A Love Renewed?

Many years ago I was betrayed by a comic storyline.

***

When I first started reading comics, Spider-Man was easily my favorite character. Of course, I’d watched his cartoon, could sing the theme song, but reading his monthly adventures connected me to the character in a real way. And much like any kind of entertainment that we absorb in our youth, it becomes “THE” best version of things. You hear it all the time no matter what the generation, they all believe that their music or their movies or their tv or their books or, yes, their comics were the best. That if things just had ended there, it would have been fine, because clearly, it was the pinnacle of the art form.

So, when I read Spider-Man it was literally only a few months later that he was married (to Mary Jane). This was around ’87 or ’88, so never mind that he’d been single for 25ish years up to that point. No, for me it was him and MJ against the world.

I actually laughed over the years at reading various articles about Superman and Lois. It seemed time and time again a new writer lamented that the two had married. That somehow they couldn’t tell the stories they wanted to tell because they were married. Which seemed ludicrous to me.

You see, in Superman’s case there had been 50+ years of him being single. Goofy stories, serious stories, stories where he contorted around a plot that Lois was about to figure out he was Superman… etc. But he’d only been married for less than 10 years and they were already out of ideas? How was that even possible?

But then I began hearing similar things about Spider-Man.

***

I read somewhere that as a writer of a comic (or probably anything you are a temporary custodian for), your job is to leave the “toy box” with more toys than when you got there. It means that you leave the story greater than when you found it.

***

The grumblings were always there. They even launched a whole storyline now referred to as The Clone Saga in an effort to have a single Spider-Man again.

It didn’t stick and eventually, we returned to Peter and MJ as a married couple.

***

Then came One More Day.

Setting aside the actual storyline, the end result was a comic book going forward where Spider-Man and Mary Jane weren’t married… heck, they weren’t together.

It didn’t make sense to me. You had 25 years to tell your single Spidey stories. And at that point, he’d been married as long as he’d been single. They were returning the character to a version from their youths by taking away the version from my youth.

***

I’m one of those people who never quits on a comic (or nearly so). I’ll suffer through some bad artwork and worse storylines for certain comics (Avengers and Flash come to mind). You read a comic and you’re in until they cancel the book. That’s how it works in my head. These characters are my characters.

I’m invested.

***

I stopped reading Spider-Man comics at that moment.

I didn’t go online and complain. I didn’t raise a fuss on some social networks (though I’m sure some of my friends were tired of me talking about it). I figured the only way for me to show my true disapproval was to stop buying the comic. They wouldn’t have my $10 every month.

Chad Shonk (of many articles on this site) told me that it wasn’t right, me not reading Spider-Man.

He wasn’t wrong.

***

Life moves along. The seasons change. More comics are printed and read.

And still, I didn’t buy the comic.

I’d get my fill of Spidey in his guest spots here and there, but I knew very little about what was going on in his book. Considering for 20 years, I’d had a subscription to at least one of his books, there was a true gap.

***

A couple of months ago I enrolled in Comixology Unlimited (think Netflix for comics and you’re pretty close). A couple of weeks ago I noticed one storyline was sitting there to be read: Superior Spider-Man. A story of Doctor Octopus switching bodies with Peter Parker and becoming a better version. The storyline lasted over 30 issues.

I think it took me only a couple of days to get through them.

And weirdly, because it wasn’t my Peter Parker, it allowed me to enjoy the book for what it was – a villain learning how to be a hero. You see, I’m a sucker for the redemption storyline in any medium. And while I understood eventually the real Peter Parker would return and prevail, I enjoyed the ride.

***

Maybe it’s a rationalization. Maybe I’ve given up on my stances from over 13 years ago. Maybe I believe that the amount of money Marvel is getting from me through Comixology is small enough not to matter.

I’m not sure what more I may or may not read. I certainly have plenty of comics to read in my to-be-read pile as is.

Still, it was nice to have a reunion with an old friend. To be able to check in with him and see how he was doing after all this time.

***

John McGuire is the writer of the sci-fi novel: The Echo Effect.

He is also the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Click here to join John’s mailing list and receive preview chapters of upcoming novels, behind the scenes looks at new comics, and free short stories.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow Empire, Tales from Vigilante City, Beyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Four More Comics You Should be Reading

I recently sent out the call to my mailing list to help me fill in some additional gaps in my reading lists during this time of staying home as much as we can. I got a couple of good ideas, but it also occurred to me that I haven’t talked about the comics I’ve been reading over the last few months.

