Spider-Man and the Sausage Factory

A common complaint regarding stories in which characters come back from the dead—or marriages are erased by alien demons—is that as a result of the transparent nature of that retcon, many fans will have a greater awareness about which stories can’t be done. One serious problem with the illusion of change approach is that once readers become aware of it, the illusion shatters. They’ll understand why some things can happen in the series (IE‑ break ups, Peter Parker getting fired) and some things won’t (marriage, kids). But I think that this was going to happen anyway.

It has to be said that the readers who analyze comics—and come to conclusions about the various motivations of the editors and creative teams—do lose their ignorance about things that can and can’t happen, which will affect their enjoyment of stories. That occurs whenever you develop an understanding of storytelling structure and production in any medium. Once you realize that a Spider‑Man in danger cliffhanger is never going to end with his death, you’ve got to learn to appreciate the stories in a different way, or move on to books which aren’t so editorially driven.

The Amazing Spider-Man #157 cover is an example of this. I suspect most readers were pretty sure that Spider-Man was not going to die in that issue. And they had good reason to be cynical about any future “deaths” for Doc Ock, whose last story ended in his apparent demise in a nuclear holocaust.

Because of what happened in One More Day, some readers will come to certain conclusions about ongoing storylines. They would say that it’s obvious that every relationship Peter has is doomed to fail, though I’m not sure that’s true (more on this point later). At the same time, these readers were already aware that writers were limited in how they could depict the marriage. It wasn’t going to change in any significant way without a retcon, due to the various reasons the writers couldn’t kill MJ, give her and Peter children or have them divorce. Anyone who wasn’t aware of this probably wasn’t savvy enough about the industry to realize the significance of One More Day.

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_24

The only readers who “know” that all of Peter Parker’s relationships are destined to fail are those knowledgeable about the behind the scenes politics at Marvel. When that happens and becomes an insurmountable problem, you have to move on to comics that won’t be affected by your knowledge of the creators and editors. If you stop speculating on what’s going to happen next on the internet and learn to ignore solicitations and previews, this will be less of a concern, as you become less familiar with the inner workings of the industry.

Many fans spend more time discussing comics, and devouring information and commentary, than reading the stuff. It’s what happens when you have a product that takes about ten minutes to enjoy, and a two week wait (more of less depending on the schedule) between installments. If you choose to consume interviews with writers, and become aware of the economic reasons for storytelling decisions, you have to learn to appreciate the Marvel Universe comics on a different level than before. The alternative is to leave the books and characters for the next generation of the readers and move exclusively to series that don’t have these restrictions. It’s not something you’re going to find in the main Spider-Man title. If you have a deep enough familiarity with the industry, what happened in One More Day shouldn’t have been taboo.

Unfortunately, once you become aware of how those stories are constructed, you’ll have the same problem with many other series. It’s the cost of becoming knowledgeable regarding the mechanics of any part of the entertainment industry. This compromise has to be made, as the companies can not cater to the minority of readers who understand that the Batman can’t kill the Joker, not because of any moral code, but because the villain has to be kept alive for later arcs.

As comic book readers, we have tremendous access to the professionals, and to information about storytelling decisions. I enjoy reading scripts, or following Dan Slott’s twitter feed. But access to information means that I’m less likely to be surprised, and more likely to consider the various meta reasons for something. If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to. There’s no reason to check out previews, read interviews, or participate in message board discussions about why certain storytelling decisions were made. You don’t need to see how the sausage is made.

 
 

 

Granted, you should still be able to enjoy a well‑written battle between Spider‑Man and the Vulture, even if you know Spider‑Man’s not going to die. Though this brings up the question of what exactly readers “know.”

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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