“Today. Today. My best friend. The best person I’ve ever known-set me free.” – Peter Parker, Amazing Spider-Man #641
1995 was not a particularly good year. Sixth grade and the onset of puberty are difficult enough for the average twelve year-old boy, let alone a friendless one with Tourette Syndrome and an unfailing ability to alienate everyone around him. I suppose that is why, in the midst of the much-derided “Clone Saga,” that I began a life-long love affair with comic books, and with the Amazing Spider-Man in particular. In Peter Parker, I found a sort of salvation. Here was a man who was hopelessly at odds with the world around him, completely consumed by the weight of his own guilt. Nevertheless, he was a man who fought endlessly to protect those unable to protect themselves, and who went home every night to a woman whose physical beauty was matched only by the depths of compassion and love in her soul.
I cannot overstate how much that meant to me; a role model, however fictional, who suffered the same ostracism at the hands of his peers as I did mine, but who eventually grew out of it. He gained the respect of his classmates, the friendship of his high school nemesis, and the love of a beautiful woman. In short, he went through hell and came out on top. Granted, he would occasionally deal with minor setbacks (being framed for murder, thinking he was a clone, John Byrne), but he always rose above it all. Your time is too valuable to be spent reading yet another diatribe against the editorial decision to allow Peter Parker (the man who could not bring himself to kill the arch-enemy who both knew his secret identity and who had casually extinguished the life of his first great love) make a deal with the Marvel analogue of Satan. Far too much has already been written about “One More Day,” from CAPITAL LETTER RANTS penned by John Q. Fanboy to articles by commentators far more eloquent than I. No, instead, I thought I might offer a slightly more personal reflection on the controversy, especially in light of the recently concluded “One Moment in Time.”
Peter Parker has always been a uniquely organic character within the framework of the greater Marvel Universe. He graduated high school and fell in love, only to have both his heart and the metaphorical innocence of the silver age of comics ripped violently away. A character that had been previously written as little more than a “party-girl” foil for the sainted Gwen Stacy ended up pulling him back from the well of his grief. Peter and Mary Jane fell in love, only for the uncertainty of youth to pull them apart. Our hero tried his luck with a romance based on the mask rather than the man, yet found himself inexorably pulled back to Mary Jane Watson. Shortly thereafter, they married. Mary Jane was a woman who, unlike dear Gwen, knew of Peter’s double life and loved him all the more for it. Peter replaced self-aggrandizing photography (a holdover from Ditko’s interest in Randian philosophy that was always in tension with Peter’s role as a hero) with the selfless life of a teacher. Finally, he shattered the mold of the “loser loner” with his acceptance into the lofty ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In short, he grew up.
As my adolescent life became increasingly unappealing, I found myself escaping more and more into the life of Peter Parker. It did not matter if the stories were “Marvel Tales” reprints, new issues bearing a hefty $1.50 cover price, or those rare, musty gems that were stumbled upon during a treasured Saturday at the comic shop while my long- suffering father waited patiently in the car grading papers. Every outlet into the world of Peter Parker was a lifeline; every glimpse of that world was a sign from God that if I refused to surrender to the contempt of my peers and my own self-loathing, I would make it through the day. I would end up a winner, like Peter.
In first college and then law school, I found life changed more suddenly and dramatically than I would have thought possible. Although I still don’t quite understand how it happened, I found my Tourette Syndrome under control and women showing an interest in me. Where before I was literally without a friend in the world, I now had the enviable task of choosing which group of friends with which I would spend my evening. At the same time, JMS and Mark Millar were masterfully writing tales of Peter and Mary Jane Watson Parker as mature and grounded late 20-somethings who triumphed over the trials life put in their way by drawing on their love for each other. All was right with the world.
When “One More Day” hit the stands, I was not particularly bothered by it on an emotional level. While I was disgusted over the decision to end the marriage in the hopes of making Peter more marketable (It is no coincidence that sales plummeted when “Brand New Day” reduced Peter to a pathetic hard-luck loser just as they did when John Byrne had Peter sleeping on the streets), the methodology was so mind-numbingly absurd that it failed to elicit emotion reaction.
However, where “One More Day” failed to weigh on my mind, “One Moment In Time” has succeeded in leaving an indelible scar on my soul. Please, do not think me prone to hyperbole, but that storyline has legitimately made me question the passion for comic books that I have had for the majority of my 27 years on this Earth.
Where J.M. DeMatteis’ magnum Spider-Man opus “The Gift” (Amazing Spider-Man #400) celebrated the indefatigable bonds of love between Peter, Mary Jane and May Parker, “One Moment in Time” reduced them to a maudlin caricature of what had gone before. I am not going to rehash the plot points of “One Moment in Time,” as I assume anyone who has actually read this far into this self -indulgent little essay has a general familiarity with what occurred. Suffice to say, the wedding never happened, and at story’s end, Mary Jane “frees” Peter from the “burden” of their failed relationship.
The personal poignancy of the story is made all the worse by recent events in my own life as (knock on wood) I have found my own happy ending. I am practicing law by day, while spending my nights and weekends with my own, personal Mary Jane Watson.
For three years now, I have been blessed with the love of one of those beautiful “popular girls,” something I would have thought impossible in high school. Imagine, then, my difficulty in reading a story where, in Peter Parker’s post- Faustian world, his once greatest source of strength has been perverted into a burden. Apparently, Peter need no longer feel guilty when he has drunken one-night stands, let alone casual sex with two woman in the space of five issues (Yes, this actually happened in a Spider-Man comic).
As I come to a close, I am reminded of Alan Moore’s message to comic book readers while writing as Dan Dreiberg. He tells us that we must never fall into the trap of letting habit replace passion. While my love for stories like “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” “The Child Within,” and Mark Millar’s nameless run on Marvel Knight’s Spider-Man will never fade, my passion for the ongoing adventures of Peter Parker has been replaced with the monotonous habit of reading comic books for the sake of reading comic books. I began this essay with a quote that I now return to now.
“Today. Today. My best friend. The best person I’ve ever known-set me free.” During what I can only pray was the darkest period of my life, Peter Parker was my best friend. I grew up with him, and now it is time to say goodbye. In a sense, he was the best person I have ever known, and with the conclusion of “One Moment in Time,” he has set me free.