Teasing the Fans

If the illusion of change has been shattered for some readers after One More Day, there are still moral questions about what this means about Marvel’s implied contract with less savvy readers. Are the writers committing a lie of omission, teasing possibilities which will never be consummated? What is the ethical way to hint at future storylines?

This is mostly limited to Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane, since no one’s arguing that any readers pick up the comics to see if Harry Osborn’s going to die. But there are some interested in a reconciliation between the couple that got married in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21. Mary Jane appeared in Family Guy, and other outside media, so you could argue that the public sees her as Spider-Man’s chief romantic interest. And this results in two contradictory claims, and a Catch-22 for Marvel.

If anything occurs in the Spider-Man comics to suggest a potential reconciliation with Mary Jane to the readers combing the book for clues, some detractors will suggest that Marvel is cynically teasing the fans. On the other hand, if a story insinuates a serious romantic relationship between Peter Parker and anyone else, other readers suggest that the fans are being duped because we all know that Peter will eventually end up with Mary Jane. The implicit suggestion is that Marvel’s only solution to these two contradictory problems is to undo One More Day, so that the readers know that Peter Parker has ended up with Mary Jane. That way no one is being misled.

The contrasts in the critiques suggest that savvy readers won’t actually know what’s inevitable. Mary Jane has the most name recognition now, thanks to the Fox cartoon, the Raimi/ Maguire films, the comic strip and all the comic books in which she is Spider-Man’s wife. But things can change the further we get from One More Day. The longer Peter and Mary Jane remain apart in the comics, the less inevitable any permanent reunion will be. It’s also going to be an advantage for anyone trying to tell the story of Peter Parker, when there isn’t a clear conclusion to the main character’s romantic burdens.

A big moment to repudiate any impression that OMD is temporary came when Alex Alonso, Joe Quesada’s successor as Marvel EIC, demonstrated that he had no interest in restoring the marriage. The Spider-Man film reboot featured Gwen Stacy as Peter Parker’s romantic interest, and the leads have started dating in real life. Now that the waters are muddied, fans will have less reason to assume that a story isn’t worth telling because “everyone knows” that Peter Parker is going to end up with Mary Jane.

A reconciliation is still possible. It’s fairly easy for Peter and Mary Jane to fall in love with one another again without any sort of retcon. Editors or reviewers referencing the chance that Peter and Mary Jane would get back together wouldn’t be cheating the readers in any way, as it would be something that could actually happen. A cheat would be when they actively try to mislead the readers.

And if the couple were to actually get back together, Marvel wouldn’t be teasing the fans, as the thing many of them wanted would actually be happening. It might not be permanent, but that’s the nature of ongoing serials. Some readers would prefer that the two stay together forever, but it’s a stretch to suggest that it’s cheating for Marvel to feature a status quo which isn’t unambiguously permanent.

The status quo is always prone to change, and this includes some of the things many readers like. Should the relationship fall apart (again), there will still be the possibility that the two will get back together, just as that potential existed after the first time Mary Jane rejected Peter’s proposal.

Some believe that any reunion or hint of that will be teasing the fans by suggesting that the status quo of the marriage will be coming back. They seem to believe that these bluffs can result in significant short-term sales bumps. In a CBR post, a former retailer attributed increased sales of Amazing Spider-Man #617, an issue with multiple variant covers, to a then recently-released teaser showing Mary Jane in a wedding gown. Some people take this stuff very seriously, and expect others to do so as well.

In terms of the small picture, and the stories that Marvel will allow the writers to tell, it really doesn’t matter if Peter and MJ are married. As noted before, there aren’t that many potential stories that actually require Peter and Mary Jane to be married, and most stories with the two could be done regardless of their marital status. The readers who want to see more stories with Peter and Mary Jane interacting as a couple in love should be happy to see a reunion, and it wouldn’t be a mere tease. This wouldn’t be enough for some readers, but considering the numerous statements by writers and editors regarding the spider-marriage, it seems unlikely that there would be any attempt on Marvel’s end to mislead anyone regarding something so specific.

In fiction, some form of misdirection is often required so that the readers can be surprised as the story develops. However, even the writers don’t know exactly how Spider-Man’s story will end, or where it will be in the not so near future. And that makes it much more difficult to state what is possible and impossible at that time.

Of course, there is the argument that Marvel’s top ambassador is straight-up lying.

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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