The Infinite Spider-Man: Fans VS Writers

Miles and Peter

There are some unresolved questions about the direction of the Spider-Man comics, and the future of the books in the aftermath of One More Day.

A discussion about the direction of the title also involves considerations of what the title is about. One such conversation is What’s more important to the series: Youth or Responsibility? This gets into a similar question “What is the conceptual engine of the series?

There is also discussion about how readers will view Peter Parker in the aftermath of changes to the status quo. Will he be seen as a womanizer, a loser, or something else? We also have arguments about what it meant for the supporting cast, with some readers claiming that it caused supporting cast members  like Mary Jane, Harry Osborn and the Black Cat to regress.

A major reason for the controversy was the way the subsequent Brand New Day era was pretty much guaranteed to be a Culture Shock, given the way a set of writers from a particular era had an outsized influence on the book.  Another important question is whether writers ever have a reason for telling a story that is guaranteed to be controversial.

What Fans Want

A major aspect of the conversation about One More Day is a good idea is whether it went against the wishes of the fans. The first question on that is the simplest: Did fans prefer the marriage? Was it wrong of Marvel to make an effort at something that many readers claim had failed before? And since fans vote with their wallets, that leads to another much debated topic: What was the effect on Spider-Man sales? And what was the significance of Renew Your Vows sales?

One More Day did seem to highlight a difference in priorities between comics and writers and fans, which led to a tangent on whether writers are neglecting payoff in favor of set-up.

Another apsect of considering what fans wanted is to look at the alternative: What would the Spider-Man comics be like without One More Day?

Fan Theories

There are also a few fan theories about the consequences of One More Day. Some readers wondered if Amazing Spider-Man was still set in the 616 Universe or if the events of OMD had created a new universe, seperate from the adventures of the real Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Another interpretation suggests that Mary Jane was pregnant during One More Day and that this changes the morality of the decision. The final question is whether Spider-Man’s soul is in danger as a result of his deal with Mephisto.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.


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Spider-Man Sales Part 2

Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Now

I’m interrupting a section written in 2012 with an update about more recent Spider-Man comics. If sales were good during the Big Time era, they’ve been incredible after Amazing Spider-Man #700. This leads to two questions: Do the consistent sales of the title demonstrate that fans are happy with the direction of the title, and that the changes necessary to make that happen are retroactively justified? Or do the sales of Renew Your Vows mean that Marvel should undo One More Day, since it shows fans like it when Spider-Man’s married?

For several years, there were passionate discussions about the sales of the Spider-Man comics and what that meant. Around the time Dan Slott became the solo writer, the book started selling out with ten consecutive issues getting second printings. Sales would increase during the Spider Island summer event, and the year-plus Superior Spider-Man mega-arc. It concluded with a relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man that was the best-selling comic book in over a decade (although it would be topped by the Jason Aaron/ John Cassady Star Wars #1 a few months later.)

The Spider-Man crawlspace message board had an active discussion on sales up until June 2010. And then it got quiet. A big part of that is that it was no longer viable to use ambiguous sales numbers as an argument for why the books should be doing better. It was doing as well as can be reasonably expected.

Then the Renew Your Vows mini-series came out, and the first issue sold very well. So sale discussions popped up again, with fans of a married Peter Parker eager to discuss the implications.

Peter MJ Pollard

Some interesting things have happened to the industry. If ICV2 estimates are reasonably accurate, things are better at the bottom. In April 2015, the 100th best-selling comic sold over 30,000 copies. In April 2011, it was an estimated 17,740 copies. So it does appear overall sales are better. As a result, the trends in the industry that hurt the sales of the book during the Brand New Day era have reversed.

Estimates for Renew Your Vows #1 exceeded 200,000 copies. This was a highly promoted #1 and an event comic by any definition, so that’s a major part of why it did so well. Amazing Spider-Man was outselling other books with Secret Wars tie-ins (IE- Deadpool, Wolverines, Captain Marvel and Thor) which was part of the reason why its Secret Wars tie-in outsold related events in other titles. However, to put in context the sales of RNY, Old Man Logan #1, another highly promoted Secret Wars tie-in with A-list characters and a major creative team, is estimated to have sold about 114,000 copies. So there was something special about this Spider-Man book.

