Posted by: Brian Hibbs on September 30, 2004
For a change, I was gonna write reviews in the order that I read the books, but I think it’s better that I review this first, and separately, so I can get it off my chest and move on, and people who could care less about Spider-Man–or want to avoid the spoilers–can skip this entry entirely.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #512: Wow. As you may know, I grew up largely as a Marvel fan, and a Spider-Man Marvel fan at that. So this issue managed to be as upsetting to me as all the issues of Identity Crisis put together. I’d like to pretend that that’s not the case and strike the pose of objective criticism I think, generally, is pretty important and necessary. But considering I’ve been up since three in the morning fixating on this, I guess I have to admit it got under my skin and take the time to try to explain why.
I really, really, really hate what JMS has done here. Retconning things so that Gwen Stacy slept with Norman Osborn and then produced genetically shaky offspring obsessed with killing off perceived shitty parent Peter Parker is just ass, plain and simple. I can understand the hook’s allure for Straczynski, and don’t think it’s simply cynical gamesmanship on his part. The idea deepens and justifies the emnity between Pete and Osborn; it makes Osborn much more of an evil calculating prick; it makes for a high stake story; and it closes up any question that Mary Jane isn’t the best woman in the world for Pete, destroys the perfect gleaming image of Gwen Stacy that makes the marriage between Mary Jane and Peter seem a little off or wrong or second-best. From the point of view of a writer with a wicked hook and a checklist of story objectives, the idea makes sense.
From every other point of view, however, it is an awful and shitty decision that makes absolutely no sense.
Does it make sense in the continuity of the title? No, it doesn’t. Not only was I unable to find any sort of “Gwen in Europe” storyline in my casual perusal of the Eseential Spider-Man volumes, but at no point does Mary Jane Watson act, after Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn’s death, like there might be two orphaned children hanging around Europe wondering where their mother is–unless Mary Jane is a stone-cold sociopath. For that matter, I don’t remember when Mary Jane’s knowledge of Peter’s alter-ego was retconned in, but if she did know that Pete was Spidey at that time, I can’t see how she wouldn’t think that he somehow found out about the affair and killed them both. Even if she didn’t know at the time Pete was Spidey, I can’t see how she wouldn’t at least suspect it since both Gwen and Osborn end up dead near each other at the same time with Spider-Man being blamed and Peter having a hell of a motive…which is about as far from how she actually behaves in those issues as can be.
Does it make any sense with regard to the characters as we know them now, without continuity? I’d say no. Your wife knows that your ex-girlfriend had children with the man who hates you most in the world, a fact which your wife would naturally expect the man who hates you most in the world to try to hurt you with at some point. And she never heads that pain off at the pass by trying to tell you first? Really? (Or the possibility never occurs to her?) And you’re also okay with that? Really?
Does it make any sense in regard to the story as it’s currently presented? I think not. Gwen leaves the kids in Europe and comes back and confronts Osborn with the knowledge that she’s pregnant? Why? For that matter, how? I’ve heard pretty great things about European socialized health care, but I don’t think they allow you to check in to the hospital, pop out twins, and then leave the country without them to fly back to America, do they? How does Osborn then know where to find the kids? I even tried to construct some sort of “Well, Osborn’s got a facility in Europe, and he paid for the medical costs so he knows where the kids are, etc., etc.” Then why does he act like Gwen has any slight power over him in the first place? If nothing else, why does the other twin look like Pete and not have the patented pimpin’ Osborn hair (an apparently genetically dominant trait)? If the twins have half a brain in their head, why would they believe the bullshit Osborn feeds them if he presents himself merely as a uninterested party for years and years? “Oh, I’m just raising you kids out of the goodness of my heart. And if you ever want to kill your deadbeat dad–not that I care or anything–well, okay, I guess I have always thought people who shirk their parental duties deserve to die, but that’s just my opinion. Hey, I bought you ninja suits! As a present!”
Let’s be honest: are these the reasons that caused me to be so upset when I read this issue? Of course not, any more than JMS stumbled across this idea while trying to explain why Osborn grabbed Gwen and not Aunt May, or why he fled to Europe instead of hiding out in the States. I listed all the good reasons to justify why I think this story is shitty and should have been killed at the pitch stage or any number of steps along the editorial chain, reasons I hope are relatively sensible and inarguable.
The not-nearly-as-good reason is just this: it’s fucking wrong. I started reading Spider-Man *after* Gwen Stacy got killed so it’s not like she was a girlfriend-on-paper for me or anything remotely like that. And I don’t think it’s wrong because JMS slammed some sort of big red “Madonna/Whore Reversal” alarm button. I think it’s wrong because if we don’t allow the characters and the ideas to have some sort of basic integrity, everything falls apart. Because, let’s face it: It’s Spider-Man. It is not suspension of disbelief that holds this enterprise together. It is an emotional investment on the part of the reader with certain core ideas and characters. And while some may maintain the only core character is the title character and the only idea is that he’s a hero, I think I disagree. After all, Spider-Man is always going to be Spider-Man–the guys who put him on bed sheets and super soakers and Saturday morning TV guarantee that. It’s what the other characters do that actually matter, if for no other reason than what they mean to him that make him who he is as an actual literary character, and if those characters are utterly malleable to the whims of any and every journeyman that comes along, then he too is utterly malleable, even if you don’t touch him. You warp and woof the fabric of his universe until it means less than a bedsheet or a super soaker (because you can’t sleep on it and you can’t soak somebody with it).
Look, there are a lot of “great” hooks that would “explain” stuff in the Spider-Man universe: The Burglar shot Uncle Ben because the whole crack-for-sex trade went horribly wrong (hey, it explains why the burglar was in the house!); J. Jonah Jameson tried to kill his son by sabotaging his space flight (hey, it explains why he hates Spider-Man!); Aunt May looked like a corpse for all those years because she was a big old junkie (hey, it explains why they never had money!) and liked to try to crush innocent bystanders with her sex toys (no wonder why she and Doc Ock almost married!).
The list can go on and on and on and almost all of it are nothing but bad ideas (except Flash Thompson being gay–that would explain a lot, but I didn’t list it above because I don’t think of being gay as a pejorative, which is what I was shooting for…) even though they’re dramatic and “make sense” (if you just warp and woof that universe a little bit more). You shouldn’t do them because they leave that little universe you’re shepherding a worse place in just about every sense. You take away something and leave nothing new in its place.
In short (hah!), it seems like a very, very bad idea, and it’s a shame this story came about. It’s going to be a little difficult pretending it never happened but, considering my powers of make-believe have been mighty enough to keep me reading Spider-Man for over thirty years, I’ve got faith in me. I only hope enough people feel the same.
I did give this the Ass rating, right? Ass.