Fearing the Return of a Married Spider-Man: A Rebuttal

AmazingSpider-ManRenewYourVowsEver since Marvel Comics showed the teaser last October for Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows as part of their upcoming Secret Wars event this summer, it appears to have reopened old wounds from J. Michael Straczynski’s infamous and controversial “One More Day.” Optimistic fans who saw the image of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson together with a daughter believed this was an answer to their prayers: Marvel was finally undoing one of the worst Spider-Man stories EVER! Others hardened by years of being jerked around by Marvel’s constant teases that they might bring Peter and Mary Jane back together were more skeptical, their suspicions intensified the more they learned about Renew Your Vows from its author, Dan Slott, the most recent being his comments at the Magic City Comic Con that the “real” Mary Jane was “lost” once she and Peter married. Others having vowed never to read Spider-Man again just didn’t care. Besides, there were far more important things to worry about like studying for exams, filing tax returns and catching up on The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.

Then there were those who seemed to have developed a sudden case of gametophobia, or at least one limited towards Spider-Man’s marriage, in they wondered why after being told by Marvel over and over why Spider-Man should never have gotten married in the first place they were seemingly bringing it back, let alone saddling him with some snot-nosed brat. After all, wasn’t Spider-Man all about “youth” and marriage and having kids made him “too old?” Isn’t Spider-Man having “soap opera-style romances” as definitive to his character as Daredevil being blind? Wasn’t it a mistake for Peter Parker to get married in the first place, let alone to someone like Mary Jane? Just like everything else about the new Secret Wars, it didn’t make a damn bit of sense.

Yet before the marriage detractors could belt out the chorus of Remy Zero’s “Save Me,” a champion swung to their rescue–IGN comics reviewer Jesse Schedeen. In his latest “Between the Panels” column subtitled “Why Spider-Man Should Stay A Swinging Bachelor,” Schedeen attempted to make the case for why, in spite of what you may have felt about Peter and MJ exchanging their marriage to Mephisto for Aunt May’s life, Spider-Man comics are now better because of it. Needless to say, the article received thousands of responses, many of which were colorful variations of, “You have no idea what the **** you’re talking about.”

To his credit, Schedeen does consider “One More Day” to be “a black mark on Spidey’s career,” and in his original review for Amazing Spider-Man #545 (the issue where the deal with Marvel’s devil went down) he gave it an “Awful” rating of 3.5 out of 10. He also doesn’t agree with Marvel’s claim that writers cannot tell certain stories with a married Spider-Man, pointing out how such logic can as easily apply towards an unmarried Spider-Man. And he states Joe Quesada’s choosing to have Peter and MJ’s marriage end via a deal with the devil for fear of “tainting Spider-Man with the stigma of divorce” was “convoluted and asinine.” Yet Schedeen also cites the more common reasons for why “One More Day” was a necessary evil, chief among them being that since Spider-Man is the protagonist of a serialized work of fiction, he must also conform to “the illusion of change,” which is another way of saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” To quote from his article:

I can respect Marvel’s intentions with the One More Day storyline. The main argument being that Spider-Man is, at his core, an everyman hero. Readers need to be able to relate to him. He has to remain the perpetually unlucky loser who never quite finds professional success or lasting romance.

Sounds all well and good, but Marvel’s argument, and Schedeen’s reiteration of it, have two glaring flaws. First is it assumes part of Spider-Man’s success is dependent upon his marital status, as though young and single readers cannot relate to a character who isn’t as young and single as themselves, even though it’s taken for granted they’ll have no problem identifying with someone bitten by a radioactive spider, and who clings to walls and swings around buildings in full-body spandex. Second is it also equates being an “everyman” with being a “loser,” as though one is not an average ordinary person unless they’re also a constant failure. Moreover, Spider-Man from the beginning, was all about growing up. Over his fifty-three years of publication, Peter Parker has graduated both high school and college, moved out of his Aunt May’s house, changed jobs and careers, seen people die while meeting new friends, and yes, settle down and marry and almost have a child of his own. If the “illusion of change” for Spidey is he’s always just shy of becoming an adult, then he crossed that bridge a long time ago, aided by no less than Stan Lee himself, the very person who insisted for an “illusion of change” in the first place. By having Spider-Man be married, and perhaps having a family of his own, it’s an example of moving the character forward instead of keeping him forever stuck in place.

