Amazing Spider-Man (fifth series) #75, shipping Oct. 6, starts a new era with writer Zeb Wells. The title will star new Spider-Man Ben Reilly, and will ship three times a month for six months. (Cover art by Patrick Gleason, copyright Marvel Comics)
By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Marvel has pulled another switcheroo on the identity of a Big Bad, like in WandaVision. Only this time instead of TV, it’s in the comics, and instead of Agatha, It Was The Devil All Along.
Amazing Spider-Man (fifth series) #74 arrived Sept. 29, ending writer Nick Spencer’s 74-issue run on the title. The last two storylines — “Sinister War” and the single, oversized last issue “What Cost Victory?” — wrapped up all of Spencer’s ongoing plot points, especially the final reveals about, and defeat of, the behind-the-scenes villain, Kindred. Who turned out to not be the ultimate Big Bad after all.
Spencer also did something unexpected and remarkable. He tried to fix the two most-loathed Spider-Man storylines of all time.
Yea, “loathed.” There will be unpopular stories in any long-running character’s history, but the more a character is loved, the more a bad story is hated. Especially if they are as loathsome as “Sins Past” and “One More Day.”
It’s quite possible younger Spider-fans have never heard of these stories, because we older Spider-fans don’t discuss them — we grow physically ill at the thought of them. And since misery loves company, let me describe them for you:
In 2004, Spider-Man is attacked by two super-strong characters Named Sarah and Gabriel, with Sarah bearing an uncanny resemblance to Peter Parker’s dead girlfriend Gwen Stacy. As the story unfolds, it appears that Sarah and Gabriel are the children of Gwen … and Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin.
Yep, we are told that the formerly perfect and angelic Gwen did, in fact, do the dirty deed with the incredibly evil (and decades older) Osborn, got knocked up, and had twins while in France. (She did, in fact, go to Europe for a few months in the proper time frame.)
The twins suffered from Osborn’s Goblin Formula-infused blood, not only gaining his super-powers but aging at an accelerated rate. (Maybe Gwen’s pregnancy was accelerated too, given the short time she was in Europe.) Osborn then bumped off Gwen in the infamous “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” (1973), and raised the twins in secret, instructing them that Peter Parker was their real Dad, but had killed their Mom and abandoned them. Thus their hatred of him.
The Gwen-Norman affair, amazingly, is confirmed by Mary Jane, who knew all about it, but had never said a word to Peter, even after marrying him in 1987. Hearing the news, Parker has the normal human reaction: He digs up his dead girlfriend to test her DNA.
OK, raise your hand if you are nauseous at this point. Is that everybody? Good. That means you’re normal.
The twins’ hyper-accelerated aging was counter-acted in the story, but they were shuffled out of the title and into comic book limbo before you can say “Ick.” Because, ick.
The behind-the-scenes on this is that writer J. Michael Straczynski had intended for the twins to be the children of Peter and Gwen, but was blocked up upper management late into the story, who wanted Parker to remain a virgin. For some reason.
So the solution was to substitute Norman … who in addition to being a crazed, bloodthirsty monster, was also the father of Gwen’s college friend Harry. And, of course, destined to kill her in cold blood.
This was … not a good solution.
ONE MORE DAY
In 2007, Marvel’s editor-in-chief Joe Quesada was widely known for disliking Peter Parker’s marriage to Mary Jane — a uinon that was, at that point, 20 years old. Quesada, echoing the belief of other senior managers, feared that a married Spider-Man would lose appeal to younger readers.
It was in 2007 that he found a way to get rid of it.
In the story “One More Day,” writer J. Michael Straczynski’s swan song on the character, gave Quesada the out he was looking for. Peter Parker’s identity had been revealed in Civil War (2006) and an assassin had shot Aunt May. Parker consulted with Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Dr. Strange and even Dr. Doom, but there was no earthly way to save her.
Until the devil whispered in his ear. One of them, anyway.
It should be noted that Marvel has a complicated afterlife, with lots of demons and devils in different dimensions who may or may not be the biblical Satan. Dormammu is one, Satannish another … and Mephisto is probably chief among them. And it was Mephisto who said he’d erase Aunt May’s injury, and erase the world’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s secret identity … if he was allowed to erase Peter Parker’s marriage.
And yes, Peter Parker, Mr. Power and Responsibility himself, agreed to it.
To which I say, “Bleah.”
In what world does Peter Parker make a deal with the devil? Yeah, yeah, the story had Mary Jane talking him into it. But in what world does Mary Jane make a deal with the devil?
THE KINDRED SAGA
Three years ago, Nick Spencer began his stewardship of “Amazing Spider-Man,” eventually revealing a character called Kindred as a behind-the-scenes bad guy causing all kinds of grief in Peter Parker’s life.
