I walk a fine line with comics. On one hand, I enjoy it when comics acknowledge the passage of time and let the characters change and adapt. The state of grace that all the major comic book characters are returned to every 10 years or so really does bother me. On the other hand, change in comic books is a mixed bag, as you’re often left wondering if a change was made just to garner some variant cover sales, or perhaps a new writer really wanted to leave his mark on a character. Very rarely does it feel like a change is made because the story demands it.
Spider-Man’s gone through a number of changes in the last year or so, from being made an official Avenger, getting a (let’s face it: stupid) new costume, revealing his identity to the world, and subsequently learning that Tony Stark is indeed a dick. But now Marvel is leading up to one of those ‘defining’ moments in Spider-Man’s story with the One More Day storyline, so I thought it’d be a good time to look back on some of the stupider editorial choices regarding everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood webhead. I’m going to intentionally skip most of the 60’s and early 70’s stuff, because frankly every comic book character had some ridiculous moments back then. We’ll stick with the 80’s and onward…
10) Ned Leeds as The Hobgoblin: When the Hobgoblin first appeared back in 1983, he was a pretty bad-ass update on the (then) long-dead Green Goblin. Notwithstanding the run where Flash Thompson was framed as the Hobgoblin, there was a good 4 years before his identity was revealed to be none other than fellow Daily Bugle reporter (and then dead) Ned Leeds. Leeds death in the Spider-Man / Wolverine one-shot was enough of a shock, but retroactively making him the Hobgoblin (only to reveal years later that he’d been brainwashed by the actual Hobgoblin) was just effin’ stupid. Why not make Mary-Jane the Sandman while you’re at it?
9) Captain Universe: Okay, to be fair this three issue run gave us the memorable panel of Spider-Man punching The Incredible Hulk INTO SPACE, but giving Spider-Man near omnipotence seriously detracts from the everyman appeal of Spider-Man. Plus, the Capt. Universe costume counts as the stupidest Spider-Man costume variant ever.
8) Identity Crisis: If there’s one thing Spidey editors love doing, it’s fucking with identity issues. For a short period of time, Spider-Man was forced to adopt four distinct persona (each one more retarded than the last), to avoid a bounty placed on his head by Normon Osborn (we’ll get to that can o worms in a few). Of course this allowed Marvel to pursue a new comic using kids who had adopted Spidey’s now discarded alter-egos, which was kind of like making dessert from someone else’s vomit.
7) Killing Aunt May & Mary Jane: Over the years, both Aunt May and Mary Jane have been pronounced dead, only to return once authors and editors realize how bad a corner they’ve painted themselves in. Mary Jane gets double points here for having a pregnancy that resulted in, well… nothing. Aunt May is an important part of Parker’s life, and if they’re going with a perpetual ‘Peter has been Spider-Man for 10 years or so’ thing, then there’s no reason to kill her off. Likewise, the editors at Marvel have long held that marrying Mary Jane and Peter was a mistake (with which I wholeheartedly disagree), and have done everything they could to try and take her out of the picture. My guess is that One More Day will result in the final death of Aunt May, and the dissolution of Parker’s marriage. I also guess that they’ll come up with a ridiculous way to undo the damage in a year or so.
6) Sins Past / Sins Remembered: I’m going to ignore the umpteen clones of Gwen Stacey that have appeared over the years and focus on what has to be the stupidest plot twist ever for the long-dead love. A few years back, they introduced the illegitimate twin children of Gwen Stacey and (get this) Norman Osborn, who were artificially aged to be in their early 20’s. Okay, having Gwen Stacey retroactively give birth prior to her death in 1973 is stupid enough, but having the father be the Green Goblin is downright ridiculous. All the more ridiculous when you take into account that Gwen and Peter hung around with Norman’s son, Harry. “Hey, Norman! You’re old enough to be my dad, and you’re a completely dick, but let’s go ahead and get nasty. I just won’t tell my boyfriend Peter, who will have to deal with the consequences 10 years later.” I’m pretty sure the writers got high and did a marathon of shitty soap operas prior to this winner of an idea.
