Infinite Spider-Man Part 5.6: Are writers being scared away?

Posted by Mister Mets 01 November 2011

At CBR, there was a discussion about whether writers might be discouraged by One More Day and what it represented. Unsurprisingly, most commentors seemed to believe that hypothetical writers would have the same concerns they did.

The first argument is that writers may be confused by the current status quo. Personally, it seems simple enough that it's an insult to the intelligence of a named comic book writer to suggest that they won't be able to understand what happened, what didn't happen and what's still wobbly.

A decent editor should be able to explain it to any writer who is confused about any of the obscure points that are largely unlikely to be relevant. And while there may be some things that readers won't be privy to (this would include anything related to Quesada's planned follow-up to One Moment in Time), that information can still be discussed internally.

If there's a contradiction in terms of how something like how time travel is depicted in the Marvel Universe, I'd imagine that most potential Amazing Spider-Man writers will understand that the portrayal of something like time travel will be wildly inconsistent in a shared universe. So, they really shouldn't have a problem with it, as the consequences are quite clear.

Let's imagine that the events of Amazing Spider-Man Annual 21 were happening in the present. With the sliding timeline, that perspective will match up with future issues of Amazing Spider-Man in a few years.

Something from a possible future (Mephisto's red bird) arrives in the present, and changes one moment in time, so Peter Parker doesn't make it to the wedding.

In that possible future, Peter Parker sacrificed his marriage to save his Aunt May's life.

But because one moment in time changes in the present, that future will not come to pass. Other stuff will happen.

So Peter Parker will never be in the position to make the deal with Mephisto.

Aunt May will be saved anyway, because in a characteristic act of douchebaggery, the Mephisto of the alternate future was going to take credit for something that was going to happen any way.
While it's possible Mephisto lied in One More Day, he did say he was actually going to change something in the past.

Based on the internet, it seems possible for a writer to be horribly misinformed about One More Day, or any other aspect of any comic book character. It shouldn't take an editor long to answer the big questions, though. It could probably be done in the equivalent of two paragraphs. And I'd imagine someone writing Amazing Spider-Man would be given the relevant back issues.

The second argument is that writers might have been unaware that continuity could change. These writers would be upset that characters they killed off could be resurrected, as happened to Harry Osborn. One More Day also demonstrated that seemingly permanent developments could be undone with a retcon.

Honestly, any writer prominent enough to be offered Amazing Spider-Man was probably aware that things can change before OMD came out. This doesn't require a particular knowledge of Spider-Man in particular, but a working familiarity with modern superhero comics. You'd have to be spectacularly ignorant of the field in which you've been offered one of the most coveted jobs (writing Spider-Man) to be unaware that characters could be resurrected and events undone by the next guy.

Another argument could be made that a writer may be deeply uncomfortable writing Spider-Man, considering what the character did in One More Day. Whether Spidey did anything wrong has been discussed elsewhere, though some people think he did; therefore a writer might also have that opinion.

I have yet to hear of a situation in which someone turned down a project, because he was bothered by something a character had done years ago, that did not directly affect the way the character was seen in-universe. Imagine someone turning down Batman because he was offended by something Bruce Wayne did in an issue of Detective Comics five years ago, that doesn't directly affect the current comics. It's theoretically possible for a writer to turn down Spider-Man for this reason, but it requires someone outraged by the moral implications of OMD, who wouldn't be similarly bothered by anything else the character has done.

If you're just considering whether a writer should be morally outraged, there should be no difference between One More Day and any other Spider-Man story, aside from the actions of the character. Whether the story is consequential shouldn't matter. Hell, the Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man currently isn't even the Peter Parker who made the deal with Mephisto.

But perhaps a writer will object to it as strongly as Dan Slott (getting to 50 issues of Amazing Spider-Man and counting) disagreed with Parallel Lives.

There have been situations in which writers decided that they didn't like the status quo. Roger Stern has explicitly said numerous times that he didn't feel comfortable writing the married Spider-Man. But that type of reluctance is based on something that would affect their current work, rather than problems with an years-old four-part storyline. It's not something that can be ignored.

A writer who came to the Spider-Man comics during the Clone Saga would have more problems than someone coming to Amazing Spider-Man now. When Ben Reilly was in the costume, "who did what" could be a big deal for any writer who wants to deal with the ramifications of events that happened in the 20 year stretch between Amazing Spider-Man 149 and 394, and suddenly has to deal with a different protagonist. It can open up new opportunities, but it could also cause headaches in such basic questions such as what the main character should know.

