20 June 2010


The major players, the  triple-A Big Two characters that top each publisher's  'A-Lists' of characters, are impossible to control completely, even by the companies that own them.  Fan-films like Batman: City of Scars clearly illustrate this point: some superheroes -- Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Captain America, and Spider-Man, for example -- have 'lives' of their own, their destinies often beyond the reach of the editors, writers, and artists whose job it is to forge them.  From both a  creative and a business standpoint, then, it's interesting to observe the machinations of Marvel's and DC's respective A-List business units and watch them exert the control they do have.

Marvel Comics' Spider-Man group under the direction of Executive Editor Tom Brevoort and Editor Stephen Wacker may be one's best bet to observe the editorial in action process. Wacker, who made an abrupt departure from DC Comics as editor of the experimental weekly comics title 52,  in September 2006 to join Marvel and fell in with the Spider-office soon after, is the guy in charge of Spidey's day to day and as such, he deserves much of the credit for reigning in - even salvaging - Marvel's flagship wall-crawler.  But How Wacker pulled that feat off must wait until we explore the one big Why. 

As a creative property, Spider-Man is unique among his fellow A-Listers as the only character not to have the privilege of being killed and inevitably resurrected.  A-list superhero deaths, from Superman to Green Lantern, and Wolverine to Captain America, may have served to make  a statement now and again, but in nearly every case, their main function has been to reign in a property that's spun completely out of editorial control.  In dramatic storytelling, readers' interests are raised  (as are sales) anytime a writer pushes the protagonist higher up the metaphorical tree and sometimes, there's no way to get them back down other than putting them six-feet under. 

Marvel and writer Mark Millar sent Spider-Man up into that tree in 2006-2007, when the hero publicly revealed his Peter Parker secret identity during the company's Civil War mega-event.  Spider-Man's unmasking achieved its goal of gaining major exposure and drove Civil War's sales -and those of the three Spider-Man titles being published at the time - even higher. But it also sent Spider-Man higher into the terrible tree, the same tree that would claim the fictional life of Marvel's Captain America just mere months later.  

To necessarily undo the genre-disabling damage that Millar's Spider-Man unmasking caused, Marvel's 'brain trust' took, upon editorial mandate, a more novel if not completely dissimilar approach to recreating their character: they - or Spider-Man - made a deal (literally and figuratively, it seems) with the Devil, the longtime Marvel character and demon, MephistoIn the 2007 storyline One More Day, Mephisto agrees to undo all the harm Spider-Man's unmasking caused (including Aunt May being mortally wounded as a result) by making everyone forget whose face was under the Spider mask. The caveat was he'd  only do so in exchange not for Peter's soul, but for his marriage to Mary Jane Watson.  Peter Parker made his secret ID known to Mary Jane and married her in 'The Wedding' - a seminal comics event (and one of the most important in Peter Parker's life) that occurred in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 in 1987.

Spider-Man's - and perhaps Marvel's - deal with the Devil set Peter Parker's life - and the stability of his fictional world - back to normal, though in true tragic Spider-Man form,  Peter alone would remember what he sacrificed. Beyond the comic book pages, however, the story was different. Then head Spider-Man scribe and screenwriter Michael J. Straczynski, who wrote the events of One More Day, dismissed the editorial directive as "infuriating and downright disrespectful to anyone who has come to love Spider-Man comics over the years " and resigned as a result. His sentiments were shared by, we'd daresay, the majority of Spider-Man's fan followers, perhaps one of the most loyal - if not the most loyal - fan base in all of comics.
For a great many Spider-Man loyalists, the character they'd grown up with had died; for Marvel, the publisher had found the one way to rejuvenate Spider-Man and Peter Parker, which according to Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, was necessary for the longevity of the Spider-Man franchise.   While one single, all-important, life-changing decision by a character is the basis of all great drama, Spider-Man's pact with Mephisto was more than many readers could handle, and the unenviable duty of damage control has belonged to Stephen Wacker's group ever since. 
It would be incorrect to assume Marvel's plans to ret-con Spider-Man were reactionary in the least; indeed, Stephen Wacker's move to Marvel from DC Comics weekly 52 project is just one indication that Marvel editorial had been planning to un-marry Peter Parker for quite some time. Immediately following the conclusion of One More Day, both Sensational Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man were canceled, and Wacker became the editor of the one remaining title and the franchise's flagship, Amazing Spider-ManThe move was a consolidation of control and a concentration of creativity. It was also a gamble; along with its price point increasing by one dollar - from $2.99 to $3.99 an issue --  Amazing Spider-Man would now be published three times a month instead of just one.  

To find the tomorrow after One More Day, Spider-Man would make yet another ambitious move into his future.

No comments: