Other options for your Spider-Man fix

The readers who prefer a married Spider‑Man often suggested that there were plenty of books available about a single Spider‑Man for anyone who preferred that status quo. The list circa-One More Day included Ultimate Spider‑Man, the Marvel Age/ Marvel Adventures line, Spider‑Man Loves Mary Jane, the majority of “Untold Tales” type projects, comics set in the movie or TV show universes and assorted other material. The response that fans of the marriage could read Spider‑Girl, or the Spider‑Man comic strip didn’t go over too well.

Each of these books has its shortcomings, and the proposed solution does not address the more significant issue of what’s best for Amazing Spider-Man, which is often unrelated to what individual fans say they want to see.

Movie/ TV Spinoffs

With any comic books set in the movie and television universes, savvy readers are aware that nothing of consequence will happen. There can’t be anything to disrupt the movies and cartoon, which will reach a much larger audience than the number of people who will ever be aware that the spinoff comic book exists. The writers can’t introduce new versions of the classic villains, because that could eventually end up contradicting the introduction of the villain in the movies or TV show. They could try to sidestep this by introducing new versions of really lame villains, but keep in mind that the creators of the 90s Fox Spider‑Man cartoon did use the Spot, the Big Wheel and Rocket Racer.

They can’t do anything of significance to Peter Parker or any of the supporting cast, because that might contradict the main product. The best the writers can hope for is that one of their stories is so good and popular that it gets adapted into an episode of the TV show, as the acclaimed Mad Love one-shot was turned into an episode of the Batman animated series.

There’s also the question of what to do with the comic series, when the TV show comes to an end, or Sony decides to relaunch the films. In the regular Marvel Universe, you have more of a guarantee that the characters will continue having adventures for a long time. The average reader’s interest in the Marvel Universe will wane before the Spider‑Man books show hints of ending, and the universe and its characters will be waiting should they ever return. They could expand on a cancelled TV/ movie series, but what’s the point? Why tell stories about Peter Parker in world in which Venom, Doctor Octopus and the Osborns are all dead? Sony and Disney have moved on, and newcomers are prone to be confused.

Untold Tales

Untold_Tales_of_Spider-Man_10

Most Untold Tales projects combine the insignificance of the TV show/ movie tie‑ins, with a less accessible world. The stories have to fit in the old framework of the past of the real Marvel Universe, which suggests that nothing important can happen. There’s less drama than in the regular comics, as the reader will know exactly how things will end for the hero, main villains and most of the supporting cast.

Writers can play around with this, as Kurt Busiek did in his Untold Tales of Spider‑Man run and Brian K Vaughan did in his mini‑series Spider‑Man/ Doctor Octopus: Negative Exposure by focusing on new supporting cast members. They can also try taking advantage of dramatic irony with existing characters as Lee Weeks did in his excellent Death & Destiny mini-series, but many constraints remain. The dramatic irony strategy requires a reader to be familiar with the older material.

Long‑term subplots involving the private lives of characters are also more difficult, as in most cases readers will be convinced that things will work out fine, and decades old comics will usually prove them right. When they show conflict in a relationship, most readers will be aware of how that relationship will eventually come to an end, or that it’ll be strong enough to last into the present day Marvel U. Low sales on a few earlier critically acclaimed projects set in the past might scare away some readers, unwilling to invest in a book more likely than not to be a sales failure, and thus less likely to lead to interesting future stories. This is more of an occasional short-form structure for mini-series and possible OGNs than anything to be relied on for the long-term.

Ultimate Comics

Bendis initially preferred to have the Ultimate Peter Parker age at a very slow rate. He had said in interviews that he may have Peter grow one year older every one hundred issues. An alternative was to have Peter stay in high school forever, as Bendis also suggested that there’s nothing wrong with completely freezing the ages of the characters, as in The Simpsons. With either approach, it would be a long time before the character graduates college. That kept the Ultimate books distinct from the regular Marvel Universe, and ensured that these remain unique after the Marvel Universe Spider‑Man became a twenty‑something bachelor.

However, it meant that readers who prefer a single Spider‑Man with the experience and history of the Marvel Universe Spider‑Man would have to look elsewhere. Of course, Bendis later chose to take Ultimate Spider-Man in a radically different direction, bringing the kid’s story to an end. Perhaps the development became more likely in the aftermath of One More Day, but Ultimate Spider-Man is no longer a book one can seek out to enjoy the adventures of Peter Parker.

Other Titles

Spider-Man_Loves_Mary_Jane_Vol_1_5

Spider‑Man Loves Mary Jane was another high school series, with most of the disadvantages of the Ultimate books, before you consider that it’s entirely from Mary Jane’s point of view. This was a different type of comic than the one from the superhero’s perspective. As the series is set in its own universe, it can’t really reference events in other books. With MJ single, they are freer to do this type of book in the regular Marvel Universe, though.

The Marvel Adventures books are well‑received, but exist for a different audience than the regular Marvel Universe books, which limits what you can do with them. For these stories accessibility and appeal to younger audiences is more important than greatness. Theoretically there’s nothing preventing the writers from creating truly great stories which could rank with Spider Island or Unscheduled Stop to say nothing of classics like Kraven’s Last Hunt or “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut,” but there’s nothing encouraging it either. Many of the issues are good, but there are hundreds of good Spider‑Man stories available, which limits the sense that the series is worth three to four bucks an issue.

Creating interesting and complex subplots and mysteries is also discouraged, as it goes against the entry level appeal of the series. The stories often have little issue to issue continuity and they aren’t discussed much on either the internet or comic book periodicals, except when mentioned as examples of decent (but never on par with the “Best Ever”) All‑Ages material. As a result, the average reader won’t feel that he or she has missed out on anything by not buying the book.

Books in the main universe  feel more significant, and there’s a reason for that. Events in Amazing Spider-Man can affect how the Spider-Man comics outside of the 616 Universe are perceived. For example, if Peter Parker’s not married to MJ, it removes the sense of inevitability from the other renditions of the relationship. So readers won’t be certain about where Ultimate Peter & MJ (or movie Peter & MJ, or TV show Peter & MJ)’s relationship will eventually go. If Harry Osborn’s alive, readers won’t be sure how his story will come to an end. So whatever happens to the “real” Spider-Man will have reverberations in other titles. This does pose one question though. Why do we need a “real” Spider-Man?

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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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
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