What Were They Thinking?: 10 to One

This month marks the tenth anniversary of a very "special" storyline, a storyline delivered to us by our good friends at Marvel Comics Inc. And to celebrate, we've gone above and beyond and baked a cake. It's a lovely chocolate cake. It's a belgian chocolate sandwich with white chocolate icing on top and even chocolate chips in the cake mix. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but a lot of people would look at it and say "you know what, that's a good cake". And you know what Marvel, as you are the ones celebrating this occasion, I'm going to let you have a slice. See how good that tastes. Now, for no real reason, I'm going to take that cake away from you and replace it with a plain old Victoria Sponge. Oh and by the way, that Victoria Sponge is 20 years old and a bit mouldy. And for good measure I may have vomited on it, but hey, that's the cake you're getting from now on.

Now, if anyone doesn't get that entire long winded metaphor, let me explain. That is exactly how I feel about the storyline we are discussing today. What we had wasn't perfect but it was something that a lot of people really liked and then this storyline came along and replaced it with a status quo that was 20 years out of date and garnished it with as much bile and excretion as possible. This week we are taking a look at THE WORST storyline Marvel comics (or anyone for that matter) has ever published, on the tenth anniversay of its month of release. What Were They Thinking, the place where we look at the most stupid and ill-advised things in comic book history presents to you the stupid and ill-advised dumpster fire that is: One More Day

Now, my original plan for this edition of WWTT was simple going to be me filming myself buying a copy of the complete edition of this storyline and then throwing it in a bin and setting it on fire. Now as amusing as that would have been, I decided that I had too much self-respect to actually buy a copy of One More Day, even if it was to burn it. I legitimately loath this storyline and it pains me that this was the swan-song of the writer who I'd been reading basically since I started seriously reading comics (I'm a millenial, get over it) J. Michael Straczynsk. I may not have liked everything he did during his run (The Other was also a pretty bad storyline and some of the stuff that led up to it was dire), but his work between 2001-2003 on The Amazing Spider-Man (alongside the excellent work that Joe Quesada and Brian Michael Bendis did on Ultimate Spider-Man during that period) made Spidey my favourite for life and I'm not ashamed to admit that. But this storyline casts a black shadow over not only Straczynsk's run but the entire mid-late 00's period of Marvel.

So, let's back track and set the scene. In October 1987, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 saw Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson get married. It was an editorial descision, one made without any storyline in mind, purely because Stan Lee wanted to have Spider-Man be married to MJ in the newspaper strip he wrote around that time and he didn't want the strip to be that different from the comics. But this was not an unpopular descision. The idea was first floated at a comics convention by Lee to then-Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter, so Shooter used the opportunity to do some on the spot market research and asked all of the fans in attendance what they thought of the idea. The response was overwhelmingly positive. However, some people didn't like the idea. One of those people was Joe Quesada (you know, the guy who did Ultimate Spider-Man). But still, despite some ups and downs (including a period of seperation around the turn of the millenium), Pete and MJ stayed together for 20 years.

Then Civil War happened. Well, actually, we've skipped a bit. Then the 90's happened and Spider-Man began getting involved in bigger, more important and more convoluted storylines. Storylines like The Clone Saga (which we've covered) and Maximum Carnage (which we haven't). He gained fantastic cosmic powers in the Acts Of Vengeance crossover storyline. And by the time the mid-00's roled around he was a main member of the Avengers, Marvel's Mightiest Heroes. Spider-Man had gone from being a Friendly Neighbourhood Superhero to being one of major importance within the Marvel Universe (much like he was in the real world). It was a far cry from the storylines that were being told back in the 60's, 70's and 80's.

And then Civil War happened. Now we've talked about this storyline before and the conclusion was that it was a storyline with massive potential that Marvel bottled so spectacularly that it is now considered one of their worst. The Civil War crossover had two major outcomes for the worlds favourite webhead. Firstly, it outed his secret identity to the world, including his entire rogues gallery (excluding Norman Osborn and Eddie Brock because they already knew obviously) and secondly, his defection from the pro-registration side put him at odds with the law and some of his major allies, such as Iron Man. This could have given years worth of new storylines and interesting character development. I mean, the interactions between Spider-Man and Iron Man in themselves could have made an entire mini-series, considering that Tony took the Parkers in when their house burned down and basically acted as a mentor to Peter during their time in the Avengers together, only for Peter to betray him during the Civil War and denounce him on live TV. But instead what we got was A years worth. One year. Not even that if we're being honest. April 2007 to November 2007 is how long the period between Civil War ending and One More Day starting lasted.

So, One More Day. It was Marvel's cop-out on Civil War. The idea was to, as Marvel themselves put it, "put the genie back in the bottle" and make Peter Parker's idenity secret again, as well as bring back a lot of the elements that "made Spider-Man popular in the first place". However, because this entire storyline was the brain-child of Joe Quesada (who was Editor-In-Chief by this point) he decided to tack on the removal of the Parker part of Mary-Jane Watson-Parker as well.

