Storytelling Failures – One More Day

I covered this a bit (okay, a lot) already in my earliest entries.  But since I started this particular format, I think it might be useful to revisit this story and provide a more formal critical analysis as opposed to my angry rantings.  That said, there may still be angry rantings because my hatred for this story is as intense the burning of a thousand blue suns and the hole it leaves in my writer’s soul is like the supermassive collapsed supernova that sits in the center of the Milky Galaxy consuming all that ventures too close to its ever-hungry maw.  No, I will NEVER get over this.  And I tried out Brand New Day, I really did.  And because I personally hate this story much more than say, Man of Steel, I may get a bit more personal here than I normally do.

Right, for those that don’t know, the mini-series “One More Day” was the end of writer J. Michael Stracynski’s run on “The Amazing Spider-man” comic book and the one where Joe Quesada (then Editor-in-Chief) decided since he was deeply unhappy with life, the universe, and everything, that he would make all Spider-man fans deeply unhappy as well (at least, this is my working theory; I have no proof as such).  Quesada, being the worst kind of villain, was convinced he was setting right what once went wrong, which was that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson got married.  Yeah, because that is the one fundamental flaw with the continuity of the Marvel Universe…  But I’ve already stated the dangers of trying to fix what one perceives as broken.  In the aftermath of the Civil War (ugh) in which Peter Parker revealed his secret identity, one of his many enemies took a hit out on him (duh) and his 187 year old Aunt May got fatally shot.  In the course of four issues (the latter two heavily re-written by Quesada himself), Peter and MJ trade their marriage to Mephisto for Aunt May’s life.

1) Characters:
a) Peter Parker – I’ve mentioned before that writers have a hard time letting little Petey grow up and be an adult.  I thought that JMS was actually trying to move Pete into a more adult direction.  I should also confess I loved Babylon 5 and when a friend told me he was the lead writer on “Amazing Spider-man,” that was enough for me to start picking up the comics.  JMS got Pete and MJ through a rocky time in their marriage and I thought it was well done and well, quite adult.  I understood why they were having difficulties and I thought the ultimate resolution was appropriate and even poignant.

Peter has a hell of a guilt complex.  Every bad thing that happens is his fault, even when we the audience know that is not the case.  But hey, that’s part of why he’s my favorite superhero even now.  I understand that kind of misplaced feeling of responsibility, and I don’t even have superpowers.  I would guess pretty much everyone has an incident in their life that they look back on and feel they just didn’t do enough or just weren’t there when they were needed.  The nature of being willing to love is to risk the loss of that love; and when there is loss, there is regret no matter how misplaced it might be.

That said, I understand that Peter would be upset that Aunt May got shot by an assassin’s bullet meant for him.  I understand he would blame himself and frankly in this case that blame is not entirely misplaced (see the section on plot).  But he does nothing but behave like a whiny teenager in this entire series.  He’s in the anger stage of grief and I get that, but there’s no character arc.  There’s no growth.  He’s angry and selfish from beginning to end, which is so obvious other characters comment on it!  If I recall correctly, even Aunt May’s spirit tells him to let her go, and he ignores her because it just hurts too much.  I’m going to steal a line from my favorite comic book review in his review of DC’s “The Rise of Arsenal” – “Your pain is NOT SPECIAL.”

b) MJ – She barely shows up in the series and I am mad at what was done with her character.  I never saw MJ as a hopeless romantic.  To me, part of the reason she and Pete got back together was that she had made peace with him being Spider-man.  MJ cares about Aunt May as though she were family (her Aunt Anna was friends with Aunt May).  But MJ is the one who talks Peter into taking the deal (OMIT makes it even worse).  She’s the one who tells him their love is so strong and great that it can overcome the power of Mephisto and even God.  *facepalm*  Riiiight.  That just does not fit with her character.  She loves Aunt May, but she loves Peter more.  She married him knowing full well he was Spider-man from the beginning and all the risk that entailed (yes, despite many writers portraying her as just constantly worrying).  To marry a superhero implies, to me, a certain strength of character.  The storyline up to OMD in which the two reconciled their marriage showed that strength.  This was a pretty big character change.

c) Mephisto – depending on the writer, Mephisto is as low in the cosmology of the universe as just a ruler of a hell, or as high in the cosmology as the very incarnation of Evil itself.  Even if he is not the devil, the difference between him and the devil is only semantic.  Stan Lee himself took the name from Mephistopheles in Faust (and says so).  I won’t say Mephisto doesn’t have an interest in romance.  The first time he showed up was to corrupt the Silver Surfer by kidnapping the soul of his beloved and trapping her in hell.  The purity of the Surfer proved too much for Mephisto to bear (so that part of OMD about righteous souls is right), and he returned Shalla-Bal and released the Surfer.  But caring about Spider-man’s marriage?  Mephisto is not a hopeless romantic either.  And his whole, “I like pain” rationale is just lame.  Lame.  Oh, sweet baby deity, Quesada made the devil laaaaaame… *headdesk*

d) May Parker – Spoiler alert.  The little redheaded girl is the daughter that MJ is unknowingly pregnant with, and in an alternate universe, is Spider-girl.  She is my favorite character but I think she acts mostly as an author avatar (for JMS that is) because she points out exactly how selfish and self-centered Peter is.  Sometimes the way this reads I feel like JMS has made Peter Parker into Joe Quesada and as May Parker is bawling out Quesada for this terrible story.  May Parker is truly the hero of this little comic book of horrors.

2) Plot – The plot is very straightforward but fundamentally flawed, but considering it’s an editorial mandate, I’m not sure it could be anything but fundamentally flawed.

a)  The end of the marriage could have been accomplished in multiple ways.  They could have gotten separated or divorced.  That would have made more sense.  But the evil mastermind behind this plot could not allow Peter and MJ to separate or divorce because that meant they could reconcile at some later date.  No, the marriage could not simply end; it had to be erased from continuity.  Everything that happens is to push forward this mandate.

As an aside, looking at DC, it appears Quesada is not the only villainous, power-hungry dumb-ass of an editor who believes marriage totally sucks dude and it’s like totally lame for a superhero to be like married and stuff.  ZOMG!  What if they like had a kid and then the comic would be all, “Dude, I can’t be like a hero because I have to like pick the kid up from school or whatever.”  Laaaaaame!  *facepalm*

b) The wrong person got shot.  If MJ got shot that would be a dilemma.  Peter forced to choose between the love he shared with MJ and the life of his beloved?  That rings true, emotionally.  But Aunt May?  There is no dilemma here.  There is pain, yes, but not a dilemma.  Aunt May is old, really old, like really really old, and in much of the story leading up to OMD, she told Peter not to worry about her and that she was old but she was happy with her life.  Her being shot is awful, and no one wants to see a loved one die, but Peter and MJ chose to become a new family.  They have hopefully years together and Aunt May by all indications was at peace with her life.  If Mephisto had come to Peter when he still had Aunt May’s blood on his hands then I could see Peter making the wrong decision and accepting the deal.  He makes mistakes like that and with the pain and shock so raw that would be human and forgivable.  But taking the deal after a day or two to calm down?  Not so much.

c) Who trusts the devil!?  He’s the devil!  He’s red and demonic with powers to bend space and time!  Why in the hell (pardon the pun) would Peter and MJ believe a single word he uttered?  He is the Lord of Lies.  He is the Incarnation of Evil.  Consider briefly the movie Ghost Rider.  Johnny makes a deal with the devil to save his father, and the devil complies and cures Barton Blaze of cancer.  Then the devil kills Barton in a terrible accident the next day so Johnny has no pesky emotional ties.  Or go back to the original story of Faust.  Do know what happened to him?  He got his brains splattered against the walls of his room.  That is what happens when you make a deal with the devil!  The devil screws you!

I-I just don’t have enough *facepalm* to express my frustration and rage.  There may not be enough *facepalm* in the world (no, not even in The Naked Gun 33 1/3).  This is almost the stupidest thing in this comic mini-series, and there is a lot of stupid in this (see below).  ARGH!  He’s the DEVIL!

d) Peter is unfathomably stupid.  When he turned against the pro-registration side in the Civil War, he took MJ and Aunt May away from the safety of Tony Stark‘s security measures and put them up in a crummy hotel.  He didn’t even skip town!  Sure, he’s broke but MJ has money.  Even he realizes he’s been unfathomably stupid after the fact.  Of course, neither MJ nor Aunt May had even the barest resemblance of common sense enough to tell Peter, “Hey, this is unfathomably stupid!”  Also, when the whole day turns weird, Peter doesn’t realize it until Mephisto reveals himself, because the precocious child, the insultingly stereotyped game developer, and the mysterious rich old guy who offers him a ride don’t seem any way odd.  *facepalm*  *headdesk*

e) Everyone in the story seems to be telling Peter to pick MJ.  Even the alternative hims, especially the rich one, tell him that life isn’t worth living without someone to share it with.  Except MJ, I guess.  Grrr.

f) Full of contrivances.  See 4).