Letter 44

 

From Oni Press, this comic is based on the idea that a new President of the United States has just assumed the office, and his predecessor has left him a letter detailing that an alien object has been spotted in the Asteroid Belt. In addition, there is a group of astronauts on their way to study the object/ship/whatever it is. That was enough to get me to pick up the book, but what I wasn’t expecting is that while you spend time with those brave souls who are clearly on a one-way mission to hopefully keep humanity safe… this book is a political maze as well where the current President suddenly has to face the reality that so many things he ran on no longer can be the focus. He has to struggle with whether or not to keep this great secret, and potentially deal with a former President who thinks he’s still running things.

I’ve read the first 2 trades so far and will be ordering the other 4 here very shortly.

 

Spider-Man: Life Story

 

Spider-Man is my favorite character in all of comics. This particular six-issue limited series is a love-letter to all the ages of the character. We follow a Peter Parker who ages in real-time with each issue focusing on a different decade of his life. Suddenly, instead of having him either a teenager or a twenty-something, we can see him grow old which creates a version of the character that is so true to his core it made me wish we’d hung out in each decade for a little while longer. As is the story acts as something of a “Greatest Hits Album” for the character by leaning in on some of the most iconic stories told throughout his history.

It was a fun telling/retelling of those moments that I devoured in the course of a couple of hours one Saturday afternoon and reminded me why I love this character so much.

 

Die

 

If you grew up in the 80s, you probably remember the old Dungeons and Dragons cartoon where a group of kids get sucked into a fantasy world and are forced to fight the evil denizens in the hopes of finding a way home. Die basically takes that premise, doesn’t show you exactly how they get back, and then flashes forward by 20 years to tell the story of these very damaged individuals who find themselves sucked back into that fantasy world they’d thought (hoped) they’d left behind. Reading it, I was reminded of those conversations I had as a kid about what would we do if something like that happened to us. But I’m pretty sure my 13-year-old self wouldn’t have ever imagined anything quite so dark.

Regardless, I’m invested in the characters and the world. I just received the second trade and will probably bust it open this weekend.

 

Legion of Super-Heroes – The Great Darkness Saga

 

One of the cool things, when I was first starting to get into comics, was finding out my dad had been a comic reader growing up. His favorite series was the Legion of Super-Heroes, and on car rides, he would tell me the various stories he remembered of this group of teens who protected the future of the DC Universe. It wasn’t until the reboot of the 90s that I really got into the comic, but I immediately understood the appeal.

This particular story collects the Legions’ first encounter with Darkseid. The trade is a bit of a sprawling beast because of the various little bits and pieces which built over the course of a year, you really get a chance to learn about the characters prior to the massive battle(s) that are just on the horizon. I did wonder what it would have been like to have been reading these comics month in and month out without having any foreknowledge about who may be on the horizon. As it was, this was a great snapshot of those early 80s Legionnaires.

 

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Does Whatever A Spider Can

With the release of the Amazing Spider-man 2 I feel like there is something I should say. I have a confession to make. Well, maybe not a confession, but more like a moment of truth. Spider-Man is my favorite comic book character.

That’s not the confession.

This revelation does not make me unique or anything. Plenty of people love Spider-Man (as evidenced by the sheer amount of money the movies alone have made). The fact that any kid might have something Spider-Man themed in his closet. Or that dozens of figures of the guy are released every year.

No, the confession is that I have not read a Spider-Man comic in quite some time (5+ years).

Now if Spider-Man is my favorite character why would I forsake him in the very media that I profess to love beyond probably even my wife’s understanding?

One name: Mary Jane Watson Parker.

Many of you will know the name Mary Jane Watson from the Sam Rami movies of the 00s as she was played by Kirsten Dunst. As you can tell from the movies, she is an important cog in Peter Parker’s life.

I personally think she’s the true love of his life, not Gwen Stacy, but that’s mostly because I don’t know Gwen. She had been dead for a decade before I picked up my first issue of Amazing Spider-Man. I only have the occasional flashback to let me know who she was.

Though, one of my favorite stories came from a “Gwen” moment. Spider-Man Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale tell a story where on Valentine’s Day Peter is feeling reflective about how much he misses Gwen, and proceeds to talk into a tape recorder about the two of them falling in love. He talks to her about how her death messed him up for a long time, but through Mary Jane he learned to love again. And then this happens…

Spidey Blue 1

 

Spidey Blue 2

 

And if you were to pick up a Spider-Man comic from around 1987/1988 until about 2008 you would have probably seen Mrs. Parker in the comics. As Peter’s wife she’s been with him through think and thin.

However, if you picked up a Spider-Man comic today you might notice that Peter is no longer married.

More on that in a second…

Spider-Man appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. By the time I started reading the comic was approximately 25 years old. During that entire time Spider-Man was a single guy. Yeah, there were girlfriends: Betty Brant, Felicia Hardy, Gwen Stacy, and Mary Jane, but he was a single guy. For 25 years those writers got to weave stories featuring a single Spidey. But that changed in 1987 (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21) when the two of them tied the knot.

the-amazing-spider-man-the-wedding-issue

I was 11 at the time this happened. I think I had read about 6 issues of Spider-Man before he got married. Spider-Man getting married did not change how I saw the character. It did not make him my “Dad” all of a sudden. It didn’t make him the “winner” of life because he married this gorgeous model (these were some of the reasons for getting rid of the marriage, but more on that later).

Growing up I never saw myself as a good-looking kid. I was taller than all the other kids, maybe a little clumsy, and shy around girls. There were plenty of times I would think about the fact that I would never find a girlfriend.

Comics are a great escape from life. When you get down on yourself, get depressed about something that’s happened to you, they are there waiting for you, month in and month out. Ready to take on the worst of the worst bad guys.

So how did it make me feel when Spidey got married?

It actually made me feel like, maybe, just maybe, there was a girl out there for me. That even if I felt awkward and ugly that it wouldn’t matter. I’d find that person who I was meant to be with. Maybe that girl next door might take a shine to me.

It’s probably silly to think that way. These weren’t real people. And yet… because Mary Jane and Peter weren’t just two people who started dating and decided to get married. These were two friends from way back. They’d suffered through tragedy on both sides. And where he had never confided in Gwen about his alter-ego, Mary Jane knew (she figured it out – girl is smart). Because she was his best friend. Moreso than Harry Osborn (when he wasn’t the Green Goblin) or Flash Thompson (in the later years), MJ was the one that he could always turn to.

So, no, it wasn’t a bad thing that this happened. Not for me at least.

And so it went that from 1987 to early in 2008 Spider-man was a married character.

But apparently this was a problem for the people in charge. Apparently having Spider-Man married meant that they couldn’t have Peter date the Black Cat or whomever they wanted him to. Apparently being married… wait for it…

Made Spider-Man OLD.

They felt like the truest form of the character was that of a single guy. That him finding love with his best friend meant he’d won and was no longer the loveable loser everyone thought he was.

They (the writers) felt like they were hamstrung on stories because he was married.

Counselor, I present Matt Fraction’s take:

fraction annual

 

During J. Michael Straczynski’s run on the book I told my wife that I could have read 22 pages of just the two of them talking. But more than that, I think JMS understood how to approach the relationship. Mary Jane being married to Spidey is the life many women (and some men) live when their spouse is a police officer (or firefighter or in the military). There is always that chance that they may not come home that night. I don’t think that means they love them less, though. I think that means they try to fight for every moment they get.

But the powers that be didn’t like the marriage. And I’d heard the same argument about Superman and Lois Lane. And I think it is complete crap. It’s lazy writing to say you can’t come up with a story for the character because his connection to another person is marriage. Because, let’s face it, Peter Parker, single, was not going to be running around banging every chick that he meets. He’s not that character and never will be. So if he had a girlfriend he’s not going to cheat. So what the heck is the real difference there?

There isn’t one.

One other point about this that I’m not sure people really thought about. 25 years as a bachelor and 21 years married. That’s effectively the same amount of time, and one could argue that there were far more actual comics with him married than single (more titles in the 90s, etc.). But it wasn’t like this marriage had been around for only a couple of years. For all intents and purposes Spidey was a married man (or at least a committed man).

But the decision had been made. They came up with a story line that had Aunt May on the brink of death (yes, that old chestnut of a story – never used that one before!), and the only way to save her was to make a DEAL WITH THE DEVIL.

And the Devil wanted their (Peter and Mark Jane’s love).

Wait, that’s not right. He wanted their marriage.

Let’s toss aside the fact that Spidey lives in a Universe where superheroes come back to life on an almost daily basis. Let’s ignore the fact that there are mutants who have the ability to HEAL other people, and even if he doesn’t specifically know those people, he knows people who know those people (confused yet?). And let’s even forget about the fact that Aunt May is OLD and has lived the good life, and would NEVER want her nephew to make a DEAL WITH THE DEVIL.

The fundamental problem with this is that Peter and Mary Jane would never make such a deal. They just wouldn’t. Peter would find another way. He’d triumph through some angle we hadn’t thought of.

But no, he made the deal and the marriage was undone.

Amazing_Spider-Man_545

The last issue of Amazing Spider-Man I own.

And I haven’t picked up an issue of Spider-Man since.

The place I now get to read about my favorite character is in the pages of the Avengers when he happens to be on the team, or when he makes a guest appearance in a comic I read.

Now we’re 6 years into my “strike” on reading the character. They just finished a 30+ issue story where Doc Ock swapped bodies with Peter and then tried to use the powers for good. There’s a new story (that could have been told with him being married I’m sure), and one I would like to read.

But I can’t. Stupid principles.

So now I have to be content with watching Amazing Spider-Man 2 this weekend to get my fix. Fingers crossed its a good one.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and now the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.