By Jack Sellers
In 2006 the massively successful Marvel story Civil War began, and at the end of the second issue one of the biggest moments of the entire Marvel universe occurs; Peter Parker reveals to the world his secret identity as Spider-Man. Critics of the hit mini-series called out Mark Millar’s often out of character writing for characters, and in particular Peter’s character. Shortly after Civil War, Amazing Spider-Man quickly headed towards the end of J. Michael Straczynski’s fan favorite run with “Back in Black” and “One More Day”. The former deals with the direct aftermath of Peter’s secret identity reveal, and the latter sees Peter and Mary Jane make a deal with the Marvel equivalent of the devil, Mephisto, that undoes their marriage to one another to save Aunt May’s life and restore Peter’s secret identity. In the final issue of “One More Day” we see many changes that have come as a result of this story, and it reveals itself as an editorial mandate in disguise.
This story spun out into an initiative in the Amazing Spider-Book called “Brand New Day” in which consolidated all of the prior Spider-Man titles into the Amazing Spider-Man book which now had a rotation of creators working on it and came out thrice a month. Both “One More Day” and its successor “Brand New Day” were poorly received by long-time fans of the character, who cited mischaracterization, lazy writing, and a group of writers and editors that didn’t want to push the character in new directions but instead revert the character to a previous status quo to satisfy their own vision for the character. “Brand New Day”’s vision of the character returns Peter to a status very similar to where he was in the mid 70s, but the problem is they don’t commit fully to this reversal. They don’t return Peter to his status quo from that time or time travel or anything like that, nor do they maintain Peter’s personality from both the time they’re trying to emulate or the more recent runs that proceed “Brand New Day”. At best this ends up feeling like a more naive and youthful version of a character well into his 30s, and at worst this ends up feeling like a perverse stranger in place of the most popular character at Marvel Comics.
The biggest thing I think would improve the reception to “One More Day” and “Brand New Day” is if Peter and Mary Jane got a conventional divorce as opposed to marriage erasure via the devil. Obviously I still would’ve had a problem with Peter and Mary Jane’s splitting up, but I think if it were done in a more conventional way with better build up and especially with better follow-through it could’ve worked better as a story. In an interview with cbr.com Joe Quesada (editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics in 2008) he responds to a question about why the decision to use Mephisto was made, he states, “I think Peter getting divorced to me says that they gave up on their love, that their life in love together was so awful, so stressful, so unfulfilling that they had to raise a red flag and walk away from it. They quit on their marriage and even more tragic, they quit on each other. In other words, Peter would rather be alone and single than to spend another moment with MJ.” I think this is a really simplistic and poorly thought out view of marriage and divorce. There are hundreds of reasons to get a divorce, and obviously it doesn’t just have to be that Peter and Mary Jane suddenly hate each other. We’ve seen from things like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Chef that just because people are divorced doesn’t mean they don’t love each other, and with characters with as storied a history as Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson it would be easy for me to believe (especially after their particularly rough spot through the 90’s) that these two could break up. In fact, they did.
When Straczynski first joined the title Peter and Mary Jane were separated, married, but separated nonetheless. Peter and Mary Jane were living on opposite ends of the country at the time, and Straczynski was brought in to fix Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship. One of the biggest problems for me with the Brand New Day era of Spider-Man is the very disappointing use of side characters. I’ve always held the belief that Spider-Man has the best side cast of any superhero, but if you’ve only read the last ten years of Spider-Man comics it would be very easy to think otherwise. Mary Jane is really emblematic of this problem. She quickly disappears from the book and then only to be something for Peter to get sad about. The biggest fault from this era is their lack of planning. With a stronger sense of direction and one strong creative force behind the title this series, “Brand New Day” could’ve been wonderful. But instead they opted to release the book more frequently with 3 different creative teams providing 3 different voices for the character. These kinds of relaunches require a strong and thoughtful voice to make the right impact. It’s not that revamping and relaunching Spider-Man was a bad idea, the character had been through a rough couple of years and could use some changes, but I think there are much stronger ways to do it. Scott Snyder’s New 52 Batman run is celebrated to this day because of its clear and thoughtful vision for the character. Peter needs something like that. Spider-Man deserves to be one of the best books on the shelves, but with the approach of recent writers and the failures of “Brand New Day” being repeated in recent comics it’s hard to see this series digging itself out of the hole it’s in without a strong creative team that can bring something new to the table without forgetting Spidey’s long history.