Spider-ManOneMoreDayNow I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Haven’t we heard all these points before? What makes this Schedeen guy’s stance against Spider-Man being married any different from Marvel’s?” Well here’s where things get a little more “creative,” because Schedeen then argues that Peter Parker losing his marriage is moving Spider-Man forward:

Regardless, that story happened, and what’s done is done. One More Day was a bad method of achieving a good end. The resulting Brand New Day status quo reinvigorated Peter and his world. It offered a fresh start for readers. It brought new talent to the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. It resulted in all sorts of excellent stories like The Gauntlet, Spider-Island and Superior Spider-Man. ASM is in such a strong place right now that it routinely outsells the various X-Men and Avengers books and even Marvel’s most heavily hyped event comics.

Suddenly switching gears and reintroducing a married Peter Parker would be like trying to solve a problem that no longer exists. The marriage is gone, and Peter and MJ simply don’t have that connection or spark anymore. It would merely derail all the work [Dan] Slott and other writers have been doing for the past seven years.

Yes, you read that correctly. According to Mr. Schedeen, Peter and Mary Jane can never marry again because in addition to no longer having a “connection or spark” (despite it being all-too obvious that they still do, even in Dan Slott’s own stories), remarrying them would “derail” seven years worth of “progress,” which was only brought about by Marvel derailing twenty years worth of progress. In other words, two wrongs don’t make a right if a “right” was made by two “wrongs.”

But if you believe Schedeen couldn’t dig himself further into Orwellian doublethink (or least deserves some points for originality), he really gets going once he starts explaining how Spidey having multiple on-again, off-again romances is preferable to matrimony:

There’s a lot to be said for an unmarried Peter Parker. He’s not like Superman, where there’s clearly only one woman he’s destined to wind up with. Peter has had several great loves, and seeing him try to maintain these various relationships while being compelled to suit up and put his life on the line every day is part of his everyman appeal. Inevitably his relationships falter, whether because he can’t commit to an ordinary life or because his girlfriends get tossed off bridges by insane billionaires.

Because nothing screams “everyman” like having a virtual harem of beautiful yet disposable women in spite of being a “perpetually unlucky loser,” am I right guys?

Also, if Schedeen is suggesting Peter dating a continuous variety of women allows for the possibility of more great loves, the comics themselves have shown otherwise. Fans still remember the likes of Gwen Stacy, the Black Cat and especially Mary Jane Watson because Spider-Man’s writers treated them as characters first instead of the next notch on his bed post. Adopting the notion there is no one woman for Peter doesn’t guarantee a better variety of love interests but creates even more all-but forgettable and derivative flings like Cissy Ironwood, Debra Whitman, Sarah Stacy, Michelle Gonzales, Carlie Cooper and Silk.
Yet don’t worry if Spider-Man never being able settle down into a steady, long-term commitment with one person means he can never mature as a person. Because as Schedeen explains, “One More Day” made Peter even more of a mature adult than ever before:

The trick is ensuring that Peter doesn’t remain so fixed in his role as the bumbling everyman hero that he never grows or evolves….Perhaps marriage isn’t the answer, but Peter does have to act his age. That’s something the post-One More Day comics have been very good about…

…The point is to always move forward rather than keep looking back. What I resent most about the Spider-Man franchise over the past couple decades isn’t the bad stories like the Clone Saga or One More Day, it’s the potential that was wasted and the good storylines that were abandoned…Bringing back the marriage would be no better. It would force writers to abandon the character’s current momentum in favor of restoring an arbitrary status quo.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Spider-Man must stay a “swinging bachelor” because marriage is too much of a step forward, and he must also remain a swinging bachelor because marriage is too much of a step backwards. Spider-Man must grow and not grow to grow; he must evolve and not evolve to evolve; and above all else, he must be an “everyman” and not be an “everyman” to become an “everyman.” I can only wonder if after submitting this piece for IGN and rereading his own words if Mr. Schedeen then realized he’d driven himself around in more circles than Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold did in National Lampoon’s European Vacation.

And pardon me as I attempt to peel the palms of my hands from my face that, having read such “Brand New Day” gems such as Peter having a drunken one-night stand with his ever-complaining roommate, or breaking into hotel rooms to have kinky mask-only sex with costumed femme fatale, anyone can say with a straight face that the loss of his marriage has made Spider-Man “act his age.”

Spider-ManWeddingAs a fellow Spider-Man fan, I do sympathize with the idea that much of his uniqueness as a superhero comes from him having money and girl problems.  I also consider Spider-Man to be a continuous coming-of-age story, which is admittedly more effective if Peter Parker is still an adolescent, or least still in college.  But as I said, Peter has already come of age, and Marvel never seemed to worry about this until Stan Lee decided that Peter and MJ should get married.  Because the assumption was that if Spider-Man was married, then it also meant he was no longer a “loveable loser,” and being a “lovable loser” is what they claimed made him appealing to so many people for so many decades.

Except critics like Schedeen and those at Marvel are mistaken: readers don’t empathize with Spider-Man because he constantly fails at life and love again and again. They empathize with Spider-Man and see him as an “everyman hero” because, in spite of being a genius with super-powers, he has the same day-to-day struggles just like we do. He has to earn a living, pay his bills, be on time for work, keep appointments and dates, stay healthy and fit, and keep up his friendships and relationships—all of which are that much harder because he chooses a life of heroism. And just like the rest of us, Peter doesn’t always get what he wants, there’s always the hope his life can turn out better.  Including the hope that he’ll one day find that special someone, the person who he will want nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with, to perhaps start a family of their own, and, while there will be tough times ahead, they’ll be able to get through them together.  And reason why so many continue to despise “One More Day” is because Peter Parker already found that person in one Mary Jane Watson.

I will agree with Schedeen on this one point that, while he does say it’s not a good idea to bring back Spidey’s marriage, “that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this glimpse of a different Peter Parker for a few months.”  For no matter happens with Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, one does have to give Dan Slott and Marvel credit for showing readers how Peter and MJ used to be and what might have been.  And who knows? Maybe those marriage detractors might find themselves preferring a married Spider-Man with a kid over the supposed “perpetual unlucky loser” they have now?  If not, they can always catch up on The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones like the rest of us.


(60) Comments

  1. Strejda

    "The main argument being that Spider-Man is, at his core, an everyman hero. Readers need to be able to relate to him. He has to remain the perpetually unlucky loser who never quite finds professional success or lasting romance." Uhm... Fuck you too?

  2. Al

    And that is very true of his X-Men run, you know, the most successful and definitive run on the series ever which propelled it into superstardom

  3. Al

    Also I’d like to share this brilliant and observant quote from Chris Claremont: “It seems to me that a character cannot remain static, even in an ongoing, open ended publishing format like comics. If you freeze a character into a certain set of parameters, usually for convenience of other writers, or readers, of merchandisers, whatever, then before long that character runs the risk of becoming sterile. Writers and ultimately readers may stop thinking of the character as a vital, real three-dimensional being and instead come to perceive him or her as a conglomeration of stock elements. Plug ‘em in, wind ‘em up, turn him/her/them loose and put them through their stock paces. Nothing changes. Nothing grows. Stories may still be technically exciting, but they’ve lost all heart. There’s no passion, nothing to excite the readers and hold them interested”

