Friday, December 21, 2007

On Dealing with the Devil

There were some raised eyebrows recently when it was reported that popular writer J. Michael Straczynski (Marvel Comics' Amazing Spider-Man and Thor) spoke candidly about his discontent with the creative direction he's been saddled with by his publisher.

Straczynski aired his disagreement on 2004's poorly received "Sins Past" storyline, as well as the current "One More Day" crossover running through various Spider-Man titles, whose conclusion is widely expected to reset the title character to a more palatable version by undoing his 1987 marriage to love interest Mary Jane Watson.

To his Usenet community, Straczynski writes:

In ["Sins Past"], yes, I wanted it to be Peter's kids, Joe [Quesada] over-rode that, which is his right as [Marvel Comics editor-in-chief]. I got the flack for that decision, but them's the breaks.

In ["One More Day"], there's a lot that I don't agree with, and I made this very clear to everybody within shouting distance at Marvel, especially Joe. I'll be honest: there was a point where I made the decision, and told Joe, that I was going to take my name off the last two issues of the OMD arc. Eventually Joe talked me out of that decision because at the end of the day, I don't want to sabotage Joe or Marvel, and I have a lot of respect for both of those.

Now, a few things spring to mind.

First up, Straczynski seems to believe that "Sins Past" would have been better - or, at least, more favorably received, perhaps - if Spider-Man had been the father of the kids he introduced, instead of the Green Goblin.

The storyline, we recall, featured the hitherto unseen love children of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn (!), which Peter Parker confirmed by stabbing Gwen's grave with a big honkin' rod (!!) and comparing their DNA. Since time works differently in the Marvel Universe, the story also postulated that the pair had the appearance of teenagers due to a combination of Osborn's "Goblin formula" and progeria (!!!). Shall we say, I'm not quite convinced Straczynski's original idea would really have improved that story. (A follow-up story called "Sins Remembered," written by Straczynski protégée Fiona Avery, had Peter Parker doing his best Humbert Humbert impression and giving Gwen's twelve-year-old daughter a wet one - another dazzling example of Marvel's frequent sure-footedness when it comes to their flagship property.)

Second, I'm curious what prompted Straczynski to change his mind, as far as sabotaging Quesada or Marvel is concerned. Because that, of course, is precisely what he's doing by publicly disowning "One More Day." As Augie De Blieck Jr. points out, Straczynski has been both a professional writer and an established internet presence for a very long time now, so it's safe to assume he was well aware his comments would make the rounds immediately. So, is it the overwhelmingly negative internet reaction to "One More Day" that made Straczynski, with all his experience in dealing with vocal fans on the internet, change his mind all of a sudden and air his grievances in public, after all? I really doubt it. 

Third, it's kind of interesting to see how even an otherwise perfectly levelheaded industry observer like Paul O'Brien deems it necessary to acknowledge that Straczynski's message may be just another Marvel publicity stunt and a piece of misdirection. Such, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the legacy of Bill Jemas.

Finally, a few thoughts on the story itself, which involves Mephisto, who's probably as close to the Biblical idea of the devil as you're going to get in the Marvel Universe, offering Spider-Man to save his Aunt May's life in return for his marriage with Mary Jane. Right. Spider-Man? "Mephisto"? "Deal with the devil"? Smell any red herrings yet? Come on, folks. I know Marvel have a rather crappy track record when it comes to handling their flagship character, I but surely nobody honestly believes that Peter Parker's really going to take Mephisto up on his offer.

(If I had to guess, I'd say that the twist is Mary Jane accepting the deal behind Peter's back and taking a big bite out of that apple. Which probably won't go over well with the new "fangirl" front... but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

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