It doesn’t mean that the spider-marriage should be restored, since a popular standalone story isn’t proof that this will work in the long term. The overwhelming success of Dark Knight Returns didn’t lead to Batman becoming middle aged in all of the other titles. Part of the appeal of the story was seeing a world where nothing was sacred. Marvel icons could be killed off, and the villain could take over the world. Spider-Man could cross boundaries that the regular books wouldn’t touch. The series could jump forward several years. Since there was no sixth issue on the horizon, readers had no idea where the story was going, and what could or couldn’t happen to their favorite characters.

It’s not the basis for a title in a shared universe, given what happened to the rest of the Marvel heroes, and how a world taken over by a supervillain isn’t exactly the world outside your window.

It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some kind of spinoff, given how well sales went. There are a few possibilities. It could be interesting to see a world where Spider-Man’s a family man, and the ruler has just been defeated. Structurally, it would still be difficult from Renew Your Vows as maintaining the status quo becomes more important. It could also be fun to see prequels set prior to Peter’s final battle with Venom, when he had just become a dad, and had to balance being Spider-Man with raising an infant.

Marvel’s biggest mistake with the story was not doing more tie-ins. Part of it could be that there was no one to insist on more. Fans of a married Spider-Man didn’t want to endorse any decisions that would involve admitting that the status quo was going to stick around.  While there might not be enough material for this to be a permanent part of the books, it certainly seems like something that could result in enough story material for several issues. I can understand one drawback if there are tie-ins to a Secret Wars tie-in, though there were plenty of Spider-Man Unmasked tie-ins during Civil War.

Writer Dan Slott did respond to the arguments that the sales were so impressive as to justify an immediate sequel. He noted that there was a Spider-Man comic that sold better…

I think the fans spoke 7 years ago.

And they want to see a monthly Spider-Man/Barack Obama team-up book.

He was asked about other titles that got spinoffs.

With SPIDER-GWEN, SPIDER-GIRL, and (yes) even AF #15…
…it wasn’t just a case of overwhelming demand,
it was a case of surprising & disproportionate overwhelming demand.
In each case, Marvel was not expecting these books to be major hits– let alone, blow-the-doors-off major hits.

In the case of RYV…
A Secret Wars tie-in…
A Secret Wars tie-in with Spider-Man…
A Secret Wars tie-in with the long missing marriage reinstated…
A Secret Wars tie-in with art by comic book master, Adam Kubert…
A Secret Wars tie-in written by the regular ASM writer and promising elements that would continue on into the regular book…

Marvel KNEW it was going to be a hit.
Marvel KNEW it was going to do ludicrously well.
So the expectations were set pretty damn high.

That’s a pretty big difference.

The X-Men ’92 mini-series is getting a spinoff, so some Spider-marriage fans argue that it’s ourageous for Marvel not to do the same with the better selling Renew Your Vows. There are still a few differences. The X-Men ’92 writers are happy to continue with that set-up, since that book is their big break. The artist on the new title is roughly on par with the artist of the mini. Meanwhile, Renew Your Vows had one of the least prolific writers in comics and an A-list artist who has a fairly limited output, too. So Marvel would need an entirely new creative team, who would get blamed if the new series flops. It could still be a worthwhile project, but I can see why they’re not rushing to greenlight/ announce it.

The sales analysis is often about trying to prove that Marvel, and especially Joe Quesada, made the wrong decision. So it’s worth considering times when fans and writers seem to have different priorities.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.


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Bernie Sanders Is Old

Bernie Sanders is old

I had a theory for why Elizabeth Warren wasn’t going to run for President that may apply to her, but didn’t end up applying to every candidate. My guess was that she wouldn’t, mainly because she wasn’t a plausible presidential candidate until she was in her sixties, and most older presidential candidates have been running for years. When elderly candidates run for President, it’s usually the case that they’ve either run before (Dole in 1996, McCain and Biden in 2008, Romney in 2012, Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, Hillary in 2016, possibly Biden in 2016), or that they’ve been waiting for a particular opening for a long time (Gingrich in 2012) or had toyed with it for some time (Donald Trump in 2016). Five years ago, Warren did not seem to have a plausible path to the nomination, so it didn’t seem that a poltician would be able to change their mindset that quickly.

