Can't two androids and a werewolf have a chance in this crazy world?
Spider-Man: One More Day, Breaking Up: A Fashion High Graphic Novel
And now: A Very Special Miracle Pictographs.
No opening jokes. I feel like my heart's been peeled and cored.
In case you missed it, Spider-Man is no longer a married man. It's a long story and
I'll try to tell it as quickly and wittily as possible, but it's long and painful and
confusing and kind of makes me cry.
I try to be skeptical. I've been reading Spider-Man comics since 1989, and I'm
very aware that Spider-Man is a franchise character. His writers have to keep
giving us the same stories we've grown up on, only they have to make them more
exciting and dangerous, which means they have to change things up, but not too
much, or else they won't give us the same stories we've grown up on. So they kill
off supporting characters for pathos and then the next writer brings them back
because the story needs supporting characters and then kills them again for more
pathos. For instance, Peter's old high school tormentor Flash Thompson has been,
since I began reading, dead, the Hobgoblin, an alcoholic, in a coma, a victim of
amnesia, and Peter's boss. Exhausted yet? Don't be. That's just writers. That's
assuming the editors don't decide that they need to make massive sweeping
changes, like making Spider-Man a clone, turning Venom into a hero, killing off
Aunt May or bringing Peter's dead parents. Those have all happened, too.
Yet … I don't care. Every time I pick up a Spider-Man comic and see a man in red-and-blue tights swinging across the city, I get giddy. I love Spider-Man. A good
Spider-Man story brings back the moment when I first read Spidey's origin story. I
suffered with a reclusive nerd, rejoiced when he was suddenly gifted with a life he
could have never dreamed of, then cried when he was saddled with the guilt of one
moment's mistake. One good story can bring back the nights I lay awake
imagining what it would be like to swing through the canyons of New York, or
secretly being able to knock out the jerks at school. That's well worth three bucks a
With all that, One More Day, despite the fact that it's a contrived and out-of-character twist, is the most painful thing I've read in years.
There's been a running debate for years whether or not Peter Parker is better off as
a married man or as a single guy. Marvel comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada
loudly declared that he wants Peter as a young single guy, which creates more
problems because he can't divorce Spider-Man or make him a widower and keep
him young and hip. One More Day is supposed to be the story that "fixes" the
marriage for good. Then there's the other side of the coin -- all the fans who have
been reading the comics since the marriage occurred in 1987 (around six years ago
comic time -- it's like dog years in reverse) and who like the marriage.
Also, for the last eight years Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski has written
Amazing Spider-Man, putting Peter through some serious paces, some good, some
bad, all ambitious. When his writing worked, as in the storyline where Aunt May
finally discovered Peter's secret, it was fantastic. Other times he fell from the
tightrope, like the "Other" crossover in which Peter died, was reborn and gained
new powers … and the fans collectively vomited, ensuring that the new powers
were never mentioned again.
One thing Straczynski has consistently nailed is Peter's marriage to Mary Jane. In
one of his best issues, MJ and Peter had a major disagreement in between
superhero battles. After Spidey leaves the scene of the fight with Dr. Doom and
Captain America, MJ, looking at Captain America, says, "One other thing -- you
never introduce me to your friends!" At the end of the issue, a chided Pete takes
the time to introduce his "very special friend Mary Jane" to Captain America. If
there is one thing fans will remember from his run, it will be that he never took the
easy, cheap way out on the marriage. Spider-Man and Mary Jane had real problems
but they loved each other and worked to resolve them.
(He wasn't the only one, not that Quesada will listen. David Michelinie's early 90s
run was probably the best-selling continuous group of Spidey comics, launching
the careers of industry bigwigs Todd MacFarlane and Erik Larsen, and Spidey was
married the entire time. The time the Spider-Man books dipped into dangerous
sales territory was when some very bad writers tried to write out the marriage in
the mid-90s "Clone Saga" -- by having Peter revealed as a clone and replaced by
the "real" Peter, who also happened to be single. Need I say it didn't work?)
Fast forward to now. In One More Day, Spider-Man, having revealed his identity
to the world as part of Marvel's Civil War storyline, has had to pay for the mistake
when a sniper shot at him and hit his Aunt May. Already on the run from the law
-- another consequence of Civil War -- Spidey now has to face the fact that his
aunt will die, and it will be his fault. This is a guy who already blames himself for
his uncle's death, and for his girlfriend Gwen Stacy's death, and pretty much any
other bad thing that happens within his vicinity. Naturally, his problem is not so
much that his aunt will die, or that he can't pay for her hospital visit, but that he
can't stand to live with himself if she dies. He will, in his own words, "break
himself in two."
So -- deep breath here -- the devil appears and offers Spider-Man his aunt's life
back. In payment, Peter and MJ have to give up their marriage. Not an eternity
burning in hell -- the devil isn't into that anymore -- but they have to let their
marriage never exist, with a small part of them screaming forever in torture and
pain over the remembrance that, apparently, the large parts of them won't
I don't have room to list the plotholes. The biggest one, of course, is the idea that
the devil, this guy who revels in torture in pain, would rather have a "small part
screaming in torture" than witness Peter's pain over losing his aunt and having it
be his fault. But then again, this is essentially a selfish choice. An unheroic thing to
do. And it damns Peter, which the devil is still into, I think.
Let's go back to the Clone Saga for a minute. The entire arc was predicated on one
idea that just didn't work. Peter Parker, after discovering himself to be a clone of
the "real" Spider-Man, was supposed to break down completely. But Peter Parker,
as readers had known him for years, was not the type of person who could be
undone by that. Even if one forgets that he was a scientist who would know very
well that being a clone was no more significant than being an identical twin, he
was not unheroic enough to wallow in pain and misery while the big bad
supervillains were out causing problems. Spider-Man works because he will go out
and fight supervillains even when he's in the midst of massive personal pain.
