By Chris Buchner
NOTE: If you have not yet read recent issues of Spider-Man nor been exposed to any discussion of them on the internet (though how you managed to avoid that one would be impressive) then be warned; spoilers abound!
Spider-Man is living in a Brand New Day. At least that’s what the big shots at Marvel are calling the current story arc going on in the now thrice monthly Amazing Spider-Man, a move to condense the number of Spidey titles on the shelf and to allow readers only to pick up the one Spider-Title instead of several. Brand New Day is the story that immediately follows the controversial “One More Day” story in which Spider-Man’s entire world has changed.
So what’s the deal? Current Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada’s tenure had become known for his desire to do shock-value shake-ups to the status quo of various characters and titles, and Spidey was no exception. One such shake-up involved the return of Gwen Stacy, the girlfriend of Spidey killed by the original Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #121, in the story “Sins Past” (Amazing Spider-Man #509-514). However, this woman turned out to be one of two twins born to Gwen Stacy after a moment of weakness with said Goblin Norman Osborn, a retcon shoehorned-in to continuity during a period when Gwen didn’t appear in the comic. The twins, Gabriel and Sarah, were aged rapidly due to the goblin formula in Norman’s system and Gwen was killed when she was viewed by Norman as a threat to his heirs. When he was believed dead, killed in the following issue of Amazing, he was raising the twins under the delusion that Spidey was their father and killed their mother, inciting them to seek revenge. But the truth was eventually revealed; especially that Gwen had confided all this to Mary Jane who had been keeping the secret for years. Originally it was intended that Peter be the father, but was changed to Norman under the fear it would age the character too much (the reason the original Spider-baby was killed or abducted, depending who you ask, in the 90s).
To tie-in to the Spider-Man movies, during the cross-over “Avengers: Disassembled” Spidey was given organic web-shooters and the ability to communicate with insects through a temporary transmutation into a spider in the pages of Spectacular Spider-Man vol. 2. Of these, only the web-shooters were continuously acknowledged throughout the books. The ability to communicate with insects did follow over briefly into Amazing, but was quickly forgotten.
“The Other” storyline, which was set-up early in writer J. Michael Straczynski’s run of Amazing and ran across all the Spidey titles published at the time, established that the spider bite Peter received was no accident and that he was destined to become the servant to a mystical spider-god. Spidey was killed by a new foe named Morlun and then re-born with a host of new abilities, including Wolverine-like daggers from his wrists. Except for a few instances, most of these extra powers were never mentioned again even though the storyline itself was acknowledged. The most prominent use of “The Other” came in Peter David’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, where David introduced a new villain stemming from the story and featured the powers in a few issues. It was also mostly David’s Friendly that kept up with Peter’s new occupation, that of a high school science teacher, after having spent most of his career as a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle.
This brings us to “One More Day.” Peter had joined up with the new generation of Avengers and Iron Man, A.K.A. Tony Stark, had become something of a father figure to him. To help promote faith in Stark’s superhuman registration act, Peter revealed his identity on national TV in Civil War #2. That action had led up to a series of misfortunate events as various villains tried to get their vengeance on him and his family. When he denounced the act and went on the lam, Spidey lost the Avengers’ protection of his family. This allowed the Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk, to accidentally snipe Aunt May while gunning for Spidey himself. Following was “Back in Black,” which featured a return of Spidey’s non-symbiotic black costume (conveniently in time for the release of the third movie) to symbolize his darkening mood as he hunted down the identity of who ordered the hit on him, which then led directly into “One More Day.”
“One More Day” was an editorially mandated story designed to restore Spider-Man back to his “more relatable” swinging single days in order to attract new readers. Rather than merely re-launching the book from a new #1 as had been done in the past, instead Quesada, a vocal detractor of the marriage, chose to have a distraught Peter contemplate making a deal with Mephisto, Marvel’s version of the devil, in order to save Aunt May’s life. The price? Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, with each of them retaining a small piece of their love in their souls to remind them that they lost something precious. Ultimately, to save Peter of the guilt of knowing he allowed Aunt May to die (even though she had stated she led a full enough life and was ready for the end) Mary Jane made the deal in his place. This was the sole purpose of the story, as Quesada felt having Spidey married made him “uncool” and “unrelatable” to younger readers, especially being married to a supermodel, and returning him to life as a single bachelor would bring them into the books as well as allow more opportunities for new stories to be told. However, that wasn’t the only change.
The results of this deal meant a few big changes for the Spidey-universe. Peter and Mary Jane had never married in this brand new day, although Quesada was quick to point out that all the stories that have happened between then and now still count, but they had merely dated and never taken the matrimonial plunge. All the extra powers gained in recent years are gone, bringing back Peter’s mechanical web-shooters. Harry Osborn, Peter’s former friend and the second Green Goblin who died from his faulty version of the Goblin formula, is alive and well having just returned from an extended leave overseas (a similar reveal used when his father came back to life a decade earlier, except sporting a healing factor that saved him from his injuries). Peter once again lives with his Aunt May (alive and well) while Mary Jane is an actress who commutes between New York and Hollywood. Absolutely nobody knows Spidey’s secret identity; no villains, no heroes, and not even Aunt May, despite the fact the story where she learned it was held in high regard by fans. People remember that Spidey unmasked during Civil War, but can’t quite remember who it was. The logic behind it? “It’s magic, we don’t have to explain it.”—Joe Quesada
Not since the “Clone Saga” where Ben Reilly, the clone, was temporarily revealed to be the one, true Spider-Man had such a story caused a rise out of fans. Many complaints stem from the fact that despite the assurance that all previous continuity is intact just without the marriage is erroneous, making some stories impossible without it. Also, the innumerable changes to Spidey’s history outside his own books as a member of the Avengers and everything related to his reveal in Civil War.
Then there’s the fact Harry Osborn is still alive, completely negating the events of Spectacular #200. Another comes from the fact that Spidey is usually a science-based street-level character, and the inclusion of a magic fix by a character who had never had this level of power before or any role in recent Spider-mythos just didn’t fit; especially when the seeds for Loki, god of pranks, to fill the role were set up by Straczynski during his run. Also, the reasoning itself, that magic doesn’t need an explanation as stated by Joe Quesada in interviews. Or the fact that Peter Parker, a moral character who lives by the credo “with great power comes great responsibility” would even consider making a deal with the devil (which also puts a dent in the factor of making Spidey more relatable for new, younger readers).
On the creative side, many feel this propels Spidey backwards rather than forward. The purpose of a character is to grow and evolve, not remain stagnant; which essentially, this retcon does rather than fix as Peter is a 30 year old man living a teenager’s life. Also, when the writer of the story himself has problems with it, it raises a few questions. Straczynski had a more scientific retcon in mind as well as the return of Gwen Stacy as opposed to Harry, but Quesada felt it violated work already being done on the Brand New Day side of things and altered the story to where it ended up going. However, despite all the negativity surrounding this decision, many are excited for the new direction and feel it truly is a return to the Spidey they used to read.
It’s a Brand New Day for Spider-Man. Although the full reaches of this story have yet to be explored (and will be in the pages of Brand New Day). Where do relationships stand that relied on the knowledge of Spidey’s identity? What changes have rippled through the rest of the Marvel Universe? How can new fans be expected to be undaunted by continuity when a lot of what brought them into the books (like the movies) make references that no longer apply? Will this bring in the new readers they hope for, or will it be yet another failed experiment? Only one thing is certain: it’s up to the fans to decide.