5) The Return of Norman Osborn: Speaking of old Greenie himself, this is a great example of how to seriously fuck up an established history. The Death of Gwen Stacey remains one of the best Spider-Man storylines ever written. It was topical for the time, and resulted in a defining moment in the life of Spider-Man. Of course, that means every subsequent writer felt the need to undo the seminal work, and a few years back it was revealed that Norman Osborn survived his date with the business end of a goblin glider, and was responsible for our next big snafu. Norman bought out the Daily Bugle and proceeded to make Petey’s life hell for quite some time before going full-on insano in the middle of Times Square and subsequently disappearing, only to resurface as the government sanctioned leader of The Thunderbolts. Yes, let’s put the crazy man in charge of a veritable army of not-really-reformed super-criminals. That’ll turn out well.
4) Ben Reilly / The Clone Saga: Where to begin? A long-thought dead clone of Spider-Man appears to try and claim the mantle of the real Peter Parker? The fact that the editors were stupid enough to try to pass of Ben Reilly as the actual Peter Parker? The long-drawn out story line featuring gaggles of Spider-Clones? Reilly’s shitty, shitty Scarlet Spider persona, and his subsequent stupiding up of the actual Spider-Man suit? Making him blonde? I, along with any number of long-suffering Spider-Fans would just like to wish this whole sorry episode into the ether, never to be spoken of again. Seriously, folks: this storyline sucked ass, and the fallout from it poisoned the comic for a long, long time.
3) Unmasking Peter Parker / Civil War: File this under: ‘How the hell are they going to undo this?’. The unmasking of Spider-Man in the recent Civil War mega-crossover certainly garnered a lot of attention, but in doing so they’ve destroyed one of the fundamental aspects of Peter Parker’s character. Considering the political climate of the Marvel Universe right now, making Spider-Man’s identity public means we’re going to be living with Parker as The Fugitive for a long, long time. Of course, this also set the stage for the Back in Black storyline, which I’m sure had nothing to do with Spider-Man 3 coming out. There’s no coming back from this, without resorting to a very ridiculous ‘Um, it was a clone’ excuse (which has been done to death both in Marvel and DC comics), and one that I can’t imagine had any more thought put it to it than ‘this’ll make the papers’.
2) Venom: Sorry, fanboys. I hate Venom (in all incarnations and derivatives), and I always have. McFarlane’s original Venom storyline was great, but should have ended in Eddie Brock’s death. Keeping Venom around (first as villain, and then as anti-hero) was just the Spider-Version of trying to make a decidedly upbeat character more grim (as was the style at the time), and forced us to accept the fact that Spider-Man would tolerate a killing machine version of him running around New York City. I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t buy it now. For years and years, the symbiote suit has been nothing more than a easy way to generate an instantly recognizable villain (while each making each incarnation more patently stupid than the last) without having to, you know, come up with something original. I consider that contribution yet another charge to be leveled against Todd McFarlane in my ongoing ‘trials against comic-dom’ I’ve levied against him in my brain since Amazing Spider-Man #302 or so.
1) The Other: And here we have the winner, which is sad because this particular story arc was actually exceptionally well written. I can handle the never-ending retconning of Spider-Man’s friends and foes, but what I cannot abide is making Spider-Man’s powers mystical in origin. Sure, it’s kind of embarrassing now to think of Peter Parker getting those fantastic abilities from a radioactive spider-bite (instead of getting say, radiation sickness and major hairloss), but that freak-accident aspect is what allowed us to identify and emphasize with the character for so long. Now, we’re asked to accept that he was chosen to be Spider-Man (which is odd, since he was kind of a dick in the beginning), that his webs are natural (Gawdamn you, Sam Raimi), he has a telepathic link with spiders (sigh), and that HE HAS GIANT STINGERS that pop out when he’s sufficiently angry.
I can understand wanting to give our web-slinging pal a slightly less ridiculous explanation for his powers, but going the mystical route to state that Spider-Man is just one in a long line of spider avatars has got to rank as one of the worst cop-outs in comic history. Gone is the random factor that allowed us to identify with the otherwise nerdtastic Peter Parker who had greatness thrust upon him, and gone is the idea that he’s just a guy trying to do the right thing to alleviate his own guilt over his previous arrogance and cavalierness. Now Spider-Man gets saddled with all manner of mystical and magic based foes (dumb), further taking him away from the long-standing tradition of going after the c-list bad guys while trying to get by in life.
Yup, my boy Spidey has suffered some serious indignities over the last 20 years, with no end in sight. Debate/Berate away in the comments.