i’m still upset about Spider-man’s Brand New Day

I really respect those who have passionate opinions for important causes. Looking back, it’s clear that I’ve been trying to surround myself with these kinds of people for years, situating myself among activists and “true believers” in the hope that my own heart will be ignited by their emotional fervor and commitment. More recently, though, I’ve been trying to deal with the fact that I may never be one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in important causes. I understand the need for better healthcare in poorer communities at home and abroad, for example; I believe in improving access to education, I recognize the value of microcredit loans. I think recycling and public transportation and free trade bananas and rooftop gardens are all great ideas, and I’ll support them when I see an opportunity. It’s a challenge for me to muster a strong emotional drive to back any of these causes, though, which means I rarely make more than a convenient impact on the world for the better. It seems that it’s just not part of my natural instincts to feel motivated by worthy ideals and movements.

This is disappointing enough on its own. What’s worse, though, is what I do instinctively feel passionate about, the thing that, almost three years after the fact, I still feel righteously indignant about: Spider-man’s Brand New Day.

“Brand New Day” came down as a follow-up to the “One More Day” story arc (“Brand New Day” and “One More Day” are essentially two sides of the same coin as far as this discussion is concerned). At that point it had been a busy few years for Spidey. The secret of Spider-man’s true identity had been discovered by Aunt May somewhere around 2001-ish. From there, Peter was hired to teach science at his old high school, he finally patched things up with his wife MJ after a long separation, and he discovered that his abilities were derived from the totemic powers of the spider rather than the scientific effects of radiation. He had discovered new powers (organic webshooters and … spider-stingers?) and acquired a new costume. He had been enlisted by Tony Stark to be the posterchild of the Superhuman Registration Act, and unmasked himself live on national television as a public relations move. Then he switched sides and fought alongside Captain America against the Registration Act. His identity now public knowledge, Peter and his family had become targets for all of Spider-man’s old enemies, and eventually an assassin’s bullet meant for Peter struck Aunt May instead. In an industry that survives by maintaining the status quo, this was a lot of movement for Marvel Comics universe’s most prominent citizen.

In “One More Day,” while Aunt May lies dying in the hospital, Peter, driven by guilt as always, exhausts every option trying to find some way to save her. He appeals to Dr. Kurt Conners (a.k.a The Lizard), Dr. Strange, the Fantastic Four; no one can help. Finally, an offer is extended by Mephisto (basically the devil of the Marvel Comics universe). He is willing to restore Aunt May in exchange for … Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage!  (“Their marriage? So, the bad guys are trying to wreck Mom and Dad’s marriage?“) After a bit of haggling between Peter, MJ, and Mephisto the deal boils down to this: if Peter and MJ will agree to have their marriage erased from history, Aunt May will survive, and no one will remember that Peter Parker is Spider-man.

Well, the deal is accepted, and when Peter wakes up the next morning, it’s a Brand New Day! He’s single (never married), he’s 25 and living at home with Aunt May, and the dialogue sounds like it was written in 1965 (except with more swearing … comic book swearing, of course, along the lines of “#$@*&” or “%#@”). There are some other unexpected changes in the timeline as well, such as the resurrection of long-deceased Harry Osborn. So things are pretty drastically different … but no one in the story really remembers the way things had been before, except for “some people” who seem to recall Spider-man unmasking himself on TV once, though they can’t really remember the face or name of the man who was revealed. No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the rather patronizing two-page spread Marvel produced to establish the new status quo actually doesn’t do much to clarify things:

My understanding is that Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada (among other comics creators) had been trying for decades to end Spider-man’s marriage, seeing it as creating an inevitable dead-end for the character. It’s been alleged that Quesada used his current position of power to finally impose a definitive change in Peter and MJ’s relationship. Whatever the case, though, Spider-man’s “Brand New Day” created an opportunity to revitalize the Spider-man character for what Marvel hopes is a whole new (young) generation of comic book readers, an audience it had determined to have trouble relating to a married Peter Parker who worked as a schoolteacher. You can argue either way on this one, though there have been enough decent Spider-man stories since  “Brand New Day” to show that Marvel wasn’t completely clueless on this one.

In my view, though, one of the great things about comic books is that you can have multiple versions of the same characters and stories, multiple “continuities.” For example, Marvel currently prints another Spider-man title, Ultimate Comics Spider-man, in which Peter Parker is a young, unmarried high school student. This isn’t seen as contradicting the other continuity in The Amazing Spider-man. Nor are any of the other universes Spider-man exists in, as established in television shows, movies, video games, or other comic books. Each version of the story is told for particular reasons; each version has its own value.

Now, maybe the original continuity had ceased to be relevant. Personally, I don’t buy it, but I’m not an expert on these things. Maybe the characters had been taken as far as they could go. So pick up with one of the other continuities, I say, or reboot the whole franchise as a new continuity, whatever. But to have our protagonists essentially give up on their lives and on each other, to have them make an unholy deal with the devil, and, worst of all, for Marvel Comics to tell its most faithful readers that the stories they’d been buying for twenty-odd years were no longer as true as the newer, hipper versions … well, it’s not just terrible storytelling, it’s a bad way to do business.

This I believe: that Marvel’s handling of their flagship character and property in “One More Day” and “Brand New Day” was unconscionable, and whatever his involvement, Joe Quesada, whether the architect of this dastardly scheme or the watchman who failed to stop it when he had the chance, must be made to pay for his crimes against … whoever ….

Okay, the rant ends here. It’s ridiculous, I know, but for some reason this is the issue that really gets an emotional reaction out of me. So, if you’ll excuse me now that I’ve gotten those bad feelings out of my system, I’m going to go try and grow up some more.

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