  4. Al

    @#33-That isn’t really a problem if he ages one year for every 10 years real time, or if we pull a Franklin Richards and keep his age nebulous. And Hell you know what...maybe characters with continuity built into them like Spider-Man shouldn’t last forever and ever. Superman can, but be was narratively constructed differently You market a 40 year old Spider-Man by making it clear his age is irrelevant because he’s just Spider-Man regardless. Plus with his powers is Spider-Man being 40 really going to come with the same health implications anyway? Tony Stark in the movies is like 40-50 years old and it clearly doesn’t matter to little kids who like the character. Or how about Batman, Wolverine or Dr. Who, all of whom vary from their 30s-millenia years old, with the latest Doctor being in his sixties and still beloved by kids. To little kids EVERYONE is older. Three year olds adored the Power Rangers when those were teenagers played by 20yos. As a kid you just saw them as adults. But that’s WHY an older Spider-Man is better. Being 40+ gives him commitments, i.e. responsibilities which is ENTIRELY what the character is about. And a 40 year old Spider-Man would basically be exactly the same as the JMS/Michelinie era Spider-Man but maybe with some more grey hair which is optional. The problem with the reboot to keep it fresh argument is that only DC do that and if you noticed Marvel have off and on been outselling them for about 50 years...without reboots...and when they do reboots they just need to keep doing more and more and more and...it’s pointless because everything is fresh but it is also so temporary that there is no point to it @#36-But that is part of the problem. Bendis didn’t kill off Peter and introduce Miles because just cos he had a great idea. He was bored and he was bored BECAUSE Peter didn’t grow much if at all. The Ditko run and later runs were at their most lively when Peter WAS growing. I mean he went from 15-18 in a mere 28 issues. In contrast you hit a certain point in the Romita run and things freeze and grow stale. Hence Gwen’s death to rejuvenate things.

  5. Al

    @#21-I don’t think he was pretending to be an adult. I think he was just someone who didn’t know about responsibility and the novelty of him being a teen was there. It works better with him as a teen, but the story is ultimately one of responsibility. It’s about responsibility first and foremost and that changes as you grow up. but the growing up bit wasn’t the wholesale point of the character because it’d have to stop once he was grown up which didn’t happen. Additionally Stan evidently did want him to grow up and get married from relatively early on and even today in the newspaper strips he’s very pleased with the adult married Spider-Man who obviously is already grown up. that’s why you can tie responsibility into growing up, but it’s a bit like tying the act of fighting villains into the overall altruistic intentions of the superhero. It’s part of it but not the point. Equally Peter growing up wasn’t the point, he happened to do that as a consequence of Stan initially wanted a teen hero for the novelty. It is much like how in Dragon Ball Goku and Gohan both grew up and changed to varying extents as they grew up, but the point wasn’t ABOUT them growing up. Harry Potter by contrast was about that hence the story ends when he’s an adult. It’s much more of an overall morality tale about having power and using it responsibly, hence why Doc Ock is a reflection of a Peter Parker who never learned that lesson (but is clearly grown up) and how Norman Osborn is defined by the pursuit and abuse of power even though he is an adult as well. Basically the story could’ve worked with an older character but was MORE effective with a youngster initially, but that was akin to important seasoning on your meal, not the meal itself. But the illusion of change argument cannot work when you’ve invested so much time and effort into legitimate change for the titltes. Franklin Richards, Spidey graduating, Stan’s genuine intention for Peter to marry Gwen, Gwen dying. Those weren’t fake changes and so the marvel pantheon cannot work like early DC characters wherein they have a default status quo they cannot evolve from. At least not outside a core concept, with Spidey that being he is a hero out of a sense of responsibility and works for the Bugle...that’s kinda it. Long after the 70s (and during them) legitimate change with Spider-Man and other characters was clearly being implemented. Stan himself was even on board with marrying peter in the comics and newspapers and in his ASM #600 story (and elsewhere) even directly referenced the pregnancy. That was long after what he said about the illusion of change so I think whatever he said he didn’t practice what he preached and/or clearly desired Spider-Man to evolve. Which only makes sense given how Marvel was initially a subversion of much of DC’s superhero practices which heavily involved the illusion of change. Well we SAY Peter didn’t always get the girl but...he might as well have. In ASM #7 he clearly got the girl when he put the moves on Betty brant and they grew closer after that before beginning dating. In fact early on his problem was that he had TWO potential girlfriends in Liz and Betty. He and Betty broke up and for awhile he was single but Gwen was being pushed as his new girlfriend and then under Romita we got MJ. And Stan always intended for Gwen and Peter to be permanent. Conway intended MJ to be permanent. Stern even acknowledged Peter COULD be married but he just didn’t think it should be to MJ.

