Retcons, Reboots, And Resurrections: The True Greatest Foe Of Peter Parker Was Marvel Itself

by Scott Redmond

There is an anonymous proverb that states the only three things that are certain in life are birth, death, and change. Within the realm of ongoing comic book narratives, these take the form of retcons, resurrections, and reboots. For the purposes of this weekly feature, retcons are elements added into a character’s history after the fact, resurrections are characters returning from death or some state of limbo, and reboots are wholesale changes to a character or characters canon (history, supporting casts, origin story, etc).

These changes, just like all stories, range from those that add definitive things that still stand with the characters to those that sometimes should best be forgotten. Except, they won’t be in this feature. Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Resurrections, and Reboots.

This week we’re diving into a storyline that not only hits each of the Three R’s, while mostly being a retcon, but it’s also a much-maligned story that is like uttering a curse word to Spider-Man fans. That story of course is ‘Spider-Man: One More Day’. 

Setting the groundwork for this one is simple: Joe Quesada, the former Marvel Editor-In-Chief, detested the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Quesada was long on record as feeling that a married Peter made him feel “too old” and less relatable and also that the original 1987 ‘The Wedding!story that was editorially-driven to match with the Spider-Man newspaper strip plans that Stan Lee had. 

Recently Peter’s identity had been revealed to the world during the Civil War series/storyline and he was on the run with Mary Jane and his Aunt May while at the same time J. Michael Straczynski’s couple year Amazing Spider-Man run was coming to an end. This apparently provided the perfect opportunity for Quesada and a number of other creators to begin planning to unravel the marriage while also putting Peter’s identity back under wraps. 

Just having characters get divorced apparently wasn’t the way to do things because that too apparently would “age” or bog down the characters. Part of what gets this story so much hate, alongside the base hate just for ending the marriage, is the way that said marriage ended. 

After Kingpin sends an assassin after them who ends up shooting Aunt May, Peter donned the black suit again for the storyline ‘Back in Blackwhere Peter donned the black costume again (because the Venom starring Spider-Man 3 was out at the time) and went after Fisk as May was clinging to life in a hospital. 

‘One More Day’ continues this thread by having Peter speaking to Tony Stark and Doctor Strange about ways to save May either monetarily or magically. Despite all the advances and magic and other stuff in this world, none of his rich or powerful friends could or would help. Dejectedly leaving Doctor Strange’s home after trying to use magic to time travel and screwing up, Peter prepares to head back to May’s side to be there at the end. Therein enters a young woman who promises she can help. 

This leads to a chase that brings him face to face with a bunch of men and a red-clad woman who informs him that these men are alternate Peter’s who didn’t become Spider-Man. Because this is comics, the woman transforms and is revealed to be the Devil/Hell Lord, Mephisto. If you haven’t read this story before you probably are starting to see where this is going. A desperate person with no options and a devil comes to offer help. 

Of course, the wheeling-dealing Mephisto does offer to help but with a giant catch. This devil is tired of collecting souls on these types of deals. No, he wants a whole other bit of currency in exchange to save May’s life and fix what Peter did with his identity. This Devil wants…you guessed it, the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane. Just wants to take the entire marriage and love away from them, coming off like a big Quesada self-insert in a meta way. 

Mephisto gives them till midnight, they hem and haw but eventually, Mary Jane whispers to Mephisto and convinces Peter to take the deal and everything changes (oh and as an extra middle finger Mephisto’s young girl disguise was their future daughter May “Mayday” Parker). Here is where you get the full trio of R’s. The retcon is that Peter and Mary Jane never got married (a subsequent event One Moment In Time dives in deeper), they just lived together and broke up shortly before the new status quo. 

May never died before the deal so she’s not the resurrection (in the new reality Peter performed CPR & saved her). Nope the resurrection was the long-dead Harry Osborn being revived and his history retconned that he never died in the classic Spectacular Spider-Man #200, he was just lying low in Europe for years. You know, like one does if they are the son of a rich goblin serum-driven insane scientist. 

Lastly, the reboot was the overall line itself as the multiple Spider-Man books were condensed into just the thrice a month shipping Amazing Spider-Man (ending previous books Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and Sensational Spider-Man) which was headed by a rotating cabal of writers known as “Webheads” and a rotating stable of artists. The series turned back the clock in many ways with Peter back to living out of Aunt May’s and down on his luck and stumbling through his personal, romantic, and crime-fighting lives. 

It’s now been almost fifteen years since this mess of a retcon went down and it’s still a moment that Spider-Man fans bemoan and hate. Nothing about it has really changed as Peter and Mary Jane are still not married, though the current run brought them back together as dating (and has a whole host of its own issues). This story was so unclear and caused so many issues that Quesada had to write a sequel story arc titled One Moment In Time three years later to “clear” up what happened on that day but instead made it more of a mess. Turns out Mephisto just butterfly effected stuff and Tony and Strange and Reed totally had the ability to heal someone from a bullet wound and a way to wipe out a revealed identity, gasp!

Overall this entire storyline not only was one among a string of sour notes ending JMS’s run of Amazing but a big giant stinking pile of stench that has permeated around the character for years. This idea that Peter Parker has to be barely an adult struggling is an idea that keeps the character stuck in the worst way, especially since in that time there was both the Ultimate Peter Parker and now Miles Morales that have filled the role of the young Spider-Man. Arguably Spider-Man, as a character, has not recovered since this truly low moment of the modern era. 

Next Week: Maybe we’ll punch something and see what happens!?

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