Now, there are plenty of ways to undo a marraige. Well, two sensible ones (divorce and death of one of the couple) or, seen as we're talking comics here you could go down the imposter route I guess (I mean, Secret Invasion was just round the corner and the timeline fits so if they'd have just waited...). But none of those really help fix the whole "everyone knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man" problem.

So, what do? Well, the method they eventually went with was to have Mephisto (big red dude, hangs out in hell, root of all evil, great hair. You know, that guy) pop up and offer to save Aunt May's life in exchange for the love that Peter and Mary-Jane shared (and the life of their unborn child, but he didn't mention that until the deal was done, so... sucks to be them I guess). Pete and MJ agreed to this and Mephisto changed Peters personal history so he and MJ never married and that the events leading up to May being shot (which was a direct result of Pete's unmasking) never happened. So, two birds one stone...

Yeah, except they just blatantly had Spider-Man make a deal with the devil.

That is Mephisto. He is Satan by any other name. They had one of their most iconic, No, their MOST iconic character make a deal with the devil himself, sacrificing his own child in the process (basically) in order to save a woman who'd already died twice previously.

And that's just the stupid in the storyline. Peter and MJ had been married for 20 years at this point. They were the MOST cannon couple in comic books outside of Superman and Lois Lane (and don't get me started on DC retconning that) or Reed Richards and Sue Storm. They'd been together in comics, newspaper strips, cartoons, movies, games, you name it. A lot of fans had grown up not knowing any other Peter Parker love interest. If you were born in the 60's, you probably started reading after Gwen Stacy died. If you were born in the 70's, you probably started reading after Peter had proposed for the first time. Born in the 80's, they were already married by the time you started reading and if you were born in the 90's they'd already lost their first child to the Clone Saga before you even knew what a comic was. The majority of the fanbase had only known Peter and MJ in the mainstream continuity and Marvel already had a continuity that didn't have Peter and MJ married (it's called The Ultimates Universe, remember, that Joe Quesada thing). Plus, it completely invalidated Civil War right from the get go. The biggest thing that happened in Civil War was Spider-Man unmasking. It made national news in the real world, same as when Superman and Captain America were both killed (and of course, look at how much of a publicity stunt those were). They canned it within 7 months. When I say Marvel bottled Civil War hard, I mean it. They couldn't wait to undermine that storyline. It was the quickest the Marvel cycle had ever worked.

And let's be honest. If we are taking the whole "bringing back elememnts that made Spider-Man popular in the fist place" to mean what it was that actually made him popular, i.e. his humor, relatable character and amazing supporting cast/ rogues gallery, Spider-Man never lost those. If we take it to mean waht actually needed to happen: a lessening of the focus on massive events and huge shock moments to seel comics over excellent characters and interesting storylines... well, Spider-Island, Superior Spider-Man, Spider-Verse and Clone Conspiracy should tell you all you need to know there. And of course the fact that Spider-Man was still part of the underground Avengers team and then another two incarnations of the Avengers post Seige should tell you even more. That would require a company wide change of philosophy, not one storyline. What they actually mean by "the elements" that made him popular, they simply meant making him single and giving him his secret identity back (plus removing some of the new powers Straczynski gave him during The Other storyline, which... meh).

And you know what the best part of it all is....

Straczynski hated the storyline. Straczynski threatened to take his name off of the credits for the final two issues whilst the storyline was being written, yup, whilst it was being written, because he disliked it so much. He has publicly confirmed that he disagreed with how Quesada planned for the marraige to be undone and he only carried on out of respect for the company. And a lot of people outside of Marvel seem to agree with the assessment, with critics decrying everything from the deus ex machina feel of using Mephisto to the selfish and childish reasonings of the characters (and the editor-in-chief who ordered the storyline). In fact the only consistant praise the storyline got was for the artwork, which I will say Quesada blew out of the park (but screw him for ordering the whole thing). As for fan reaction... well, when Stan Lee tried to mirror the storyline in the newspaper strip, he had to change the ending to it all being a bad dream due to fan backlash. Peter and MJ remain married in the strip even now.

So to sum up, Marvel retconned out 20 years worth of continuity and undermined one of their biggest ever storylines less than a year after it had finished and whilst the reprecussions were still on going, just because the Editor-In-Chief didn't like the fact that a character got married, and this all led to a critical mauling and fan backlash. I think my vomity mouldy cake metaphor was quite apt, don't you?

But hey, at least they didn't go with the original planned ending, which would have seen the retcon go back even further, to 1971 to be precise. And you know what that means... Joe Quesada actually planned to bring back Gwen Stacy (the real one) in mainstream Marvel continuity.

I actually would have vomited.


Note: Ok guys, this is the last WWTT I have planned for the moment. Things have got quite hectic at work for me, due to it being the run up to Christmas, and I don't have all that much time on my hands (hence no post last week). However, I do intend to carry on with this post, I just haven't had time to find any new material. If you know of any WWTT worthy stuff, let me know, because I'm always looking for things that would make good posts. It can be storylines, behind-the-scenes mishaps, even just bad costumes or superpowers, just as long as it's a case where you just can't help going "What Were They Thinking when they did that?".

And with that...

JR out.


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