-break-up-sex-with-my-ex.

The “Infinite Sadness” that the title of the new Scott Pilgrim book refers to, I guess, is the perpetual reliving of Scott’s break-up with Envy, and the effects that it still has on him, years later. It’d been in the series all along, played somewhat for comic effect – Scott’s lying on the ground, unable to speak after Envy called him in the second book, for example – but this third book moves it to the forefront, giving us flashbacks to Scott and Envy getting together in the first place and the slow dissolution of their relationship, as well as the aftermath that it’s had on everyone involved. That it manages to do this without losing the playful feeling of the last two books is pretty impressive, and as much as I had reservations about other parts of the book (the telegraphing of the Deus Ex Machina ending and other self-referential comments throughout were funny, but also felt as if Bryan O’Malley wasn’t confident about what he was writing…), it made me completely convinced that I was definitely going to pick up the next book in the series to see what would happen.

Like I said, I’d picked up the book as something light and ultimately non-emotionally resonant to read while killing time. But sitting in the airport, remembering what it felt like to be just like Scott, dumped and depressed, I’m thinking that I guess Scott Pilgrim was a better book than I’d been giving it credit for.

I’m also thinking that Scott’s lucky that Envy didn’t go to Germany. Odd things happen to girlfriends in Germany, it seems.