The Temporary Spider-Man

A few comparisons were made between character progression in the Spider‑Man comics, and how protagonists changed in various movies and books. I thought this was a flawed example, because the Spider‑Man books represent a serial drama, which has lasted for both decades and thousands of issues. An inherent problem exists in comparing potentially endless serial media (some comics and television) with any stories that were always meant to have a complete beginning, middle and end (novels, movies, plays, many comics and most modern television shows.)

It’s far easier to write a novel or movie or comic book mini series about a happily married couple in a monogamous, committed relationship, when you don’t have to worry about continuing that story for another 20 years and making sure that the status quo never becomes inaccessible or unappealing to future readers, some of whom will not be interested in the back issues, and some of whom will. It’s easier for writers in other media (especially shorter media) to write lasting relationships, because they can end the story before it gets monotonous and maintain absolute control over the development of the characters. Over the course of a finite work, the couple can age in real time or at an accelerated rate, have children, etcetera. Then the story’s over, unless the writer chooses to do a sequel, in which case, he’ll have a lot more latitude, along with a potential for failure.

When Spider‑Man is viewed as a singular narrative with a beginning, middle and end, fans want to see the definitive ending, which is why they’re not so concerned about what status quo will work the best in the long‑term. It’s a difference in sensibilities and expectations, and a point of view which is counterproductive to developing a status quo which will ensure the continued success of the series. This is what has worked for the last few decades, and it would be a tremendous risk to change the formula for so little gain, by ending the current Marvel Universe.

Spider-Man 1975

Prolonging the Inevitable

There’s been the suggestion that it would be a good idea for the Marvel Universe to end, because the next generation of readers just isn’t reading comics, due to all the other forms of entertainment competing with them such as books, TV shows, movies, video games, web content and other stuff. This would mean there’s no reason for Marvel to bother trying to get new readers. Instead, Marvel should just do what they can to keep the readers they have now and prolong the inevitable. This approach has many severe disadvantages.

While sales of the monthly issues may be declining—and there are a few counterarguments to that prognosis—there are other sources of revenue for publishers, including the trade paperbacks and digital programs. Whether or not Marvel’s able to get enough new readers to sustain the title indefinitely is unknown, but they should do everything in their power to do so. Catering to an increasingly dwindling (as the current readers move onto other interests, run out of money or die) readership is the worst possible long‑term strategy. The stories aren’t going to be that good, as many of the best writers and artists wouldn’t be as interested in working for a company‑owned character if there’s no chance of the series ever reaching a larger readership or being of interest to new readers years later.

Encouraging more kids and new readers to buy Amazing Spider-Man also increases the amount of comics purchased, which has two benefits. It allows Marvel to pay their talent more, which increases their ability to get better talent. While it probably won’t result in a decline in comic prices, it could result in readers getting more material for their money, in addition to delaying increases in comic book prices. Plus, some of those kids will eventually become Spider‑Man writers and artists when you’re in your seventies.

When the End Comes

When the writers and editors all know that the Marvel Universe is coming to an end, I’d like to see them give Spider‑Man a happy ending (more on that later). I just don’t want that story to come twenty years too soon. This assumes that the current Marvel Universe is more than two‑thirds on its way towards an ending, and not only halfway there. Unless told otherwise, I think the writers should work under the assumption that these stories will continue for a few more decades without Spider‑Man, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four retiring, and plot the stories accordingly.

If the Marvel Universe comes to an end (it ain’t happening tomorrow, next month or next year), the writers will almost certainly have more than enough time to bring things to a satisfying conclusion. Even if by some dark miracle—admittedly a concern Post-Flashpoint—the people at Marvel decide to suddenly end the comic books without providing a satisfying ending, I would prefer an abrupt ending to decades of stories which could have been better if the writers had not jumped the gun on key aspects of a series that’s been around for 45 years. Keep in mind, Alan Moore tied up decades of Superman continuity perfectly in his two issue storyline “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and I doubt the final writers of the Marvel Universe Spider‑Man will need more than a six month head start (currently twelve issues not counting the team-up title) to wrap things up well.

Regardless of what circumstances would cause the Marvel Universe to end, the people in charge will want the last Spider‑Man story to be as long and satisfying as possible, as there’s money to be made with that. And there will be no shortage of talented writers and artists ready to tackle the storyline because of its historical and sentimental significance, not to mention the probability that it will be available in reprints for a long time, providing royalties and elevating their profiles and reputations.

The expectations will be high, but writing a satisfying ending isn’t going to be that difficult, as this will be one of the few times the writer can just give the fans and characters what they want without worrying about what’ll happen in the series afterwards. This would be where Spider‑Man can become a father, J Jonah Jameson can learn the error of his ways, and the Punisher could kill the Kingpin, all stuff you shouldn’t do when there’s the possibility that the stories will continue for the next few decades.

Reboot

Some fans will argue that an eventual Universe‑wide reboot is inevitable, so we may as well get adventures of Spider‑Dad, nobel-prize winning chemist, out of it. Marvel has yet to prime punch itself back to ground zero, and there’s no reason to assume they will any time soon, so no Marvel writer should write a story under this assumption, unless they know for certain that it will happen.

These fans may suggest that the entire Marvel Universe should get rebooted once every decade, because that’s what DC does to keep things fresh. However, DC doesn’t do the reboots every ten years because the stories are too stagnant. They do this because they keep making and trying (and failing) to fix big mistakes. At the same time, I see no reason to reboot the X‑Men and Fantastic Four franchises just because the Spider‑Man books made a mistake twenty years ago.

There’s also the question of whether rebooting the Marvel Universe would be accepted by the fans. If it’s a failure, it would be one that’s difficult to fix. Ending the current Marvel Universe represents an absolute last resort, meaning Marvel should try all the other options first. If the end is inevitable and there’s nothing Marvel can do to delay it, undoing the marriage won’t make things worst, given how quickly it could be stetconned.

During the peak of the Ultimate books, there has been the suggestion that the regular Marvel Universe should come to an end, and be replaced by the Ultimate Universe. This suggestion appeared on the internet a little bit less over the last few years, as the sales of the most notable Marvel Universe books started consistently topping those of the Ultimate titles.

Making the Ultimate Universe the real Marvel Universe (and giving it fifty‑something books, which would require expanding the cast from a world with about a hundred super‑powered individuals to a world with thousands of them) is a bad idea because of the decisions that made the Ultimate Universe different from the Marvel Universe. The teen Fantastic Four, the Hulk with a high three‑figure body count, Galactus as an army of insects and Gay Colossus come to mind. And that was before the radical changes post-Ultimatum. An exclusive focus on the Ultimate books would also reduce interest in the many reprints set in the current Marvel Universe, which is a significant revenue stream.

One of the strengths of the Ultimate Universe was the limited number of writers, which has kept it more accessible. That wouldn’t happen when everyone currently working on a Marvel book moves to the Ultimate Universe.

Sara Pichelli's Variant Cover of Ultimate Spider-Man #155

Slowly Reaching the End

There’s been the suggestion that the writers shouldn’t have to worry about keeping the Marvel Universe fresh for their successors, because of the concept of Marvel Time (the accepted notion that it takes four years of the comics to describe one year’s worth of adventures within the Marvel Universe.) Under this theory, it may take eighty years before we get to the point where Peter Parker’s ready to retire and let the next generation of superheroes take over. With this philosophy, the characters could all undergo significant growth, but it would take generations before the heroes, supporting cast and villains become unappealing to younger readers. Even if the characters don’t have to age with their readers, and just keep aging at Marvel time (probably slightly accelerated with all the “six months later” moments), it’s simply delaying the inevitable.

I suspect that once writers started believing the Marvel Universe would definitely end at any point in the future, we would no longer have the traditional idea of Marvel time, but an accelerated version, as writers in comics love “six months later,” “one year later” and “five years later” jumps. These add up. We’d probably see more jumps if Spider‑Man’s married with kids, as writers will want to skip ahead to the various milestones. And while you can ignore these situations with a bachelor Peter Parker, a growing kid (or four) serves as a constant reminder of exactly how much time has passed.

It won’t take that long before we reach the point where new readers wouldn’t be as interested in the character. While there are good stories to be told with Peter’s kids growing into young adults, I just don’t see that period to be worth exploring for 2,880 issues (assuming it’ll take 20 years in Marvel time or 80 years in real time, with 36 issues an year) or 480 graphic novels (assuming the average TPB collects the equivalent of six issues).

Why should writers bet so much against the current Marvel Universe going on for another 45 years without a total reboot? Marvel hasn’t needed one yet, and the ensuing aftermath would top the worst results of Crisis on Infinite Earths, given that the real Marvel Universe is better than the DC Universe and Marvel doesn’t have as many great self-contained Elseworlds type tales (because they haven’t needed them.) Nor would I even trust the current writers at Marvel to create a better universe than the one we have now, as it’s too much to expect anyone to top the best superhero universe in comics. It would also be difficult to make new readers care about the new universe, when they’re all going to compare every development and title to the best of the old one. The competition of the first year of a rebooted Amazing Spider-Man won’t be the last year of the Spider-man comic. It’s Lee/ Ditko, Lee/ Romita, Ultimate Spider-Man and the Night Gwen Stacy Died.

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

<<PREVIOUS     INDEX     NEXT>>

Advertisements

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Comics Industry, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Spider-Man, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s