After joining the New Avengers, Peter formed a deep and trusted friendship with Tony Stark. When Tony threw his support against the superhero registration act, Peter went along with it and even revealed his secret identity to the world. Then everything went wrong. Peter had second thoughts, switched to the losing side and became a fugitive hunted by the government, SHIELD and every two-bit crook he had crossed. With his identity public knowledge, Peter's family was at risk as never before. A sniper in the pay of the Kingpin put a bullet through Aunt May and now she clings to life. This is Spider-Man's darkest hour.
Then in Amazing Spider-Man #544, Peter crossed the line. With his aunt's health failing, with no money to pay for her treatment and with the police closing in he returned to Avengers Tower. Confronting Iron Man, Peter told him of May's predicament. Tony Stark ponied up the cash to make May's last days painless and dignified, but Peter wants more. He wants to find a way to save Aunt May, and he is going to call in every favour and make every sacrifice and every compromise to see that happen.
Spider-Man visits Doctor Strange in the hope that the Sorcerer Supreme can help save Aunt May. Strange's iconic dwelling is still disguised as a ruin following events in New Avengers #28. Strange listens to Peter's sad tale, and then says that there is nothing he can do. Peter is distraught. He can't let May die. He can't let it all be his fault. Not again.
Strange takes pity on Peter and, although he still believes that no-one can help, he knows that Peter must realise this for himself. He conjures up the "Hands of the Dead" that bend time and allow Peter to be in hundreds of places at once, so he can seek all the advice and counsel he desires. Peter wants to know if the hands could send him back in time to stop the shooting in the first place. "Some things are not meant to be touched by mortals," says Strange.
In a blink of an eye, Spider-Man travels the Marvel Universe seeking help for Aunt May. He talks to Hank Pym, the Night Nurse, Reed Richards, the Beast, Madame Web, Dead Girl, the Black Panther, Morbius and even Doctor Octopus and Doctor Doom. None can help him, and Spidey returns to Strange's sanctum broken and exhausted.
Strange sympathises with Peter and goes to get him a drink. As soon as the good doctor turns his back, Peter grabs hold of the Hands of the Dead and uses them to travel back in time to the point Aunt May was shot.
Suddenly he is standing in the building that overlooks that grubby motel. The Kingpin's assassin is before him. But Spidey is no more than a spectre: he cannot interact with the world. Spidey sees himself walking across the car park outside. It is about to happen. Aunt May is about to be shot. The spectral Spidey floats down to try and warn himself, but to no avail. The Peter Parker from the past seems to know something is amiss, perhaps his uncanny spider sense. But just as the time travelling Spidey is about to act he is attacked by a horde of incorporeal nasties that appear out of the ether.
Spidey breaks free and rushes into the hotel room where his past self is speaking to May and Mary Jane. The past Peter senses his presence but then he hears the buzzing of his spider sense. It all happens again. The bullet passes through the window, passes through the ethereal Spider-Man and, as Peter pushes MJ to safety, passes through Aunt May.
As two Peters from two timelines drop into despair, the monstrous ethereal creatures attack the time traveller again, badly wounding him. Fortunately, Doctor Strange arrives to save Spidey from beings he describes as Nightwalkers (creatures that exist to prevent destiny from being changed). Strange spirits Spidey away to a place of safety where he can be healed from the mystic damage inflicted by the Nightwalkers. Strange takes Spidey to his Sanctum Sanctorum, but to avoid harming the space/time continuum any more, they go further back in time to when Strange knows the place was empty.
Spidey is placed in a cocoon of healing energy. Then there is a knock at the door. Telling Peter to remain where he is, Strange goes to answer it. Spidey limps over to where he can hear the conversation. Could he warn this newcomer and save Aunt May this way?
Surprise, surprise! The newcomer is Spider-Man himself. This scene is coincident with Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #42. Strange helps the Spider- Man of this time line as best he can, but cannot do anything else because of his "appointment with death". Behind the door, the Spider-Man of our time is desperate to get through and warn his past self, but he cannot. He has failed.
Doctor Strange returns Spidey to his own time. He says that his magic cannot heal physical ills. He tells Peter not to feel guilty, that there was nothing he could do, and that he should use what time there is left to be with Aunt May: don't let her die alone.
Spider-Man leaves Strange's abode in a state of despair. The nightwalkers exist to stop the past from being changed. Strange said that only a great power could defy them. A red pigeon swoops past Peter (the same red pigeon we've seen in many outdoor scenes during this arc). Suddenly a red-headed child appears in the street before Peter. She seems to know what Peter was thinking, and she says she can help him.
Given the fantastically over-the-top cover, one might be fooled into thinking something happened in this issue; sadly that is not the case. Halfway through the One More Day arc and we no further forward than we were when we started. Actually, we're no further forward than we were in Amazing Spider- Man #538 and that was published nearly a year ago. JMS is writing this extremely well, but after two years of event and crossover driven stories, less is definitely more.
We've seen this sort of thing too many times in the recent past. It wasn't that long ago that Spider-Man was visiting everyone who was anyone in the Marvel Universe to look for a cure for his own debilitating illness. The scene in Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum was basically The Other-lite. We have the same story running across the X-books at the moment as the Beast looks for a way to reverse M-Day. Marvel is looking like the House of One Idea at the moment.
