Editorial: “Big Time,” or, “The Illusion of Change”

Much has been made in the recent past of the question, “What is Spider-Man about?” Tom Brevoort famously declared in his Spider-Man Manifesto, which became the bible of Brand new Day, that Spider-Man was not about responsibility, but about youth.

But a related – nay, identical – debate cropped up even before that manifesto hit the web. Should Spider-Man grow and change?

This became mostly a debate between those “pro-marriage” and “anti-marriage.” In one corner, Joe Quesada said fans that want Spider-Man married are selfish and want him to grow old and die with them. In the other, marriage fans said that growth is integral to the character, and forcing Peter back into never-ending single-hood is tantamount to character assassination.

Sadly, because of One More Day, it seems almost all debates about what is or is not good for the character of Spider-Man have become “pro-marriage” vs. “anti-marriage” debates. This does a disservice to some topics, pigeon-holing the issue and branding fans on a side of the debate they may not have thought about past, “I’m with them.”

So, the question: “Is change good for Spider-Man?”

I come down firmly on the side that says change is essential to Spider-Man. Indeed, it is a part of the very fabric that makes the character work and made him popular. To see this proven, we need look no further than the immortal creative run of Spider-Man’s creator, Stan “The Man” Lee, on The Amazing Spider-Man. Check that. Look even farther back. You need look no further than Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man’s first appearance. In the span of that one issue, Peter Parker began as a geeky science nerd, picked on by the kids at school and labeled a “wall flower,” but always with his loving Aunt May and Uncle Ben to come home to. But soon, Peter was bitten by a radioactive spider – and everything changed. The geeky introvert became an arrogant, self-absorbed jerk who realized the potential his new powers had to make him money and make him famous. He was a supervillain in the making. Even his costume, with its full face mask, was designed to look as only villains looked in that era. But then Peter made a grave error. He let a burglar go who he could have easily stopped with minimal effort, because it ‘wasn’t his problem’ – and everything changed. That burglar shot and killed Peter’s Uncle Ben, and Peter was set on a never-ending quest to find redemption and make sure that never happened to anyone else. Driven by his guilt, he narrowly avoided the path of the supervillain to become one of the greatest heroes the word has ever known.

“But Kevin,” I hear you saying, “that’s not a fair comparison to subsequent comics. Every hero goes through profound changes in their origin story. They go from being a normal person to a superhero!” Ok, fair point. Let’s look further.

During Stan’s run, he went on to graduate Peter from high school, move him on to college, introduce him to a new supporting cast (several of which last to this day), give him a long-term girlfriend and a best friend, turn his best friend’s father into Peter’s arch-enemy, hook his best friend on drugs, kill his girlfriend’s father, introduce a myriad of villains that he developed and brought back again and again, and the train doesn’t stop there. Suffice it to say, Stan Lee’s run was defined by change. And not just change, but lasting change.

Now, there is another perspective on the issue. It’s a perspective the “Brain Trust,” the “Webheads,” and Marvel editorial have touted over and over since One More Day. This perspective states that the current writers of such an iconic hero are merely the character’s custodians, and they are charged with the responsibility of not changing him. They must, in their view, keep him viable for countless future generations by returning him to his roots in the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko era and keeping him there lest the toy be broken.

I disagree with this viewpoint entirely, but at least I can see where they’re coming from. In their minds, they have no right to change such an iconic property, because future generations deserve to read new stories about the exact same Spider-Man that we grew up with. I say those future generations can read back issues, Essentials, trade paperbacks, and DVD-Rom’s just like my generation did, but they are the people in charge of Spider-Man right now, and this is their viewpoint.

But here’s the rub.

In yesterday’s SDCC Spider-Man Panel, fans were given a glut of news about new things coming at us in Amazing Spider-Man. One of the biggest announcements, if not the biggest, was the confirmation that Dan Slott will be taking over as the sole writer of the title. Shortly after, Dan talked to CBR about his plans for the book. These quotes from that interview struck me as very interesting:

“There are so many changes in the first issue!”

“It’s time for Pete to get a job. No– scratch that! A career!”

“Both Peter Parker’s life and Spider-Man’s life are going to rocket forward!”

“In the second arc, something is going to happen that will give him a new purpose and a new outlook on being Spider-Man. That will change how he interacts with the world!”

“Because of an event in that arc, there will be a change to Spider-Man’s roster of super-powers!”

“And by the end of the third arc, Spider-Man will undergo a massive status quo change!”

“And the changes that are happening to his supporting cast will lead him towards other kinds of personal stories as well.”

I see one word and one theme repeated over and over in this interview, as if it were a mantra – change. It seems, after railing against change to Spider-Man, the current Spidey regime has decided that the only way to go is change.

Or so it seems.

But let’s look at the information we’ve got on this upcoming, Slott-solo direction for Amazing Spider-Man with that in mind.

First, we’re told definitively that “Brand New Day ends in October!” But does it? According to Marvel, switching from rotating writers on a three-times-a-month book to one writer on a twice-a-month book and closing out their current plot threads means Brand New Day is over, and it’s time to move on! To change! But what is Brand New Day if not the era of a single Spider-Man following the events of One More Day? Have we been given any indication that the events of One More Day will be overturned and Spider-Man will be married again? Quite the opposite. The book has been given to a writer who has vehemently and repeatedly insisted on the internet that the marriage will never return. So, is this real change? Is Brand New Day really ending? No, this is the illusion of change.

