Was Joe Quesada a Hypocrite?

A common argument against using One More Day to “fix” Spider‑Man was that it was hypocritical for Joe Quesada to complain about how the twenty‑first Century Spider‑Man was so different from the core of the character, since the franchise has changed under his watch. Stuff that happened in the series prior to One More Day included Straczynski’s revisions to the origin, Peter quitting the Daily Bugle to become a teacher, Aunt May learning that her nephew is Spider‑Man, Sins Past, Spider‑Man joining the Avengers, Eddie Brock giving up the Venom symbiote, Peter’s family moving into the Avengers tower, organic webbing, the new powers which resulted from “The Other” rebirth, the “Iron Spider” Armor, Peter’s partnership with Tony Stark, his decision to reveal his identity to the world, and his status as a wanted fugitive. However, an analysis of these developments reveals that for the most part, Spider‑Man hadn’t radically and irreversibly changed under Quesada.

Any overview of the Spider‑Man books while Quesada’s been EIC should also consider the state of affairs of the Spider‑Man becomes pre‑Quesada, where there were developments such as Mary Jane’s death, her success as a supermodel, the period where Peter was Spider‑Man without telling Mary Jane, Spider‑Man: Chapter One (which was meant to replace some of the most significant Spider-Man comics ever) and the other aspects of the unsuccessful 1999 relaunch. As Quesada inherited Mackie’s Spider‑Man, the stories written while he was Editor in Chief represent a marked improvement, if only in terms of basic craft. This is one reason it was difficult to blame Quesada for the problems plaguing the books. As the most significant change he has wanted to reverse is the marriage, he also couldn’t be blamed for anything to do with that, unless he gave an edict to the writers that they can not write the marriage in an interesting way. Rich Johnson would have a field day with that one, and I suspect JMS would have happily leaked it.

But let’s look at the things that happened in the Spider-Man comics from 2001-2004.

Aunt May Learned Spider‑Man’s Identity

While Aunt May knowing Spider‑Man’s identity did restrict some stories, you could always do the stories that required her not to know about Peter’s hobby (IE‑ the old person who loves Peter and fears Spider‑Man, the old person getting worried about Peter when he disappears at the same time a supervillain is sighted, etcetera) with another character, although it will lose some of the tension, and the stakes will be lower. Aunt May’s awareness allows for new stories, and as far as I’m concerned, doesn’t resolve the confidentiality problems, as there’s stuff that Peter will not be able or willing to tell the elderly woman who raised him.

As a result, I wouldn’t mind her learning his identity again, as that was a good step for the characters. Peter knows that she can handle the shock and there’s still good drama in Peter trying to keep the extent of the dangers associated with his hobby secret from her. He wouldn’t be able to confide in her about the secret Skrull invasion. I do admit that when Aunt May doesn’t know, there’s a greater opportunity for dramatic irony.

Whether it’s a good move may come down to an emotional truth. Does the reader identify more with a character whose parent is oblivious to his or her concerns, or with a parent who is reasonably aware of what’s going on, but still worried. Both are likely to be true at different stages of our lives.

The New Science Teacher

Peter quitting the Daily Bugle to teach high school struck me as an “illusion of change” development. It didn’t make Peter’s life easier, and gave him all sorts of new problems, with the possibility he would be fired or just disappoint students if he’s late to school because of a fight with a new supervillain. While the faculty of Midtown High could have become a more vital part of the supporting cast, the staff of the Bugle was still around, should any writers have chosen to do something with them. Peter was still part of their social circle.

While the teaching gig had the disadvantage of limiting Spider-Man’s exposure to superhero incidents (unless an ungodly amount of his students were tied to this sort of stuff) at any point, Peter could always have returned to the Daily Bugle or left his job as a teacher, which is pretty much what ended up happening.

The Spider‑Totem

The mystical connection to the origin (the spider‑totem stuff) hadn’t altered the character of Spider‑Man. Instead, it permitted new types of stories, should any future writers choose to follow up on this. Otherwise they’re free to ignore and never reference it, as these did not create a transformation in the relationship between Spider‑Man and any pre‑existing villains or supporting cast members. No one had explored the ramifications of the radiation which gave Spider‑Man his powers as well as Straczynski, aside from the time the blood transfusion gave May radiation poisoning.

Sins Past

Sins Past, in which Spider-Man met the children of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn, hasn’t created a significant change to Spider‑Man or any of the major characters. Gwen Stacy’s been dead for more than a generation, so she wasn’t going to be a source of many major new stories and any attempt to resurrect her would be a tremendous mistake. There were complaints about Mary Jane’s actions in keeping Gwen and Norman’s one night stand (and the aftermath) a secret, although in this case, there really was no appropriate time or place for her to reveal this stuff to Peter. Norman Osborn has done many worse things than a teenager, so this hasn’t hurt his character.

“Sins Past” did change elements of “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” including Osborn’s reasons for targeting Gwen, but that story still exists unaltered in comic book readers’ libraries. It was probably a bad move for Marvel and is one reason Amazing Spider‑Man sales slipped after Romita Jr left—although JMS got the readers back with “The Other” and the Civil War tie‑ins—but the impact was limited. The fallout has been restricted to one six issue story, a four issue follow‑up, and scattered lines in a handful of comics, even if Gabriel Stacy returned in the American Son mini-series.

The First New Venom

I thought Mac Gargan gaining the powers of the Venom symbiote was one of the smartest developments in the Spider-Man comics in the last decade. It cemented Venom as one of the top three Spider‑Man villains. since Eddie Brock’s motivations for what he does were always rather inadequate and the character just seems more monumental when a Lee/ Ditko creation is the host. It must have been a bit of a disappointment in Amazing Spider‑Man #300 when Venom unmasked, and turned out to be some guy the readers had never met before. This is probably why every other version of the story featured Eddie Brock before he became Venom, so that the transformation would be consequential.

If Mac becoming Venom was a permanent change, it fulfills my requirements for appropriate progress: it makes Peter’s life more difficult, doesn’t counter what the characters would do and encourages new types of stories. There would be a trained supervillain in the Venom suit (and he hated Spider‑Man just as much Brock did, while he’s a little bit more dangerous due to the additional experience), someone else could have the Scorpion suit and Eddie Brock would still on the loose. Leaving Eddie Brock alive at the end of Millar’s Spider‑Man run was a purely editorial decision, but an intelligent one, as it allowed future writers to have Eddie Brock regain the symbiote (essentially making Mac gaining the symbiote an example of the “Illusion of Change”) or do something different with the character. Now that the readers are familiar with him, if some imposing new villain unmasks and reveals himself as Eddie Brock, it’s going to be a cool moment.

Of course, before One More Day, the biggest change to happen to Spider-Man during Joe Quesada’s reign as editor in chief was when Spidey joined the Avengers.

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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