3) Setting – New York City is home to the highest concentration of superheroes in the Marvel Universe.  This is acknowledged and then in most contrived fashion completely ignored.  See 4).

4) Narrative structure – all elements are present, but the set-up takes a long time.  I think this is supposed to be primarily an emotional story, but it’s still annoying when it takes until the third issue for the plot to really get going.

a) Contrivances!  Nothing but contrivances!  From beginning to end the narrative structure served only as the barest framing device for the contrivance that was passed off (badly) as a story, the sole purpose of which was to erase Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s marriage.  Any effort JMS put forth to tell a real story was obscured by editorial mandates. *headdesk*  Here’s a short list of contrivances.

– It’s magic; it doesn’t have to be explained.
Dr. Strange can’t heal a bullet wound although he can send Spider-man all through space and time asking for help and astrally witnessing the fatal shooting of Aunt May.
– Dr. Octopus can’t heal a bullet wound.
Dr. Pym can’t heal a bullet wound.  You know, the guy who can shrink himself and anything else can’t figure out how to extract a bullet from an old lady without causing further harm.
– Dr. Doom can’t heal a bullet wound.  This is a man who has a time machine and could in theory send Spider-man back in time to prevent the fatal shot.  This is also a man who is a good enough sorcerer to fight Mephisto (he doesn’t win but he doesn’t die).  He lives for doing favors like this for superheroes.  But alas, he is useless.
Mr. Fantastic (also a doctor) can’t heal a bullet wound.  Everything Doom can do, he can do better, except the sorcery.  But no help there.
– The X-men, who have a mutant named Elixir on the team whose sole power is to heal ANY wound, can’t heal a bullet wound.
– None of these people think to pool their abilities together (i.e. Pym extracts the bullet and Elixir fixes the wound).
– Mephisto gives a flying flip about Peter Parker’s marriage in the first place.
– Absolutely nothing else in the entire world changes.
– Except Harry Osborn is alive again.
– It’s MAGIC, damn it.  It doesn’t have to be explained.

There’s also not enough *headdesk* in the world for this.  That is just a short list and I’m sure if I wanted to pick out every single contrivance this entry would be ten times as long and I’d probably do permanent damage to my forehead with all the *headdesking.*  It’s not worth this.

b) Plot holes.  So many contrivances open up a ton of plot holes.  But since this is long enough, the biggest plot hole (which is akin to saying “the dustiest table in Pompeii”) to me is that fact Mephisto cared about their marriage in the first place.  Oh, sure, he gives some half-assed explanation about enjoying human suffering, but that’s way too petty for Mephisto.  He usually has grander plans.  But even if that were the case, a marriage weak enough to be traded away as it was weakens its value to Mephisto.  This is just lazy.  It would have been easy enough to provide a better explanation than “I like your pain.”  Hey, I thought of one – Mephisto knows that Spider-man or his daughter would one day be a threat to a truly grand plan of his and erasing the marriage is the only way to prevent that.  See?  In fact, that could help close the other gaping plot hole (akin to “that other sucking chest wound”) which was that NO ONE could help Spider-man.  If the complete lack of aid was all due to the machinations of Mephisto (he occasionally has reality-warping powers or maybe it was all just an illusion), then that would make sense.  Would it be good?  Probably not.  But at least it wouldn’t have been so damn lazy.

Conclusion – contrived and lazy.  The world was contorted and the story was merely a means to an end, which ultimately didn’t matter as long as the end was achieved.  And boy, did that lack of caring show in every single aspect of this mini-series.  Would this have been a story I liked?  Probably not.  But it didn’t have to be a bad story.  I’ve read good stories I did not personally like.  This could have been one of those.  But no, the villainous mastermind behind this abomination of storytelling didn’t give two flying figs about the story.  He wanted that marriage erased.  It was erased, and OMIT was a half-assed attempt to quell the fan rage.  It didn’t work. The sequel to a contrivance meant to push an agenda was no less a contrivance meant to push an agenda.  The story failed on every level because the villainous mastermind didn’t care if it succeeded.