Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Oh no? Oh yes! With Amazing Spider-Man #600 coming out this week, it’s the perfect time to reread this particular story. Why? Because it will be fun! For me, at least. So, let’s all get our angry fanboy faces on and, remember, there will be spoilers, but like anyone doesn’t know them already…
“One More Day” was done by J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada to conclude Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man, which he had been on for just over six years. It also acted as the final issues of Sensational Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, setting the stage for Amazing Spider-Man to go weekly for three weeks of the month. The story was built up to with a teaser image, leading everyone to wonder what the one more day was going to be: Aunt May dying, Mary Jane dying, something else? Things became clearer during the “Back in Black” story in the Spider-books where May was shot and critically injured by an assassin sent by the Kingpin to kill the fugitive Peter Parker, on the run after publically exposing his identity and then turning on Tony Stark in Civil War.
(For those who are curious, Steven Grant penned a fantastic What If…? issue that came out in December where Mary Jane is the one who gets shot instead of May, and really uses the one-off nature of the story to do interesting things with the character that would have changed things for good. I discussed it then in more detail in my CBR review. Mentioning it mostly because it was a good comic that got ignored. It was also a candidate for a Reread Review… I’m betting many would have preferred it, actually.)
Initially, the book was meant to ship weekly during August 2007, but that was quickly abandoned thanks to Quesada, firstly, being the editor-in-chief at Marvel; and, secondly, never being the quickest artist in the world additionally. What was meant to be a one-month event turned into a dragged out, five-month internet hate-fest. I won’t get into all of it now, but let’s just say that this story was universally loathed, even by those who agreed with what Marvel was ultimately doing: getting rid of the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane. Plus, there was the controversy where Straczynski apparently asked to have his name removed from the final issue only to have Quesada compromise by sharing the writing credit — a move that didn’t quite work since Straczynski told people that he requested to have his name taken off of it. Ah well. [EDIT: Sorry, it was the final two issues of this story, not just the last one, that Straczynski requested to have his name taken off of.]
I want to take this issue by issue, prefaced each time with my thoughts on each issue when they were first released and, then, conclude with general thoughts. Let’s do this.
Part One — Amazing Spider-Man #544, in which Aunt May is brain dead, Peter is angry at a doctor for suggesting that having no money to pay for his medical bills somehow makes her a charity case despite that being the definition of ‘charity case,’ so he rushes off (sans costume) to Avengers Towers wherein he confronts Tony Stark and takes on him on Spider-Mano-a-Iron-Mano, busting his hand open on his helmet and everything. He eventually webs Stark up completely, rips off the helmet and rants about how Stark should do something to help May, while Stark rants about how Peter is going to jail for a long long long time, because he is a criminal. Ultimately, Stark using Jarvis as an intermediary to pay for May’s medical requirements. Also, Jarvis nearly breaks down at the sight of May in the hospital bed, but recovers quickly to act kind of snooty to the doctor about the bill. The issue ends with Peter swinging off in his costume to find a way to help save May’s life.
The initial irony of this book is the cover: in the upper left-hand corner, it proclaims “Still only 399¢”… and, out of the eight comics I bought this week, it’s the most expensive by a dollar. Every other comic is $2.99 US.
Oh, and then there’s the irony of the cover asking “What would you do if you only have one more day?!” My answer: not read this comic.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Spider-Man and figured I’d check out this soon-to-be-landmark storyline and… this is it? Aunt May is dying, Peter won’t let her be a charity case, so he beats up Iron Man and shames him into funding her healthcare only to run off at the end to find some magic cure to being really fucking old and shot. If the preview for next issue tells me anything, his first stop is Dr. Strange, which makes sense, because the only logical way to cure being old and shot would be magic.
One question: if Peter is in too much of a hurry to put on his costume before fighting Iron Man, why does he put it on at the end of the issue when she’s in no better shape other than the fact that her bill is covered? Just wondering.
My opinion is a bit more tempered now. Though, the narration that begins this comic did jump out as some of the worst writing I’ve ever read:
TUNE YOUR EAR TO THE FREQUENCY OF DESPAIR, AND CROSS-REFERENCE BY THE LONGITUDE AND LATITUDE OF A HEART IN AGONY.
Now, this is Mephisto narrating, because we see the red(ish) bird and that’s Mephisto, and it reminds me of that really lame poetry Data recites in that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where aliens are abducting people, and Riker falls asleep during the recital. It strives for emotional significance while using scientific language in an effort to be clever and it’s just godawful. Remember, the above: THE DEVIL SPEAKING. Seriously. I know.