  6. Ronny

    @ Xander VJ. #51 It can be written in various ways to work since the power is all in the pen. If you read my @ #45 & 35. The fantastic four have two kids with powers. Maybe Spider-man could even ask them for help or join the team again. Maybe, "Mayday Parker". Is raised & trained outside of her timeline by Peter & MJ In a hyperbolic time chamber created by Reed Richards but Reed gives her a device so her cells age normally there until she's 15 years old.(15 days in real time) Then they find out she has powers maybe even a little greater than her dad, they back to their time line, she can help defend herself if ever needed. Maybe squirrel girl is her personal nanny & body guard lol. Maybe their home is protected by a spell from Doctor Strange, devices made by reed & Peter. Or maybe they just write it that villains rarely figure out the identity & even less about his kid & when they do he & MJ always triumph. Again Mr. Fantastic & Invisible woman have two kids, Luke Cage has one, Spider Woman and others do also. So I get what you're saying. It's just, if the writers want it to be successful, it will be. If they don't, it will not. I think

  7. RDMacQ

    There is something I would like to put out there- this article might just be a feint. IGN could have published this article at Marvel's request to "Throw people off the scent" so to speak, to reinforce the idea that this storyline won't lead to the return of the marriage or at the very least that Peter and MJ won't be getting back together. That way, when Renew Your Vows does come around, we wouldn't suspect that it's really meant to set to get Peter and MJ back together again.

  8. Realspideyfan

    @49- truer words have never been typed. I'm guessing this Peter Parker will be dressed and fed by MJ to show his incompetence.

  9. Xander VJ

    Great article! I've been intending to talk about my thoughts about the Spider-Marriage in this website for a while now. First, allow me to explain my background with the character. First, albeit Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero, I've never been a big comic book fan. I'm more into manga. Until a couple of years ago, I was more familiar with the adaptations rather than the source material. But still, I've always liked the character. I was a 90s kid, which means I grew up with the animated show from that decade, I watched reruns of "Amazing Friends" and played several Spidey games of which I have very fond memories. Particularly "Spider-Man 2" on PS2, which I still think was the best superhero game ever made until the Batman Arkham games dethroned it (but it still a close runner up). And of course, like every 90s kid who was even tangentially into Spider-Man, I grew up with the marriage. I didn't read that many comic books, but in those I read, Peter was, either already married to MJ, or they were dating (BTW, I thankfully managed to dodge the Clone Saga, for some reason). Heck, I didn't even know about Gwen until I read about her on the DVD extras of the first Sam Raimi movie! (although I did read Captain Stacy's death when I was a kid, and I remember wondering who was this Gwen girl they were talking about). I even remember seeing "Spider-Girl" for the first time in a newsstand, and I assumed it was A SEQUEL to the regular comic book (I didn't know about superhero comic continuity and parallel universes yet). For me, Spider-Man was a superhero who was MEANT to end up married. And yes, Mary Jane was THE one for him (I mean, when they're both written right, they're just frigging adorable!). It was just the natural progression of the story. And no, that didn't make me to empathize less with the character. It was just another aspect of everyday life that Peter had to juggle. Now, when OMD happened, I was completely out of touch of Spider-Man in the comic books, and "Spider-Man 3" definitely didn't help. But even when I heard that Peter and MJ got separated (I didn't know how back then) I still thought "That sucks!". And when I finally found out HOW they got separated, I thought it was the lamest thing ever. However, I wasn't following Spider-Man at that point, so I didn't give it a second thought. Things changed a couple of years ago, when I went back into the comics (thanks to the Marvel Unlimited App and the "Spectacular Spider-Man" cartoon for that!) and basically started to read EVERY SINGLE ISSUE from 1963 until now. And sure, even though I ended up liking some of the romance dynamics during the Lee-Romita Sr. era, MJ still looked to me as Peter's best match. They complement each other so well no other (meaningful) love interest comes even close. Gwen's characterization has been retconned too much to make it believable, and Black Cat doesn't complement Peter's personality as much as she arguably fits better in his superhero lifestyle, which would be fine if it wasn't for the fact that she doesn't fit in his civilian life style at all. Then I started to realize how much it sucked what it was coming at the end of the JMS run. But OK, you might argue that's just the mindset of a Peter-MJ shipper. Fair enough. Let's put MJ aside for a moment and go with the "everyman" argument. I don't have much to add to the discussion, though. Sure, you can argue marrying a supermodel isn't exactly "everyman" stuff either (never mind the fact that MJ has been a struggling model too more often than not, but whatever), but I think everyone agrees it is more grounded than hooking up with supermodel-level girl after supermodel-level girl. The thing is, even if we're willing to suspend our disbelief that a nerdy everyman can score hot ladies like he was Barney Stinson with a Ted Mosby attitude, THAT'S NOT THE KIND OF PERSON PETER IS. Something that I realized reading the early comics from the Lee-Ditko era is that Peter has always wanted to have his own family. He pondered the possibility of marrying Betty Brant, for crying out loud! The corollary you take from this is that Peter isn't the kind of guy who jumps from token love interest to token love interest. He's a guy that looks for true love, something that has found only twice in his life (Gwen and MJ), and maybe coming close yet another one (Black Cat). And that's the thing. Peter is a guy in his mid-to-late twenties. How many true loves can you cram in his still young life while maintaining it believable and without breaking his character? That's one of the main reasons why none of Spidey's love interests outside of the big three has ever worked. We know who Peter is and thus, we don't buy for a second that he can fall deeply in love that often. What it sounds to me is that the writers just want to make up excuses to maintain Peter single so he's available to write any kind of fantasies, whether they're romantic in nature or not, they want to create. And it's not like I blame them, but you can't pretend that's what the character is about and expect us to buy it. Then, the other big reason people usually bring up is that Spider-Man, being a superhero, shouldn't put his hypothetical family in danger. Thus, the only way for a married Spider-Man story to work without ending in tragedy would be if he quits being Spider-Man altogether. It's an argument that applies to pretty much every superhero, but in Spidey's case it's especially insidious. I've always called MASSIVE BULLS*** on that argument. In that regard, writing a married superhero shouldn't be that different from writing a married street level cop or a married active member of the military. The scale would be bigger, but the principles would be EXACTLY THE FRIGGING SAME. Sure, you can argue that these are super villains we're talking about, but Spidey is a superhero, so I say it balances out. That argument is just giving writers a free pass for being lazy. Plain and simple. THAT BEING SAID. Although I'd be delighted to see Peter and MJ together, I don't think going back to the marriage is that of a good idea. At least, not right now. But not because of anything any of the writers have ever said, but because times have changed, and nowadays people tend to marry later in life. Peter and MJ got married in a time when it was pretty normal for recent graduates to marry right after college, especially if we take into account that it was prompted by Stan Lee, a man who grew up in a time when people usually got married even earlier in life. Not so much anymore, thought. Granted, the mid-to-late 20s is considered the ideal time for a couple to get married, but now it's more a suggestion, rather than an implied (and unhealthy) deadline. Actually, a lot, if not most of youngster that are around Peter's age AND have the same kind of financial struggles try to delay the "I do" moment until they find stability, even if they found their special someone. Or at least, that's my experience. And definitely, it would be even weirder if we add what looks like a roughly 10-year-old daughter into the equation. Maybe it would be better if Peter and MJ were in a committed serious relationship, or at most being engaged (I wouldn't recommend this last one, though. Being eternally engaged wouldn't work in the long run). Of course, this is all based on the assumption that they want to keeps Peter in his mid-to-late 20s add finitum in the regular continuity, like the Ultimate Universe kept him as a 15-year-old. Aging Peter beyond the 30-year-old barrier would be a bigger issue of which the marriage is just a significant but small part of. Wow! That turned out to be longer than I expected! I hope I didn't bore anyone. :P

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