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As J. Michael Straczynski ends his long Spider-Man run with October's 'One More Day,' we look back at his 10 most controversial moments
By Mur Lafferty and the Wizard Staff
Posted October 2, 2007 4:15 PM
In 2001, Marvel’s flagship hero Spider-Man faced the danger of being squashed from years of bad stories and dwindling fan interest.
Marvel rolled the dice and tapped an unlikely savior: J. Michael Straczynski. Coming off his first major comic success as writer of Top Cow’s Rising Stars, and sporting an impressive TV résumé that included the sci-fi hit “Babylon 5,” the man known as JMS seemed a quirky but intriguing choice to take over Amazing Spider-Man.
However, along with a penchant for epic storytelling, JMS brought with him a reputation for shocking and often controversial twists, and wasted no time in making waves with the Spider-Man fanbase. But redemption would always arrive with the numbers, as JMS’ Amazing Spider-Man became a perennial performer in the Top 10 of Diamond Distributors’ sales charts.
With JMS’ swansong “One More Day” story alongside Marvel Editor-in-Chief/artist Joe Quesada promising to completely rock the Webhead’s status quo and be the most talked-about Spider-event in years, relive the 10 most unbelievable and controversial Straczynski shockers of the past six years!
10. Spider-Man joins the New Avengers
(Amazing Spider-Man #519)
Following the “Skin Deep” storyline (AMS #515-#518), Spidey, Mary Jane and Aunt May found themselves homeless after an old schoolmate of Peter’s with a grudge torched the Parkers’ Forest Hills home. In swept generous benefactor Tony Stark—aka Iron Man—who offered them free crash space in Avengers Tower. Spider-Man had always been a lone wolf, declining the Avengers once before because they cramped his style, then subsequently getting rejected by the government as a security risk. Living the high life with a whole team to back him up proved new and not entirely unwelcome. He did, of course, wonder when it would all end, as life with MJ and Aunt May in Avengers Tower seemed too good to be true. And sadly this proved correct, as Stark turned Spidey into a government stooge, coerced him into revealing his secret identity on national television and then turned on him when he questioned the Superhuman Registration Act.
9. Spider-Man turns the tables on the Kingpin
JMS once said, “Put your character up in a tree and then throws rocks at him.” He sagely followed his own advice by pushing Peter to question the one edict he’s always firmly held: no killing.
After Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, ordered the assassination of Aunt May, Peter—donning his infamous black costume as a symbol of his inner turmoil—tracked down the sniper who pulled the trigger, brutally torturing him for information, then broke into Riker’s Island to confront Fisk. Mercilessly beating Kingpin to within an inch of his life, Peter left the criminal alive, not out of mercy, but to serve as a warning that anyone who messes with his family would suffer the same fate. Adding insult to injury, Peter promised that if Aunt May died from her wounds—or any further attacks—Kingpin would follow her to the grave.
8. Peter and MJ get back together
(ASM v.2 #50)
Mary Jane Watson-Parker has become a topic of hot debate among fans and creators alike since her marriage to Spider-Man two decades ago. Should she be the unattainable girl beyond Peter’s reach, or his loving and supportive wife? After a protracted “will they, won’t they” period during which the couple attempted and failed at reconciliation following an earlier separation, JMS landed on the side of the marriage with this issue, which finds Peter and MJ bumping into one another at an airport, each en route to tracking the other down. In true hard-luck fashion, a terrorist attack aimed at Doctor Doom subverted their reunion, but only temporarily, as this installment ended with a kiss and a happily-ever-after conclusion (for now).
7. Spider-Man unmasks
For decades, Peter Parker religiously guarded his identity as Spider-Man, even at the cost of his own ego and personal standing in both guises—but war makes a man do crazy things.
To prove his allegiance to Tony Stark during Civil War, Peter, against his better judgment, revealed himself to the world as Spider-Man on national TV.
The fallout, of course, shook Peter’s world to its core. Friends, family and co-workers turned against him; employer J. Jonah Jameson fired him and sued him for damages; not only did his worst enemies know his real name, they began targeting Aunt May and Mary Jane. And when Peter flip-flopped his registration stance, benefactor Tony Stark pulled the plug on his resources and turned him into a wanted criminal. Without a doubt, Peter’s unmasking has changed Spider-Man forever—and opened a Pandora’s box of potential storytelling for future writers.
6. The 9/11 issue
(ASM v.2 #36)
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, artists in every medium struggled with how to address the tragedy.
Credit JMS with actually seeking out the task by using Spider-Man—the quintessential New York City hero—to tackle the difficult subject with integrity. In a powerful, moving issue, JMS used Spider-Man to essentially say that he didn’t know what to say, eloquently portraying the anger, sadness and frustration—and even hope—that the nation as a whole felt in the aftermath. The story also allowed JMS to express his thanks and admiration to some real heroes, the emergency crews of firefighters, police and EMTs, in a touching story that still resonates to this day.
|5. Aunt May learns Peter is Spider-Man|
(ASM v.2 #35)
The revelation established a new dynamic for the series in subsequent issues, one that often resulted in high drama as May wrestled with the knowledge, and sidesplitting moments like a to-do list that included canceling her Daily Bugle subscription. In retrospect, this story arc begged the question: “What took so long?”