The only exceptions I could think of were Gerald Ford (who lucked into the presidency by being a Veep choice acceptable to congressional Democrats at a time of Republican scandal) and Zachary Taylor, who had major military victories at 61 at a time when whigs were willing to pick potential Presidents with unconventional credentials. Bernie Sanders would upend my rationale for why we’re not going to have older first-time candidates by announcing his first presidential run when he’s in his Mid Seventies.

It could reflect how age just isn’t as significant an issue. People are healthier, with some entering politics later in life, often after retiring from their first career. Ben Carson’s running for President, after retiring as a neurosurgeon. Robert Bentley was elected to the Alabama State Senate a few months before his 60th birthday, and was elected Governor eight years later in his first attempt at statewide office. Some would seek promotions at a time when their careers are expected to be over. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland announced a Senate bid, when he’ll be 75 on Election Day. Janet Yellen became Chair of the Federal Reserve at 67.

Bernie Sanders was elected to the Senate in 2006, so he didn’t have an opportunity to run for President until now.  2008 was out of the question, since he was a second year Senator, and a Socialist wasn’t going to be a popular choice for the party when Republicans were in the White House, and understood to know how to win presidential elections. And he wasn’t going to run against an incumbent President in 2012.

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Possibly My Favorite Spider-Man Panel

Best Spider-Man panel by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

That panel on the right may just be my favorite from the Spider-Man comics. When a friend showed me his collection of  silver age comics, that was the one I wanted to see in the original version. It’s from Amazing Spider-Man #5, one of the character’s first ten appearances, even counting guest starr appearances in a Fantastic Four Annual #1 back-up story, and the Strange Tales Annual #2 team-up with the Human Torch.

It gets to what makes the character so unique. He has moments of incredible pettiness and selfishness, even if he gets past it pretty quickly. He’ll risk his life to save a guy who doesn’t like him, but not without considering how his life would be better if that guy were to get killed off by the world’s most dangerous supervillain.

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The Second Republican Presidential Primary Debate


My view of how the Republican presidential candidates did on the debate on Wednesday (or at least the “Top 11” debate.)

Ben Carson: B
He did pretty well with most answers, sticking to what works (calm affable outsider.) I think his comments on  how it was a mistake to go to war in Afghanistan aren’t going to go well with Republican voters.

Carly Fiorina: A
It was her debut on the big stage, and she’s likely to stick around. She hit Trump and Hillary well, and gave strong forceful responses on planned parenthood, the nation’s drug problem, and her record as Hewlett Packard CEO.

Chris Christie: A-
He reminded people that if it wasn’t for Bridgegate, he would be a top-tier candidate. Won his confrontations, and got good knocks at the frontrunners, while getting his message across. If this can be the new normal for him, rather than a particularly good day, he might become a credible candidate.


Donald Trump: C-
He got hit by the others, especially Fiorina, whose record in business overlaps with his. I don’t think he had anything new to say, although he did have a strong moment arguing against birthright citizenship in a country with welfare. Personally, I was happier when he was off-screen because the discussion was markedly more substantitve. There’s something to be said for the argument that he doesn’t want to be on-camera when anyone’s talking specifics. That vaccine answer is also not going to go over well. Maybe people responding to polls will keep grading him on a curve because he doesn’t act like a normal politician, and that’s the only thing they care about.

Jeb Bush: B-
He had some mixed responses; stumbling for the right answer on some occasions, and forceful on others. He seems smarter than his brother, but less gifted politically.

John Kasich: C-
I like the guy, and he maintained his niche as the moderate in the race, but this was a stumbling performance for a guy on the bubble in polling.

Marco Rubio: B+
He did well with relatively few questions. He can cut a few campaign ads based on his responses on communicating in Spanish, and on foreign policy. If Walker and Jeb continue their slide in the polls, these kind of debate performances do show that Rubio is a good choice to combat Hillary for the establishment Republicans. In a field with Carson, Cruz, Fiorina and Trump, his relative inexperience isn’t as significant an issue.

Mike Huckabee: B
He wasn’t onscreen much, but I thought he handled himself well whenever he was. He’s not my type of candidate, but he’s good on-camera, telling the bible-thumpers what they want to hear.

Rand Paul: B-
He didn’t win some of his confrontations, but he differentiated himself from the other candidates, and advocated effectively for his policies. Though he also seemed to be the guy who asked “Can I speak?” the most, which isn’t very presidential.

Scott Walker: B
He gave a much improved performance compared to the first debate. It’s not going to be enough to change his current status, but won’t serve to disqualify him either. It’s been noted that he had the least screentime of any of the candidates, but that seemed to be by design. He didn’t want to win the debate; he just wanted to do his campaign no harm.

Ted Cruz: C
Maybe it’s wishful thinking to suggest that he gave what was obviously a poor performance. Watching the debate, I realized something about Cruz: He seems to only have one tone. He could be talking about his love for his daughters, or foreign policy, and he won’t modulate his voice at all. That can’t come across well, even if it is always red meat.

I watched the debate with my 69 year old father. He was most impressed by Kasich and Paul, although that might be because they’re the candidates who fit his worldview—moderate, slightly libertatian—most. He didn’t think Carly Fiorina was especially impressive, but that was mainly because he thought everyone on stage did well.

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Recent Podcasts

Nuclear Iran

I’ve listened to podcasts for a while, because I like taking long walks and have a low tolerance for boredom. I probably spend more time listening to people talk about issues and culture, than I do actually listening to music, so I thought I’d review the ones that made an impression on a one to five star scale, under the understanding that I’m typically not going to listen to something badly done, so low scores are going to be rare.

KCRW’s Left, Right and Center is one of the two political discussion shows I listen to that comes out on Fridays. I like the theme of having a reasonable discussion between a left-winger, a right-winger and a purported centrist, although it is suspicious that the centrist moderators tend to have liberal backgrounds (a former Clinton administration staffer, several New York Times reporters), and the unaffiliated special guests can ususally be described as liberals. For example, the special guest of the Friday September 11 episode “Iran’s Done Deal” was Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation. There were interesting discussions on the Iran nuclear deal, and the political ramifications of something that is unlikely to help the Democrats, but can backfire horribly. That was followed by a sober conversation on the Syrian Refugee crisis, with National Review‘s Rich Lowry making a good point “Yes, it’s understandable that people want to get out of Syria, but once you’re in Turkey, you’re no longer in dire danger of your life. There’s no reason to go to Hungary. Once you’re in Hungary, there’s no reason you have to go from Hungary to Germany, but if you tell most of the world, once you set aflight you’re going to end up in Germany, you’re going to have an enormous flow.”  (****)

The other Friday politics podcast I listen to each week is Slate’s political gabfest. The most recent episode dealt with the same topics, as well as Hillary Clinton’s campaign troubles, although it wasn’t particularly memorable or insightful. (***)

Slate gabfester John Dickerson (who apparently hosts one of the Sunday Morning Political talks shows) also discusses campaign history in his Whistlestop podcast, and that had a particuarly strong episode on September 2 dealing with the Jimmy Carter/ Ted Kennedy presidential race. It’s always fascinating to learn about the strategies and manuevering for something that ended up being a doomed prospect: winning the Democratic party’s presidential nomination in 1980. I may have a different view on this as a Republican, but I paid particular attention to how Kennedy shoots the party in the foot, with an insistence on purity pledges after his loss. (*****)

On the Media’s September 11 episode “Enter and Return” dealt primarily with the September 11 museum, and the questions about how to discuss refugees or migrants from Syrians (there’s a significant difference.) There was also an interesting segment on a rarely discussed period of American history, where the Mexicans were kicked out under the guise of repatriation. (****)


The “Bullets or Exposition edition” episode of Slate’s Cultural Gabfest (September 2, 2015) had solid discussions on the Netflix drama Narcos, and the novels of Jonathan Franzen. My favorite piece dealt with the controversy of the Duke students who refused to read the graphic novel Fun Home. Stephen Metcalf has the best defense of the conservative students, trying to determine what the guys are trying to say, and to look at things from their point of view.

