What Readers “Know”

An oft-cited complaint against the current Spider-Man comics is that, as a result of One More Day, readers know that every relationship the hero is in is doomed to failure. They can also be reasonably certain that the character won’t grow noticeably older, and suspicious of any deaths involving villains and supporting cast members. So the obvious question is why should anyone be emotionally invested in something if you know exactly how it’s going to end?

I would argue that you don’t know how a particular plot point is going to end, even if you devour every piece of material about what goes on behind-the-scenes at Marvel. One More Day didn’t change a thing in terms of whether Spidey can get married in the future. With the sliding timescale, a fictional relationship could theoretically last for over a decade’s worth of printed comics. And at the end of that decade, there may be an entirely different publishing and editorial philosophy.

A particular fictional relationship probably won’t last for a decade’s worth of printed comics. But that has nothing to do with OMD, and everything to do with what the writers naturally want, which is to shake things up every now and then in the romantic department. While any new development is more likely to be temporary than it is to be permanent, you don’t know for sure that it will fail.

It’s entirely possible that a new dynamic will be so successful that it changes the “rules” of a franchise. Spider-Man and Wolverine have been on the Avengers for more than sixty issues. Bucky’s been back for almost as long. Bruce Wayne’s son is the new Robin. Matt Murdock’s identity as Daredevil is essentially an open secret.

Readers certainly don’t know what’s going to happen in the short term. Peter Parker may still be in the same relationship an issue later, an arc later or an year later. If written well, you can appreciate the journey as opposed to the destination. You can enjoy the Avengers, even if you know the team probably won’t be the same at the end of the year. You can enjoy a fight scene between Spider-Man and the Shocker, even when reasonably certain that neither’s going to die. The B-plots are often more consequential than the A-plots. Unless the A-plot somehow affects other recurring characters.


Even if you assume that a relationship is going to come to an end, you don’t know how exactly that happens, or how that changes the status quo. A story that ends in heartbreak is contrary from one that ends in an amiable parting of the ways. And the ramifications will differ as well.

It could still be consequential for the characters. The relationship will become part of their backstory. Because Carlie Cooper dated Peter Parker and now knows his secret identity, she is a different cop buddy for Spider-Man than Lamont, Jean Dewolfe or George Stacy. This type of history is not something Batman and Commissioner Gordon have had to deal with.

The Dark Knight Rises featured a noticeably older Bruce Wayne than Batman Begins, which some suggested was proof that characters could get noticeably older. And that works for the conclusion of a trilogy, but it’s more restrictive in a shared universe in which the story is likely to continue for decades. The rumors that this iteration of the Batman film franchise might end with the dead of the main character do suggest that fans aren’t as jaded as feared.

Age is not essential as a way to show character growth. For example, Peter Parker was not noticeably older in Amazing Spider-Man #110 than he was in #50, although he had somewhat grown as a person. Many works of fiction reveal how people can change in a short amount of time. It’s difficult to create the sense that a franchise character has changed in a fundamental way, but it’s not impossible.

Mark Waid pulled this off in Daredevil, with the man without fear embracing his swashbuckler persona in the aftermath of a demonic possession and multiple tragedies. In that title, Matt Murdock was involved with the Black Cat, who had been hired to steal something from him. The relationship came to an unsurprising end, but there’s a significant chance that it will be consequential for Daredevil, the Black Cat and Spider-Man in the future. It’s something that could easily be referenced decades from now.

The most likely alternative to the One More Day retcon would have been a situation in which Peter and Mary Jane stayed married, with a fairly constant quo. They wouldn’t get older and they wouldn’t have kids. I get the impression that it would take longer for the average reader to realize that a single Spider‑Man isn’t going anywhere than for savvy readers to realize that an eternally married and childless Spider‑Man isn’t going anywhere.

A complimentary argument to all of this is that in addition to “knowing” that every romantic relationship is doomed to failure, the readers also “know” that Peter and MJ will be reunited at some point in the future. Or that Marvel is trying to cheat the readers by teasing material that will never come into fruition.

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


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. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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