This issue and Peter’s obsession with May not dying reminds me of comics in general where death just cannot happen. How many times has May died already? We want the illusion of death as a possibility, complain when it’s treated like a joke, but don’t actually want any of these characters to die. Why? Because, we want them to remain the exact same so we can, someday, write their adventures the way that we want to. The end of “One More Day” is the best example I can think of to prove this. Why doesn’t May die in this story? If she did, they couldn’t do the time warp (basically) and reset Peter Park to his life circa college (except not in college). Peter is willing to do anything to keep her alive — and so is Marvel, as we’ll see soon enough.
Of course, Peter says that it’s not simply her dying that’s the problem: he blames himself, because she got shot as a result of him. I really like this element of the story since it places the responsibility on him. The best Spider-Man stories revolve around him confronting his various responsibilities and how he’s failed to live up to them, most often because he has such a narrow view of the saying “With great power comes great responsibility” that he usually only applies it to his superpowers. Here, Straczynski follows up on Peter misusing the power of his identity during Civil War and failing to fully consider the responsibility that would come with revealing his true identity — really, his failure was to turn his back on Stark. No matter his personal feelings, unmasking was a ‘no going back’ decision and he went back. As a result, his aunt pays the price and he is responsible. 100%. There is no question or debate about this: his actions directly cause her critical condition, and should she die, that’s on him, too.
At this point, I wish she would have died in this story. That would have worked thematically far more and acted as a great parallel to the death of Uncle Ben. In that case, it was Peter’s inaction that contributed to a death; this time, it’s his conscious actions that do it. He hasn’t learned a damn thing — not really at least. Mostly because he can’t learn anything. “One More Day” is really about the need for these characters to live on forever, never changing, never growing, always returning to that safe, comfortable place that we fondly remember from our youth, and that means that Peter can never learn a real lesson about responsibility, because learning and applying that lesson to his life in any way beyond fighting crime would mean that he’s reached the end of his hero’s journey. He’ll have become a man.
But, Peter Parker is a child. He is a little fucking baby. He throws tantrums, he acts rashly, he thinks of nothing but his immediate wants. When people say that Peter would never make the deal with Mephisto he eventually makes, I almost have to disagree, because that’s exactly the sort of thing Peter Parker does: takes the easy way out. For a book about responsibility, he will ultimately do anything to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. In this issue, he says to Mary Jane, “IT’S MAY, MJ. I’LL DO WHATEVER’S NECESSARY TO SAVE HER LIFE. / I’M ALREADY A WANTED CRIMINAL, SO WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? I’D SELL MY SOUL IF I THOUGHT IT WOULD HELP HER.” And I believe him. Mostly because he very nearly does just that.
At least Straczynski planted the idea early in the story.
Part Two — Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #24, in which Peter goes to Dr. Strange for help. Dr. Strange tells him that there’s nothing he can do, but offers a means by which Peter can contact others for assistance, some magical thing that allows you to go throw time and space. Strange limits him to travelling through space, so he can ask everyone who could possibly help for help at the same time. They all have no means of saving May’s life. When Strange leaves the room, Peter uses the magical hands (as that’s what they are) to go back in time to save May, but simply experiences the shooting again, because he’s a ghost. Strange tells Peter to accept her death, he says no. At the end, Peter follows the red(ish) bird and a voice into an alley where a little girl says that she can change what happened.
What the fuck happened in this issue? I know nothing actually happened, but is it just me or was that nothing really fucking confusing? What the fuck?
I wasn’t too far off with my original assessment of this issue. Nothing meaningful happens. This is a filler issue. It restates the problem with Peter Parker: he wants a quick fix to this problem and doesn’t care what the consequences are. He’s a child who lives in the moment, acts rashly, and is always surprised when those rash actions come back to bite him on the ass. He claims he wants to save May because it’s his fault, but that’s not accepting responsibility, that’s trying to avoid it — especially when the means by which you attempt to save someone is by altering the past. After all, if it never happened, there’s no need to feel any responsibility for it, is there?
This issue is interesting as it acts a critique of “One More Day,” and the actions of Peter and Mary Jane since they do what Dr. Strange warns Peter not to do: change the past. The more I think about it, the more I realise that “One More Day” is a vicious critique of the limitations of Spider-Man (and all franchise characters), Straczynski’s final statement of frustration with having to play in someone else’s sandbox, especially since he is a writer that embraces change in his own work. His characters change, grow, wind up in places you never imagined they would — and I suppose this story ends like that, just not in the way we’d expect things to change.