I come from a very different background than the one implied by the one in the book, and as a member of a supposedly liberal community have a right to that background and that set of views. I don’t have the right to argue ad hominem, or to argue without evidence. I will participate in liberal culture fully, and with the burdens of rational thought and common discourse, but you can’t assume on my part a certain kind of social or cultural unanimity, and by the way, I—prospective duke student—may be forced to spend four years with this kind of assumption that we all agree about X whereas I think of X as something that needs to be argued for within the disputatious culture within a liberal education. It should be part of the socratic encounter of all of us, and not the unconsciously shared assunptions, and by the way, the more aggressive and conscientious a university community is about this not assuming shared values, the less vulnerable they are to a reactionary argument that they are essentially hotbeds of political correctness.

He further notes that it’s different to have a book that’s recommended for every freshman, since that suggests an endorsement, and that unlike something that a student can come across in a humanities classroom, there won’t be anyone to guide them. He makes an interesting point that literature that is new might not function well in this way, because the issues haven’t been settled. I think Fun Home is a fantastic comic book memoir, and I’m happy to see a university promote it, but these are interesting arguments. (****)

Mark Steyn popped up in the Richochet podcast (September 10, 2015) which marked the first time I ever heard the guy. I thought he was doing a mock-British accent for a few minutes, until I realized this is how the Canadian actually talks. The most interesting parts of the conversation were those dealing with his new book, and the lawsuit that has the ACLU on his side. (****)

Episode 385 of the Spider-Man Crawlspace (September 7, 2015) had answers to the Q and A, a monthly feature that is basically just over an hour of intelligent mini-conversations on all things Spider-Man. That may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked it. (***)

My favorite of the National Review podcasts is Mad Dogs & Englishmen, a series of irregularly conversations between reporters Charles Cooke and Kevin Williamson. The 9/11 episode covered their experiences that day,  with interesting anecdotes about what an apolitical British teenager, and the editor of a small town newspaper were doing on a day when no one knew what was going to happen next. (****)

I also listened to some much older podcasts.


“Why It Took 30 Years For Cosby’s Victims to go Public” from Cracked (August 17, 2015) dealt with rape culture, Bill Cosby and the difficulties faced by women encountering aggressive guys in real life or the internet. Two of the regulars were joined by comedian Dani Fernandez for a conversation that wasn’t all that funny, but was quite insightful. Fernandez recalled shady experiences she had, and blasted the justice system for its flaws in dealing with sexual assault and harrassment. There were some difficult questions that weren’t addressed—especially on the topic of reasonable doubt—although there was a powerful tangent on false accusations, a topic Fernandez worried about as the sister to two brothers, and a woman who has seen a friend get wrongly accused by a woman. (****)

I also listened to a May 2nd conversation between Rich Lowry of National Review and Charles Krauthammer in the Richochet podcast feed. Krauthammer had some good red meat bon mots, while discussing American exceptionalism and the failings of liberals. (****)

Finally, I also listened to the May 12 2015 episode of the Scriptnotes podcast for a discussion on “How Bad Movies Get Made.” This was my first exposure to the podcast, although I’ve been aware of it for a while. It’s a good first episode, with a wide ranging discussion on the most common mistakes in moviemaking (risks that don’t pay off, mismatches in casting or directing) by two guys who had made quite a few.  (****)

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Tangled Webs: Where to Start With Spider-Man

For my second piece for the Spider-Man Crawlspace, I combined and edited two entries from the reading list for a piece on the most acclaimed Spider-Man stories.

It’s an assortment of the most notable stories. Since Spider-Man’s been around since 1962, appearing in at least three books a month since 1975, there are going to be a lot of choices available. Anyone interested in the comic book adventures of the character is going to have a difficult time sifting through all of that material, especially since much of it is produced by people who assume that a reader is already quite familiar with the character’s most important storylines.

So the aim would be to start with those adventures. What are the Spider-Man stories that everyone interested in the character (or the comics medium or good storytelling) should definitely check out? If there were classes on these comics, this would be the reading list for the Spider-Man 101 introductory course.  The selected stories have been curated based on a combination of acclaim, significance and accessibility. This is the material that is most likely to appear on Top 10/25/50 lists and to be alluded to in subsequent storylines. In some cases, it may be that a particular story is not considered important by itself, but it is an appropriate example of something that is referenced often.

More at the Crawlspace…

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