He was hinted to be Harry Osborn (who was brought back to life in “One More Day”). He was hinted to be Gwen Stacy (somehow revived from the dead). But in the end he turned out to be … Sarah and Gabriel Stacy, back from wherever the heck they’d been!
And, it turned out, they weren’t the children of Norman and Gwen. That was a lie. A lie from the prince of lies, the real power behind Kindred … Mephisto. (Yeah, him again!)
Writer Nick Spencer didn’t just wrap up his epic “Kindred Saga” in his last issue of Amazing Spider-Man on Sept. 29, but he also cleaned up a couple of really unpopular stories from the past. (Cover art by Patrick Gleason, copyright Marvel Comics)
Anyway, the story reveals that Mephisto has been up to all kinds of hi-jinks. He was the guy who brought Harry Osborn back to life in One More Day … only it wasn’t Harry at all, it was a clone. (The real Harry remains most sincerely dead.) And he was the guy who arranged for an artificial intelligence Harry to be created while the original was alive, and crazy as a bedbug. And he was the one who arranged for clones of Peter’s dead parents to show up and torment him (another hated Spider-story). And he was the one who convinced everyone — including Norman — that Sarah and Gabriel were Norman and Gwen’s offspring.
Which they weren’t. So adios, “Sins Past.”
Then Spencer took on “One More Day.” It turns out that making a deal with the devil has a consequence, in that Mephisto had part of Peter Parker’s soul — and all of Harry’s, because Norman (Yeah, him again!) had sold Harry’s soul to Mephisto for the wherewithal to become the Green Goblin originally (back in the 1960s).
Not exactly Father of the Year.
Dr. Strange got wind of this, and took on Mephisto in a “game” to save Harry and Peter. Throughout the background of the Kindred climax (where Sarah, Gabriel and clone Harry all died), Strange and Mephisto carried on their bizarre wager, with their dialogue serving as the exposition explaining and un-doing “Sins Past” and “One More Day.”
And then, while Spider-Man was defeating Kindred on the physical plane, Strange was beating Mephisto in … wherever hell they were in. Amending a whole lot of ugly Spider-stories along the way.
And why was Mephisto so interested in Peter Parker in “One More Day”? Spencer explained that as well. Mephisto told Strange that he knew his own destiny, and it was to conquer Earth, only to lose to Spider-Man. Strange knew that this was a lie, but doesn’t know the truth — and took the win he already had and left.
Readers saw the truth, though: Mephisto does see a destroyer in his future, but it isn’t Peter Parker. Her name is May “Mayday” Parker, the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane, whom we have seen before, mostly in the future-set Spider-Girl series of the late ‘aughts. It’s Mayday who gives Mephisto the shivers, a future hero whose birth he has been raising heaven and hell (well, mostly hell) to prevent.
So let’s review:
And post-Kindred? Well, new writer Zeb Wells takes over with Amazing Spider-Man #75, along with a new Spider-Man. In events yet to be explained, Peter Parker will take a break, and his own clone Ben Reilly (introduced back in 1975) will take over the webs for a while. And the book will go thrice-monthly for six months — which should establish the new status quo pretty fast.
So the good news is I can now think about “Sins Past” and “One More Day” without nausea. But is it too little, too late? Speaking as one of the many Spider-readers appalled by those two stories, I’m not sure my enthusiasm for the Wall-Crawler will ever recover.
But at least Gwen Stacy never hopped in the sack with a super-villain old enough to be her father. It has never made sense, and now it doesn’t have to.
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Man, I don't think I even made to the end of "Sins Past" before I dropped the title. I was never there for "One More Day". I have picked-up (and dropped) ASM a few times since then. But I didn't even stick around for the end of the Kindred storyline. Seing that it took Nick Spencer 3 years to resolve it? That's way too long.
A major re-write that is much appreciated. Any word on why MJ backed up the "pregnant Gwen" story?
I don't think so, but "deceived my Mephisto" isn't a big stretch.
I think that's actually the explanation.
Nothing surprises me about hearing any of this, buf the question I have ro ask is "who wanted these stories in the first place" ? I don't remember a hue and cry from the fans or the general public (you know, those "casual readers" they always talk about) for them.
Which could lead me into a long rant about why Marvel and DC are still trying to sell comics to the same dwindling fan base rather than trying to actually attract new readers, but I'm not going to go there.
"...who wanted these stories in the first place?"
I suspect it was the writers and editors themselves who likely came of age reading the comics of the "Sin City" and "One More Day" era. It constantly amazes me (for example) whenever I encounter the fact that Robert Kirkman is a huge Rob Liefeld fan. Also, one of the actors interviewed on The Talking Dead mentioned reading comics when he was young, but the only artist he mentioned was Michael Turner.