Rave : 2007 : Nine Ways to Leave Your Lover
(or "Nine Ways to End the Parker-Watson-Marriage Saga")
(Beware: spoilers for "One More Day" ahoy.)
It's widely known that Marvel editorial regards the Parker-Watson wedding to have been a major misstep for Spider-Man, a move that has limited the potential of Spider-Man storytelling for the past twenty years. It's also widely known that the "One More Day" story arc, spinning out in the Spider-books in late 2007, is Marvel editorial's solution to the misstep, ending the marriage in a definitive way and permitting the writers to once again, finally, after years of agonized waiting, tell stories about a Peter Parker who can beat up the Shocker but can't get a date.
Let's bracket the discussion of whether Marvel's assessment of the Parker-Watson marriage is accurate. Let's instead confine ourselves to uncontested territory: namely that "One More Day" sucks.
The arc, if you're not familiar with it, begins with the premise that Aunt May is dying. She has been mortally wounded by a sniper's bullet meant for Peter. All of Peter's efforts to save her, through conventional medicine, Dr. Strange's magic, or Reed Richards' super-tech, have failed. Enter Mephisto, the Marvel Universe's answer to the Devil, who makes an unsolicited offer to Peter and Mary Jane. With his infernal power, he will save Aunt May's life, but in return he demands that Peter and Mary Jane sacrifice their marriage.
Sacrifice their marriage? What does that mean, exactly? Why, Peter and Mary Jane, and everyone else, I suppose, will forget that the two are married, or indeed ever were married. The two will be single people again, without even the memory of their time together as consolation. Doing this sort of thing is apparently how Mephisto gets his jollies.
Issue #3 ends with Mephisto's offer hanging in the air. Issue #4 is not out yet at the time of this essay's composition, but it seems highly likely that Peter and Mary Jane will accept this Faustian bargain. With only one issue left to go in this arc, it's hard to see how there's time for anything else to occur.
"One More Day" is a crushing disappointment for a variety of reasons. It's exceedingly implausible, for one thing. It posits that there is absolutely nothing, in any capacity, that the Black Panther, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, the High Evolutionary, Black Bolt or anyone of that calibre can do for May Parker, but that Mephisto can solve the whole thing at a stroke. This is hard to accept.
Worse, it presents Peter and Mary Jane as extraordinarily stupid. Stupid to take Mephisto, a notorious deceiver, at his word that he'll deliver the goods as advertised; stupid to think that Aunt May would want the two of them to give up their marriage for her life; and stupid to think that they should both pay such a price to clean Peter's conscience. Remember, as Peter said, he's going to extremes to save May not because he wants her to live—he's realistic enough to know she'll be dead soon no matter what, whether of another bullet or of old age—but because he can't bear for her to die when it's his fault. What is at issue here is not Aunt May's life, but Peter's guilt.
I came a bit late to the party, and read the issue some time after it came out, without knowing what it contained, only that a noted Spider-Fan (who will remain nameless) had already observed of the story that "There are so many interesting possible plotlines that could have been used to separate Peter and Mary Jane. Hundreds of them. This isn't one of them." Having read the issue, I agreed that it wasn't very good... but I wondered about this indictment. Sure, a deal with Mephisto is a terrible plot device. 'Selling your marriage to the Devil' doesn't make much sense as a concept, and it in this case it doesn't make emotional sense either: Peter and Mary Jane are supposed to be mature and responsible adults. Mature and responsible adults come to terms with the hard truths of life, they don't bargain with devils to fix them.
But, okay, this 'solution' to the 'problem' doesn't work... but could there be anything better? A story that ended the Parker-Watson marriage, while keeping May and Mary Jane as viable supporting characters? A story that, on top of that, kept Mary Jane available as a possible romantic figure in Peter's life? Are there really "hundreds" of such stories?
I don't know about "hundreds", but here are nine. Some are heavy, some are light, but all are better than what we readers got:
- Spider-Man Returns: Spidey is detained off-world—in Asgard, the Microverse, the Shi'ar Empire, wherever—for five years. When he makes it back to New York, Mary Jane has given him up for dead, mourned him, re-married and borne a child. Though she still loves Peter, for the sake of her child and new family Mary Jane refuses to abandon the new man in her life.
- Ben Reilly Redux: After an accident—mystical, biochemical, nano-technological, take your pick—Peter fissions from one man into two, each exactly alike, with the same appearance, history, memories, and soul. One of these two men takes Mary Jane and retires to Oregon; the other takes custody of the Spider-Man persona and, under the name Ben Reilly, lives large in Manhattan.
- Putting Things Right that Once Went Wrong: Spidey travels back in time, but for real, not in the low-rent way Dr. Strange does it; that is, he can actually change things. He can't save Uncle Ben for whatever reason, but he can save Gwen Stacy from that fatal fall off of the bridge. By changing his past, he changes his present, and when he returns from his trip, he's no longer married, but Gwen and Mary Jane are still available for dates on Saturday night.
- Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough: Being married to Spider-Man is no picnic, and Mary Jane can no longer tolerate the lonely nights, financial insecurity, and constant stress. It's painful, but the two are forced to separate, and divorce amicably. The love is still there, though, and who knows what the future might bring?
- One More Gay: it turns out Peter (or Mary Jane) has been in denial all these years! Obviously, now that Mary Jane (or Peter) has realized the truth, a heterosexual marriage between the two just isn't in the cards anymore. But they can still be friends, and depending on who's into what and how much, maybe even friends with benefits.
- The Twenty-Year-Itch: After Spidey gets a deep whiff of Jessica Drew's pheromones, the two Spider-people have a fling. Afterwards, Peter's remorseful and Mary Jane is hurt, but both realize that Peter could have honoured his marriage vows despite the chemical inducement to break them: given that he didn't, one must suspect that he's not really happy in his marriage. It seems that, deep down, Peter really wants to share his life with a fellow costumed adventurer, who can be part of his costumed and civilian lives. More in sorrow than in anger, Mary Jane divorces Peter.
- Too Deep for the Healing: Peter and Mary Jane make try once more to become parents, and suffer another miscarriage, or even a stillbirth. Sadly, that sort of blow can sometimes be fatal to a marriage.
- Here I Go Again on My Own: Peter dies, but his spider-totem or Odin or the Living Tribunal or somebody else reincarnates him. The catch is, he is reborn not in the present, but rather several years earlier. Living his life over again, Peter realizes that being married while also being Spider-Man was deeply irresponsible, because it exposed his wife to danger. Sadder but wiser, he does not propose to Mary Jane as he did before. Flash forward to the present, where everything is much as it was, except that he and Mary Jane are still single.
- Loved I Not Honour More: Decades into the future, after having shared a long and happy life, Mary Jane and Peter discover that the whole of it was a by-product of manipulations by Kang the Conqueror, who manipulated the timeline so as to have Peter and Mary Jane marry at a key moment. For some convoluted reason, that little decision has large consequences, one of which is that it allows Kang to Conquer the World! To prevent this, Peter and Mary Jane use an old Reed-Richards-legacy time machine to undo the manipulation. History changes, and the world is saved, and as old Peter and Mary Jane disappear into a paradox, they take comfort in the lives they've had, and the possibility that their younger selves still may yet marry apart from Kang's machinations.
Sure, some of these ideas have been used in other times and other places, but so has the 'deal with the devil' schtick. The point is, I thought of these in the space of my half-hour walk to work. It took half an hour to come up with nine ideas that end the Parker-Watson marriage without making Peter and Mary Jane out to be stupid or narcissistic. So what's Marvel Editorial's excuse?