"One Moment in Time" is set to begin this week in Amazing Spider-Man #638, and as the complaining begins, let us take a moment to look back at the classic original story that will be undone by this twist in the established continuity. Unlike today's "OMIT", hacked out by the egotistical, unpopular* Editor in Chief, surely Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 was a timeless classic, crafted by the most caring artisans with a keen eye toward the past and future integrity of the character, right? Well, not so much, actually.
Far from an organic event borne from the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man storyline, The Wedding was a rather abrupt and unnatural turn of events, engineered by Jim Shooter, the egotistical, unpopular* EIC of Marvel at the time in response to events in the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip. The wedding was originally conceived when Stan Lee, reacting to declining newspaper circulation, decided to shake things up in the Spider-Man strip by marrying Peter and MJ. That may have made sense in the strip continuity, where they were a longtime couple, but in the comic books, Mary Jane had only recently returned to the book after years of absence, and further, had returned with the bombshell that she knew Peter's secret identity, and had known for years. The two were still dealing with these relatively new facts. Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz had been the regular creative team circa 1986, and DeFalco's last issue, #284 showed MJ still dealing with grave misgivings about Peter's dual life, and about her ability to deal with it. She kept up her party girl facade, but was terrified of Peter's dangerous double life and was thinking of leaving New York again. Apparently, editorial decisions led to the team being ousted at issue #285, and abruptly, the next time we saw her in issue #286 she was bubbly, flirty, and Spidey-supportive. In ASM #290, Peter proposed to MJ, and after some hemming-and-hawing, she accepted. Shooter had learned of Stan's plan, and decided that the comic books must trump the comic strip, and the stage was set for a wedding, including a big publicity push with an actual "wedding ceremony" at Shea Stadium, officiated by Stan Lee.
Amusingly, the printed story comes off as half-hearted, at best. After spending several pages in battle with Electro, Peter and MJ spend the rest of the story internally moaning and groaning about the upcoming nuptials. Peter mopes about Gwen Stacy for the ten millionth time and has a goofy dream sequence while MJ is tempted by a cheesy mullet guy in a ferrari who dangles champagne and Chippendales models before her to sway her from boring wedded life.
All of this took place in 1987, long before the internet, so as a reader, I wasn't privy to the behind the scenes stuff, and was jolted by the suddenness of it all. This was far from the first time a comics company has let the tail wag the dog, but in this case, given the significance and weight of the Spidey newspaper strip over time, the dog was a great dane and the tail was bobbed. I and other readers adjusted soon enough, but as time went by, Peter's subplot potential dwindled to "bickering with MJ about money" and "MJ is being stalked for the 37th time" with other subplot possibilities becoming more and more contrived.
Ultimately, this led to more and more fantastical subplots that simply focused on the superhuman side of Spidey's life, like the infamous clone saga, Spider-totems, altered powers, and Gwen Stacey's Norman Osborn offspring. Spider-Man's personal life and civilian supporting cast dwindled away until the books became all about Spider-man, with Peter seeming to be an afterthought. In many ways the marriage turned out to be a bad and misguided move for the character.
So when it was decided to finally undo the marriage, as a longtime reader, I recalled how it was forced into the storyline in the first place by editorial fiat, and how it never has fit, and I wasn't entirely against a change. The question was always HOW do you undo the two characters' marriage without doing further damage? That's where the current regime stunned me by going in the worst possible direction by having Spider-Man make a bargain with a Satan analogue to undo his marriage in order to save Aunt May's life. Of all the morally neutral options (cosmic reset, time paradox, magic) in their toolbox, I'm baffled that they went with Mephisto, but I guess it got the job done, and now they can patch up the cracks with "One Moment in Time". I suppose we'll see how well that works out, starting this Wednesday.
* Relax, I'm not being entirely serious here. There are a lot of good things to say about both of these guys.
Pages scanned from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, art by Paul Ryan and Vince Colletta