Part Three — Sensational Spider-Man #41, in which the little girl makes cryptic remarks about her parents that are SO obvious that only a self-centred moron wouldn’t get the meaning and, then, causes Peter to enter an alternate reality version of It’s a Wonderful Life where he, first, meets a version of himself that never got superpowers and became an overweight video game geek, working in that industry, always wanting to be something bigger and better than what he is. Peter than meets another version of himself that is wealthy, but lonely. The rich Peter speaks about how this life came at the cost of his one true love and how that is really very awful. Then, Peter meets a sexy/creepy lady in red who spells all of this out, turns into Mephisto and claims he can save Aunt May. Peter rushes to Mary Jane who has also been approached by Mephisto. He doesn’t want their souls: he wants their marriage, because that will make their souls suffer and he gets off on that sort of thing. They have 24 hours to decide: give up their marriage or allow Aunt May to die.
You know what? The Mephisto stuff doesn’t read as bad as it could. When I read the spoilers for this issue online, I thought it was a pretty retarded idea — still do, actually — but the issue itself presents the idea in a better light than the spoilers let on. There’s at least some logic at work here. Is it great? No. Not even good or average, but it’s better than it could have been. That’s what I took from this issue: better than it could have been.
It’s no coincidence that the two versions of Peter we see here bear passing resemblances to Dr. Octopus and J. Jonah Jameson (more Doc Ock than Jameson). Like the best villains, Peter’s enemies have always been twisted versions of himself. Doctor Octopus was the social reject geek that’s taken all he can and snaps, something Peter easily could have become. J. Jonah Jameson, like Peter, feels that he has something to prove always, that he’s got to stay on top — he’s selfish and short-sighted like Peter. Just something I noticed.
The message of each of these Peters is pretty obvious, as is the parentage of the little red-haired girl, all of it pointing to telling Peter to man up and embrace the future with Mary Jane. The geeky Peter always wants to be a hero, to make a difference, but never does anything about, never accepts the responsibility that comes with his desires. The rich Peter was too proud to accept a less-than-perfect life with the woman he loved, which, ironically, would have more than made up for what he had to give up to be with her. The critique and suggestions of what Peter should do, what he should become, continue.
Actually, it’s all spelled out at the beginning of the issue by the little girl who is pissed off at her father (oops, spoiled that one a little early):
YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR PROBLEM IS? YOU’RE SELFISH!
YOU’RE SELFISH AND YOU’RE SELF-INVOLVED AND YOU ALWAYS PUT YOUR PAIN AT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE!
AS LONG AS YOU CAN GO TO SLEEP WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE, YOU DON’T CARE WHO ELSE HAS TO PAY THE PRICE FOR THAT GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP!
THE WHOLE WORLD HAS TO ANSWER FOR YOUR PAIN AND YOU KNOW WHY? BECAUSE MAKING THE PAIN BIG MAKES YOU BIG, MAKES YOU FEEL BIG.
NEVER MIND. YOU’RE AN IDIOT. YOU’RE JUST WHAT EVERYBODY ALWAYS SAID YOU WERE.
She knows what his decision will be. She knows she will never be born as a result of his inability to grow up. He’s a young superhero struggling with personal problems and always will be, because that’s what everyone says he is.
A minor/funny note: geeky Peter seems to be reading two books at the exact same time when we come across him. The front cover is for Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, but the back cover appears to be for Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Make of that what you will.
I don’t mind the concept of Mephisto getting enjoyment from the suffering of the pure/good/innocent/whatever. The idea that people who sell their souls for a noble cause suffer eternity in a displeasing manner, because they know that they did good makes sense. My favourite part of the exchange, though, is when Mephisto says, “BESIDES, KNOWING WHAT’S TO COME THERE’S STILL A MORE THAN EVEN CHANCE I’LL GET YOUR SOUL STRAIGHT-UP, AND THAT’S A FAR MORE APPETIZING PROSPECT.” So, there’s a very good chance that Peter Parker is going to Hell. This is one wacky comic book.
Part Four — Amazing Spider-Man #545, in which Peter and Mary Jane discuss the deal offered, and then hold each other quite a bit. Mephisto arrives, asks what’s what, Mary Jane pushes for the deal, adding that Peter’s identity will once again become secret and that he’ll be happy for reasons only she and Mephisto know. After Peter agrees, Mephisto reveals that the little red-haired girl was, indeed, to be their child and, now, she’ll never be born, because Peter Parker is a short-sighted, selfish idiot. Mary Jane insists that they’ll find one another again, they say they love one another, we get a double-page montage of the two as a couple, and, then, Peter wakes up at Aunt May’s, heads off to a party welcoming Harry Osborn back from Europe, almost has an awkward moment with his Mary Jane, his ex-girlfriend, and everyone toasts “A BRAND NEW DAY!”
