Saturday, November 1, 2008

OP/ED: The Loss Of Spider-Girl

By Chris Buchner

Spider-Girl is a great example of how things should be done.

A year ago for another website, I wrote an article entitled “The Marvel Tapestry,” in which I talked about how no matter the change of the creative team or overall direction of a particular book the comics seemed to flow as one continuous story. Almost like somehow, the writers of the past could see ten, fifteen years into the future and open the doors to subplots that the future writers would pick up and run with. Of course, obviously, it really was just a sign of talented writers who came on board and made sufficient use of what came before in order to craft their own tales.

This insight came from someone who started really reading the books after their having been around for 30 years and literally read them from new to old. Marvel, in the last decade, has taken that ability to build on what came before and completely reversed it with their constant desire to reboot books and characters in order to retool them. Instead of allowing the story to flow and change things through a natural form of progression, they decide to just scrap everything and start over as if nothing came before.

The reasoning behind a move like that is supposedly to allow new readers to jump into books. New readers are apparently intimidated by high issue numbers and years of back story which makes it hard to follow any of the new stories that come out. Of course, companies will cater to the potential new readers to replenish their aging audience. However, a lot of that audience (myself included) started reading in the technical middle of the story and were able to not only follow well enough to enjoy the stories, but also to enjoy them enough to want to go out and get the stuff that came before and that would come after.

Spider-Girl is how it should work. It stemmed from the controversial Clone Saga story in which Peter was temporarily replaced by his clone, Ben Reilly, and the Parkers were expecting their first child, May. Fan backlash caused a quick reversal on Peter’s replacement by having Ben die by the hands of the original Green Goblin, and the company felt a baby would age Peter too much so they had Goblin set up the contingency plan where Mary Jane would be forced into labor and the Parkers told their baby died in birth, but in actuality she was abducted by Goblin’s associates. From then on, the Clone Saga was slowly phased out of the consciousness of the Spidey books. The last traces of this story were when the deranged original clone, Kaine, rescued the baby violently. That new subplot was wiped out entirely when the books were rebooted from #1 in 1999 running from a new “streamlined” origin for Spidey by John Byrne in Spider-Man: Chapter One.

Now you know the back story of that era in the books, but here’s what you needed to read Spider-Girl:

Peter Parker was Spider-Man but retired.
Peter and Mary Jane had a baby that grew up into a young girl that inherited her fahter’s powers.
Green Goblin was Norman Osborn, who had a son who in turn had his grandson, Normie.
Both children decided to continue their family’s legacy.

All that was given to you within the very first issue. You could come into this story without knowing anything else but the basics. All that other detail was gradually filled in over the course of the series to some extent, although it was never really necessary or crucial to the story. For the most part, continuity in this series served as Easter eggs for long-time fans who have been reading Spidey books for a long time. A weighty hindrance it never became.

Let’s look at what else the book had to offer. The whole reason behind the Brand New Day debacle in the main Spider-books was because Spidey’s world had become too streamlined. Most of the supporting cast had been absent from its pages save Aunt May and Mary Jane. And Marvel’s stance on Mary Jane had become that her marriage to Peter was dull and aged the character too much which makes him unrelatable to new readers. Spider-Girl, not only did you have a single webslinger in the books, but fans of Peter and MJ also had the two happily together in supporting roles. May also had a wide array of supporting cast members, including friends in school and allies in costume. And none of these characters remained stagnant. Each one evolved over the course of the series in logical ways, each one got their own chance to shine in May’s world.

The book was also a return to classic storytelling. Each issue featured not only a self-contained main story, but had an ongoing subplot in the background that would build over each successive issue. Despite that, the story was never hard to follow because of Tom DeFalco’s use of captions or character dialogue to fill readers in on what came before, as well as Marvel’s patented first page recap of previous issues. There was no decompression, the stories were light and fun, heroes were actually fighting VILLAINS, and everything was done the way many Spider-Man fans wished it was still being done for some time.

Despite the book having something for everyone, it never became the runaway success it should have been. I often find it funny the books that make it to the top 10, hell the top 50 even, while others fall significantly lower. It’s a shame that this book escaped so many reader’s radar, and that it took the recent changes in the Spidey book to bring over others. Now I know, many of you are saying she had a pretty impressive run considering all the threats of cancellation and compared to the records of all other solo books starring Marvel heroines, but as the stories have not yet run out is that really enough? Is 16 pages quarterly in Amazing Spider-Man Family what May and company have come to deserve?

I encourage everyone to pick up some issues; either in their original form or in any of the inexpensive digests released collecting them and check Mayday out. And if you like it, pass it on to someone else. Good books, good characters, like this deserve to be kept in the spotlight and not relegated to a supporting feature. We also, those of us Spider-fans disillusioned by the new changes in the main title, need another option to get our Spider-fix. And for you female readers out there who feel these books cater too much to the men, this is definitely the book for you to check out.

My thanks to Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz, Pat Oliffe, Sal Buscema and all others involved with the book for giving us over a decade of great tales.

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