“We all tend to conceal things from those we love most because we think the truth might break them,” explains JMS. “I wanted to say that no, the ones we love can bear the burden of our truths, because they do love us. We don’t have to carry these things alone. I’ve always said that Peter got his powers from the spider, but his strength from Aunt May, and this story was the chance to put that out there for others to learn from.”
4. Spider-totem origin
(ASM v.2 #32)
Right out of the gate, JMS’ very first Spider-Man story had some fans scratching their heads and others howling in protest. Everyone knew the familiar origin story of Spider-Man, but in JMS’ tweaked retelling, the writer raised an important question: Why did that radioactive spider bite Peter?
The writer added new layers to the existing tale, giving Peter a spiritual link to ancient mystic totems that worked in cooperation with his science-fiction roots. While the changes rankled some fans, JMS would get serious storytelling mileage out of them and introduce new characters like Spidey’s similarly powered sometime-mentor Ezekiel and vampiric foe Morlun.
At the same time, JMS acknowledged the criticism and laughed at himself a bit, having Peter add his own voice to the chorus of protest and disbelief.
3. Aunt May gets shot
Throughout Spider-Man’s four-plus decades, kindly May Parker served as nephew Peter’s rock. Even when she didn’t know about his secret, she served as his mother figure, the person he could turn to for wisdom and strength. The Kingpin shattered that refuge when his hired gunman shot her, propelling Spider-Man into one of his darkest, most intense periods under JMS’ direction.
Already publicly outed as Spider-Man and on the run from his former friends and teammates, Peter faced the possibility of life without May, one of the two people he loved most in the world. May’s situation removed a stabilizing force from Peter’s life and drove the character to question the very values he had defended for years.
“I needed to get Peter to the very, very end of his rope,” notes JMS. “And an attack on May, where he felt he was responsible, would take him right to the very edge of his emotions”—and readers to the edge of their seats.
2. Spider-Man killed/reborn
“The Other,” a crossover event that ran through every Spider-Man title, saw Peter pursued by Morlun yet again, beaten badly, half-blinded and taken to the brink of death. Peter’s spider instincts took over, allowing him to defeat Morlun, then a new body emerged from his deceased physical shell and built a cocoon to regenerate.
Reborn stronger than ever before, Peter Parker fully accepted the totemic side that saved his life. “The Other” met with mixed results: strong sales as well as derision from hardcore fans.
The event paved the way for Peter to unmask and join the New Avengers, setting the stage for a continuous series of dramatic shifts in Spider-Man’s world.
1. Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn’s love children
Taking the beloved memory of Gwen Stacy and putting it through the wringer, JMS revealed that Peter’s first love had a one-night stand with Norman Osborn—aka Spidey’s mortal enemy the Green Goblin—and gave birth to twins! Not only that, this stunning revelation came from a very unexpected source: Mary Jane, Peter’s wife, who had known all along and kept it a secret.
JMS, no stranger to criticism and controversy, shrugs off the potshots from outraged fans: “I try not to let it affect me one way or the other. If you believe the good comments, then you have to believe the bad ones. I just try to honor that character as best I can while still being free enough to take some chances here and there.”
Love or hate his work, fans can’t deny that JMS has definitely given the Spider-Man universe new life, with new directions and plotlines to be argued over, played off of and dissected for years to come. And with “One More Day,” JMS has one more chance to do just that.
J. Michael Straczynski, known for his controversial Spider-story arcs, keeps his cards close to the vest when it comes to discussing his swan song, “One More Day” with Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada on art, but he does make the following proclamation:
“There’s one more big change a’coming.”
Entering “One More Day,” Peter Parker finds himself broke, unemployed, on the run from the government, his secret identity public and his Aunt May on her deathbed. But there’s one final straw that could break the spider’s back: the fate of Peter and MJ’s marriage. “One More Day” will show where Peter can go from here, as it’s his despair over his current status quo that drives the plotline.
“I think [his current situation] does to him what it would do to any of us: lead to confusion, despair and self-recrimination,” explains JMS. “The wheel turns, and sometimes we’re on top of it, and sometimes we’re under it. Peter has spent most of his life under it, and he allowed himself the possibility, the hope, that this time, when everything’s going so well, that it wouldn’t turn. But it does. It always does.”
I cringed when I read the "Norman Osborn and Gwen Stacy had kids" storyline. I mean, here are the most reviled and loved characters, respectively, in the Spidey mythos. And to cheapen Gwen to say that she had something going on with Osborn...and bore his children? Ugh ugh ugh!
I haven't read that many of the above stories above, seeing as how a lot of them were recent stories and my single issues of Amazing Spider-man are in a box, waiting for me back in G&B Comics in Singapore, but I did read the very awesome and poignant 9/11 story. It was extremely beautiful since Spidey is pretty much an iconic hero based in New York and the way Straczynski wrote the story really would have brought tears to anyone's eyes. Err...well, anyone except for the people who have gripes against America that is.
And the story in which Aunt May found out Peter's secret was brilliant as well. I'd say Straczynski had more hits than misses in his time on Amazing Spider-man. He shook up the title and brought people back, identifying with and loving Marvel's premiere superhero. You will be missed, JMS. Long live the king.