Ben Reilly being the "real" Spidey meant that the protagonist did not experience any of Spidey's adventures from Amazing Spider-Man #150 and up. Which is a big deal if you're planning to reference any of those stories in any significant way.

The Clone Saga was restricting in other ways. It also meant that the protagonist has the mental trauma of spending five years as the equivalent of an exile, believing that he was the clone. There's also the icky question of whether MJ was a pedophile for having sex with a guy who is literally less than five years old.

A final argument was that the quality of One More Day was so bad that it might scare away writers. Though it seems difficult to imagine the following conversation actually taking place.

"I can't write the book."
"One of the stories in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man was mediocre. The character is forever tainted, and were I to write the same character who fought Razorback, I would be tainted by association. Good day to you, sir."
"Are you really sure about this?"
"I SAID GOOD DAY TO YOU, SIR!""Are you still working on X-Men?"
"Yes. I shall have my first script in on Monday."
"Have you read Chuck Austen's X-Men comics?"
"Of course. It was an okay postmodern parody of low culture."

This brings up another question: Could One More Day have been so bad that it keeps readers away from Spider-Man?


JMS's big disagreement with Joe Quesada over the end of One More Day was about whether it made sense from a narrative perspective to try to preserve as much of the backstory as possible post-OMD. He summed up Marvel's position as "It's Magic, we don't have to explain it." The line resulted in a line of products from Cafe Press, including a T-shirt.

It's worth remembering that JMS's changes were rather far-reaching, and he would have left many of the details up to subsequent writers. There wouldn't be a need to reconcile certain details about how the history was mostly kept intact, because in JMS's draft, there was no such claim.

I'm sure it was a minor headache for Marvel when the "It’s Magic," line got attributed to EIC Joe Quesada. Technically, Straczynski was just summarizing discussions he had with "Marvel." It could have been Quesada. It could also have been Tom Brevoort, Stephen Wacker, Alex Alonso (the Editor for Amazing Spider-Man #544), Daniel Ketchum (the Assistant Editor for Amazing Spider-Man #544), someone who worked underneath them, or a composite of conversations he had with ten different people at Marvel. It could have been something said at the "spitballing" phase of planning, when you really don't want anyone later mentioning the worst ideas that people come up with, as that results in the various writers and editors being more restrained at a time when any idea should be welcome.

But Quesada and company were still haphazard about some of the questions left unresolved to One More Day. Prior to that storyline, Spider-Man had gained some new abilities, including organic webbing and stingers. His mechanical webshooter was clearly visible in the last page of One More Day, a way to signal a return to the more familiar power-set. However, it was never explained how that came to pass.

Some of the implications about the public forgetting that Peter Parker was Spider-Man have also not been addressed. Why did Aunt May think she was hospitalized? What does the public remember of the period in which Spider-Man was unmasked? What does Mephisto know?

There was a magic spell in One Moment in Time which was supposed to explain how Spider-Man's identity became a secret once again, but the exact details about how it would work weren't revealed. In the comics, Peter Parker seems to know that anyone who sees him unmasked will remember that he was once Spider-Man, but it's never clear how he came to be aware of the rules of the spell. Perhaps he learned the nuances through trial and error, but this suggests an uncertainty that hasn't been reflected in the book.

In late 2007, Dan Slott suggested that a sequence in Avengers: The Initiative #7 was going to be important for Spider-Man. It might have been the one in which the Scarlet Spiders muddied the waters regarding whether Peter Parker was Spider-Man.

That scene was never actually followed up on in the Spider-Man comics. Considering what we know of the psychic blindspot, it fits as an explanation regarding what people remember of Peter Parker and Spider-Man's role in Civil War. It's an instance in which something makes sense, but was never explicitly said. And it's an example of how readers have been left to tie various disparate scenes together to figure out certain aspects of the series.

The lack of explanations reflects the way many readers have a different priority from the professionals when it comes to the question of to what degree writers should resolve the storylines of their forerunners. The most vocal fans seem to prefer that writers deal with that material, and answer all the questions they would have. It's interesting that JMS wantedhis successors to tie up his loose ends, when he rarely dealt with plot threads introduced by other writers during his run on Amazing Spider-Man. New writers seem generally prefer to tell their own stories, even if dealing with the consequences of someone else's tale almost seems like a no-brainer.

