After seeing that more than 5,000 people voted in a poll about whether or not Spider-Man should have stayed married – a retcon that happened four years ago now – I started wondering: Why don’t people care about Superman’s marriage?
I mean, Superman got forcibly divorced from Lois just a few months ago with nary a peep, or not the kind of reaction that would have 5,000 people voicing their opinions four years later, at least. Is it that no-one cares about Superman, period? Not that many people liked his marriage to Lois in the first place? Or is there something particularly objectionable about the way that the Spider-Man marriage was undone that keeps the fires burning for that particular subject?
A major factor is probably the creative team. Having DC’s top writer on Action Comics certainly made things easier for the company. I like Dan Slott, but there are few star writers on par with Grant Morrison. Hell, you could argue that there is literally no one else could have brought that level of buzz to the Superman comics. According to a CBR poll last year, Morrison is the second most popular writer in the comic book medium, behind Alan Moore, who is unlikely to write a superhero title for either Marvel or DC.
Another thing that helps DC was the pre-Flashpoint state of the Superman books. Straczynski’s Grounded arc on Superman was poorly received, and despite plans to be on the title for an year, he abandoned the book after a few issues, leaving his story to be finished by Chris Roberson, a lesser known writer. That was all preceded by the year-long World of New Krypton series which took Superman to another planet, while Superman and Action Comics featured new now-forgotten lead characters. Sales and reviews weren’t impressive during either period.
In contrast, JMS’s Amazing Spider-Man had its best sales during Back in Black, right before One More Day. So that was a title readers were interested in at the worst possible time, as the A-list writer was leaving, during a sure to be controversial retcon and reboot. It wouldn’t surprise me if DC learned from that. They made sure to save the A-list creative team and headline grabbing concept (cocky young Superman fights bloated plutocrats) until after the reboot.
Cosmic reboots have also consistently been part of DC, to the extent that you could split it into several distinct eras, each a unique continuity: The Golden Age, Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Post-Infinite Crisis and Post-Flashpoint. Marvel’s generally kept to the same universe since Fantastic Four #1, more than fifty years ago. After Crisis of Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis, DC readers are just used to the idea of sudden simultaneous changes to multiple franchises, or to just one franchise. And there was plenty of that with Flashpoint.
As every DC title was relaunched with some major developments, fans and critics had many things to discuss. The conversations about Superman and Lois Lane were drowned out by complaints about Starfire’s sexuality. There was also speculation about Wonder Woman’s revised origin, Barbara Gordon walking again, the merger of the Wildstorm and DC Universes, Jim Lee’s love of collars and the response to Batman’s, er, new relationship with Catwoman. Plus, DC had an A-list team (Geoff Johns and Jim Lee) on Justice League, their top title, which resulted in high sales and buzz for that book.
DC was also better at disguising the point of Flashpoint than Marvel was at hiding the point of One More Day. You could read the mini-series as an irregular team-up between the Flash and Batman, and it’s quite satisfying on that level. The conventional wisdom in comics is that stories written to get characters from Point A to Point B tend to suck. But it seems that Geoff Johns is pretty good at this type of material.
Johns has pulled this off before, crafting acclaimed stories that existed to set-up a particular status quo, starting with his breakout arc: JSA‘s Return of Hawkman. Infinite Crisis remains my favorite comic book event, Blackest Night had some major resurrections, and as noted in the last chapter, Green Lantern: Rebirth accomplished big things for that franchise.
Some would argue that there’s a moral component to the reaction to One More Day, suggesting that the difference was that Barry Allen acted ethically in Flashpoint while Peter Parker ultimately did not in OMD. Scott Taylor summed it up at CBR, suggesting that the stories aren’t similar.
Flash made the right choice and something horrible came of it. Now Flash will go back and try to fix it because he’s a hopeless idealist. Peter made the wrong choice and something good came out of it. He has no intention of ever trying to “fix” anything, because he’s a selfish nit.
Different as night and day, as far as the heroism aspect.