So, I finally got the last part of “One More Day” yesterday. Was at the campus bookstore picking up Through the Looking Glass and an awesome book on The Big Lebowski when I saw the infamous comic. I said to [my friend and roommate] Adam, “Aw, what the fuck, I guess I’ll pick it up, see how it actually went down.” And, yeah, it wasn’t any good for all of the reasons everyone says.
I think, aside from all those things, what bothers me is that the story never actually lives up to the tagline of “What would you do if you had one more day?” It didn’t seem to me like Peter and Mary Jane really got one more day. They’re laying in bed and, BONG!, it’s midnight already. That day just flew by.
As for the other stuff… meh. It just wasn’t handled well. I much prefer Tom Bondurant’s solution where you just jump ahead six months or a year (or whatever) and have the new status quo in place, fuck explanations. Maybe (and I stress the maybe) you go back and fill in the blanks, but, otherwise, you face forward, true believer, and deal with things as they come.
By writing this post, I’ve strangely talked myself into not hating this final issue as much as I did before. I also dislike certain elements just as much as I did initially.
Some gave Straczynski praise for making the marriage/relationship meaningful here, but I don’t think he did. It feels empty and hollow ultimately. It’s a lot of silence (which is smart), but even that doesn’t impart the feeling that something Big and Pure is being lost forever. I don’t know how Straczynski could have made it better, but it doesn’t work for me.
What I like is that Mary Jane is the one who steps up and accepts responsibility. She doesn’t want to do this, but she knows that allowing May to die will destroy their relationship anyway and thinks beyond herself. I’m rather convinced of two things here (things I don’t know if they played out since this issue since I’ve read a grand total of four issues of Amazing Spider-Man post-“One More Day”):
1. She is pregnant. This is probably the biggest misreading of a scene you’ll ever see, but it was my first thought when Peter wakes up and finds Mary Jane in the bathroom, hugging herself tight, struggling to speak, and only moving from that voice to her normal voice after making a “–HHUCHHHH” sound. This suggests to me that she was just throwing up, possibly with morning sickness. As a result, she immediately suggests that they let May die. She doesn’t raise the baby, because she… I don’t know. That’s where this theory falls apart, honestly, but it does tie into my next point…
2. Mary Jane asks Mephisto to make life better for Peter and, in exchange, she will remember everything, thereby making her suffering ever greater — possibly including giving up the baby in the process. If you look at how the two react to Mephisto’s revelation of their never-to-be-born daughter, Mary Jane just looks heartbroken, but not angry, while Peter is nothing but rage. Her reaction could be explained by their different personalities, but I think it goes to her knowingly giving up that child. Of course, the baby elements don’t work, because I have problems with her so casually tossing their child aside. I don’t want this to turn into an abortion issue since I’m looking at it from a “they’ve been together for several years, so you would assume she would have some strong feelings about them having kids together” perspective.
But, I stand by Mary Jane requesting that she remember everything to increase her suffering as that is her accepting responsibility. She doesn’t go for the quick fix like Peter, because that’s what this is: a quick fix. Yes, he made a deal with the devil; yes, a small part of his soul is permanently listening to Blood on the Tracks; yes, he did not act heroically.
However, by the nature of the deal, it also never happened.
Peter and Mary Jane were never married, so they could never have given up their marriage in a pact with the devil, therefore, the events of this issue are irrelevant because they never happened. Without saying it, Peter avoids responsibility by eliminating the situation in which said responsibility arises. The entire story was pointing to this type of decision — that, or him growing up. An alternate ending to this issue would be the end of Spider-Man (at least in the broader hero’s journey pattern), because, if he had turned down Mephisto’s offer and let May die, accepted that the pain and suffering he feels is the price for his actions, learn his lesson, and move on, the Peter Parker we know would be a thing of the past.
This could have been the final Spider-Man story. That’s another reason why I think there’s a hint that Mary Jane is pregnant: it’s been long accepted that pregnancy is the end of Spider-Man. Knowing that he will soon have a child is what will cause Peter to end his superhero career and focus on living up to his other responsibilities. That thread has to be dangled out there a little, because we have to see that this story could have gone in either direction: avoidance and continuation, or acceptance and termination.
