Benefits of the Single Spider-Man

Andrew_Kolb_POP_2_XOXO_Gwen_Spider_man

There are a few reasons for keeping Peter Parker single which just aren’t significant enough to justify solitary blog posts, although several are coming when we get to the topic of the illusion of change. Suffice to say, there are particular advantages in that kind of narrative to Spidey being single.

Other media versions of Spider-Man typically show him as a bachelor, including the movies, most TV series and the majority of comics outside the regular 616 Universe. An exception is video games, although that’s probably because a damsel in distress narrative fits that particular form better than a romantic triangle does.

It makes things easier for new readers when the portrayal of the character in various series is streamlined as much as possible. It also prevents the fan base from being fractured. It’s preferable for Marvel to have one book that sells 100,000 copies than to have one that sells 70,000 copies and another that sells 40,000 copies.

More readers will identify with the guy who doesn’t have a beautiful, loving, intelligent and supportive woman to go home to at the end of the day, as even those who are happily married remember being single. It has always been considered a part of Spider-Man’s appeal that Peter Parker was the character readers could relate to somewhat. This has never been part of why we read Batman comics, which is the reason he had a sidekick: to provide a character with something akin to the reader’s perspective.

Andrew_Kolb_POP_2_XOXO_MJ_Spider_man

Readers identify with Peter Parker. They don’t really do so with Spider-Man, except to sometimes to wonder what they would do under extraordinary circumstances. The exception is the universal appeal to the idea that both Peter Parker and Spider-Man are misunderstood, which doesn’t quite work when he’s able to tell his wife almost everything.

While some will claim it’s variations of a theme, the stories about a single Peter are all variations of a theme in the way all stories we’ve seen and will likely see are variations of “Character has conflict.” It’s a theme with tremendous variety and opportunity. Especially when compared to the alternative.

A counterpoint to the argument that Peter Parker being single allows for more stories is that restraints and limitations can be great liberators, so sometimes it’s better to go with the option that requires greater focus. This can be used to justify ridiculous limitations. Writers can always try to make their own artificial restraints, and don’t have to stick with those imposed by Jim Shooter. Theoretically, you can have an infinite quantity of storylines without Spider-Man interacting with any other Lee/ Ditko characters, although I’d still prefer that the writers have that option.

Because of the female/ male ratio, New York City is a promising place for single men, where a guy like Peter Parker could realistically date girls like Betty Brant and Gwen Stacy. This doesn’t mean that a single Peter Parker would have to be a casanova. He could still have spells in which his luck with the ladies is bad. His statistical advantages could be a cause of slight embarrassment if he isn’t successful with the ladies. While this could result in a female character being worried about her husband, MJ wouldn’t be such a wife, given her legendary self-confidence. So that dramatic avenue would be closed. However, a girlfriend like Carlie could be worried about Peter’s options.

Peter can still mature, even if he’s not allowed to die (and we’re not so sure about that) or get married. All you really need is for the possibility that previous events impacted his life, and that the current story will have a similar effect in the future. The sense that nothing will be allowed to happen will get smaller when time passes, and expectations are subverted.

Peter & MJ B

It gave Marvel an excuse to end the increasingly redundant Ultimate franchise, should they want to do that. With Miles Morales, the company chose to go in a different direction. The Ultimate Universe has served its purpose of featuring accessible modern stories with core versions of classic characters, and it has become somewhat redundant when creative teams started doing similar work in the Marvel Universe (which isn’t exactly a bad thing.) Before it went in a radically different direction allowing writers to tell stories you can’t see in the regular Marvel Comics (President Captain America, Evil Reed Richards, etc) you could even make the case that at this point that the Ultimate Universe was cannibalizing writers, artists and inkers from the regular Marvel Universe. To give a sense of how low the franchise had sunk from the position it once held as the “gold standard” at Marvel (a term which might create the impression that rest of Marvel’s output was second-rate): the guy who wrote the last pre-Ultimatum issues of Ultimate X-Men doesn’t rate a wikipedia entry.

If the “real” Spider-Man is married to Mary Jane, there’s really no question in any other rendition of the character about who he’s going to end up with, when that story’s over.

The marriage increases the significance of a supporting character to artificially high levels, because she’s Spider-Man’s wife. So it creates an odd situation in which there’s an A-list character in a franchise within the action-adventure genre of a visual medium, whose interactions with the other characters are limited. For example, you’re not going to play as Mary Jane in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

Restoring the marriage reinforces the idea of the heckler’s veto, that if you complain loudly enough, you’ll get what you want and you’ll scare the other guys into not doing things that may piss you off in the future. This sets a bad precedent, and does not result in interesting comic books. It gives the loudest people a disproportionate level of influence.

Amazing SPider-Man 17 Big For Britches

I have no problem with Peter and MJ being back together, which provides the writers the opportunity to tell most of the stories you can get with a married Spider-Man. I disagree with the notion that it would be exactly the same thing as we had for twenty years before OMD, as there are two crucial differences.

  • You lose the sense of stability that exists with the marriage, so stories between Peter and Mary Jane can seem more consequential, as readers won’t know where it’s heading, or whether or not Peter will always have the unconditional love and support of a gorgeous and good woman.
  • Even if they never exercise it, the writers will have the option to take the series in a different direction.

When the entire Marvel Universe learned that Peter Parker was Spider-Man, it seemed pretty clear that wasn’t going to last. And neither was the spider-marriage.

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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Credit: Illustrator Andrew Kolb is responsible for the 1960s style imagery.
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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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