Peter Parker is no longer aware of the events of One More Day, which limits his ability to ever try to “fix” anything. That could be a structural weakness with the story, though it serves a purpose by inhibiting any expectations readers could have regarding the character’s ability to restore the previous status quo. That Barry Allen was aware of what transpired doesn’t make him morally superior.
Before the Flash went back in time to undo his mistake, it was established that millions of people died because he had saved his mother’s life. Peter Parker hasn’t had that problem. Nor have there been any hints of that.
What Barry Allen did in the first place was arguably more reckless than what Peter Parker did with One More Day. The Flash changed time blindly, while Peter made a deal with someone who seemed to know what he was doing. The other guy explicitly said that he would keep things the same, except for the marriage. You could certainly argue that Mephisto isn’t trustworthy, though his lies usually involve omissions of truth. He generally sticks to the letter of what he says.
I don’t know if it was intentional, but Geoff Johns didn’t show Barry’s decision to change history. Instead, he just dealt with the ramifications and the decision to undo a mistake. Perhaps he studied the reaction to One More Day, though it also fits this particular story to start in another universe. There’s something appropriate to the way there aren’t any scenes in Flashpoint, aside from vague flashbacks, set in the “Old” DCU. But perhaps reaction to One More Day would have been different if the story had started after Peter and MJ had done something to change history.
While both stories existed to get their respective universes from one place to another, One More Day and Flashpoint were written for different reasons. This has nothing to do with the moral implications. With One More Day, Quesada wanted to remove the existence of the marriage, while keeping the effect on the backstory of the characters as small as possible. With Flashpoint, DC wanted major changes for many of their big franchises. Some readers are happier that the story had big consequences, and see this as a reason to prefer what DC did. Thanks to Elseworlds and What If? readers are conditioned to think that seemingly small changes will always be consequential, when that isn’t always the case. Every lost nail won’t result in your side losing a war, and every butterfly flapping it’s wings isn’t going to cause a tsunami halfway around the world.
You can reconcile the events of most back issues of Spider-Man with the character’s current backstory. This can’t be done in the current DC Universe, in which Lois Lane never learned Superman’s identity, Cyborg was a founding member of the Justice League, Tim Drake was never Robin, and Supergirl just arrived on Earth. And it’s further complicated by titles which do explicitly reference earlier storylines, such as Green Lantern, currently more than seventy issues into Geoff Johns’s run on the title. As my ranking of the first five issues of the New 52 titles indicates, DC accomplished a lot of things with the reboot. A clear backstory isn’t one of those things.
If you count the Flash monthly and the Rebirth mini-series, Flashpoint was the conclusion to Geoff Johns’s 23 issue run on the series. And you could argue that it read better as part of a coherent whole than One More Day did as the conclusion to JMS’s run of Amazing Spider-Man, playing off themes established in the Flash: Rebirth mini-series, such as Barry Allen’s relationship with his mother, and Zoom’s decision to change the past. Time travel and journeys to different realities had been a part of the Flash since the Silver Age, so it’s something that’s not surprising in this particular title.
It’s worth noting that Flashpoint affected most of DC’s regular titles. At least it was a Spider-Man story that undid Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage. But it has to be odd for a Superman fan that the character’s marriage was erased in a Flash mini-series. There wasn’t any warning in that title that Superman’s Justice League teammate would ultimately erase his relationship with Lois Lane.
One problem with One More Day was the carelessness of the talent involved, and a reason for that was they were much more focused on what was coming next. It’s a bit too glib to say that the difference between Marvel and DC is that DC handles their status quo altering events with care. Secret Invasion and Siege were both parts of larger stories Brian Michael Bendis had been telling for a long time. World War 3, Countdown and War of the Supermen were poorly regarded.
However, it does make sense for Flashpoint to be more satisfying than One More Day, as Geoff Johns and DC were able to learn from Marvel’s mistakes with that storyline. Just like the people at Marvel had learned from Geoff Johns and DC, and what they had done with Green Lantern: Rebirth. But if you were a fan of Lois and Clark’s marriage, there are plenty of reasons to be upset.