Marvel opted for the former, because they had to. For all we bitch and complain about the means by which this happens, and the sacrifices that are made to accomplish it, we would choose the former as well.
It’s been over a year and a half since “One More Day” ended, and I still can’t figure out this teaser image that was released after part two came out when Marvel announced that parts three and four would be delayed. Has there ever been an explanation? I mean, one person in the Marvel Universe does save “Spider-Man,” but she’s not among those characters, and that’s Mary Jane, as I just discussed. Her choice allows Peter to continue his life as Spider-Man. Her choice to forever remember what has happened is akin to our having to remember all of this. No one got off light when it came to “One More Day,” but it was necessary for things to move forward (and by ‘move forward,’ I mean ‘return to that special place where we all feel warm and cozy’). In the end, the means don’t matter. They just don’t. Not to me. Deal with the devil, Superboy punch, ‘it was all a dream,’ it all results in the same thing, and there’s no good way to get there, not in superhero comics.
I do like the idea of jumping ahead six months or so and never explaining, but that idea doesn’t work, because the readers wouldn’t allow it. They would keep hounding for explanations. At every convention. At every panel. Every chance they got, they would ask and pester and beg for some explanation as to what happened during those six months. How did May live? Why are Peter and Mary Jane split up? How did Harry come back? Why doesn’t anyone know Peter is Spider-Man? If they’d just instituted that status quo with no explanation, would you have allowed it?
Well, here is your explanation, fanboys of the world! Here is your handbook entry as to how “Brand New Day” came about! You don’t like it? Tough! How would you have done it? Is there any way to do it? You say they could just get divorced? I disagree, because Marvel is right: that would have aged Peter, but not in the way we’re thinking. It’s far from uncommon for people to get married too young and divorce as a result — divorce isn’t a matter of physical age.
Emotional age and attitudes towards the opposite sex, though…
How do you split the two up without it leaving Peter a bitter, mopy bastard in some way? The often talked about “oh, she goes off and models or acts somewhere and they slowly grow apart” idea works in theory, but you’re forgetting one thing: Peter Parker is a selfish baby of a person. He would never be able to get over such a thing. Some people would, he wouldn’t. She would. Mary Jane is mature enough that she would be able to see that these things happen, but Peter would hate her and hate himself. He would blame Spider-Man and gain serious trust issues and go on horrible benders and…
There’s no good way to do this. And Marvel wanted it done. Marvel needed it done. The longer Peter and Mary Jane were married, the harder not dealing with kids would be, because it’s established that they want them at some point. Hell, she’s been pregnant at one point. Personally, I would have loved to see Peter grow up, be an adult, learn about true responsibility, and leave Spider-Man behind as the adolescent power fantasy that it is, but that just is not going to happen.
Getting back to “One More Day,” I haven’t really addressed Joe Quesada’s art yet. I’m not a fan. I’ve never been a fan and not drawing books on a regular basis hasn’t helped him. The sad thing is that the style he uses in the “Brand New Day” sequence is MUCH better than his art on the rest of the series. Look at the cover to part three: does the little girl even look like a little girl there? I always thought it was some creepy teenager until I read the comic. Hell, the little girl often looks weird throughout.
Quesada can do something well, though. His use of darkness and shadow is nice in the final part. Some of the panels are obviously done using photo references, but still work since he still draws the characters. The panel where Iron Man is all webbed up still looks cool. I’m not sure he was the right artist for this book — John Romita, Jr. would have been my choice since Straczynski began his run with Romita and ending it with him would have been more appropriate.
I don’t have much to say about the art beyond that I find it ugly much of the time. As I said, not my taste.
I’m not sure what else to say about “One More Day.” Most of what I’ve said here wasn’t planned since I usually enter these posts with only the barest of ideas of what I want to say. I’ll pursue an idea and it will take me in unexpected directions. Ultimately, “One More Day,” to me, reads as an extended criticism of the Peter Parker character, Marvel, and the readers. All three want things to be a certain way, but none want to do what’s necessary to accomplish that goal. Peter avoids responsibility, acts rashly, is selfish, and will never grow up. Marvel wants Peter to be a man, to be heroic, to be someone to admire, but the only way for him to become that is for him to stop being Spider-Man. Fans want a fun, accessible Spider-Man comic, but are unwilling to allow for the steps necessary to get there, often unable to see that no solution is ideal and will please everyone — or even a sizeable fraction of the audience.
Now, commence with the comments that tell me exactly how wrong I am and how wrong Marvel was.
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