Shiny Shelf

Amazing Spider-Man #638-641:”One Moment In Time”

By Jim Smith on 10 September 2010

Once upon a time and not so long ago, a  lot of long term Spider-Man fans hated the fact that Peter Parker was married. So, it seems, did a lot of Marvel employees.  They wanted to “fix” it, so that their hero was single.

The contention was that a married Peter Parker seemed too grown up. Not someone that the kids could relate to. It was also suggested there were stories you couldn’t do with a married Spider-Man but that you could do with a single Spidey.  So it was a better situation, creatively speaking, if Parker had somehow failed to snag the girl of his dreams, thus freeing him to knock off the Black Cat from time to time.

(This is, of course, an extremely silly assertion to make. If anyone came up with a story that absolutely required a single Peter Parker – and I’m not convinced that, aside from one in which he knocks off the Black Cat, there is one –  they could always have done it as a mini-series, a flashback or in the pages of ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’.)

Mary Jane was not, as it turned out, a 60s street term for marijuana but some form of rhyming slang for “ball and chain”.  She was holding Spidey back and this had to stop; the Spider-Marriage was inherently wrong and had to end.

It didn’t matter that Peter Parker was married in the comics for nearly as long as he was single (25 for the latter, 21 for the former) or that the younger readers whose  interest a single Peter Parker was meant to inflame had never known an unmarried Spidey (Peter Parker got married to Mary Jane when I was nine years old. I’m now thirty two).  It simply would not do and that was that.

The problem faced by those who wanted a single Spidey was that a divorced or widowed Peter Parker instantly became an even older-seeming character.  This defeated the purpose of making him single again. So the question became “How can this marriage be unhappened? Not merely ended but made to have never been in the first place?”

So it came to pass, even less long ago, that Spidey’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson, a character familiar to hundreds of millions of people thanks to her being the female lead in movies that have raised billions in revenue, was retroactively removed from continuity after Peter Parker did a deal with a demon in order to save the life of his (permanently) elderly Aunt May.

No, really.

Continuity was re-written. It seemed that scores of stories, hundreds of issues worth of events, were erased from Spidey’s canon (although Marvel, to be fair, always politely denied this and insisted that all would be explained in due course).

Spidey’s title ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ went weekly, with a new editorial team, creative direction and a rotating team of writers. Sales were buoyant and reviews were good.  It was, there’s no question about it, a really good superhero comic.

But then it’d been one for the previous five (“married”) years under JMS. That’s why it won that Eisner.

There was an elephant in the room, of course, the question of how this new continuity married (ouch!) up with the old, and there were many questions that needed answering and details that needed adumbrating.

(Why did people forget Spidey’s identity if he can’t remember dealing with the devil? How much does MJ know? Did any of the Straczynski written issues even happen? Why didn’t Aunt May die as far as the characters are concerned? What happened with the Kingpin’s vendetta? And many more.)

So, here we are at last in the present with the Joe Quesada-written, (mostly) Paolo Riviera-drawn “One Moment In Time”. This is the story that squares the circles and explains the details. It’s hellishly complicated and establishes  across its gargantuan page count the answers to all the above questions and many more besides.

Most of them are damn clever too. Especially the one about Aunt May.  (For those of you more worried about notions of “canonicity” than I, the JMS issues did happen, it’s just that Peter and MJ were merely co-habiting. Any panel you saw a ring in? That was just some piece of crap costume jewellery. Probably from Accesorise.)

It also contains some really lovingly worked out character scenes between Peter and MJ. There’s something that Peter does in the heat of the moment, as a magical storm rages around him, that makes your heart leap at its unutterable rightness.  There are also brilliant cameos from Reed Richards, Dr Strange and (best of all) your pal and mine, Tony Stark.  Everyone is well served.

On the art side, the technique, previously employed to such effect back in “One More Day”, of using different art styles to denote different emotional contexts is deployed again here.Quesada (with suitably lovely, scratchy Danny Miki inks) deals with the more static scenes of Peter and MJ talking (“grown up stuff”) Riviera does the web-slinging and the hanging out with mystical mages (“Spidey stuff”).

The ‘encroaching darkness’ of the very end of “One More Day” is also reprised, again to great effect. You can’t quibble with the skill on display here. Well, you could, but you’d be being an arse.

The problem with this story, and it’s a problem that quite a lot of the audience won’t have with it and I absolutely accept that, is that it’s well-written and beautifully drawn comic that does something which is somehow both a) inherently entirely pointless, and yet b) unfortunately utterly necessary.

It does it extremely well. As well as it could possibly have been done. That doesn’t alter a) above though. (More, as a result of this story there are now three versions of these events in Marvel continuity, piled on top of each other like a canonicity viennetta.  There’s what really happened as shown in ‘One More Day’, what Peter and MJ remember as happening/happened thanks to Mephisto and a third iteration that the world other than MJ and Peter remembers thanks to Reed, Steve Strange and Tony.)

In much the same way as Marvel’s Distinguished Competition recently ran their ‘In Brightest Day’ strand, in which the DCU was “saved” from the terrible and upsetting darkness of stories written by the people who were writing the stories that were meant to be doing the saving, the tortured complications of this story are the consequences of Marvel’s recent, not long distant, actions.

Every single issue or complication worked through by this story’s cleverly and carefully constructed plot is a consequence not of Spider-Man being married in the first place, but of deciding that he must be unmarried.

(And I maintain that none of the best stuff, of which there has been a great deal, in the “Brand New Day” version of Spidey, required Peter Parker to be a tragic singleton.)

I would, non-confrontationally, like to see both of those refuted, if anyone thinks they can/feels the need.

‘One Moment In Time’ is high quality stuff and well worth a read, but in many ways its mere existence remains utterly baffling. I absolutely don’t see why it, or the story that it tidies up, had to be done and I honestly don’t think that anyone who thinks they did has even argued their case.  They’ve only asserted it – and that’s just not the same thing at all.

This is a classic example of deciding “how it should be” and then rationalising it afterwards. Which is fair. Which is absolutely fine. Yet when you look at the exhausting, and surely casual audience alienating, knots that needed to be tied in order to make it happen, you really have to ask if it was honestly worth it, even from the point of view of the most passionate advocates of getting rid of the Spider-Marriage.

Consider me an Unconvinced True Believer.

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