And can I just stop and point out how painfully ludicrous this whole story is? The problem is one little old lady with a gunshot wound. This is the Marvel Universe for crying out loud! I can think of at least half a dozen ways for Spidey to save Aunt May, I'm sure that any one of the characters Spidey visits in this issue could think of more. Why not get the FF to call on the Silver Surfer, or make Mutant Growth Hormone from Wolverine, or import Elixir from New X-Men (or Archangel for that matter), or get Reed to put Aunt May in indefinite stasis until a cure can be found????? And what's this nonsense about magic only being good for healing magical wounds? Did we not just have a Doctor Strange mini-series where he discovers a mystical cure for cancer?
This may seem a silly, fanboyish, point to make but if you're going to set a story in the melting pot that is the Marvel Universe then you have to play within the rules. It's like all those episodes of Star Trek where they have to disable the ship's ridiculous technology in some contrived manner in order to put the cast in even moderate peril. I sympathise with the difficulty of writing a story like this that fits into what we know of the Marvel Universe, but it isn't impossible. JMS knows where he's going with the characters, but he's a little weak on the details.
Oh, and did the Nightstalkers remind anyone else of the Reapers from Doctor Who? Just an observation.
Including the scene from Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #42 is a neat little nod to continuity. The issue was published five years ago, and it was certainly never intended to be connected with this story arc. The "appointment with death" that Strange spoke of was a going to be told in a Dr Strange mini-series that JMS had been trying to get off the ground. The mini-series never happened and, as this is JMS's swansong, I guess he thought that he might as well tie up the loose end. In any event, seeing the old carefree Spider-Man and the new desperate Spider-Man together is a powerful juxtaposition. Hasn't our boy changed?
JMS has been criticised for not writing Peter Parker as Peter Parker, that in his earlier stories he had a handle of the character and over the last few years he has lost the plot. I don't agree with that assessment. The problem is that JMS is writing a finite story. He has a beginning, a middle and an end in mind for Peter Parker, and we are seeing Peter's character evolve through that time.
Babylon 5 remains one of favourite television programmes, and during that series JMS treated the viewer to some compelling character development. The characters of Londo Mollari and G'Kar are almost unrecognisable at the end of the story from where they were at the beginning. These changes were not contrived, each one was a logical extension of the plot, of the character's mistakes and some truly excellent writing.
JMS has applied these trusted principles to writing Amazing Spider-Man, and taken in isolation they have worked. Everything that has happened in the title over the last three years or so has made sense: Peter's actions, his change in character, his decisions and his mistakes. It's really a masterful piece of work. Unfortunately, you can't take Spider-Man in isolation.
Spider-Man isn't a character: he's a brand. JMS might be performing untold wonders to develop Spidey, but those changes are never going to be allowed to stick. Only JMS has persevered with his characterisation: Brian Bendis, Peter David and Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa have their own interpretations of the character, that have often been at odds. The point is that Spider-Man can't change: Marvel won't let him change, the movie-going public won't let him change and crusty old Spider-Man fanatics like me won't let him change. That's why we are on the verge of a Brand New Day. That doesn't make JMS's run pointless, but it is a damning criticism of this medium.
The best thing that can be said about this issue is that it looks to be the last issue where nothing happens. This little girl from the closing page (who is she? Mephisto?) is offering to help Spidey, and the price he chooses to pay for that help is evidently where this story is heading. How much would you pay to save the life of a loved one?
Here's a thought to end with: did Spidey really cause Aunt May's death. Peter says that if he had only reacted sooner he could have saved MJ and May from the sniper. Just before the shot Peter was distracted by the presence of his invisible future self in the room. Did that split-second's distraction cost May her life? Is this a damning revelation to come in a future part of this story?
The story isn't dire or inspired: it's simply functional. I don't have any strong opinions about Joe Quesada's art: it tells the story adequately. The last issue of Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man is another average one. Three webs.
One More Day continues in Sensational Spider-Man Vol. 2 #41 and Amazing Spider-Man #545, then it's the end of an era. After 31 years of multiple monthly titles, Spider-Man is being streamlined. Starting with issue #546, Amazing Spider-Man, goes thrice-monthly. It plugs the hole in the release schedule vacated by Friendly and Sensational. Never again will we ponder the chronology of events. Never again will one creative team have a definitive lasting run on the title. Now creative teams are rotated into and out of the book on an arc-by-arc basis. All the arcs come together to create one expansive megaplot! So, a good thing?
What it boils down to is that from this point on, "Spider-Man" is being written by committee. While Marvel have been at pains to stress that there is no head- writer and that all stories are the product of the creative synthesis of brilliant minds... the reader has cause for concern. Marvel's track record when it comes to communication between different writers is not exactly 100%. You only have to look at the choppy continuity between Civil War or House of M and its satellite titles to see that.
However, this is not going to be quite the same. Rather than having a bunch of writers agreeing on the direction of a major event, and then forcing the writers of the monthly titles to kowtow to that decision, here the dog is wagging its own tail. Theoretically, all the writers should be in on all the stories from day one. It should work much like The Other crossover, and that worked rather well (rather well in terms of consistency and structure - the plot itself was a bit rubbish).
In fact, there is no greater advertisement for a thrice-monthly Spider-Man book than Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man. If JMS, Peter David and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had got together and planned out two years worth of stories, this title wouldn't have been such a schizophrenic mess.
I don't know how One More Day is going to play out. We might all hate the inevitable reboot and consider the stories to come as utter dross. But that doesn't change the fact that they've got the format right. I would much rather read one Spider-Man book than three. The fact that it's coming out thirty-six times per year is an added bonus. Yes, it could still be a horrible mess, but I'm quietly optimistic that this will be a change for the better. Now I get to live to see Amazing Spider-Man #1000.
Of course, the most "amazing" thing will be if Marvel can keep the book running on schedule.