So now we've got a Spider-Man who is tormented by his own pain. He can't live
with himself if Aunt May dies. That's very in-character for a guy who has
traditionally been consumed by guilt over his Uncle Ben or his girlfriend Gwen's
death. More true to Spider-Man than the Clone Saga, certainly.
But still, the dissolution of the marriage is not a heroic act, which goes against
Peter Parker as we know him. One More Day is one long round of selfishness. This
is Spider-Man refusing to be a hero and choosing to spare himself his own pain.
This is him giving into Macbeth's ambition, or Lear's pride, and anyone who can
see story logic, meaning anyone who's read Aristotle's Poetics, will know that it's
setting up one hell of a fall. It shouldn't be treated as an awesome reboot story. If
we take it seriously, it's the fall of a hero into villain territory.
What's more, this is emblematic of the problems within Quesada's "Spider-Man
should be young and hip!" mantra. Spider-Man was fifteen years old in 1962, when
my dad was twelve. J. Jonah Jameson used to tell him, in the original run, to "go
buy yourself some Twist records" when he got paid. He's always been older than
his target audience -- eight-to-twelve-year-olds -- and he's always going to be,
not just a sympathetic hero, but a role model to them. I'm twenty-seven now --
more or less Spider-Man's permanent age -- and I'm married. I have a kid, I go to
graduate school, and guess what? When I was twelve, I read comics about a
married Spidey who went to graduate school and who thought about having a kid.
He was my role model. My hero. Now, it makes a good story to have a hero do
something very unheroic. But only if, as in Spider-Man's origin story, they pay
very deeply for it.
Before I finish with this very long review, let me say that One More Day is worth
reading. It's well-drawn -- Quesada's style can be both beautifully realistic and
quirky fun -- and well-written. It's very moving despite the plotholes. It has
"editorial mandate" written all over it, as have the last few years of Spider-Man
stories, but it still succeeds. I personally recommend you vote with your wallet and
read this in the aisle of Barnes and Noble's, because Marvel doesn't need any more
support of their heroes and role models being bad examples. But it's not the
festering piece of crap the fans have said it is. It's just Act One, and let's hope a
writer and editor come along who are brave enough to write Act Two.
(For one of those good Spider-Man stories with no glaring problems, see the recent
Coming Home, The Hunger, Down Among the Dead Men or any Ultimate Spider-Man collection. Done now, promise.)
Having embarrassed myself already by revealing the depth of feeling I have for
Spider-Man, I'm going to go all the way and say that Breaking Up: A Fashion
High Graphic Novel is seven shades of awesome. It would be the perfect "after-Christmas" present for any preteen girl you might know, but judging by my wife
and my reactions, it'd be good for anyone else.
Georgia O'Keefe High School is a center for the arts where the students are so into
having their own style that it's been dubbed "Fashion High." The story revolves
around a breakup -- not between girls and boys, thought that's in the periphery --
but between four girls who have been best friends since elementary school. Artsy
Chloe, angelic Erika, sassy Isabel, and wild MacKenzie have been friends for
probably ever. But junior year is different. MacKenzie's obsession with popularity
has led her to spend more time with the school's queen bee, which hurts Chloe, but
since Chloe is secretly attracted to a nerd whose social status would murder
MacKenzie's, she lets herself drift apart from her friends -- while Erika has
trouble with her boyfriend pressuring her for sex and Isabel tries to get around her
parents' decrees. It gets more complicated as Chloe's relationship with a nerd is
outed, MacKenzie cheats with queen bee's boyfriend, Isabel dates a boy secretly
and Erika breaks up with her lustful yet sensitive man. Like well-meaning friends
who have started to take each other for granted, they take it out on each other and
suddenly realize that a friendship they thought would last forever has been
completely wiped out.
It sounds cheesy, but it works. Aimee Friedman, the author, is already a well-known young adult writer, but this is a story that could only be a comic book, as
evidenced by Christine Norrie's beautiful renderings of the visual puns. When
Chloe says that she and her friends "clung to friendship like a raft," we get a
beautiful rendering of them sailing in a stormy sea made up of words like "acne,"
"sex" and "cliques." When Chloe's friends discover her kissing Adam, her nerdy
boyfriend, Chloe pictures herself as a Puritan woman wearing a large, presumably
red (it's a black-and-white comic) letter K. She will never live down the Kiss.
Norrie's artistic genius doesn't stop there. The girls look beautiful and sexy, but
not in the typical exploitative way of superhero comics. These are fashionistas, and
they sashay through the comic like queens of a shopping district sidewalk. Half the
time I thought I was reading just because some part of my soul wanted to get up
the nerve to ask them out.
Breaking Up hits all the right points for teenage angst, so that by the time you're
done reading you might not even realize how much angst you've just been through.
Aimee Friedman is able to conjure up all the pain of high school relationships and
popularity, yet make it far more glamorous than any high school has a right to be.
For a long time people have complained that comics, for the most part, are aimed at
boys. My thirteen-year-old sister-in-law will read Simpsons and Futurama comics,
and independent cute stuff like Bone, but she stays mostly away from the
superheroes that fulfill all my adolescent fantasies. It's a big problem, too, since
comics can spike preteens' reading levels better than all the green vegetables in the
Friedman and Norrie have made the ultimate preteen comic that will scream for
girls to buy it and have guys secretly reading it as well. The only problem with
Breaking Up is that it isn't the first of a ten-book series coming out once a month. I
Next issue: A little reprieve from all the drama as we visit that Family of Families,
the Fantastic Four, in a tribute to late artist Mike Wieringo. And possibly a comic
that isn't Marvel.
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth