Comics 101 Is in Session
Chad R. writes: gday scott once again thanks for the article always wondered what jim shooters reaction was to the idea of spidey marrying mary jane was going to be. and as for that vidoe of them at a shay stadium found it cheesy the first time. plus the comic strip that started the thing not being reprinted think marvel doesn't have the rights to reprint the comic strips in newspapers even if they own the character that may fall under the syndicate who got the rights to the spidey strip. or maybe stan lee has the orignal hidden and is ashamed of it.won't allow it to be printed
Tipton: I think it's just that no one cares.
Rev. Sully writes: So I was scratching my head thinking of copy to write in order to fill
up my Blog. Especially about comic books...it was time for my weekly "Comics Gnome POOTS!" segment and I was reflecting on DC UNIVERSE COUNTDOWN #32. Now I didn't call it out by name because I'm not considering it a failure yet but this issue definitely missed the mark. And I got to thinking about real disappointments in funnybooks. Not just a bad title...but something that started great and then failed miserably. I know we share feelings about Judd Winick & Howard Porter's THE TRIALS OF SHAZAM! and I included that in my Top 5 of Disappointments but I thought about asking you. Now coming up with 5 took me about 45 minutes of writing and hotlinking images but I thought you'd have a few off the top of your head. And perhaps inspiration for a future COMICS 101 because I think a list like this coming from an authority such as you would be entertaining & enlightening.
So here is my Top 5 Stinkers...if you're interested. ^_~
Tipton: You know, I always try and stay positive, rather dwell on stuff I don't like. But I will admit that I've dropped COUNTDOWN from my pull list, as well as many of the DC ONE YEAR LATER books that held such promise like AQUAMAN.
You mentioned Morrison's Xorn. While I admit that the duplicate Magneto idea was really lame, Morrison couldn't have expected that he'd get to kill Magneto for keeps.
Rev. Sully responds: I will agree that Morrison shouldn't have expected to kill Magento for keeps...but not even three issues after? Man...I'm a huge X-Men/Marvel fan and that totally let the air out of my Marvel tire. It gave me trepidation for investing in Marvel mags. For real. I only purchase three Marvel titles now (and they're all Bendis but not
just for being Bendis, if you catch my drift). New Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man and Powers. Besides that (and since Civil War)...make mine DC I'd have to say. And that's honestly post-Morrison X-Men. I'll stay tuned to Amazing Spider-Man here and there but I dunno...I felt kicked when down and that was three years ago.
Tipton: Yeah, Magneto definitely returned way too soon.
Tilman writes: Dear Mr. Tipton,
one can only hope that people with questions about Spider-Man take them elsewhere, because your 101 on the wedding betrays an astonishing ignorance of facts. You plainly only re-read the four issues you illustrated. The rest of your account is filled mainly with what you thought you remembered and wanted to remember. Here are a few corrections and some answers to your questions.
"As we barrel toward whatever is going to happen to the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in the pages of the big Spider-Man event ONE MORE DAY, it seems like a good time to take a look at just how Marvel got into this mess to begin with. So please join us if you will, as we set the Wayback Machine for the year 1987.
It really did come out of the blue. At the time, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN had been on a pretty good tear for a few years, coming off of first Roger Stern's extremely entertaining run that had introduced the mystery of the Hobgoblin, followed by an almost-as-enjoyable run by Tom DeFalco, who primarily focused on the battle for New York's underworld among Spidey's villains, with characters like the Kingpin, the Rose and the Hobgoblin fighting amongst themselves for control, with Spidey often caught in the middle. Romantically, Spider-Man had spent the bulk of this period in a relationship with reformed villainess Felicia "the Black Cat" Hardy, with Mary Jane relegated far, far into the background, not appearing for months or even years at a time (with the exception of a brief interlude during Stern's run, in which it was revealed that Mary Jane had known about Peter's secret identity for years, almost from the very beginning of their relationship, a revelation that didn't make a lot of sense of you thought about it too hard. Best to move on.)."
Mary Jane "not appearing for months or even years at a time" was before Roger Stern's run. Ever since he reintroduced her ca. ASM #242 (cover date July 1983), MJ was one of the (if not the) most frequently used supporting character. For instance (I happen to have checked this recently), in the 22 months befor the wedding (cover dates November 1985 to September 1987), she appeared in 36 issues of Spider-Man books (18 issues of Amazing Spider-Man (out of 24, including annuals), 8 of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, 9 of Web of Spider-Man and the Spider-Man Vs. Wolverine one-shot. So on average she appeared a good three times every two months during that interval. During the four years between ASM #242 and the wedding it was rare for a month to go by without MJ making an appearance.
"Amazing", the flagship title, was MJ's main stomping-ground and here she appeared with much greater regularity and more prominently than the Black Cat. Peter Parker's romance with Felicia happened mainly in other titles, especially "Peter Parker", in stories that generally were written by people other than Stern or DeFalco, most notably by Bill Mantlo.
MJ's revelation that she had known Peter Parker's ID "for years" came AFTER Stern's run - it was Tom DeFalco's idea - and it wasn't until after the wedding, in the graphic novel "Parallel Lives" (1989, written by Gerry Conway) that MJ's knowledge of Peter's secret was extended all the way back to the night of Uncle Ben's murder.
Now these are simply the factual errors that do not involve matters of opinion. Whether MJ's revelation made sense is of course a matter of opinion, but I would say that as it existed before the wedding it made a lot of sense and provided an explanation for MJ's abrupt and unmotivated departure during Marv Wolfman's run on ASM ca. 1980.
The revelation transformed Peter and Mary Jane's relationship, turning her into his closest friend and confidante, while Peter and Felicia's romance soon foundered (PPSSM #100, cover-dated March 1985). Contrary to what Joe Quesada and Erik Larsen like to say, Peter and Mary Jane dated quite a bit during the four years before the wedding and in many respects already functioned as a couple even though they both were in denial about the true depth of their feelings most of the time.
"Meanwhile, in the pages of your local newspaper, Spidey's co-creator Stan Lee was plugging away steadily on the daily AMAZING SPIDER-MAN newspaper strip, a job he'd been doing steadily for years with artists John Romita and Larry Lieber. Well, apparently around that time, circulation was beginning to falter on the strip, and the syndicate had asked Stan to do something big to shake things up and keep more papers from dropping it. Stan's idea? A wedding, of course, between Peter Parker and his love interest in the strip, Mary Jane.
As a matter of courtesy, Stan informed Marvel's then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter of his plan, and reportedly Shooter became bound and determined not to let this happen in the newspaper strip before it could happen in the comics. Which is why things seem so insanely abrupt when the story begins, in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #290, written by David Michelinie and drawn by John Romita, Jr."
Leaving aside the unsubstantiated-rumor-and-speculation aspects of this account, the story did not begin with ASM #290. Part of their history is that they had come close to an engagement before. It is worth recalling that Roger Stern had Peter introduce MJ to someone with the words "we used to be engaged, sorta" back in ASM #243, even though MJ had in fact refused his first proposal of marriage in 1978). Also, that Tom DeFalco has mentioned on a few occasions that he and Ron Frenz had been plotting a story involving a Parker-Watson wedding shortly before he left the Spider-franchise, only in their version it was supposed to end with Peter being stood up at the altar. (Tom DeFalco is adamant that he came up with this idea independently, so even outside the syndicated strip Peter and MJ were an obvious romantic couple).
Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1, for instance, demonstrated that Peter's feelings for MJ were quite intense, even though writer Christopher Priest/Jim Owsley later tried to reinterpret it as a story written to show should not be lovers (and why would that have been necessary if Pete and MJ had been as distant as you, Larsen, and Quesada say they were?). Priest's ex-post reinterpretation simply does not bear examination when you read the actual book.
"Following MJ's advice, Pete goes to talk to his Aunt May, where he discovers that his beloved childhood microscope was accidentally given away for charity. This leads to a fairly routine adventure with a robbery at the local church action, and in the end Pete has his microscope back and all is well. And here's where the big leap is made, where Pete decides to propose marriage to a woman he hasn't even been seeing romantically in months, maybe years."
The really funny thing is that Peter had already given away that microscope years earlier, but possibly because that had happened in a filler story, David Michelinie had either missed it or forgotten about it.
That Peter had not been seeing MJ romantically is not true. There had been dates, there had been kisses, MJ had in some ways already started behaving as if she was Peter's spouse (she was seen in his apartment more often than in her own, she had redecorated it without asking him) and she certainly had displayed feelings of jealousy when Felicia came back to make a play for Peter.
"The bulk of the next two issues has to do with a trip to Pittsburgh to see Mary Jane's family, a father, sister and nephews that hadn't been seen before and (to my knowledge anyway) haven't been seen since, intercut with Spidey's battles with Alistair Smythe and his Spider-Slayer robot."
Completely wrong. Mary Jane's sister and nephews had first been shown in Roger Stern's story "The Daydreamers!" (ASM #246). They appeared again in the MJ's origin story (ASM #259), which also introduced MJ's mother and father and showed that two reasons for MJ shying away from commitment were the failures of her parents' and her sister's marriages. So they were an important factor in the only reason left at that point why Mary Jane shied away from admitting that she was in love with Peter and marrying him.
MJ's sister, nephews and father would later reappear in "Parallel Lives" (in flashback) and in a multi-part storyline in the 1990s (either shortly before or during MJ's pregnancy) during which Mary Jane went to Pittsburgh again.
"It all just seems a little halfhearted and rushed, especially for Marvel's trademark character. Why don't we see more of the wedding? And why aren't more people there? Where are Liz Allan and Glory Grant? What was Felicia Hardy doing? How did she take it?"
If I remember correctly, Glory Grant had not been around much for quite a while at the time (it may be that that is supposed to be her standing in the background behind Robbie at the surprise party at the Bugle offices). Liz Allan Osborn appears alongside her husband on the cover and possibly in the background at the wedding banquet (I think that's supposed to be Ben Urich, Harry and Liz above Robbie's head). Felicia Hardy was last seen sailing off into the sunrise on a luxury liner at the end of PPSSM #129. How did she take it? Cattily.
"When you compare this to something like NEW TEEN TITANS #50, Marv Wolfman and George Perez's stunning book about Donna "Wonder Girl" Troy's wedding, it falls way, way short both in concept and execution. And this is Spider-Man, we're talking about, for crying out loud. This should have been an event, with all the great Spidey writers and artists involved, folks like Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Wolfman and Wein, Stern and DeFalco, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Romita Senior and Junior, you name it. Instead, it's just kinda...there. Not really bad, but nothing to put a lump in your throat or anything. There's just no heart to it."
It was accompanied by lots of supporting publicity etc. - a special issues of Marvel Saga, buttons with neon lights, a great poster by Bill Sienkiewicz, having a well-known fashion designer do MJ's wedding dress, staging the stag night and the wedding with actors, variant covers (then still a bit of a novelty) etc. As far as the media in general were concerned, it was a huge event. Stan Lee obviously was involved as the writer of the syndicated strip and insofar as the actual wedding was the same in both versions (Judge Spencer Watson, who performed the wedding, is a character from the syndicated strip). John Romita, Jr., drew two of the three issues of the story leading up to the wedding, and John Romita, Sr., drew the two variant covers for ASM Annual #21. Marv Wolfman and Roger Stern were and are vehemently opposed to the wedding, as were a number of artists, so it is hardly surprising that they did not participate (Ron Frenz was offered the story but refused, for instance).
ASM Annual #21 was a rush job, but the reason for that was not that the wedding came as a bolt from the blue. What happened was that writers kept jumping off or were made to do so and this of course worked to the disadvantage of the co-ordination between the different titles and led to mutual interferences with long-running storylines.
On ASM, the departure of Tom DeFalco left the title in disarray at a critical time. With #284 Jim Owsley took over, at first working on DeFalco's plots, then he up and went after #288 and #289, which finally answered the years-old question of the Hobgoblin's identity, had to be written by Peter David with almost no time for preparation. The next writer after that, David Michelinie, then immediately had to get started on the wedding. Meanwhile on PPSSM, Peter David had started a storyline where the Black Cat tried (and largely succeeded) to seduce Spider-Man and the Foreigner and play them off against each other, but that now ran into scheduling difficulties and thus was only finished uncomfortably close to the wedding (in PPSSM #129), with large gaps having to be plugged by fill-in and inventory stories written by musical-chair authors until the wedding (PPSSM #124, 125, 126, 127, 130, and 131). At least Marvel regained its footing with "Kraven's Last Hunt", which ran immediately after wedding. But it does seem clear to me that the chaos that preceded it must have been connected to the general unpleasantness the last throes of Jim Shooter's tenure as editor-in-chief (he was fired a few months after the wedding). And one problem here was that with the wedding they were working towards a fixed date and deadline, so tempers flared as creators refused the assignment and Shooter was unhappy with the plot Michelinie first offered him (which is why he eventually plotted ASM Annual #21 himself). If it had not been such a big multi-media event, it probably would have been possible to delay the wedding for a month or two, which would have provided a better result.
"And what about the newspaper comic-strip wedding, the thing that started this whole business to begin with? Nobody even remembers it, and it's not available in print anywhere. Mazel tov."
It was reprinted at least once, in the 1991 trade paperback "The Wedding". So you probably can get it via Amazon...
Speaking personally, I thought the wedding made a lot of sense given Peter and MJ's long romantic history. Maybe it was a bit prosaic and as a "wedding special issue" it does not hold up to Donna Troy's. But at least the marriage itself proved a lot more durable, even in the face of several writers and editors who wanted to end it, than Donna's...
Tipton: A sharply written and researched retort. Thanks for your generally civil and pleasant response (if a touch grumpy toward the beginning). I'll gladly stipulate to your numbers since you seem to have a strong command of the stats, while I was, as I usually do, working primarily from memory, both of what I remembered of the comics itself (going back later to pull the images) and from what I remembered about how I felt when I read it at the time. I try to keep the column light and conversational, with equal doses of opinion and facts, and if every now and then I find myself veering off a bit, I trust the readers to write in and correct me. So thanks.
I'll definitely admit that I felt Mantlo's PETER PARKER run to be the more satisfying Spidey book at the time, to the point where I considered it the primary SPIDER-MAN series.
And while I'll cop to a bit of comedic hyperbole, I think MJ's family appearing four times in over 40 years makes for a sufficiently rare appearance to make my line a pretty fair generalization.
Your account of the editorial mayhem leading up to the wedding (possibly tied in with the implosion of Shooter's reign) isn't that far removed from my overall point, that Spidey's wedding was poorly planned and hastily put together.
And the fact that the wedding newspaper strips were last reprinted 17 years ago seems to me awfully close to my description of "not available in print anywhere." And as it happens, you can't get it via Amazon.
Backstory aside, I still stand by my opinion that the build-up to the wedding and the wedding itself were less than successful efforts, hardly the romantic feel-good event I'd have liked to have seen for Marvel's trademark character. I'll also note that on several occasions you lump me in with folks who are vehemently against the notion of Pete and MJ being married, and just for the sake of accuracy, I'll tell you that that's not at all the case. While I didn't think the engagement and wedding were well executed, I think there's no reason a writer can't tell compelling, satisfying stories about a married Spidey.
A true enough point at the end about Spidey's marriage having much more longevity than Donna Troy's. Mostly because Terry Long was considered a much more disposable character than MJ. In fact, if I recall correctly, they even killed him off off-panel...
Aaron writes: I remember you saying (and posting in a column) that you had gotten a Rocketeer helmet. I finally got mine a couple months back and man, I have to say that the quality and reproduction values on it make it one of the coolest items I own. I thought it was hilarious how many 'warnings' it had on it about not wearing it and whatnot. Sorry to hear yours doesn't fit. You must have quite the large noggin, sir-lol.
Anyways, Scott - keep up the great columns.
P.S. Have to rub this in your face a bit, sir!! (Too bad they don't make the jet pack, too! lol)
Tipton: It's all fun until you try and take that helmet off. It's probably still on your head, isn't it?
Edward C. writes: "That was the Pantheon, one of the innovations from Peter David's run that I really thought would stick around the Marvel Universe much more than it wound up doing. Founded by demigod type Agamemnon, don't you know."
I really miss the Pantheon, one of the highlights of David's long run on the Hulk.
"Future Imperfect" was one of the best post-apocalyptic future tales in the Marvel U. ranking right up there with stories like "Days of Future Past."
And though I'll miss Dan Slott, looking forward to see what David can bring to She-Hulk.
Tipton: Yeah, me too.
Chris D. writes: I know it's a little late, but I wanted to send you a quick thanks for your article on Starman. I just got a chance to read it all and your love for the character really shines through.
Tipton: Glad you enjoyed it, sir.
Robert P. writes: Question 15 in the Hulk quiz brings up a longstanding question of mine: Why did the Hulk TV series change Robert Bruce Banner's name to David Bruce
Tipton: From what I understand, they thought the name "Bruce" was too gay-sounding.
Reed W. writes: I have just gotten into Batman, and was wondering what comics you would recommend for new readers. I already picked up The Dark Knight Returns, what else should I pickup?
Also, while reading your columns on the JLA, you mention DC: One Million, and say you will talk about it on another column, but I haven't seen a column on it yet. I was just wondering if you were going to write about it anytime soon.
Tipton: When I have the time, definitely. Freelance jobs lately have kept me on shorter subjects...
If you liked DARK KNIGHT, check out Miller's SIN CITY, Moore and Gibbons' WATCHMEN and Darwyn Cooke's THE NEW FRONTIER, just to name a few.
Josh B. writes: Your an awesome guest on comics 101. I thooght I was the only one who loves dAzzler that much. She's such agreat character. One day I'd like to sing and do my own pyro in front of crowds so shes an inrpiration for me. Iw onder if she has inspried you too. And, I know this may sounds weird, but your writing style is sorta s3xy!
Knave: Little secret. I actually write these columns while wearing a Dazzler outfit. Shocking, I know.
Picture of the Week
The covers to the upcoming "First Night" issues of ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL. More on this soon...
See you next week.