There are a few examples in recent Spider-Man comics. Hector Ayala (AKA the White Tiger) was friends with Peter Parker in college/ grad school, and even a member of the supporting cast during Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern's runs on Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man. Yet when he was killed off in Daredevil, we never saw Spider-Man's reaction. Mattie Franklin (AKA the third Spider-Woman) was recently killed off, and there's no indication that anyone will explore the consequences of J Jonah Jameson's niece being murdered by Spider-Man's enemies.

While Marvel was getting ready for One More Day and Brand New Day, Peter David was surprised to learn that no one else had written a big post-unmasking confrontation between Peter Parker and J Jonah Jameson. This became the focus of his final issue of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. He was only able to do this, because his run was extended by an issue due to delays on One More Day. It seemed to be an obvious story to tell, but Marvel was more interested in just getting to OMD/ BND as quickly as possible.

Writers do have a finite amount of space to tell Spider-Man's story, so I could understand a reluctance to waste this "real estate" (which usually requires weeks of work from talented artists, colorists and inkers) for material that is likely to be continuity-heavy, and largely reactionary, with a tendency to interrupt the momentum of the stories they want to tell. Dealing with all this material could easily become overwhelming. Tying it into other stories could become rather time-consuming.

This conflict isn't exclusive to comics. It happens in many serial media, including television, and while the fans may complain, it's usually not a dealbreaker, as the storytellers have to balance these two conflicting desires. One can easily go overboard exploring the ramifications of other writers, without introducing anything fresh. This is complicated by the constant stream of new readers/ viewers who aren't emotionally invested in previous stories and are therefore less interested in the wrapping up of loose ends. And ideally there will always be new material which will come with developments worth exploring.

Some have suggested that the OMD explanations could have been done quickly as self-contained fill-in issues, which has been done before with Amazing Spider-Man #206 and #289. Though I do remember seeing both those issues on a list of the worst Spider-Man stories ever.

There was the related suggestion that Marvel release an annual, if they don't think that the explanations are worth including in the main book. Though that helps create the impression that annuals don't matter, which is something that Marvel has been trying to counter in the last few years. They had a problem with annuals selling significantly worse than the regular issues, even with the same creative teams.

A compromise would be to specifically create a product for the readers who want answers. The insignificance of this project would be somewhat obvious, although it wouldn't have to sell as well as well as regular issues of Amazing Spider-Man to justify publication. While fans usually say they prefer to have all plot threads resolved, there is the question of whether they'll pay for that extra material. If Marvel was confident in that, we'd probably have had explanations about stuff like the fate of Peter's organic stingers by now.
It's a lot of work and it could mean that a minor project (a standalone one-shot) will end up tying the hands of the writers working on bigger projects.

There are probably some aspects of the backstory the writers don't want to draw attention to. If there's an absolute rule that no one will learn Spider-Man's identity without actually unmasking him, it does lessen some of the drama. In that case, the writers have an incentive to ignore it as much as possible. It's hardly a first for superhero comics.

If the consequences of the deal were more far-reaching, there might be some demand to see the not so subtle differences in the new world. I’m sure Marvel considered the possibility of a bunch of one‑shots and mini‑series, allowing them to profit from redoing key events, though I'm glad they chose otherwise. There didn't seem to be much of a point to having someone else redo Kraven’s Last Hunt or the death of Harry Osborn, though I would not have minded a new official 24 issue maxi‑series version of the Clone Saga, with a complete beginning, middle and end. The new versions of old stories might have satisfied some readers, although it would require paying $3-$4 an issue.

It was sometimes compared to the ambiguous fate of the spider-baby after the Clone Saga, in which some key details were intentionally left unclear. People complain about it online every now and then, but that seems to have worked just the way the creative teams hoped it would. The ambiguity made the end of the Clone Saga less depressing, and it was rarely mentioned in the comics, post-Mackie/ Byrne relaunch.

While it may seem otherwise, most things have been explained and nearly all of the backstory is clear. The majority of the previous stories are largely intact, and we have a good sense of what the characters remember from those times. The current curiosity and clamor for acknowledgement concerns a handful of exceptions. But could the uncertainty scare away potential writers?



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