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.