11 January 2008

Spider-Man breaks up, and I give up

The news has now reached mainstream sources that Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane Watson has come to an end with the conclusion of the "One More Day" crossover event in the Spidey titles. Comic readers have seen this coming for a while. But not only is the marriage over, it never happened. A deal with Mephisto, a sort of Satan stand-in who runs rampant over the Marvel Universe whenever the writers need a supernatural solution to a plot quagmire, to save Peter's Aunt May from mortal injuries sustained from a sniper's bullet requires the utter sacrifice of Peter and M.J.'s nuptials. Now, as many Marvel editors and writers have desired for years, Spidey can fight crime and cope with dating troubles.

I would also like to announce that I no longer currently reading any new superhero comic books. I have given it up. No more, I won't take the pain and disappointment.

This is not a direct reaction to the Peter-M.J. break-up. I haven't been reading new supers comics for a few months, with the exception of Captain America and the MAX Punisher (which isn't part of the mainstream Marvel Universe). I object, strongly, to the end of the marriage: I dislike the tendency in comicdom to destroy marriages, as if somehow heroes can't have dramatic storylines while enjoying nuptial unity. Marvel's Mephisto solution is ridiculous and lazy, and smacks of desperation. I always liked M.J. as a character, and geeky Peter's marriage to her is definitely a fantasy fulfillment. Finally, Peter Parker is a man centered on family, a man who wants to make love work. Put it all together, the break-up emerges as a rotten decision.

But this fiasco isn't the specific reason I've surrendered reading new superhero adventures and instead turned to the collections of back-issues now available in print and on DVD and to more independent comic series in different genres, like The Lone Ranger. The Spider-Man separation is only a single symptom of the general disease of "event" storylines that go for headlines and new readers without providing decent stories or well thought-out drama. Plenty of great writers are working in comics now, but with Marvel and DC hammering one big event after another on the writer and artist teams, like "Civil War" and "Infinite Crisis" and "Back in Black" and etc., no one seems to have a chance at developing momentum and getting some great work put out there.

I hit this "event horizon" once before, in the late 1980s when I was reading comics as a high schooler. A flurry of ludicrous and nonsensical crossovers suddenly made reading about superheroes a chore. And who wants that? I dropped comics, and only came back to them on a regular basis a few years ago. Some energetic work kept me intrigued: the Brubaker Captain America, the interesting start on New Avengers, and a few excellent periods on Batman. But the joy is gone once again, and I found myself dropping more and more titles from my list of must-buys. Spidey and Batman clung on the longest; my affection for the web-slinger is hard to let go, and Batman still had the terrific Paul Dini run on Detective Comics that showed you could still have awesome Bat-tales without tying in to "Crisis Mania."

It doesn't help that the easy access I have to back issues through cheap collections and these addictive DVD sets has made the confused current work look even shoddier. Reading two volumes of the original Moon Knight series is enough to spoil you on anything hitting the stands today. This is some heady, clever stuff, and it doesn't need guest-stars and crossovers with the Hulk trying to conquer the world to make it click. Ditto with those Steve Englehart Captain America issues, and the Batman Chronicles recording the Bat's earliest capers. If only Matt Wagner were allowed to run free with his "Dark Moon Rising" series for Batman, which is probably the best comic line I've read in the last five years, instead of setting up yet another crisis, superheroes might be fun to read again.

Until then, make mine…

Old Marvel, Old DC, and whatever crazy things Dark Horse and Dynamite and Image develop.

Update: Spiderfan.org has an excellent open letter to Marvel regarding the end of Spider-Man's marriage that closely reflects my own opinion.