We are told, after a long absence, that the Hobgoblin will be returning! But this Hobgoblin has a new look and it will be “a fresh take” “you haven’t seen before!” So is this real change? Well, did the Cyborg-Hobgoblin last? Did the Demogoblin? How about a fresh take on the Green Goblin as a hero? No, none of these lasted, and neither will this new attempt to “reimagine” the Hobgoblin. This is the illusion of change.

We are told “Peter Parker gets a career!” From all indications, it appears this career will be with the Fantastic Four. Now that could be incorrect, but assume for the sake of argument that it isn’t. Will that last? Absolutely, unequivocally not. Spidey has joined the Fantastic Four before, and Marvel has been very clear that he is a loner hero (no matter how many Avengers teams they put him on). But suppose it’s not as a member of the Fantastic Four, but as Reed Richards’ lab assistant, simply helping out the heroes once in awhile, but focusing on a scientific career. Will this last? Well, did it last when it was Tony Stark in Reed Richards’ place? No. And suppose that the whole Fantastic Four/Reed Richards idea is erroneous to begin with and it’s some other kind of career he’s going into. Will this last? Well, did Peter Parker’s teaching job last? Did his job at Tri-Corp last? How about his job at Front Line? His job at the Mayor’s office? Any of them? No. Because no matter what, Marvel will always want to revert him to his “classic” job as a news photographer, and one at the Daily Bugle (or some form of it) if they have their way. So is this real change? Absolutely not. This is the illusion of change.

We’re told that, while the price is going up to $3.99 per issue, every issue will be 30 pages! Will this last? Well, does DC still only price books at $3.99 if they have back-up features? Does Top Cow still price every standard-sized issue at $2.99? No and no? No. This is a fairly common tactic of the industry in the past few years to ease readers into paying $3.99 for regular-sized issues. First you tell them that it’s only that price because of extra pages, but once you’ve gotten them used to paying that price, you eventually (and quietly) take away the extra content and leave them with a standard book for $3.99. So, is this real change? Well, actually, in the case of the $3.99 price point, yes it is. I’m quite certain that’s not going anywhere. But in the case of the 30 pages for every issue? No, that will go away eventually, just as the three-times-a-month did. This is the illusion of change.

We’re told Peter is getting new powers (or at least a new power) and gadgets. Is this real change? Let’s face it, folks. This has been done plenty of times before. Ask yourself this – does Peter still have his power upgrade from “The Other?” Does he still have his organic webshooters? How about – *groan* – “insect telepathy?” That’s three “no’s” in a row. Marvel likes to have big storylines where Spider-Man gets new powers and gadgets, but in the end the thing they like most is for their Spidey to be “classic.” Most likely these additions will be gone before Dan Slott is, and if not, it’ll only take one or two creative runs tops to forget about them entirely. This, very obviously, is the illusion of change.

We’re told Spidey is getting several new costumes! But with this one, they’re not even pretending it’s real change. We’ve already been told the costumes will rotate, likely only being around for an arc each. And we all know he’ll go back to his classic red-and-blues. At least when the Iron Spider armor was introduced they lied about its short-term prospects, telling us it was “the new Spidey!” So is this real change? No, this isn’t even the illusion of change.

We’re told Mary Jane will be back more often! She’ll play an integral role in his life! Wait, doesn’t that sound familiar? Wasn’t that the banner for the lead-up to “Red Headed Stranger?” This, friends, is what George Berryman calls a carrot on a stick. We’re told Brand New Day is ending and that MJ will be an integral part of his life to keep us interested and keep hope alive that at some point, this creative team intends to undo the damage of One More Day and remarry them already. Well, again, the book was just given to the writer who’s told us over and over that the marriage is never coming back. He’ll use Mary Jane when he has to, but we all know Marvel has tried to make Mary Jane a villain (she made the deal with Mephisto, she slept with someone else first – even a selfish drug addict!) and they want nothing to do with a permanent relationship for Spidey. We also know that Carlie Cooper is Dan’s favorite girl. So is this real change? No, this is the illusion of change.

I could go on, but I feel you get my point and asking you to read many more of these may be asking too much, so I’ll stop there.

So, Marvel now seems to want to talk about change, but do they want to actually make changes? It seems not. So why keep touting it? Why change course from saying “It’s our responsibility to not change the character” to using the word “change” every two lines in interviews?

Well, obviously I’m not in their heads, but it seems like it can only be one answer – they’re trying their very hardest to reunite the fractured Spider-Man fanbase. They’ve declared the end of Brand New Day, they’re promising a larger role for Mary Jane, they’re ending the controversial idea of the writing team in favor of the traditional solo writer, and they’re even bringing back (of a sort) fan-favorite characters Hobgoblin and Carnage. What else can be added to that big pile of fan-bribery? Well, a change in tune to sound more like the fans you’ve alienated, even if you don’t mean it.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the kitchen sink.

– Kevin Cushing

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