This is a piece about One More Day, but it’s not about the usual controversy. It’s not about anything to do with Mephisto, not does it have anything to do with breaking up Peter and MJ. It’s about something that happened in the second issue on the storyline—an instance of time travel with Doctor Strange—that has interesting ramifications for several of the key storylines in J. Michael Straczynski’s Spider-Man run.
Time travel shenanigans are a part of JMS’s modus operandi. He described BABYLON 5 as having one example of time travel, which is literally true but it did have reverberations through the entire series. MIDNIGHT NATION features a conversation between a man and his future self at two different points, revisited in the final issue. This type of stuff was not invented by JMS. Grant Morrison did a similar trick in ANIMAL MAN a decade earlier. Jim Starlin did the same thing with Warlock in the 1970s. But it’s always impressive when it’s pulled off, and JMS made a go of it with his final Spider-Man story.
These particular scenes involve Doctor Strange. The wallcrawler and Marvel’s sorcerer supreme are rather dissimilar characters, with Spider-Man as a younger street level superhero with a secret identity and Doctor Strange as a magician who explores weird realms and whose identity is known to the world. There are some connections, starting with the obvious that they’re Marvel’s two most popular lead characters cocreated by Steve Ditko. Roger Stern also had acclaimed runs on both titles, although there hasn’t been much other overlap. JMS’s Spider-Man run had a mystical theme, so it made sense for him to use Doctor Strange so prominently.
Strange’s first appearance in the run was in JMS’s second extended storyline. Spider-Man had just fought the Shade, a new mystical bad guy, and decided that the smart thing to do was to get some help from a professional.
In JMS’s final storyline, the second part of One More Day, Spider-Man pays a visit to Doctor Strange, to see if there’s anyone who can help him with Aunt May’s medical condition. She was in a coma after an agent of the Kingpin had shot her.
Doctor Strange uses an item that can allow him to try to travel through time and space to contact others. Spider-Man travels through space to reach the likes of the X-Men and Doctor Doom, but when they’re not able to help, he then decides to use the item to travel through time, without Strange’s permission.
The trouble is that he’s in his astral form, so he’s not able to interact with anyone.
He says that he recalls an odd feeling right before Aunt May was shot, and he now realizes this feeling was an awareness of the presence of his future self. However, we didn’t see this scene from Peter’s perspective in the relevant issue (#537). We also didn’t see anything at contradicts it.
The astral Spider-Man is injured by creatures who exist to prevent time travel. Doctor Strange takes him for healing to his Sanctum Sanctorum at an earlier time when he knew that he wouldn’t be present.
This ends up being at the the same time as the events of Strange’s first appearance in the run. So the injured Spider-Man overhears a conversation between the Doctor Strange of his timeline, and a Peter Parker about an year in the past. He is unable to warn his former self about the danger that’s coming.
So the Doctor Strange who helps Peter Parker in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN VOLUME 2 #42 is from a future where Peter’s life has been destroyed. I don’t know the extent to which this was intended by JMS at the time he wrote the scene.
While in the astral field, Peter makes a misstep that draws the attention of Shathra the Spiderwasp, another one-off JMS villain. This means that Spider-Man’s trip to the past ended up having some consequences for Peter. Shathra’s plan against Spider-Man included lies about his private life at a time when Peter and Mary Jane were seperated. This was the impetus for Mary Jane’s return to New York.
When Doctor Strange warns Peter about how he had upset powerful forces in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN VOLUME 2 #46, this has to be the Doctor Strange from the future of One More Day. He says that Peter’s face means nothing to him, although from his perspective, they’re teammates on the New Avengers. Whatever JMS was planning with the scene, I doubt he was thinking that far ahead, but it’s an interesting context.
Doctor Strange warns Spider-Man about Shathra, but not about the other stuff. This would be a Doctor Strange aware that Spider-Man survives the encounter with Shathra, and will soon have bigger problems on his plate. He did say that the space-time continuum if he changes things too much, so there is that.
Strange teams up with Spider-Man again in “Happy Birthday,” the three issue arc that concludes with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #500. Chronologically, this would have to be a Doctor Strange unaware of the events of his earlier appearances in the title, because those occur in his future. Strange doesn’t reference his previous encounters with Spider-Man in the comics, so this doesn’t actually contradict anything from those stories.
The entire storyline ends with Peter seeing visions of his origin and his future, while reliving his greatest triumphs and tragedies. There’s more timey-wimeyness. In AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Volume 2 #46, there was a reference to an upcoming Doctor Strange mini-series “The Other Side of Darkness.” This is set up in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #500, published a few years later, when Baron Mordo ambushes a weakened Doctor Strange, essentially changing his origin, and setting up a new mini-series.
The mini-series by JMS and co-writer Samm Barnes, and artist Brandon Peterson ends up being a straightforward retelling of Doctor Strange’s origin. The references to Baron Mordo’s spell aren’t mentioned, and the changes are later ignored. The mini-series is packaged as a trade paperback called “Beginnings and Endings.” Marvel never does publish a mini-series called “The Other Side of Darkness.” That does become the title for One More Day Part 2, so readers do at some point in the future see Doctor Strange’s appointment with death. And it involves Spider-Man more than it appeared to at the time.
Thomas Mets is an Education Masters student in New York City. He is also one of the moderators of the Spider-Man forum at Comic Book Resources. He has been a fan of Spider-Man since coming across the character in the comic strip, and remembers arguing about One More Day so often that he could spell JMS’s full name correctly without having to google it. Those were dark days.